GUYS! I am finally creating a travel guide! Seriously, this is beyond overdue and I’m glad that I’ve finally focused long enough to create it. If you follow me on Insta, then you already know when it comes to travelling – I take it seeeeeriously. Ya ya, everyone loves to travel until its time to actually book right? Well, yeah I’m THE person who’s not only booking but actually taking off and going with or without friends. Yep, you read that right – I’ve solo traveled as well.
TBH, I didn’t want to write a Travel Guide for Panama when I went the first time because I don’t really believe you can be an “authority” whatever that means on somewhere you’ve only been once for a couple of days. So I didn’t want to put something out that didn’t actually make sense or that I would be retracting only a year later.. lame.
After my second trip to Panama, I knew I could give you guys some value and share what I’ve learned about Panama and send you off with SOLID tips, if you’re planning on making it your next destination.
So first off, let me tell you a bit about this place..
The Republic of Panama was colonized in the 16th century by the Spaniards and it’s come a long way since then. Panama is located in Central America (not SOUTH) and its snuggled between Colombia and Costa Rica. Panama has a modest population of 4.1 million – a bit less than the Toronto Greater Area and a bit more than Boston!
Some fun things to know about Panama is that it’s the only place in the ENTIRE WORLD that you can see the sunrise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic.. which means both oceans border the country – so dope!
The Panama Canal – world famous and slightly controversial is 1/3 of it’s entire economy and Panama is the only capital city that has a rainforest within it’s city limits – SO COOL!
So now that you’ve got a little bit of the backstory to get you going – here is what YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING PANAMA FOR THE FIRST TIME!
If you’re arriving at Tocumen from North America, you’ll most likely fly with COPA AIRLINES – I did direct from Toronto (love it! no connections = zero hassle) and their service was top notch. They’ve got direct flight from LA, NYC, CHICAGO, PHILLY, SAN FRAN etc (tons of options) OH and the food puts most airlines to shame (yep, flavorful and I was thiiiis close to asking for seconds!)
– A lot of Panamanians speak English, BUT a MASSIVE amount of natives – do not.
Now unfortunately with the awful way the world is, this typically comes down to Education, Finances, Culture etc and the like. In a corporate environment, you’ll find it pretty common for Panamanians to speak English. A ton of natives go to school in places like the US and the UK – come back and work in the country, thus their linguistic skills are fully developed.
However, the avg person that you’ll encounter at a restaurant, grocery store, AirBnB owner or sometimes hotel agent will not speak English and at times it can be incredibly frustrating. Practise your Spanish via Duolingo before your trip and keep Google Translate a click away!
– THE HUMIDITY IS REAL AF. Seriously. It’s intense. On the flip side, Panama has
good great weather pretty much 24/7 365! It is a Tropical climate, which means rain but its always intermittent and not for long. So bring your hairsprays, maximum hold gels, lots of headbands, hair ties and the like because you absolutely will need it.
– After you visit the Canal, explore the city a bit and even take a nice stroll on the boardwalk – most other experiences and excursions are out of the city. It was annoying AF for someone like myself who can be pretty lazy on vacay (I mean, c’mon it IS a vacation). Visiting Panama is definitely for someone who doesn’t mind day trips.. ie. driving at least 1 hour for a nearby beach or taking a day trip to San Blas or fleeing to Las Tablas for a couple of days (the Panama equivalent of Naples or Lake Como)
– While Panama and Panama City is relatively safe, you can’t afford to be stupid. Panama has a strange law (well it was new to me) that requires all non-natives to carry their Passport with them at ALL times. Yep, you read that right – your freakin’ huge ass passport. While, I didn’t learn about this law until my 2nd visit – I wouldn’t take the risk moving forward. Keep in mind that the urban planning in Panama is much like a lot of the world – scattered for example El Chorillo borders the Old Quarter (which is where you’d likely spend a lot of your day)
Keep in mind that the police presence in Panama is huge – Tourism is everything to them so of course, they want us to be happy and safe .. but we’re still in their house, so its always best to respect their rules.
– I’m not a huge fan of Panamanian Food (slightly bland and too many deep fried dishes) but luckily I never really have to eat it as there are SO many cultural options in Panama City.. #GRATEFUL! Also, if you’re a seafood LOVER – it is an abundance.. every restaurant, bar etc etc. It made this pescetarian very happy to see CEVICHE on EVERY menu! ps. all that meat about wasn’t mine LOL
-Uber is cheap AF and I would never take a taxi (although I hear that they’re cheap as well) but more sketch factor. Uber also gives you the option of getting an English driver although sometimes (not always) that option is WAY more expensive. I’ve been fine using regular Uber X and I don’t speak a lick of Spanish.
– 99% of establishments have free WiFi, however overall the phone/wireless service is painfully inconsistent for international devices, so yeah I would be a pause on lengthy streams and keeping mama up to date via Facetime. OH and the minute you leave Panama City, good luck even getting one bar worth of connection.
-Infrastructure in Panama City is great but the traffic is REAL. Give yourself lots of time, especially when travelling to PTY and during rush hour (6am-9am, 5pm-8pm)
– Accommodation is inexpensive and Panama uses USD and Balboa (they were actually the first latin country to adopt US currency). From hostels to hotels – you’ll find what you’re looking for within a reasonable range. I stayed in an AirBnB and the Hard Rock Cafe during my first trip and an AirBnB during my second – all great, clean environments.
– Reggaeton is eeeeeeverywhere. Duh right? Well, I thought I could get a bit of variety at least in the clubs or on the radio – NOPE. Before you know it, you’ll be singing Daddy Yankee and Xion y Lenox in your sleeeep baby.
DID I MISS ANYTHING? LMK on Insta! What else would you want to know about visiting Panama?