Panama has a checkered past, but as a modern country it runs one of the world’s most important waterways, the Panama Canal, and has built for itself a large offshore investing business. From its capitol at Panama City to its rainforests and rich coastlines, Panama is a beautiful land, but it suffers from increasing crime and an uncertain government.
Panama is a proud and striking nation with a population of seven indigenous groups and a strong Spanish legacy. And it’s is a wonderful place to travel, as long as you’re careful and conscious of your surroundings.
If you want to see Panama at its cultural best, Carnaval is celebrated the weekend before Ash Wednesday in Panama City. It’s one of the largest and most vibrant Carnaval celebrations in the world.
Traveling in Panama
If you are an American, Japanese, New Zealander, or Venezuelan citizen, it is required that you have a tourist visa or tourist card to enter Panama. You should contact your embassy or consulate for details.
While traveling in Panama is considerably cheaper than traveling in the United States, for instance, it will also tend to be pricier than most other Central American countries. Expect to pay about US$20-30 per day, on a moderate budget, for food, accommodations, and other expenses. A budget traveler can find room and board for as low as US$10-15 per day. The Panamanian currency is called the balboa, but it’s exactly the same as the U.S. dollar, from the rate of exchange (which is unnecessary if using U.S. currency) all the way to the bills they use. Even the coins are the same shape, weight, and substance as U.S. coins. Exchanging other types of currency can be easily done at a casa de cambio, of which there are many throughout the small nation.
Tipping 10% of your bill can be done at finer restaurants; however, it’s not necessary at more casual establishments, such as cafes. Haggling over goods is not customary in Panama.
Health Risks in Panama
Health risks include dengue, hantavirus, malaria, rabies, and yellow fever. It is advised that you consult a doctor about what shots you may need before traveling to Panama.
Weather in Panama
The best time to go to Panama is during the dry season, between December and April. During the rainy season the weather can be humid, damp, and very uncomfortable, especially if you take part in strenuous activities like hiking, etc. The rain in Panama typically comes in short downpours that have a cooling and cleansing effect on the air.
Government: Constitutional Republic
Square Miles: 30,420 sq mi (78,000 sq km)
Capitol: Panama City (pop: 700,000)
Official Languages: Spanish, English, and Native languages
People: 65% mestizo, 14% African descent, 10% Spanish descent, 10% Indian
Religion: 85% Roman Catholic, 10% Protestant, 5% Islamic
Major products/industries: Banking, construction, petroleum refining, brewing, cement and other construction materials, sugar milling, shipping, and agriculture