Frequently Asked Questions

How far in advance do I purchase my plane ticket?

Start looking at airfares as soon as possible.  You can usually book tickets up to 330 days in advance.

How much is a plane ticket to Panama?

High Season in Central and South America is from November through April, so airfares naturally sky-rocket around these summer months. Consequently, if you are departing from the Midwest/Bolivia, expect the airfare to be around $500-$800 on major airlines, but keep in mind there are always ways of saving money. If you’re lucky enough to depart from major international airports such as Atlanta, Houston, Miami International, JFK, or O’Hare you can usually find fares from $200-$500 round trip.  Also, we’ve heard some good experiences with those who have traveled to Central America using Spirit Airlines for less than $99 ($120 with tax and fees).  You might want to keep an eye out for their fares (exit port – Ft. Lauderdale).  In addition, consider that you can find the lowest fares if you purchase on a Tuesday after 3:00 pm flying on a Wednesday according to some information in places like www.farecompare.com. Best of luck during your ticket hunt.  Stay tuned for updates on the home page as will be posting information about deals that we find along the way.

Do I need a Visa?

No need to make any special trips because entering Panama is a breeze.  Panama does not require visas from most countries; all you need is a tourist card from the airlines.  It is $5.00 and valid for 90 days.  You can get your tourist card at the ticket counter on the day of departure for Panama. If you forget, they usually announce it at the arrival gate. Although, on my last trip to Panama, American citizens were not asked to fill out the tourist card.  Alex and I passed immigrations without a fret, so maybe they have eliminated it all together.

However, there is a law that requires anyone entering Panama to have at least 3 months before his or her passport expires. So make sure you’re passport is up to date. We wouldn’t want you to get there and have to turn back around.

What Identification should I always carry with me?

Okay, this is very, very important!  When in Panama, always carry your passport with you.  Due to the influx of illegal immigrants (shout out to my friends from Venezuela and Colombia), the Panamanian police has regular checkpoints (and they’re always in different locations).  Basically they are verifying that you entered the country legally and will be looking for your entry stamp.  If you do not feel safe carrying your actual passport, a photocopy will suffice, just make sure you scan your I.D page and the Panama entry stamp page.

How long should I plan to stay in Panama?

It depends, if your just coming for the wedding, you should strive for Thursday, Feb. 16th with a departure date of Sunday, Feb. 19th.  If you are treating it as an extended vacation, a week would suffice to experience the entire Isthmus.  For those who wish to stay longer, we’ll be providing itinerary suggestions on the About Panama page.

How much cha-ching $$$ should I bring?

A million dollars! J/k.  Panama prices are comparable to those in the Midwest which means your getting a bang for your buck. And if you’re currently living on a Miami Budget, you’ll find Panama extremely cheap.  This is even more true if you are coming from Europe or New York.  Just keep in mind, Panama is not a bargain country and prices are not like those found in Mexico and the Caribbean.  A nice restaurant will be more costly than the local diner.  So the question, how much money should I bring?  Well, it will depend on your budget but you can definitely come as a “Backpacker-Hostel Budget”.  We’ve done it and had just as much fun as if we would’ve been on a “I’m going to Party Like a Rock Star in Vegas Budget”.  Still doubtful?  Check out the Lonely Planet’s Panama Travel Guide for budget travel.

What is the weather like? What should I pack?

>HOT! HOT! HOT! Panama is a tropical place which means that there will be times where you’ll want to rip off your clothes, especially if you’re not used to living in hot and humid climates. Expect 80-100F temperatures; wear your sunscreen; bring light colored clothing and anything that is made out of a breathable fabric such as cotton and linen. Oh, and one more thing, you might notice that people in Panama like to dress up, even if it’s to go to the corner store.  Don’t let this intimidate you – you are a tourist and the most important part is for you to be comfortable in what your wearing – because not feeling comfortable can completely ruin your travels. However, for the wedding, Dress Up!

Things to consider when packing:

-A hat/ ball cap

-Imodium Tablets/ Pepto/ Alka Seltzer

-Sanitizing hand wipes

-Dramamine

Do I need to rent a car?

If you’re planning on staying in and around the city of Panama, you can get around in cabs.  However, if you’re planning on visiting the interior and going off the beaten path, renting a car is not a bad idea.  From previous experience, make sure to get an automatic transmission (you may encounter traffic jams due to carnival season and I wouldn’t want you to get stuck with a manual vehicle).  If you can rent a 4×4 even better (roads off the beaten path are rough).

What are the Transfer times between Panama City and the most Popular Destinations?

Panama City-Pacific Coast Beaches: 1 ½ -2 hours by bus or car.

Panama City-Gamboa Rainforest Resort or Canopy Tower: 45 minutes by car.

Panama City-Panama Canal Miraflores Lock and Visitor Center: 20 minutes by car.

Panama City-Contadora Island: 15 mins. by plane.

Panama City-San Blas Islands: 30 mins. by plane. 1-2 hrs off the beaten path way.

Panama City-Isla Grande: 2 hours in car, longer by bus.

Panama City-Bocas del Toro: 1 hour by plane. 8-10 hrs by car.

Panama City-Boquete: 1 hour flight to David, then a 45 minute drive by car. 7hrs by car.

Panama City-Anton Valley (El Valle): 2 hours by bus or car.

*this information is from personal testimonial and verified by PanamaInfo

Is it easy to navigate through Panama?

As any tourist in a new place, you’re going to get lost and frustrated a couple times, but Panama is pretty well organized in terms of roads and signage.  In this sense Panama is much more a second world developing nation rather than a third world country.  Heck, even my Iphone’s Google Map worked in Panama City.  However, as mentioned before, if you can avoid driving and taking cabs, walking might prove the best option.  (Directions in Panama are mostly given by referencing city beacons, landmarks, colors and popular hangouts.)

How much should I expect to pay in cab fairs?

Here’s the number one complaint on every tourist and Panamanians back up: those damn cab drivers! Panama is one of the few places I’ve been to where cabs don’t have a taximeter, and boy do they need it.  You must watch out for these guys, they will try to scam tourist into paying ridiculous prices.  The cabbies don’t even feel bad charging Panamanians extra depending on the area they are traveling to and/or their physical appearance.  Before getting in a cab, ask a local to tell you how much a cab would charge them from point A to point B.  Never get into a cab until you have asked the driver how much it will cost and have agreed to that fare.  For those girls who went to Egypt with me, remember our little cab experience in Cairo? Yup, beware!

Cab fares from the Airport to the city will run you $15-35, depending on if they’re shared, van or car. Never pay more than that.  If they charge you $50-$60, grab your bags and make a run for it, hehehe.

How is public transportation?

I’m not going to badmouth the transportation system in Panama, since I’ve heard they are importing a new streamline bus system, and a metro system, but…because I wish to keep my friends and family’s safe from all evil and danger, please stay away from the “Diablo’s Rojos”.  You’ll know them once you’ve seen them – they are colorful painted school buses, charging at you, at full speed.  They’re speeding because the drivers make their money by the quantity of runs achieved daily, thus severely endangering pedestrians on the sidewalk (The Panamanian Government is currently working on a plan to provide bus drivers a salary, so they may avoid the “Diablos Rojos” running people over).

Will my Gringo self feel the language barrier?

Your Gringo/Gringa self will be just fine.  English is Panama’s mandatory second language.  Kids are taught English since pre-school and most people are fluent.

What is the currency in Panama?

So… Panamanians get teased all the time because of this.  Although Panama is its own sovereign nation, it still maintains the U.S dollar as its main currency.  But boo-hoo to all the haters, at least you won’t be paying any fees having to convert currency.  Watch out for credit/debit cards though.  Make sure you call your bank and let them know you are traveling and ask for their international service fee which should be between 2% and 3% of purchases.

What should I try eating in Panama?

First word: “Ceviche”

Second Word: “Seafood”

What should I stay away from while dining out in Panama?

As any world traveler should know, try to stay away from street vendors.  While the food from “la calle” is simply the best you can get for less than $.30 cents, keep in mind the remedy after enjoying it will cost you a whole lot more.  Although we’ve watched Anthony Bourdain and that bald dude from the Travel Channel do it all the time, you really do not want to be on a mission to find a toilet while on the Pan-American Highway, or in the midst of Carnival.  Even locals stay away from “Carnita en palo” (beef on a stick), simply because your body is not used to the local bacteria.  Your system is too clean, and once that bacteria meets your gringo bacteria, lets just say, you don’t want those two fighting in your belly.  So, there you have it; you have been warned.  If you don’t believe me, let Alex tell you his little New Year’s experience.  However, locals always know where to get the best street food, so if your feeling like a dare devil, sometimes it’s best to ask a local and she/he can pinpoint you to the “cleanest” street vendor.

What do I tip?/Who do I not tip?

10% -15% is norm.  Look at your receipts as you would do in the States to make sure they didn’t already include tip.

Do not tip the gas pump guys.  Long story short, those guys get paid to do just that.  Also, locals don’t want them to get to spoiled by tourists because then they’d expect to be tipped all the time.

Can I drink the water?

The Montezuma Revenge in Panama does not exist. It is known to be one of the few countries in Latin America where you can drink the tap water.  However, on my last visit to Panama, due to the never before seen rain accumulations, some of Panama’s main water lines were ruptured.  This caused complete mayhem in the city, and water was not as pristine as usual.  Will this be completely solved by Feb. 18th, 2012?  No se!  Don’t know!  So for now, I’m going to say you might have to water-bottle it.

Can I use my Chi or electric shaver? (Do I need a converter/ adaptor for the electricity?)

Voltage in Panama is the same as Canada and the U.S. (110v)

Can I use my cool smart phone while in Panama?

Take advantage of free nationwide Wi-Fi where available, and many restaurants and hotels have free Wi-Fi as well.  Obviously as you travel further away from civilization you’ll lose signal, but you’ll also be pleasantly surprised where you might find it.

The Law of the Land

Everyone loves Cops right?  Hehehe.  Panama has random checkpoints where besides asking for you identification, they will ask you to blow on the “Guarometro” known to us as a “breathalyzer test”.  Saying “I wasn’t drinking” doesn’t matter, they don’t need a reason.  It’s simply the law of the land, do it.

If a police officer is giving you a fuss and won’t let you go after 30 minutes, just tell him “Listen I really have to go, I have a wedding to get to. Will you take ($5-20), and call it a day?”  That’s really what they were after the entire time.  It’s sad but in this developing nation, paying off the cops is a standard practice.

What about mosquitos?

Mosquitos will only be pests if you’re going into the jungle and at dusk. Pack some “OFF” just to be safe.

***I hope you found this information useful, and I didn’t scare you off by any of my warnings.  For the most part Panama is a very safe country, and a very popular tourist destination.  If there are any further questions, the website PanamaInfo has it’s own list of frequently asked question, and they do an excellent job in covering just about everything you can think of. ***

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter May 23, 2011 at 5:39 am

Will the Panamanian police deport me to The Dominican Republic?

Reply

amalbet May 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm

It depends Peter… If you don’t have any cash with you they’ll deport you to Bolivia…

Reply

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