WEATHER: Panama has two climate zones: tropical in the lowlands (including Panama City) with temperatures between 80°F and 90°F; highlands with temperatures between 45°F and 85°F. Additionally, there are two seasons: dry season (mid-December to May), which means it rarely rains; and green season (May to December, when rains typically fall in the afternoon). Rains are heavier in Bocas del Toro and sometimes in the highlands.
WHAT TO PACK: For this tropical climate, light-colored and loose fitting cotton clothes are most comfortable. Panamanians dress smartly when stepping out in the evening, particularly the women. The highlands can be cold at night, so a warm sweater or light jacket is necessary. Recommend clients bring a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and binoculars; hikers will need long pants, good walking shoes and insect repellent.
TALKING HEALTH: Since hygiene standards are high, travelers should have no trouble staying healthy. No special shots or pills are necessary for those visiting both cities and places off-the-beaten path. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink. Note: Panama provides international visitors with free medical insurance with top level coverage in case of emergency during the first 30 days of a client’s stay.
TALKING SAFETY: The Pinkerton Intelligence Agency gives Panama the highest rating for tourist safety, the same rating as the U.S. Most large cities have areas where it is not advisable to walk around displaying valuables or in a few areas, not to walk alone at night; Panama City is no exception.
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: No visa required up to 90 days for U.S. citizens; however, passports should be valid for at least six months after the date of departure. A $5 tourist card is issued on arrival, unless cost included in the air ticket.
COUNTRY TELEPHONE CODE: 507
TIME ZONE: Same as the U.S. Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5). Daylight savings is not observed.
ELECTRIC CURRENT: 110 volts
MONEY MATTERS: The U.S. dollar is the unit of exchange. Major credit cards are accepted in hotels, most restaurants and major stores, but outside Panama City and larger towns, visitors will need cash. ATMs are available in major towns, as well as at some hotels, large grocery stores, the airport, etc.
GOOD BUYS: Handicrafts, particularly molas (textile appliques sewn by the Kuna women of the San Blas Islands); woodcarvings, masks, ceramics, and beautiful woven and decorative baskets.
LOCAL DISHES: Typical dishes include Sancocho (chicken, ñame [yam] and culantro), ropa vieja (a spicy shredded beef combo served with rice), carimañola (a roll made of yucca and filled with meat), and deep-fried and spicy ceviches with shell fish.
DEPARTURE TAX: $40 if not included in international ticket
INFORMATION PLEASE: Panama Tourism Authority: visitpanama.com
STAYING IN PANAMA
There are lodgings for every budget and taste throughout Panama: from luxury and upscale, to mid-market and hostel-hopper.
Accommodations most popular with the U.S. market are international chain properties and boutique hotels in the capital; seaside resorts, from small and intimate to all-inclusive; and eco-lodges in the highlands and rainforest. As in most tropical destinations, rates are highest mid-December to April, and the “green” season is full of true vacation value.
TO: Tocumen International Airport (PTY); located 20 miles from Panama City
ABOARD: The following airlines offer nonstop flights from 10 cities in the U.S.: American Airlines from Dallas, Miami, New York (JFK); Copa Airlines from Miami, Orlando, New York (JFK), Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, Tampa; Delta Air Lines from Atlanta; and United Airlines from Houston, Newark (EWR) and New York (JFK)
BY AIR: Aeroperlas (aeroperlas.com) flies to 24 destinations; Air Panama (flyairpanama.com) flies to 22 destinations. Note: All domestic flights depart from Albrook Airport (PAC), about 15 minutes from downtown Panama City, and 45 minutes from Tocumen International Airport. Domestic carriers serve key tourist destinations throughout the country: small charter planes serve the country’s 100 or so airstrips. (Domestic flight baggage allowance is 25 lbs.)
BY RENTAL CAR: To rent a vehicle, the driver must be 25-years-old, and present a passport and valid driver’s license. Panama has one of the best road systems in Latin America; highways and even many secondary roads are good. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for travel in more remote areas and for access to many of the national parks.
BY BOAT: Travel between islands within the San Blas and Bocas del Toro archipelago, as well as along the coast and rivers of the Darien, is primarily via motorized water taxis (lanchas), motorized dugout canoes (piraguas) or paddled dugout canoes (cayucos).
BY TRAIN: The country’s sole railroad connects Panama City with Colon and runs alongside the Panama Canal. Trains leave Panama City’s Corozal train station daily at 7:15 a.m. and return at 5:15 p.m.