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Panama Travel Tips

 

PANAMA TRAVEL TIPS
A collection of important information that can make your trip more enjoyable.

Here you will find the most important informations about Panama
Panama General Information Panama Business Profile Panama Tipping
Panama Entry Requirements Panama Social Profile Panama's People
Panama Duty Free Panama Health & Safety Panama Clothing & Attire
Getting Around Panama Panama Currency/Money Panama Sports & Activities
Panama Communications Panama Shopping Panama Time Zone

Panama is one of the world’s most visitor-friendly countries. Panama borders Colombia, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. The two oceans are linked by the man-made Panama Canal, cut into a gap between the Cordillera de Talamanca and the San Blas mountain range and stretching for over 65km (40 miles). Panama City, the capital, is a curious blend of old Spain, modern America and the bazaar atmosphere of the East. In the old part of the city with its narrow, cobblestoned streets, most of the interesting sights are to be found. If you want to travel Panama take a moment to brush up on the travel tips that will help you be more prepared for travel anywhere in Panama.

 

PANAMA GENERAL INFORMATION

Area: 75,517 sq km (29,157 sq miles).

Population: 3,116,000 (2003).

Population Density: 41.3 per sq km.

Capital: Panama City. Population: 463,093 (2000).

Language: The official language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken.

Religion: Almost all Christian; 86 per cent Roman Catholic.

Panama City

Electricity: 120 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs are the flat two-pin American type.

Government:
Republic. Gained independence from Colombia in 1903. Head of State and Government: President Martin Torrijos since 2004.

GEOGRAPHY: Panama is at the southernmost part of Central America and is bordered in the north by Costa Rica and the south by Colombia. To the east is the Caribbean and to the west is the Pacific. Panama has the narrowest land mass between the two great oceans of anywhere in the Americas which is about 30 miles. There are two mountain chains which run north/ south through Panama. There is a dormant volcano which has in its proximity some hot springs.

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PANAMA ENTRY REQUIREMENTS


US and Canadian citizens only need a valid passport and a tourist card. The tourist card costs $5 and is usually sold to you by your airline when you check in. You can purchase your card on your arrival in Panama from the immigration authorities.
Citizens of other countries should consult with the Panamanian consulate or embassy in their home country to obtain the latest information on entry requirements. In some cases, no tourist card is necessary and in other cases, you will need a visa.

The tourism card will give you 90 days in Panama. If you want to extend your stay beyond 90 days, you should go to Immigracion and Naturalization a few days before the 90 days is up. Click here for Visa Informations

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PANAMA DUTY FREE

Duty Free: The following items may be imported into Panama without incurring customs duty:
500 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500g tobacco; three bottles of alcoholic beverage; perfume and eau de cologne in opened bottles for personal use; gifts up to the value of B50.

Prohibited items: Fruit, vegetable and animal products including shrimp.

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GETTING AROUND PANAMA

As soon as you leave customs, there is an official taxi stand. These taxis are safe and reliable. It costs about $15 to go anywhere in Panama City from the International Airport and takes about 15-20 minutes depending on where you are going. There are also several car rental agencies including National, Thrifty and Dollar Car Rental.

Taxis - rom your hotel or any downtown street, taxis are easy to get, numerous and cheap. Getting to most places in Panama City by taxi won't cost more than $4. There are no taxi meters. It is best to negotiate the price with the driver when you tell him where you want to go. If you take a hotel taxi it will be more than double. To avoid them, just walk out to the street and hail a regular taxi.

Tours - For organized tours, there excellent tour operators with tours beginning with half-day excursions to see the local attractions.See our What to Do and See section for ideas. Go to our TOUR OPERATORS page in the Business Services section for information on where, when and how much.

Buses -There is regular bus service to most parts of the country with round-trip tickets usually no more then $20. Ask a taxi driver to take you to Albrook Bus Terminal.

To go to the Colon Free Zone or Colon, the bus stop is at Avenida Peru between Calle 29 Este and Calle 30 Este.

For bus travel to Costa Rica daily trips are provided by Panaline (262.1618) and Tico Bus (262.2084). Call in advance for reservations. There is a daily Tico bus leaving from Albrook Terminal at 11 am.

Travel To and From Panama The only way to go to and from Panama is by plane, car or bus. There is an excellent bus service between Costa Rica and Panama. To go to South America, the only way is to take a plane. There is no boat service to Columbia. If you have a car, it can be shipped to a Latin American port.


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PANAMA COMMUNICATIONS

Panama's telephone company, Cable & Wireless, have installed more than 10,000 phones across Panama since 1997.Most of the blue public telephones require plastic phone cards called tarjetas which can be purchased from businesses displaying a small Cable & Wireless symbol out front. (insert logo here). They can also be purchased from machines outside every Cable & Wireless buildings, located in most major cities. You can also place telephone calls from your hotel room, although the rates are far more expensive then using a tarjeta.

Fax and sometimes internet services are offered at Cable & Wireless offices throughout the country. Most upscale hotels also offer these services as well as Internet Cafés hat can be found in all cities and most towns. Hotel clerks can usually assist you in finding the closet Internet Café.

Renting a cellular phone in Panama is easy, as several companies offer convenient plans for those visiting the country. Most companies require a valid passport and a deposit, which can be paid in cash or with credit card; for an additional fee insurance is available. Calls are charged on a "per minute" basis, and are offered on a daily, weekly and monthly plans, with international access often available. Each company might differ in their policies and pricing, thus we recommend that you act accordingly.

The two major cell phone operators are Bell South and Cable & Wireless. There is an enormous amount of competition between the two, so services are quite extensive reasonably priced. If you wish to purchase a phone several options are available to you. Both prepaid and one year contracts are available.

Prepaid cellular phone usage: Cellular phones can be purchased in any electronic store or from the cell phone providers themselves. Phones range from between $45.00 and up, but much depends on how many prepaid minutes the phone comes with when you purchase it. Specials are offered regularly, but it is not uncommon to see phones selling for $85.00, which include $50.00 of free minutes. Cell phone cards come in various denominations, with the cheapest being $5.00. Depending on the card you purchase the average cost per minute of usage can range from $0.75 to $0.40; this is approximate. The more expensive the card you purchase the cheaper you pay by the minute to use the cell phone. Purchasing a prepaid cell phone is easy and quick. Virtually every store sells cell phone cards.

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PANAMA
BUSINESS PROFILE

Economy: Panama has a relatively prosperous economy based on agriculture, light industry, revenues from the Panama Canal and the service sector. Over half the land area is given over to agriculture: the main cash crops are sugar cane, coffee and bananas, while the main food crops are rice, maize and beans. Commercial cattle-raising is also prominent. The country has significant reserves of timber, particularly mahogany, and good fishing stocks, shrimp being a major and valuable export earner. Local industries include food processing, clothing, paper and building materials. Panama also exports petroleum refined from imported crude oil. Further revenue is obtained from tolls levied on ships passing through the Panama Canal (which came under full Panamanian control in 2000) and from registration fees for a plethora of ‘offshore’ companies exploiting Panama’s strict banking and commercial secrecy laws (although the Government has recently instituted measures to permit disclosure in suspected cases of money-laundering).
Other important sources of revenue include the Colon Free Trade Zone established near the Canal through which 30 per cent of all Panamanian trade passes, an ‘open’ shipping registry, and a rapidly growing tourist industry now worth more than US$500 million annually. A major reform programme undertaken during the 1990s saw the privatisation of many state enterprises, reform of the tax and social security systems, and the removal of price controls and import tariffs. Current annual GDP growth is 4 per cent and inflation is around 1 per cent; the official unemployment rate is 13.8 per cent. Panama is a member of the Inter-American Development Bank. About 40 per cent of two-way trade is with the USA and Japan; Costa Rica and Germany are the country’s other important trading partners. Panama is also attracting growing interest from Hong Kong-based commercial concerns.

Business: Business standards are somewhat the same as the US. Speaking Spanish would be a good idea. Be punctual and not pushy in you dealings. They are most concerned with someone who will listen carefully and they will respect you all the more. Office hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1700, Mon-Fri 0730-1630 (government offices).

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PANAMA SOCIAL PROFILE

Food & Drink: The most popular dish here is called the "sancocho" which is a spicy concoction of vegetables and chicken in the form of a stew. There are a number of good restaurants which serve an array of specialties. You will not go hungary here. Seafood is plentiful, but on the Caribbean side you can have a lot of Caribbean King Crab, lobster and shrimp. In Panama there is nat a real concern about the water. Soft drinks are plentiful. Rum and beer are abundant in Panama but wine is not except for expensive imports.

Nightlife: Panama has night clubs and discotheques Which offer attractive, varied shows, Casinos and bingos are also very popular. There are movies, Theater, ballets, concerts, recitals, and dance festivals.

Special Events: For further information, contact the Instituto Panameño de Turismo (see Contact Addresses section). The following is a selection of special events occurring in Panama in 2005:
Jan Coffee and Flowers Fair, Boquete; Festival of San Sebastián, Ocú. Feb Las Balserías (Guaymí Indian celebration – see Resorts & Excursions section), Chiriquí Province. Feb 5-8 Carnaval. Mar San José International Fair. Apr Semana Santa; Orchis Fair, Boquete. Apr-May Azuero Festival, Villa de los Santos. Jun San Juan Bautista, Isla Grande, Chitré. Jul Boat Races, Taboga Island. Sep Feria del Mar, Bocas del Toro. Oct Black Christ Celebration, Portobelo.

Social Conventions: Handshaking is the normal form of greeting and dress is generally casual. The culture is a vibrant mixture of American and Spanish lifestyles. The Mestizo majority, which is largely rural, shares many of the characteristics of Mestizo culture found throughout Central America. Only three indigenous tribes have retained their individuality and traditional lifestyles as a result of withdrawing into virtually inaccessible areas.

Gambling: Casinos as well as other games of chance are under government operation. The national lottery profits go to support hospitals and charities. It has drawings every Wednesday and Sunday. Bingo is played in the National Bingo's premises located in Estudiante Street in Panama City and 16th street in Rio Abajo. The Presidente José A. Ramon Racetrack has horseraces on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. In Panama, earnings from games of chance are not subject to taxes.


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PANAMA HEALTH & SAFETY

Sanitation: Panama has the purest potable water in the world, which can be drunk directly from the tap. Sanitation standards are very high and milk is pasteurized. For your safety, you should check on the status of smaller town's water supply, as standards outside Panama cityvary.

Health Services: Health care in Panama is excellent. There are renowned specialists who have been trained at the University of Panama and other universities in England, USA, Mexico, Argentina. Spain. former U.S.S.R., Brazil, and other countries.

Hospitals: There are state health centers and hospitals in every province of the country. Panama City also boasts a great number of private clinic and hospitals, all equipped with modern facilities.

Safety:
Panama City is safer than most capital cities. As you would anywhere, use common sense and stick to well-traveled areas and keep alert for pickpockets, especially along the pedestrian-only Central Avenue. There have also been some incidents reported in the neighborhoods of Veracruz Beach, Chorrillo, Ancon, Curundu, Panama Viejo, San Miguelito, Rio Abajo and Madden Dam, and these areas should not be strolled around at night. The city of Colon has a major crime problem and shouldn't be strolled around day or night. It's wise to take a taxi wherever you go, unless you're traveling with a guide or large group. Colon's duty-free shopping compound is quite safe, however. The area of Darien Province between Yaviza and the Colombian border along the upper Tuira River is unsafe due to the presence of drug smugglers, bandits and Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary forces. However, the vast majority of Darien National Park is relatively safe, though it is advisable to visit the park with a guide due to the inherent risks of travel in remote jungle with ill-defined trails. Other areas are generally very safe.

For the latest advisories, call the U.S. State Department's Citizen's Emergency Center (202-647-5225), the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (800-267-6788 in Canada; 613-944-6788 from outside the country), the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (0171-238-4503) or the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Consular Operations Section (02-6261-3305).

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PANAMA CURRENCY/MONEY

The Panamanian currency is the US dollar. Amazing but true.This is one of Panama's great conveniences. American coins are also used (as well as Panamanian coins which look exactly like American coins except for the imprint.)

Credit Cards - Credit cards are well accepted at hotels, major stores and better restaurants in Panama City. Outside Panama City, in general, cash will be necessary.
You can get a cash advance on your credit card at most major Panamanian banks; make sure you have your passport for ID.

ATM machines - You can access your American bank account in Panama City at the ATM machines that have "Cirrus" or "Plus" sign on them, provided that you have a personal ID number. Look on the back of your debit card to see if it has these names. This a quick and hassle-free way to get cash in increments of up to $500 a day, depending on the daily limit your card imposes.

Cash - Because of counterfeit problems, some Panamanian businesses will not accept bills over $20. In Panama City, in some stores you will have to fill out a form for anything bigger than a $20.Outside Panama City best to carry denominations of $20 or less.

Traveler's checks - Traveler's checks are not well accepted in Panama except at banks: American Express are preferred.

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PANAMA SHOPPING

Panama is a free port for tourist goods coming from all over the world. In addition to the famous Mola, a sample of the Kuna's primitive art, there are jewelry, precious stones, embroidered tablecloths, oriental crafts, watches, perfumes, cameras, photographic and electronic equipment, electrodomestics, fine crystals and porcelain, all at reasonable prices. Most stores open from 9 a m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Some of them open on Sunday. Special sales are frequent throughout the year.

Panama City is a veritable shopper's paradise. Walking down Via España and Central Avenue, you will discover the longest shopping street in the world with shops that offer you the latest fashions, the most complex computers and the most reasonably priced handicrafts

Shopping Centers: For your additional buying pleasure, there are several large shopping centers in Panama City. In these malls you can find a collection of specialty shops: Jewelry, Boutiques, Perfumes, Flower Shops, Porcelain, Decorations, Sports, Electronics, Pharmacies, Beauty Parlors, and much more.

Some of these shopping center are: Plaza Paitilla, El Dorado Mail, Obarrio Galleries, Plaza California, La Alambra, New York Plaza, Panama Hotel's Gardens, Regency Plaza, La Florida Plaza, Bal Harbour, Tocumen Plaza , Plaza Carolina, Balboa Plaza, Los Pueblos, shopping Mall and Concordia.

Colon Free Zone: It is a wholesale distribution center where goods of any kind (including raw materials and machinery) may be imported, stored, modified, distributed, processed, assembled, repacked, and then re-exported without being subject to custom duties.

Supermarkets: In Panama City, there are several excellent and modern supermarkets where you can buy delicatessen, cheese, wines, national and imported spirits, and well-known US and international brands of canned and packaged food. Many are open 24 hours.

In the rest of the country, with the exception of the larger town, you will find more limited inventories. If you have special dietary of pharmaceutical needs, plan ahead and stock while in Panama City.

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PANAMA TIPPING


Porters receive 0.50 cents per suitcase and in general 10% over consumption in fancier restaurants. In small cafes and more casual places, tipping is not necessary, although, appreciated.

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PANAMA'S PEOPLE

Panama's population is estimated in 2,339,329, it has a density of 30.8 persons per square kilometer. Nearly 49% of the people live in the urban areas. The population of the metropolitan area of Panama City, the country's capital, is estimated in 825,300 persons. There are three major Indian groups in Panama: the Kunas on the San Blas Islands off the Caribbean coast, the Emberá in the province of Darien, and the Guaymies in Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro, and Veraguas provinces. There are also Teribe and Bokota Indians in Boca del Toro and Waunaans in Darien.

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PANAMA CLOTHING & ATTIRE

Bring light clothes. Panamanians are very casual most of the time but a light suit is worn for business and for visit to government authorities. Never forget to include a bathing suit when packing your suitcase. Sunglasses are recommended as well as sunscreen lotion for protection against sunburn. If you visit the highlands of Chiriqui Province, bring a light sweater or jacket since it can be a little chilly in the evening and early morning. Good walking shoes are necessary for your excursions.

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PANAMA SPORTS & ACTIVITIES

Ecotourism: The Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Reserve and the Soberania National Park offer good opportunities for learning about tropical fauna and flora. Birdwatching enthusiasts will not be disappointed in Panama: there are about 950 registered species and the country is considered one of the world’s best birdwatching spots. The Anton Valley (El Valle de Anton), 120km/70 miles west of Panama City, is famous for its orchids and the El Níspero Botanical Gardens; one activity on offer here is the tree canopy adventure, where participants are fastened into a harness, pulled up to the tree tops and swung from one platform to another in order to enjoy particularly ‘green’ views. Trips to the famous Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island (which houses a renowned tropical research laboratory) are also possible, although appointments need to be made at least one month in advance.

Boat trips: Boat trips on the Panama Canal are one of Panama’s major tourist attractions and there are various types of tours available. Crocodiles, frigate birds and other animals living along the banks and in the surrounding jungle can be observed. Canal tours often aim to provide visitors with a chance to observe one of the many large vessels moving through the canal locks. For further details, contact the Panamanian Institute of Tourism or the Panamanian Embassy (see Contact Addresses section).

Watersports: There are some excellent locations for diving and snorkelling in Panama, the best of which include Isla Grande near Portobelo, where there are a number of dive centres offering excursions to the best reefs; the Bocas del Toro archipelago; Taboga Island (20km/12 miles south of Panama City); and the San Blás Islands (off the northeast coast). Whitewater rafting is becoming increasingly popular on the Chiriquí and Chiriquí Viejo rivers (not possible during the rainy season, from April to mid-December). For further details on some of these destinations, see the Resorts & Excursions section.

Fishing: Fish are abundant in the Panamanian waters of the Pacific and the Caribbean. Locations include Piñas Bay, Coiba Island, Contadora Island and Taboga on the Pacific side and the San Blas Islands and the Chiriquí Lagoon off the archipelago of Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean.

Golf: There are six golf courses on the isthmus. Panamá Country Club, Summit and Fort Amador’s courses are all open to tourists. Guest cards are needed to play the 18-hole course at Coronado Beach Country Club. In addition, Itoroko, the former US golf course, has now opened up.

Horseriding: This is popular in the mountainous Chiriquí province, whose wild landscapes provide a natural habitat for cattle and horses. There are numerous horse-breeding farms, some of which can be visited. Horse trips to the Baru Volcano are also available.

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PANAMA TIME ZONE

GMT/UTC minus 5 hours (Eastern Standard Time. Panama is one hour ahead of the rest of Central America. Electricity: Variable - either 110V or 220V - 60 hz. Weights & measures: Metric


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