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Panama Tips for Travelers – 12 Things to Know Before You Go

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Panama is an amazing country to visit and there is a lot to see and do. I had the opportunity to take a friend who hasn’t traveled internationally a lot, and it was such a great experience. During the trip, we talked about some of the things we noticed and what would help others plan for a Panama trip, so I thought I’d share them with you!

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Helpful Panama Tips for Your Trip

The following Panama tips will be really helpful when you plan and pack for your trip. They will also help you have a really great time when visiting Panama City, so check them out.

1. Understand the Currency

The local Panamanian currency is the Balboa, but people also use the United States Dollar (USD). The Balboa and USD are a 1:1 exchange so the money is seen as interchangeable. Sometimes you will get change in Balboa, and sometimes you will get it in U.S. dollars.

You can certainly convert your U.S. dollars to Balboa, but why would you? Just pay in whatever you have but remember, it’s a good idea to use the Balboa first unless you want to go home with them.

Panama tips, balboa
A Balboa, the Equivalent of $1 USD

2. Pack a Light Sweater

It is generally hot and humid in Panama all year-round. However, restaurants and stores in Panama City like to blast the air conditioning and it can get quite cold. We both brought a light wrap or a sweatshirt and made good use of them.

3. Remember to Bring Bug Spray

Lots of it. As much as you can carry! This should probably be #1 of the Panama tips on this list, it’s so very important. Mosquitos are a huge issue in Panama and they have a slew of other bugs to contend with as well. The two types of mosquitos found locally carry all sorts of diseases like malaria, yellow fever, Dengue, Zika virus, and Chikungunya. None of them sound like fun. Make sure you’re protected, especially at night and when you’re in or around the rainforest.

It’s a good idea to take malaria prophylactic like Malarone or Doxycycline. Also, spray your clothes with permethrin before you go. You need to really soak down your clothes well so it’s a good idea to buy a couple of bottles.

While traveling, you have a few options for protecting your skin as well. You can use bug spray with DEET or there are some good natural bug repellants with essential oils like lemongrass and citronella that work well. I used picaridin and found it was very effective.

4. Pack Lots of Wicking Clothing

Panama tends to be very humid. Especially during the rainy season, it is especially rainy and humid. Humidity is dancing at around 100% and you get caught in daily, and sometimes several times daily, rain showers.

Bring wicking clothing that will dry quickly as you are almost guaranteed to get wet. REI is a great place to find what you are looking for both for men and women. Don’t forget your underwear as well, and consider bringing wool socks too.

And, if you have hair like me, bring lots of hair ties and plan to leave your hair appliances at home. There’s no point trying to style or straighten your hair in 100% humidity.

5. Don’t Feed the Monkeys

It might be tempting to bring fruit when you go hiking in the rainforest or go on a cruise on Gatun Lake to see the monkeys, but feeding them is not eco-friendly and is not good for them. They get used to the food people provide and become dependent on it.

I’ll admit that I had read to bring bananas and I did on our boat tour of Gatun Lake, but I decided to keep them in my bag. Hurting the environment is not my thing, even to see monkeys.

6. Don’t Flush Paper

In Panama, they don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. The little trash bin they have next to every toilet is there for a reason and you should use it.

Most businesses have septic systems and flushing any materials down the toilet will mean more regularly cleaning the tanks out. So, when you make the decision to put the paper you use in the bin, you are helping to support that local business.

This is typical in most Latin American countries and a good practice to support.

7. Leave the Power Adapter at Home

If you are from Canada or the United States, you don’t need to bring a power adapter or converter. Yay! For those in other countries, Panama uses adapters A and B and their voltage is 110 V.

8. Take Uber

I have been in many other large cities, larger than Panama City, but this city boasts some of the most aggressive and crazy driving I have ever seen. I highly recommend leaving it to the experts unless you are a major adrenaline junkie. In which case, have at it and have fun.

Otherwise, take Uber for your local trips. Ubers are cheap—my most expensive Uber ride was $23 USD but when we were moving about in Panama City, it generally ranged from $2.50 USD to $10 USD.

Taxis are available, however, I prefer Uber for a number of reasons. Most important, Uber is usually a safe experience as there are background checks done on drivers and you have the added security of getting the person’s name, car make and color, and license plate number so you can be sure it’s the person you expect. Uber tends to be a lot cheaper than taxis as well, and they are hassle-free as you pay through the app so you know the price upfront and don’t need to pass money or negotiate.

9. Bring a Good Raincoat

With the juicy levels of humidity comes lots of rain in Panama. The rainforest didn’t get so lush without lots of the wet stuff! Even in the dry season, there’s a good bit of rain but it is especially so in the rainy season.

The rainy season is no joke there. I visited Panama during the rainy season and it rained every single day we were there. And when it rained, it rained hard, though thankfully, it didn’t usually last more than an hour or two. Once, I was on a boat on Gatun Lake and it was horizontal raining. It caught us off-guard and started before we had time to put our raincoats on. Then it traveled right inside them, right up the sleeves and the bottom of the raincoat.

Bring a raincoat with ties around the bottom and the sleeves if you can. I brought a raincoat similar to this by North Face but didn’t take full advantage of it, clearly!

gatun lake, panama city, panama, panama canal

10. Be Careful Drinking the Water

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States says you can drink the water in Panama, they do caution that you should get vaccinated for both Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Both of these can be from contaminated water.

I usually filter my water anywhere south of the United States as it can contain micro-organisms that my body isn’t accustomed to. I did so in Panama as well. This filter is my go-to now because it collapses to the size of the filter. It’s small and fits in most bags and can even be used to fill other bottles during a trip.

At a minimum, you should either drink filtered or bottled water in Bocas del Toro (near Costa Rica) and Guna Yala (the San Blas Islands).

11. Be Prepared for a Second Airport Screening

We were surprised to learn that there was a second full screening for flights going to the United States at the Panama airport. It is done at the gate, so drink up your water before you head to the gate or be prepared to dump it. We had to remove laptops, toiletries, shoes a second time and this included all electronics including iPads and phones.

The area where we were held didn’t have enough seating so half of the people had to stand, and it was quite warm and crowded. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and especially so as we weren’t prepared for it (travel planning fail, I suppose)! It didn’t help that our flight out was an hour late, so we were stuck in this area for a while.

12. Bring Cash

Not all places take credit cards in Panama. Like with much of Latin America in my experience, maybe half or fewer places take credit cards. This is especially so with shops, restaurants, and small stores. Make sure you have cash or at least access to cash with an ATM card.

The San Blas Islands have no ATMs as well, so you must bring cash with you if you visit the islands and want to purchase anything.

San Blas Islands – Isla Wissudub Bibbi

Panama City is such a great place to visit and these tips will help you to have an amazing visit while you’re there. Use these Panama tips to help you plan for your trip and enjoy!

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