Panama, known for its canal, is a Central American country sitting between South and Central America and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Small in size but big in stature is a mix of cosmopolitan Panama City, beaches, deserted islands and rainforest covered mountains.
Top Things to See and Do in Panama
Panama City, capital of Panama, is the most modern city in Central America. With a huge expat community, as a preferred retirement destination, it has developed quickly with many modern skyscrapers. The first stop for all visitors, the canal with its museum or simply watch the ships pass through. Stop by Casco Viejo, a colonial town, and Panama Viejo, original city ruins, for some history. Or step on both parts of America on the Bridge of the Americas, which until 2004 was the only connection between the northern and the southern portions of the continent.
Panama Canal is a 44-mile waterway for ships to pass from Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean or vice versa. Built between 1881 and 1914 by both French and American construction workers, now has a third set of locks, completed in 2016 to accommodate the New Panamax ships. Do visit the museum in the historic 1874 building, original headquarters of the companies who built the canal, in the old town.
Bocas del Toro reefs, a top Panamanian eco-tourism spot, is located on the Caribbean west of Panama City. Here you will find surfing, scuba diving, fishing and island hopping all while staying at a luxurious resort, island cabana or an eco-lodge.
San Blas, an archipelago of islands off the north coast Caribbean seaside, is the most popular vacation area in Panama. With 378 islands, some inhabited and some with not a soul, offer a limited set of activities because of their protected status. One travels by boat and pays a modest fee to the local indigenous Guna-Yala Indian caretakers to visit each primitive island.
Coiba National Marine Park contains 38 islands off the Pacific coast 30 miles from the coast. The island of Coiba is formerly called Devil’s Island because it contained a penal colony until 2014. Today as a marine park, it has some of the best diving to swim with over 800 marine species.
El Valle de Anton is a village in the mountains of Panama nestled in a dormant volcanic crater. Two hours north of Panama City, it’s a favorite of Panamanians to escape the heat. One can relax at a spa or be active with hiking, horseback riding, and bike riding.
General travel advice for Panama
- Do you need a visa? Citizens from most countries in the Americas and Europe do not require a visa for up to 180 days. Check here if that’s the case for you. However, if you arrive by sea (except via cruise ship), there is a US$110 charge per person. If traveling overland, you will need an exit visa and a Panama entry visa.
- Language spoken: Spanish, but English is spoken by many people as a second language
- Currency: The official currency of Panama is the Balboa. However, the currency used for everyday purchases is the US dollar. One Balboa equals one US Dollar, and there are no Balboa bills, only coins. Based on our experience, whenever you pay in US dollars, the change will be in a mix of Balboa coins and dollar bills. At the ATM’s, you also get US dollars. Calculate the exchange here
- Electricity: Typically 110 Volts, but there might be sockets in some hotels using 220 volts. Pay attention to any indication before plugging in your electronics
- Standard electrical frequency: 60 Hertz
- International calling code: +507
- Drives on the: Right
- Shopping: A couple of malls in Panama City offer discount cards for tourists, like the Multiplaza and Metromall (sorry, I looked for pages in English, but it looks like they only have them in Spanish at this point). You need to apply in the links above.