Panama Country Guide
The Isthmus of Panama is strategically located as the crossing point between two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic. Panama has therefore attracted international attention for many centuries. The Spanish first used it as the path between two oceans to transport their Gold from South America to Spain. Later the French tried to develop a canal that would allow boats to easily pass between to continents. This mammoth project was finally finished by the United States creating the Panama Canal that is now a major resource for Panama and a must see attraction for those visiting the area.
Panama is becoming increasingly popular as a travel destination. There's much more to beautiful Panama than the famous Panama Canal, although it's still a sight not to be missed. The country possesses remarkable natural beauty and a variety of landscapes – beaches, mountains and rainforests.
Our Panama Country Guide below gives some useful general information about Panama. For information on things to see and do whilst in the country, go to our Panama tours page. To check out our accommodation options within Panama, go to either our Panama map or our Panama Destination Guides page, which lists all the cities that we offer accommodation in.
Check out the latest Panama Travel features on YouTube.
Panama Country Guide
Panama is an interesting mix of races. Five indigenous ethnic groups can be found in the country, living alongside a mixture of other races, including Spanish, African and Chinese. The country has a bustling economy based around Panama City, which provide visitors with dinning, entertainment, culture, and history for all tastes, timeframes, and budgets. You are sure to enjoy your visit to Panama!
Useful information on this page includes:
Check out our Panama weather guide, which includes a six-day Panama weather forecast.
Panama is a well known international business centre and is also a transit country. Although Panama is only the fourth largest economy in Central America, behind those of Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, it is the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita consumer in Central America.
A business hub for the entire world, Panama is a place of transit for travellers.
The Panama country code is 507 and area codes do not exist.
You can get roaming agreements with some of the most internationally well known mobile phone companies. They offer good coverage.
The major urban areas have Internet cafes.
It takes 5-10 days for airmail to get to Western Europe.
There are two types of legal currency within Panama. One is the Balboa (PAB), which consists of 100 centavos. There are no Balboa bank note; coins come in denominatons of PAB10 and 1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 centavos. US Dollars were adopted in 1904, and exist alongside the Balboa coinage. The Balboa is fixed at PAB1 = USD1.
To view the current exchange rate, click on this link to OANDA.com - The Currency Site.
You won't need to go in for currency exchange if you carry US dollars or traveller's cheques in US dollars. While you can exchange most currency, it is advisable to carry only new notes as soiled and wrinkled notes are not likely to get accepted.
Credit and Debit Cards
The most widely used credit cards are Visa and American Express. Most upmarket places accept Master Card and Diners Club, but you may have to part with cash in the smaller shops and restaurants.
Banking hours are usually Monday-Friday 08:00-15:00, Saturday 08:30-12:00.
120 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs are the flat two-pin American type.
For a list of Panamaniam Embassies around the world, and foreign embassies in Panama, go to EmbassyWorld.com.
Population - 3.2 million people
Total Area - 78,200 square kilometres
Capital - Panama City (830,000 people)
Time Zone - GMT/UTC - 5 hours time zone
To view the current time in Panama City, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.
Panama is in Central America, between Costa Rica and Colombia. It borders the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It has the advantage of being strategically located on the Isthmus of Panama. This is due to its control over the Panama Canal (since 2000) which connects, via the Caribbean, the North Atlantic Ocean to the North Pacific Ocean.
The continental divide formed by the central backbone of mountains and hills is the dominant aspect of Panama's landscape. This divide does not belong to North America's massive chain of mountains, and the highlands connected to the Andean mountain chain of South America only appear near the Colombian border. The backbone that comprises the continental divide is the eroded arch of land that rose from the bottom of the sea. Its peaks were formed by volcanic activity.
Rest assured that medical services in Panama are up to date and reliable. In accordance with current legislation related to sanitary matters, the country provides facilities for healthcare to all its citizens as well as to foreign travellers, regardless of any reciprocal agreement with any country. However, tourists are advised to get medical insurance. For any tourist over nine months old travelling to Kunayala (San Blas) or Darién (excluding the canal zone), a yellow fever vaccination is essential. If you are coming in from a non-endemic zone, note that you should get vaccinated if you are travelling outside the urban areas. This applies whether an outbreak of the disease is reported or not, and whether or not you need a vaccination certificate in order to enter Panama.
According to the guidelines issued by the WHO in 1973, tourists don't require a cholera vaccination certificate to enter the country. But it is better to take precautions as there may be a small risk of cholera in this country. Since doctors are divided on the effectiveness of vaccination, do find out the latest information on the subject. There is no polio in Panama, though typhoid is common. There is a slight risk of malaria (mainly caused by the plasmodium vivax) throughout the year in the provinces of Darién, Bocas de Toro and San Blas. Panama City and the former canal zone do not hold any risks.
It was Pedro Arias Dávila (Pedrarias the Cruel) who founded Panama City in 1519. Panama City is the oldest Spanish colony on the American mainland. It was once a base for transporting stolen Peruvian silver and gold to Spain. The treasure was conveyed along a treacherous road linking the Caribbean Sea to Panama City. The presence of such great wealth on the isthmus lured raiding buccaneers and pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1671, Henry Morgan, the Welsh buccaneer, sacked the city and razed it the ground.
But by 1673, Panama City rose from the ashes as the Casco Viejo we know today. Heavily fortified, it was never again invaded. However, this did not deter the mounting raids on the Caribbean coast. In 1746, the defeated Spanish were eventually forced to sail around Cape Horn. In1821, Panama was declared independent from Spain. Its importance declined until it was gripped by Gold Rush fever in the middle of the 19th century. During this time, the isthmus was used by thousands of forty-niners as a shortcut between California and the US East Coast. In 1903, when Panama became independent from Colombia, Panama City was declared the capital. It became the most significant hub for commerce and trade in the Americas when the Panama Canal was opened in 1914.
Today you can tour the ruins of Panama Viejo (Old Panama).
Although Panama's official language is Spanish, English is spoken across the country, especially in business circles. Schools teach it as a second language. Panamanian Spanish has a distinctive accent and Panamanians speak it rapidly. The language has a lot of slang and many words which are distinctly Panamanian Spanish. Some Panamanian Blacks descended from West Indians, speak English as a first language. Immigrants and Indian groups in Panama have their own language.
Some common Spanish phrases that will benefit travellers include:
Yes - si
No - No
How much? - cuantos?
Goodbye - adios
Please - por favour
Excuse me - perdone
Good day - buenos dias
Good evening - buenos noches
Thank you - gracias
1 - uno
2 - dos
3 - tres
4 - cuatro
5 - cinco
6 - seis
7 - siete
8 - ocho
9 - nueve
10 - diez
Panama is located in Central America between the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. It shares borders with Columbia and Costa Rica. To view a map of Panama, click on this link to WorldAtlas.com.
Most Panamanians are ethnically mestizo (a mix of Indian and Spanish) or mixed Indian, Spanish, West Indian and Chinese. The country also hosts Chinese, Swiss, Middle Eastern, North American and Yugoslav immigrants. They have been drawn to Panama because of its reputation as an international crossroads and its unique location. The main segment of Panama's population inhabits its urban areas, with the Panama City- Colón metropolitan corridor holding more than 50%.
Panama has 9 provinces and each has a wealth of cultural traditions and folklore expressed through costumes, cuisine and music. Some of Panama's traditional crafts are the colourful Mola, Embera and Wounaan woven baskets, pottery, Tagua nut carvings, and items carved from cocobolo and balsa wood. Native crafts are marketed to help support the villages and native people.
The country is an explorer's joy, with its beaches, rainforests and mountains, and is the perfect destination for budget backpackers.
Follow the link to view a list of current public holidays for Panama.
A majority of Panamanians (over 80%) are Roman Catholic, while both Protestants and Muslims count at 5% each. In order to be completely accepted by society, people in Panama are required to practise their religion. As in other places in Latin America, women play important roles in the church. Besides churches and mosques, the country has Bahai and Hindu temples, as well as a Jewish synagogue.
For nationals of the EU, UK, US, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand many other countries, a visa is not required for entry into Panama, but they need to buy a tourist card when they arrive. The card costs 5US dollars and allows tourists to stay in the country for 30 days. From May 2008, those who fly in are required to pay US $13 for the visa stamp to enter Bocas del Toro. For the stamp, tourists need to show a return ticket, US$500 in cash or traveller's cheques, and yellow fever vaccination if they are travelling from a country which has cases of yellow fever (this includes most of Latin America but not the USA).
Note that clean-cut travellers from developed countries such as the USA can get by the border officials without being subjected to a thorough check.