Currency: Panamanian Balboa/US Dollar
Time Zone: EST/GMT-6
Tipping: In Panama tipping is not compulsory, however it is good etiquette to leave around a 10% tip. Some restaurants will add a tip to the bottom of the bill so check this prior to paying.
Panama - an introduction
Panama is one of those places that tends to be ignored by some travellers who prefer to visit the tourist haunts of Guatemala and Costa Rica. However, on an escorted tour to Panama you won't be disappointed as there is much more to this region of Central America other than being famous for the Panama Hat and politician Manuel Noriega.
When you first land in Panama you will be greeted by blue-green seas and foggy highlands, but don't let that get you down as there is plenty to discover with most of the natural highlights being found off the beaten path. At least one third of the country, including its National Parks, are set aside as areas of protected beauty. Panama is the perfect destination for holidaymakers on a budget and there is no end to the amount of beaches, mountains and rainforests to be explored on your travelling adventure. It's possible to spend your entire holiday exploring the Archipiélego de las Perlas as there are so many islands, beaches and pristine waters to enjoy. You can see Panama's only Volcano in the Parque Nacional Volcán Barú where there are some stunning scenic trails to follow; take your camera to capture the moments.
For the perfect highland escape, visit Boquete where you can hike through the Cloud Forest, breathe in fresh mountain air and sample some of the country's best coffee. Watersport enthusiasts should visit Santa Catalina, the surfing capital of Panama. Birdwatchers should take a tour of Parque Nacional Soberanía and visit the Pipeline Road which is known to be a world-famous birding spot. Those preferring the hustle and bustle of city life can visit capital Panama City, whose skyline is so overflowing with skyscrapers that the locals call it the 'Miami of the South'. The city still provides fine dining and chic nightlife combined with a little history.
No visit to Central America would be complete without seeing the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal which you can cruise along if you're lucky to be on a ship that features this in its itinerary. Over 14,000 vessels squeeze through the Panama Canal as it winds its way through the jungles on either side with the whole journey taking approximately nine hours.
Escorted tours to Panama typically include return flights, accommodation in good standard hotels, meals and a variety of included or optional excursions so that you can really experience the very best of this beautiful and historic part of the world. If you opt to cruise the Panama Canal then you will get to experience all the on-board facilities provided on your vessel.
Tips & Advice
The beauty of travelling as part of an escorted tour is that you'll be in the safest hands when it comes to holidaying in foreign lands. However, to help you have an enjoyable holiday in Panama, take a look at these useful tips and advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO):
Health and Travel Insurance
Before travelling to Panama contact your GP to check whether you need any vaccinations or preventative medical treatment around 8 weeks prior to travelling. Panama City itself has some good standard hospitals, however outside the city medical facilities are limited. Make sure that you have the correct travel insurance before travelling and also have access to funds to pay for treatment should you need it. Most tours offer the chance to purchase one-trip travel insurance at the time of booking.
In Panama both Malaria and Dengue Fever are common, even in the outskirts of Panama city. There is also a risk of Yellow Fever, so ensure that you have had the correct vaccines before leaving the UK.
There is a higher level of HIV infection among adults in Panama than in the UK, so you should exercise the normal precautions to avoid exposure to the disease.
To call for an ambulance in the country simply dial 911. If you are taken to a medical facility for treatment it's advisable to contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
As with most towns and cities there is a risk of street crime. Avoid carrying large sums of money or valuables where possible and always be vigilant when using ATMs, as cards have been cloned in the past from machines. As with all busy areas, keep your valuables safe and be aware of pick-pockets and muggers.
Avoid visiting the border between Colombia and Panama as this can be particularly dangerous.
If you're venturing out alone, always used registered yellow taxi firms. In Panama it is common to pick up multiple fares, but insist that the driver should not do this.
Local Laws and Customs
Do not become involved with drugs in anyway as it can lead to imprisonment of up to 15 years. Even simply being in the presence of someone using drugs can lead to arrest.
If arriving by any means other than the sea then British Nationals do not need a visa to enter Panama. However, you must be able to show a return ticket or the equivalent of $500 USD or a valid credit card. You can stay for up to 90 days initially.
When on the Panama canal if you choose to disembark your passport will be stamped by immigration. Immigration officials in Panama will not board cruise liners asking to see passports. If you do arrive in Panama via boat/cruise ship, you will need a visa. This costs $100USD plus a $5USD registration fee per person. Some tour operators offer a visa service but may charge an administration fee. If unsure, check at the time of booking.
Any other nationality looking to visit Panama must contact the local embassy to check visa requirements.
To find out more about visiting Panama, visit the official tourist board at visitpanama.com.