Country: Panama
Currency: United States Dollar (USD)
Peak Season: November-April
Shoulder Season: September-October
Median Temperature: 27.00 C / 80.6 F
Main Languages: Spanish, English
Primary Modes of Transportation: Bus, taxi, car rental
Recommended Duration of Stay: 0 days
Recommended Pocket Money: $100.00/day
Tourist Passes: n/a
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Whether you’re looking for an offshore banking companion or just on a leisure trip, Panama City’s got you covered. The colonial districts of Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo offer gilded 16th century beauty not seen anywhere else in Central America. The Panama Canal, which bridged the gap between the Pacific and Atlantic, is billed as the greatest engineering feat of man. And don’t let the skyline of downtown fool you to think that the country has turned rigidly plastic and commercial after the US invasion—the bisected (Pacific/Caribbean) rainforest—which covers nearly 60% of Panama’s landmass—is still here despite the resilience of the canal. Noteworthy are the myriads of endemic species (particularly tropical plants and birds) found in its lush islands, including Coba, Barro Colorado, and Taboga. And with its stalwart economy and tropical setting, Panama City remains to be the choice of many US retirees, leagued with Florida and Hawaii. Transient travelers will enjoy Panama not only for its beaches, mountains and rainforests, but also for the cosmopolitan lifestyle, more specifically the nightlife.

Panama’s proximity to similarly exotic destinations like Costa Rica and mountainside Columbia is enough to keep anyone from not leaving Central America too soon. Also, if you’re totally okay with splurging, Costa Rica’s resort complexes and casinos will endear you to bet with the highest rollers of the western hemisphere. The shopping is also great—you can purchase affordable textiles and designer dresses exclusively sold in the country at MultiPlaza, MultiCentro, and Los Pueblos. The city has lovely weather year-round and not to mention a booming real-estate economy, enough to make you contemplate on your retirement as soon as you see the high-rise buildings in the city proper. Of course, Panama isn’t impervious to the problems Latin America faces, but with ample levels of information and tactfulness, one will find Panama City to be just as refreshing as it is in the postcards.

Packing List

  • Touristy clothing, smart evening apparel and beachwear—Panameños are easy to spot with their colorful, vibrant clothing; remember to also bring fashionable sunglasses and a good-looking hat
  • Duffel bags—avoid backpacks/rucksacks if not going hiking in the rainforests; cotton clothing, good walking shoes, an umbrella and extra pieces of underwear are enough to keep you going during daytime
  • Light trekking gear for tropical settings: jacket/raincoat, sleeping bag, lather-on insect repellant (important), sunscreen, first-aid kit, GPS device, cellular phone; don’t forget bottled water
  • Essential medication and toiletries—most groceries/pharmacies carry US brands; billed as the “Hong Kong of the Americas,” Panama has extensive bazaar merchandise, so bring extra shopping/duffel bags
  • A decent camera, plenty of film and batteries; bring books and portable media to keep you company, and if staying inside a budget-friendly hotel, be sure to secure earplugs to buffer the outside noise

Things to Do

  • Taking a tour along the Panama Canal—touted as the eighth wonder of the world; you can choose to either board a cruise ship or go canoeing, but either way, you’ll still experience tropical beauty
  • Exploring the flora and fauna of Soberania National Park—all 55,000 acres of tropical rainforest; Panama’s famous toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, eagles and monkeys are awe-inspiring
  • Shopping to your heart’s content for cheap clothes, handicraft and electronics at any of the city’s top shopping areas: Albrook Mall, Central Avenue, Los Pueblos, Multicentro Mall, and Multiplaza Pacific Mall
  • Recounting the liberation of Panama at Fort Amador, which was used by US forces as a battle bunker; fact: military dictator Manuel Noriega was stripped of power during the bloody 1989 artillery exchange
  • Visiting Taboga Island (or “The Island of Flowers”), which houses the second-oldest church in the western hemisphere; the island is visited primarily for its sandy beaches and wildlife reserve

DON'T

  • Call people by their first names (it’s considered rude)—instead, address men with “señor” and women with “señora or señorita”; it’s common practice to beat around the bush while talking, so don’t be blunt
  • Dress skimpily and don’t be pompous—people who display “fresh” behavior add to the wrong notions about foreigners; even though locals act aggressively, foreigners should act and dress conservatively
  • Take insults to heart—rude jokes and comments are all in good fun to many locals, especially from children and teenagers; if you feel threatened by someone or being followed, go away immediately
  • Talk politics, war and diplomacy—not all Panameños have positive sentiment on democracy; instead, talk about culture, fiestas, sports, and anything under the sun that doesn’t border on sensitive issues
  • Make negative comments about bullfighting and cockfighting—Latin Americans take pride in these events; the golden rule in Central and South America is: “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it”