Located between South and North America, and known for it’s famous Canal, Panama is a stable Latin American country with a small population (4 million) and a good economy. Right next to popular Costa Rica, enjoying similar natural beauty and tropical climate.
When to visit? There are two distinctive seasons, “High” or “Dry” (December-April), and “Low”, “Rainy” or “Green” (May-November). Because of being close to the Ecuator, the temperature stays the same year-round, with the main difference being that it rains more from May to November. Most travelers, specially those coming from the cold choose December-April.
Getting here. Panama City International airport (PTY) is a regional hub offering direct flights from most mayor cities.
Pack light. Over packing heads the list of biggest travel mistakes. It is better for the environment and it will make your life much easier while in Panama. Domestic airlines have limited space and can be forced to leave your bags behind to send on the next flight. The boats going to Bocas del Toro are small and not equipped with big storage areas.
Cultural differences. Things move at a different speed in Latin America. Please be patient and tolerant, every culture has its own way of doing things, this just makes it different, not wrong or inferior.
Language. Even with no common language, rudimentary communication is easy, butcher the language if you must, but communicate. By making the effort you will earn the respect of the locals.
Gifts. If you want to bring gifts for the local kids don’t give sweets; instead bring clothes or school supplies, and ask your tour operator or driver to give them to community elders so that you don’t encourage begging from children.
Clothing. Be sensitive and respectful to the local culture by wearing clothing that is appropriate.
Do not feed the wildlife. It might look like fun and a great photo opportunity, but it is actually dangerous for both you and the animals.
Erosion. Don’t be tempted to create a new track or take a shortcut. Stay on the existing trail when possible even if it’s muddy or there’s room to walk alongside.
Responsible travel. Do not remove any objects, plants or animal products from nature.
Snorkeling. A relaxed snorkeler is less threatening and less of a target. When the aquatic wildlife realizes you are not a threat, they resume their normal routine, allowing you to experience their world.
Falling coconuts. When walking under palm trees watch your head from falling coconuts, they can cause a serious injury.
Lost in the rainforest. To the untrained eye the rainforest can be perceived as a big blur of green, making it an easy place to get lost. Never enter a trail without an experienced local guide.
Crossing streets. Always look on both directions and think pedestrians don’t have the right of way because that’s what most car drivers appear to believe or are used to. Even on painted crosswalks you have to be very careful and either let the cars go by, or make sure to make eye contact with the driver before crossing.
Slow Lines. For domestic flights you need to be at the airport one hour before departure. It is very important to comply with this requirement because lines can be slow.
River rafting. Prior to your rafting trip your guide will give you a tutorial, be sure to pay attention. One of the most common errors that rafters make is to paddle in the wrong direction.
Wildlife. Poison dart frogs can’t inject venom as their venom is in the skin, however if you grab one and you have a cut in your hand you can be in trouble. Play it safe and let the wildlife be.
Panamanian. If you want to try the local food, “Sancocho” is a very tasty chicken soup, “Comida Corriente” is served at informal places and it translates to meal of the day, it usually includes rice and beans, small salad, with chicken, beef or pork to choose from. Other things to try are “Carimanola”, “Yuca Frita”, “Patacones”, and “Pescado Frito”. Corn “tortillas” are different than what most people are used to, it’s thicker, more like a hockey puck.
Drink. Coffee from Panama is regarded as one of the best in the world, if your travels take you to Boquete, make sure to get some. The local alcohol is called “Seco”, it’s made from sugar cane. People mix it with milk or fruit juices. There are several brands of local beer, the ones that sell the most are “Atlas” and “Balboa”.
Tipping. 10% is the norm at restaurants. Your bill will show the amount consumed + the service tax (ITBMS).