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  • Overview

    Covering a land-bridge which links North and SouthAmerica, the Republic of Panama is best known for its 40-mile(65km) shipping canal, which is cut along a gap between mountains,linking the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The country islargely unexplored by tourists, only a few hardy adventurers,researchers, and spirited travellers have enjoyed its amazingdiversity of flora and fauna, secluded beaches, tropical beauty,and historic treasures. The name Panama means 'abundance of fishand butterflies', in an indigenous language, which gives a goodindication of the wonders to be found here beyond the fascinatingcapital, Panama City.

    Panama has a significant history stretching backthousands of years, from its eight indigenous peoples (includingthe colourful Kunas of the San Blas Islands), to its turbulentcolonial occupation. Spanish forts still stand guard on thecoastline, overlooking the blue waters once patrolled by famouspirates like Henry Morgan. Despite some cultural interest, however,it is the natural beauty of the isthmus that is the biggest draw tovisitors. Around 30 percent of Panama is made up of 15 nationalparks and forest reserves and 10 wildlife sanctuaries. Theseinclude the incredible Parque Nacional Darién, just a short drivefrom Panama City, which is arguably the most magnificent wildernessarea in Central America. Made up of archipelagos of about 1,500offshore islands, their white soft beaches lapped by crystal clearwaters and surrounded by virgin rainforest, this is an untouchedparadise for diving, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, water sports,and sunbathing.

    Those 'in the know' can be forgiven for keeping thedelights of Panama a secret from the flood of modern tourism,because this has preserved the beauty and atmosphere of thisoverlooked part of the world where the sun nearly always shines andit is possible to swim in two oceans in a single morning.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Panama has a tropical climate, with temperatures stayingconstant all year round, ranging from averages of around 90°F(32°C) during the daytime to averages of about 70°F (21°C) afterthe sun sets. Humidity is generally high, especially during therainy season, which is between mid-March and November. During thewet season rain comes almost daily, usually in the form of heavybut brief afternoon downpours. The best time to travel to Panama isin the dry season between December and mid-March.

    Tocumen International Airport
    Location: The airport lies 20 miles (32km) from PanamaCity.
    Time: GMT -5.
    Transfer Between Terminals: The terminals are within easy walking distance of eachother.
    Getting to the city: There are buses and minivans dubbed Taxi de Turismo, which canbe booked from the Information Booth in the arrivals hall. Thetransfer time is about half an hour.
    Car Rental: Car hire companies represented in the arrivals hall includeAlamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National and Thrifty.
    Airport Taxis: Regular taxis operate day and night at fixed prices depending onthe number of passengers, but are not metered.
    Fascilities: There is a bank and ATM, a restaurant and coffee bars, as wellas snack bars. Last-minute gifts can be bought at several stores onthe first and second floors, including duty-free. Baggage storageis available, and information booths are located in arrivals.
    Parking Parking at Tocumen International Airport is plentiful and verycheap.

    The official currency is the Panamanian Balboa (PAB), equal to100 centesimos, but the US Dollar is accepted everywhere. Balboaare available only in coin denominations. The only paper currencyused is US dollars. It is easy to exchange currency in Panama atbanks, exchange shops, hotels and the airport. Avoid the blackmarket. The best rates are offered at the larger banks. Old,creased and dirty foreign notes may be refused for exchange. Mostmajor credit cards, American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Dinersclub, are widely accepted. There are numerous ATMs in PanamaCity.


    The official language is Spanish. However, manyPanamanians speak both Spanish and English.


    Electrical current is 110 volts, 60Hz. Flat two-pinplugs are the norm.

    Entry Requirements:

    United States citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond arrival date. A visa is not required for touristic stays ofup to 180 days.

    A passport valid for three months beyond arrival date isrequired. United Kingdom nationals do not require a visa fortouristic stays of up to 180 days.

    Canadian citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond arrival date. A visa is not required for touristic stays ofup to 180 days.

    Australian citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond arrival date. A visa is not required for touristic stays ofup to 180 days.

    A passport valid for three months beyond arrival date isrequired. South African citizens do not require a visa fortouristic stays of up to 180 days.

    Irish citizens require a passport valid for three months beyondarrival date. A visa is not required for touristic stays of up to180 days.

    United States citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond arrival date. A visa is not required for touristic stays ofup to 180 days.

    New Zealand citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond arrival date. A visa is not required for touristic stays ofup to 180 days.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Travellers to Panama require a passport valid for at least threemonths after arrival, return or onward tickets, all necessarydocuments for next destination and funds of USD 500 per person forthe duration of their stay. Visas are generally not required asmany nationalities are allowed entry for a maximum of 180 days. Beaware that it can take as long as 30 days to obtain a visa, if itis required. Panamanian entry requirements change frequently so itis wise to check with your nearest embassy or consulate beforetravelling to Panama. It is highly recommended that passports haveat least six months validity remaining after your intended date ofdeparture from your travel destination. Immigration officials oftenapply different rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.

    Travel Health:

    Malaria is a concern in parts of Panama and travellers areadvised to take malaria medication if visiting provinces east ofthe Panama Canal. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A,hepatitis B and typhoid and travellers should be up to date onvaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) andtetanus-diphtheria. Yellow fever vaccinations are required fortravellers arriving from infected areas and are recommended forvisits to areas of mainland Panama east of the Canal Zone.

    Tap water should not be drunk in Panama unless it has beenboiled, filtered or chemically disinfected, and caution should beexercised with street food.

    Medical facilities are good in Panama City, but very limitedoutside of the capital. Comprehensive medical insurance isrecommended and all required medication should be taken along, inits original packaging, accompanied by a signed and dated letterfrom a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.


    Although a 10 percent service charge is added to most hotelbills, individual staff appreciate a gratuity appropriate toservices rendered. Restaurant waiters expect a tip of 10 to 15percent if a service charge is not included. Taxi drivers do notexpect tips but fares are often rounded up.

    Safety Information:

    Most visits to Panama are trouble-free. Visitors should,however, be aware that there is a risk of street crime in PanamaCity and it is unwise to carry large sums of cash or valuables inpublic. Visitors should be vigilant using ATM cash machines inpublic places and beware of pickpockets and muggers in the maincity shopping and tourist areas. There have been incidents ofassault involving taxi drivers and armed hold-ups in restaurants.Use only registered taxi companies and phone for a cab rather thanhailing one in the street. Do not allow the taxi to pick upadditional passengers and do not share a taxi with unknownpassengers. Burglaries have recently been committed by organisedgangs who use ruses to gain entry to properties, so be cautious.Travel to Darien province only by air with an organised group torecognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian police.Travellers are advised to avoid the border area with Colombia, asthis is particularly dangerous. Avoid political demonstrations inPanama City, usually centred on Panama University and the main roadknown as the Transisthmica.

    Local Customs:

    A midday siesta is practised in many South American countries,including Panama, due to the heat. Tourists in Panama will findthat shops and businesses are often closed during these lunchtimehours and should conduct their daily business either before orafter siesta. The penalties for using of dealing drugs in Panamaare strict, with possession of even very small quantitiespunishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment.


    Business in Panama is formal. Handshakes are appropriate withmen on meeting and departing, but not usually with women. Use oftitles is very important to Panamanians, as is punctuality. ManyPanamanians take an afternoon siesta, therefore businessentertaining often takes place over dinner instead of lunch. ManyPanamanian business people prefer to host visitors to dinner athome, where they will be treated as VIPs and given a gift. Theappropriate reciprocation is to invite the host to dinner inreturn. Dress for business is fairly formal despite the climate;men wear lightweight suits and ties and women wear lightweightdresses and suits. Office opening hours vary but generallybusinesses are open from 8am to 12pm, then 2pm to 5pm or 6pm onweekdays, and 9am to 12pm on Saturdays.


    The international access code for Panama is +507. There areseveral internet service providers in Panama and free wifi isavailable in hotels, restaurants and other establishments intourist centred areas. Purchasing a local SIM card is a goodalternative to using international roaming, as fees can behigh.

    Duty Free:

    The following items may be brought into Panama duty free: 250cigarettes (10 packs) or 250g of tobacco, five bottles of alcohol,and goods up to the value of PAB 2,000. Fruit, vegetables andanimal products are prohibited.

    Useful Contacts:

    Official Tourism Website of Panama:

    Panama Embassies:

    Embassy of Panama, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 4831407.

    Consulate General of Panama, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 74934646

    Embassy of Panama, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 7177.

    Embassy of Panama, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 3460703.

    Consulate General of Panama, Sydney +61 (02) 9150 8409.

    Consulate of Panama, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 (0)9 3798550.

    Foreign Embassies in Panama :

    United States Embassy, Panama City: +507 317 5000.

    British Embassy, Panama City: +507 297 6550.

    Canadian Embassy, Panama City: +507 294 2500.

    South African Honorary Consulate, Panama City: +507 3022750.

    Australian Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico (also responsible forPanama): +52 (01)55 1101 2200.

    Honorary Consul of Ireland, Panama City: +507 264 6633.

    Panama Emergency Numbers : 911 (General), 104 (Police), 103 (Fire)