Time zone: Panama time is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and one hour ahead of Central American countries (if you are arriving from Costa Rica, remember to change your watch).
Panama is the same time as USA Eastern Standard Time when US time is not adjusted for daylight savings; during USA daylight savings time, Panama equals US Central time.
Electricity: mainly 110v - some 220v.
All visitors require a valid passport and an onward/return ticket.
Additional requirements vary according to nationality and are subject to change. You are recommended to check with a Panamanian Consulate or Embassy or ticketing agents for airlines that fly to Panama to obtain the most updated information.
Canadians require a tourist card (US $5) or a tourist visa, available from Panamanian embassies and consulates, airlines serving Panama, border crossings, or at the international airport.
Upon entry, every visitor is given a stamp allowing him or her to remain in Panama as a tourist for 90 days. This may be extended by applying to an immigration office in Panama City, David or Chitre, the only offices that can issue an extension.
- You may enter Panama with 200 cigarettes and 3 bottles of liquor tax free. If you try to leave Panama with articles made from endangered species you may be severely punished.
- Please note: There is a US$20 departure tax when you leave Panama.
HOW TO GET HERE
Panama is the land bridge between two continents and divides two oceans, making it a crossroads of the world. Each year hundreds of cruise ships transit a modern wonder of the world, the Panama Canal. International Airlines serving Panama include not only those from North and South America but also from Spain, Russia, Taiwan and Israel. The following cities in the USA are currently the main connection points for flights to and from Panama: Miami, Orlando, Houston, Newark, New York, Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Panama’s International Airport is Tocumen International Airport, 35 Kilometers from downtown Panama City.
Panama’s national airline COPA flies to major cities in South America and cities in the USA in alliance with Continental Airlines.
Land crossings are also possible from Costa Rica with border points at Paso Canoas, Sixaola/Guabito and Rio Sereno. However, there are no roads linking Panama and Colombia. Panama City is approximately 5000 km by road from the nearest US city Brownsville, Texas. However, the costs of insurance, fuel, permits, accommodations etc. usually amount to more than the cost of an airline ticket, so most visitors choose to fly and rent a car upon arrival in Panama.
Panama has a good domestic flight network, the main domestic airlines are Mapiex and Aeroperlas, assessed by the US Federal Aviation as operated in compliance with international aviation standards. All domestic airlines operate out of Panama’s main domestic airport, Aeropuerto Marcos A. Gelabert, located in the Albrook area of Panama City, commonly known as Albrook Airport. Be aware that baggage weight allowance on domestic flights is a total of 25 lbs. for checked baggage and carry on combined. You will also be asked to state your body weight at check in. The small domestic planes have maximum weight limits. Overweight charges (for baggage) varies according to destination, but is rarely more than $1.00 per pound.
Car rental is fairly expensive in Panama. Car rental agencies have offices at most airports, and locations in main cities. Major rental agencies include National, Thrifty, Budget, Avis and Hertz. Rates generally include mandatory insurance and unlimited mileage. To rent a car, you must be 25 years of age (23 if you pay by AMEX) and hold a valid driver’s license. When you accept your rental car be sure to inspect it carefully and note any damages, scratches, or missing items on the rental agreement, as you could be charged when the car is returned.
In Panama City and other major cities, it is not necessary to rent a car as taxis are reasonably priced and readily available – except when it is raining! Taxis can be hailed on the street and often sound their horn to show their availability. Don’t be surprised that the taxi that stops for you already contains other passengers. Taxis do not operate with meters although there are fixed rates for certain destinations. Do not be afraid to bargain for longer distances. Consult your hotel information desk for rate recommendations. Taxis can also be rented by the hour or for longer periods.
Panama has an excellent, inexpensive bus system linking most communities in the country. The main bus terminal is close to Albrook Airport. Routes between major cities are served by large Mercedes air-conditioned buses with video screens and reclining seats. Coaster buses run on smaller town links. The buses are very cheap. However, smaller urban and suburban routes can be slow and crowded.
WHEN TO VISIT
If you are a business traveler, your business may dictate the time of your visit, but if you do have a choice you should be aware that Panama has two main seasons. The drier summer season is the main tourist season and runs from December to April. The rainier season is from the May to November. This is particularly true for the Pacific southern part of Panama. Panama has a tropical climate and in this area long periods of rain are rare. Heavy downpours followed by sunshine are more usual. On the Caribbean side, the rain is more general but less during February/March and September/October. Darien is the wettest part of Panama. Temperatures are typically hot in the lowlands and beach areas, (21 to 32 degrees centigrade) and cooler in the mountain areas (10 to 18 degrees centigrade). Panama lies below the hurricane belt. Growing international interest in Panama as a tourist destination has extended the length of tourist season.
Panama does not print bank notes, so since 1904 the US dollar has been the legal tender and US coins interchangeable with Panamanian coins of the same denominations, similar sizes and metals are used. The dollar bill is called the Balboa, cents are centavos. Prices are often written with $ sign or B/.before the amount.
Large denomination dollar bills can be difficult to change in Panama, particularly outside Panama City. Even for $50 bills you may be asked to sign a book and give your passport number. $20 bills are the most convenient, but in country areas where prices are low you are advised to carry smaller bills.
With the exception of the Banco Nacional counter at Tocumen International Airport, it is only possible to exchange foreign currency at exchange houses (casa de cambio). You will find some in Panama City but few in the rest of the country.
Travellers’checks are infrequently received in Panama, particularly those in currencies other than US dollars. American Express Travellers’checks are preferred.
The use of credit cards is rapidly increasing, particularly in hotels, restaurants, travel agencies in the major cities. Cash advances can be difficult although Banco National is helpful and transaction amounts are limited.
These are increasingly available throughout Panama. Look for signs that show links to Cirrus and Plus in addition to Mastercard etc. Amounts that can be withdrawn vary from bank to bank.
Hotel rates in Panama attract a 10% tax, so it is important to check whether the quoted rate includes this amount. Sales tax is generally 5% although cars attract a 10% tax.
The country code for Panama is 507. Telephone numbers are 7 digit numbers. There are no city codes. The two main service providers are Cable & Wireless, TeleCarrier and Bell South, although since deregulation this is changing. Blue public telephones usually require plastic cards (tarjetas) purchased in various denominations from markets or other businesses and can be used for local or international calls. Local pay phones accept coins for local calls. Internet cafes, found in most major towns, offer communication via the internet. Major hotels provide internet, international telephone and fax services.
Fax services are also available at Cable & Wireless offices throughout the country.
Stamps may be purchased from your hotel or a post office. To send or receive important items, it is preferable to use a courier service.
Carnaval (carnival) is one of the biggest celebrations over the four days preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Music and dancing culminates in parades on Mardi Gras. Celebrations are biggest in Panama City, Penonome and Las Tablas.
Semana Santa (Easter week) is celebrated throughout Panama. Religious processions on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are held in most communities. By law, alcoholic beverages are not sold from 12 noon on Thursday to 12 noon on Sunday, celebrations at the Villa de Los Santos, on the Península de Azuero are particulary famous. The Festival of the Black Christ at Portobelo on October 21 includes a parade of the famous life-size statue of the Black Christ, and attracts pilgrims from all over the country.
Other interesting events are:
- Trade & Agricultural Fair of David, held in March
- Flower and Coffee Fair in Boquete, held in January
- Orchid Fair in Boquete, April.
- Fair of Azuero, May
- o Festival of the Sea in Bocas del Toro, August
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
The Panama Canal at 80 km long is one of the modern wonders of the world. A visit to the Miraflores Locks and visitors center is a must see. Travel agencies can arrange boat trips on Gatun Lake with its island wildlife and good fishing, and a transit of the canal - once-in-a-lifetime experience! Don’t miss the graceful lines of the Bridge of the Americas.
Despite the high rise buildings and a skyline reminiscent of Hong Kong, with bright lights and commercial centers, Panama City is the only city in the world that has a tropical rain forest within its city limits. Its beaches and harbor are beautiful, especially at sunset, and views from the palm-lined Amador Causeway with its elegant restaurants, superb. The history of Panama City can be traced through its origins in Panama La Vieja, supposedly sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan, and “neuva Panama” now known as Casco Viejo.
Take trips to the interior for highland springtime in the mountains of El Valle or Chiriqui, click here for more information for these beautiful areas. Climb Panama’s highest point, the extinct volcano of Volcan Baru. Visit dairy, coffee. Flower, and vegetable farms in the bread-basket province of Chiriqui. River rafting is at its best here, together with hiking, climbing and bird watching.
Visit the beautiful beaches of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, or the Pearl Islands, Bocas del Toro and San Blas: for more information Click here. No wonder these areas have been chosen by twelve countries for their television programs “Survivor”.
The biodiversity and the geographical location of Panama on its land bridge (only 50 km. wide at its narrowest) have lead to an incredible variety of plant and animal life. Wilderness regions including rainforests and cloud forests Click here in designated national parks. Panama is home to 940 recorded species of birds and includes habitats for 125 animal species found nowhere else in the world.
With 1518 islands and 2988 km of coast line, there is plenty of space for water sports. Deep sea fishing is world class. In marine parks on both coasts reefs are found where diving and snorkeling are rewarding experiences. Surfing and whale watching are also popular.
WHAT TO BUY
Souvenirs from Panama do not usually include the Panama hat – these are usually made in Ecuador, despite being made famous by the balding Ferdinand de Lesseps when he was building the first canal.
There are finely woven straw hats from Panama can be found in the towns of Ocu and Penonome. Duty free items may be purchased in the Duty Free Zone of Colon. However, outlets in Panama City can arrange to send an item from the Zona Libre directly to the airport where you can collect it when leaving the country.
Handicrafts include the brightly colored molas, a multilayered textile sewn by Kuna Indian women. The Wouman and Embara Indians make baskets woven so tightly that they will hold water. They also make wood and tagua carvings. Tagua is a nut commonly known as vegetable ivory.
Replicas of Huacas – traditional objects made before the arrival of the Spanish that probably convey religious or spiritual meanings, these can be purchased in various materials from gold to clay.