From clear turquoise seas to the coffee farms and cloud forests of Chiriquí, Panama can be as chilled out or as thrilling as you wish.
PASSPORT & VISAS
Most travelers from Western countries can visit Panama for up to 90 days with the purchase of a $5 tourist visa; you can buy this upon arrival or at the check-in desk of some airlines. Your passport must be valid for at least six months.
The currency in Panama is called the Balboa (PAB). One Balboa equals 100 centavos. There is no Panamanian paper currency. All local money is in coins, which come in denominations of PAB1 and 10, as well as 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos. US dollars were adopted as an acceptable currency in 1904 and still exist today alongside the Balboa coins.
In Panama, there’s really no need to change large amounts of money into local currency as long as you have plenty of US dollars, as they are accepted as readily as the local Balboa. All hotels can exchange money for you, as well as the banks and change. If you are coming from a country other than the United States, it’s probably a good idea to get US dollars or traveler’s checks before arriving.
It’s safe to drink tap water and have ice in your drinks in urban areas but stick to bottled water everywhere else.
Two mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent in Panama: dengue fever (especially in Bocas del Toro) and malaria (in the Guna Yala and parts of Chiriquí). Prevention is better than a cure: cover up your arms and legs and use a strong insect repellent containing a high concentration of DEET. Don’t hang around outside at sunset, and sleep under a mosquito net in jungle areas.
Sunburn and sunstroke are potential health hazards when visiting Panama. Stay out of the sun at midday and use plenty of high-SPF-factor sunscreens when on the beach or hiking. You can buy well-known brands in most Panamanian pharmacies. Protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses, and bear in mind that you’ll burn more easily at higher altitudes and in the water.
Panama is relatively safe. In most of the country crime against tourists is usually limited to pickpocketing and bag snatching. Taking a few simple precautions is usually enough to keep you from being a target.
In urban areas, strive to look aware and purposeful at all times. Look at maps before you go outside, not on a street corner, and keep a firm hold on your purse. At night exercise the same kind of caution you would in any big American city and stay in well-lit areas with plenty of people around. Ask hotel or restaurant staff to call you a taxi at night, rather than flagging one down. If you’re driving, park in guarded lots, never on the street, and remove the front of the stereo if possible.
In Panama tipping is a question of rewarding good service rather than an obligation. Restaurant bills don’t include gratuities; adding 10% is customary. Bellhops and maids expect tips only in more expensive hotels, and $1–$2 per bag is the norm. You should also give a tip of up to $10 per day to tour guides. Rounding up taxi fares is a way of showing your appreciation to the driver, but it’s not expected.
The electrical current in Panama is 110 volts, the same as in the United States. Outlets take either plugs with two flat prongs or two flat prongs with a circular grounded prong. No converters or adapters are needed.
Panamanians appear to care about their appearance. Don’t try to dress to ‘fit in’, just be yourself.
That being said, there is no need to wear a suit everywhere, either. Just dress conservatively and nice. For men, a clean pair of jeans and ironed collared shirt will do nicely for most excursions, you could dress more casually or more formally depending on the situation. Shorts are considered extremely casual wear suitable only for the beach, although this attitude has begun to change in some areas. Also, the longer Bermuda shorts made of nice fabrics are viewed as appropriate in many places.