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Panama Planning Tips and Fast Facts

Cast off for Some Timeless Islands Unspoiled By Tourism.. a Voyage Back in Time

Our Expert Opinion

Think “beyond the canal”. The San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side are remote and unspoiled. Its local population, the Kunas, have been blissfully untarnished by the small tourism industry that has discovered them. Las Perlas on the Pacific side offers world class fishing and diving in aquamarine waters.

What is Destination Known For?

Beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, rich culture, the famous Panama Canal, fishing and water sports.

Location and Size

Panama is situated in Central America – connecting North and South America. With a land area of 29,157 square miles (75,517 square kilometers), Panama is slightly smaller in size than South Carolina. It has Costa Rica to the north and Colombia to the south.

History

Panama was inhabited by the Cuevas and Cocole people until the arrival of Rodrigo de Bastidas and AVasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513. The Spaniards, realizing the strategic location of the country soon began to colonize the region, which eventually led to the annihilation of the natives. The next 300 years, for which Spain controlled Panama, the country was used for slave trading and for transporting treasures from Peru. Towards the middle of the 18th century, the Spanish might began to decline. Meanwhile, the Cimarron pirates grew in power. They consisted of African slaves who had fled and settled in Panama. Thus Spain had to let go of Panama which became a part of the newly liberated Columbia in 1821.

In 1903, Panama split from Colombia and became a free country. A deal was signed with the US to build the Panama Canal. It was completed in 1914, but Panama remained as a US protectorate until 1939.

Ever since, Panama has established its own identity, as a beautiful estuary, holding the Americas together.

Getting There

Direct and connecting flights link Panama City to various locations in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Flights from neighboring regions also land at Aeropuerto Enrique Malek in San José de David.


Best Time to Go

The 'Dry Season' from mid-December to mid-April, with water temperatures remaining around 81°F (30.5°C) and conditions favoring a number of outdoor activities is the best time to go to Panama. The low season, which extends from mid April to early December, experiences sporadic rainfall, usually at the end of the day. November is the rainiest month. Hurricanes are a rare occurrence here.

Local Customs to Observe

Panamanians are warm, easy going people who love to socialize. 'Buenas Días' for good morning and 'Buenas tardes' for good afternoon/evening is used to greet people, accompanied with a handshake. Don and Doña are the titles used for men and women respectively. They are usually followed by the surname to show respect.

Helpful Fast Facts

Currency: Panamanian Balboa & US Dollar.

Time Zone: UTC-05:00.

Local language: Spanish is the official language of this country, but English is also widely used as a common second language.

Population: 3,974,778 as of March 31, 2016.

Airport: The main airport of Panama is the Tocumen International Airport (PTY) at Panama City. The country has three other international airports.

Entry Requirements: Citizens of the US, UK, EU, Canada and Australia holding a valid passport can stay up to 180 days in Panama without a visa. Other nationals require a pre-arrival visa along with a valid passport.

Departure tax: US$40 (included in the ticket price).

Legal Drinking Age: 18 years.

Smoking Regulations: Smoking is forbidden in all indoor public and workplaces. Smoking is also not allowed in public transports and outdoor sports venues.

Staying in touch: Panama has efficient mobile and landline services. Most telecom companies offer international roaming services in this region. Internet coverage is also good with most resorts offering Wi-Fi services.

Medical Information: San Fernando Hospital Clinic in Panama City, San Fernando Coronado Clinic in Coronado and San Judas Tadeo Doctor's Office in Panama City are some of the premium medical facilities in the country. The helpline number for medical emergencies is 507-5600 (Santo Tomás)

Public Holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day), January 9 (Martyr's Day), Good Friday, Easter Sunday, May 1 (Labor Day), August 15 (Founding of Old Panama), October 12 (Hispanic Day), November 2 (All Souls' Day), November 3 (Independence Day of Panama), November 4 (Flag Day), November 5 (Colon Day), November 10 (First Call for Independence), November 28 (Panama's Independence from Spanish rule), December 8 (Mother's Day), December 25 (Christmas Day).

Tourist Office: Get useful information related to travel and things to do in Panama at www.visitpanama.com.

Shopping Information: Shopping is duty-free and very cheap in this country. The Balboa and Panama Viejo markets are ideal for buying local handicrafts and souvenirs. Molas from the Kuna Indians are a “must buy”. Pearls are still available on Las Perlas – the Pearl Islands.

Top Ten "Must Do's"

  • Marvel at the engineering wonder of the Panama Canal.
  • Scuba dive at Bocas del Toro to testify the region's famed abundance of fishes.
  • Challenge yourself to count the amazing diversity at the Coiba National Marine Park.
  • Warm yourself with the hospitality of the Kunas on the San Blas Islands.
  • Partake in the world-class surfing at Santa Catalina.
  • Buy some molas from the Kuna Indians on the San Blas islands.
  • Bicycle past a breathtaking view of the Panama City at the Amador Causeway.
  • Soak the freshness of the lush forests at Pearl Islands.
  • Jet Ski at Panama's favorite get away - Isla Taboga.
  • Sport fish for marlin, tuna, sailfish and wahoo.

Major Local and Regional Events

  • Santa Semanta – an event celebrating Easter with colorful clothing and parading.
  • Feria Internacional del Mar – an annual event involving food and music, celebrating the local culture.
  • National Festival of the Mejorana – a spectacular folkloric event.
  • Festival de Cristo Negro – a religious festival, including a pilgrimage to the Iglesia de San Felipe in Portobelo.

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