You can find Panama in Central America, it is the connection between the Northern and Southern part of America and it is officially known as The Republic of Panama. Panama is extremely pretty; the rainforests, beaches, cities and of course the culture. It is big enough to spend weeks, but also the perfect country to visit while traveling through the neighbouring countries like Colombia, Costa Rica or Nicaragua.
We travelled through Panama and Costa Rica in three weeks’ time. Below is a list of our recommendations and must do’s.
Travelling through Panama is easy and cheap. You can easily use public transport to travel from one side to the other. For only $25 you take an overnight bus from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. The busses are of good quality but extremely cold. We were warned before going on the bus but we were stubborn and thought ‘it is 30 degrees outside, how cold can it be inside?’ Well, we should’ve listened.
Passengers came on the bus with sleeping bags, sweaters and blankets. So we tried to spoon as much as possible for almost 12 hours to keep each other warm and sleep a little as well. Just another experience.
Renting a car is also a common thing to do when travelling through Panama. You can easily book this beforehand through your travel agent, online or on the spot, through the hotel or travel office. Travelling around on your own is safe and gives you more freedom than going by public transport. Do note that they speak Spanish with little English – especially outside the big cities – so we decided to let us be driven around and take the bus.
Red Devil bus in Panama City
Very extreme, colorful, rough and maybe even loud. That would be my description of these busses but man, oh so cool and a must-do when in Panama City. The Red Devil busses, also known as Diablo Rojos, can’t be missed. As soon as you leave the airport, these busses cover the streets. We took the bus from the airport towards our hotel and for less than $1 per person, you are in the bus for about 20 mins. Something we have paid the taxi driver $30 on our way back. The busses are privately owned and therefore diverse in look and feel. Some of them have huge speakers attached to the bus and the Reggaeton tunes are blown out of the speakers. It is a nice way of travelling, as the Panamanian use this transport, but because it stops at every corner of the street, you need to have time to arrive at your destination.
In Panama you can find taxi’s everywhere. There are two types; private ones and corporate ones. The difference could be the quality / look & feel of the car and the price. It is cheaper to get the privately owned taxis and they are more willing to negotiate as well. One tip: always negotiate because this will easily save you 50% of the original quoted price! And yes, if driver #3 says no and drives off, you might want to go for 30% off the original price (lol) but I am sure you will never pay the first price given.
Boats and bikes
Depending on the city you are staying, some of them also have taxi boats and bike taxis. Or, you go Dutch, and rent a bike to transport yourself. Always a fun thing to do when abroad.
Depending on the size of the cities you are staying, luxury can go from hostel style to 5 star high-end luxury. Do note that we have only experienced this kind of luxury in Panama City and Isla Popa (Bocas del Toro), everywhere else it was more difficult to find but also a different perception from 5 star luxury in Holland and 5 star Luxury in Panama.
We had booked everything through Booking.com just a day in advance or on the day itself, which was very easy to do. We had many choices and the prices didn’t always go up if we had waited a bit.
If you are looking for a low-budget holiday, the choices you have in hotels or easy, low budget hotels is enormous. Mainly because a lot of backpackers love to visit Central America.
Looking for a more luxury hotel, you might find it challenging when you decide to leave the bigger cities. But then again, go outside and enjoy the scenery and good weather. That is something you can’t pay for right?
Stuff you should also know..
As all the Central America countries, Panama is known for its perfect warm tropical climate. During the day the temperature is mostly between 25 and 30 degrees. More up north and around the Pacific Ocean, it is a bit colder, between 10 and 18 degrees. Between November and April it is summer in Panama. Summers are known for being dry and warm. May to November are the winter months, which results in a bit more rain, depending in what region you’re staying.
Languages spoken are Spanish and English. Please note that English is only being spoken in the big cities and even then, you might need your hands and feet as well. We don’t speak a word of Spanish but we managed perfectly because the Panamanian are extremely friendly and helpful.
In Panama the currency is the American dollar. In the bigger cities it is easy to get money out of the ATM and in the hotels you can pay with your credit card.
Vaccines are recommended at least a couple of weeks before your departure. Visit your local medical service or doctor for advice. Depending on the region, you might also need tablets for Malaria.
Depending on the country you are traveling from, you might need a visa. Some travellers can travel through Panama without a visa for 180 days, for example travellers from The Netherlands. If you want to travel through Panama, you do need to be able to show them your return ticket, your passport should be valid for over 6 months and you should have at least one empty page in your passport for your stamp.
Criminality is something a lot of people warned us of before we left, but this is one thing we did not experience at all. Yes there are certain neighborhoods where you may feel a little tension and yes, there are even areas that are unsafe, but as long as you stick to this advice given by the hotels or the travel agent, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I have not felt any different than going to any other country. Always be smart and never stop using your brain. Then you’ll be fine.
So now you know all about Panama, it is time to look into hotels. What about this Top 3 hotels in Panama City, Casco Viejo?
Psst. Do(n’t) tell!
Sorry for any mistakes!
As a Dutchy I am doing my best to write these articles with little to no mistakes, but as English isn’t my native language, I am very sure I have failed in doing so. But, I do have to say that I love writing in English as I hope to reach more people and inspire them with my travel stories. So I hope I’d managed to do that with you and you will excuse me for any mistakes made.