Panama On a Budget
The weather is pleasant in Panama year around and the temperatures generally stay consistent with highs around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and evening temperatures in the seventies. There is a rainy season that runs from May to November, and a dry season that runs between December and April. Even in the rainy season, do not expect it to rain all day. Most of the day is still pleasant and enjoyable.
English is prevalent throughout the country, and the currency is locked to the US dollar, making it a convenient place to experience this part of the world. Prices here may be slightly higher than some other Central American countries, but you can still find some good deals. There are some tricks to staying on budget in this country. In particular, spend a few days in Panama City and then move on. Other destinations are just as interesting at a fraction of the cost. Also avoid taxis if at all possible, as the prices are unreasonably high and the drivers typically refuse to negotiate. If you're on a particularly tight budget, look for hotels and hostels that don't have hot water, then ask for a discount. The weather is so hot most of the year, you're unlikely to miss the hot water anyway.
At A Glance
- Panama is probably one of the easiest countries in Central America to travel around. For this reason many people pick it as their first destination in the region. It has a cosmopolitan feel in its cities and an exotic feel in its jungles. It also has a large expat community because of its low cost of living and the ease at which you can get around. With English being a common language, it is easy to communicate and navigate through this country.
- It's very easy to cross from Costa Rica into Panama. There are great roads and public transportation is readily available. Generally the border crossing are smooth and efficient with few delays. If you have your own private vehicle it is also possible to take it across the border. It is very difficult to cross from Panama into Columbia because of the presence of the Darien Gap. There are no roads in this area and public transportation does not connect the two countries.
- Panama has used the U.S. Dollar as its currency since 1904, although it is referred to as the Balboa. There is some difference in the coin currency, but the value and size remains the same. You can even use Panama coins in the US in parking meters, payphones or vending machines.
- There is no shortage of outdoor adventure sports activities in this country. You can participate in anything from whitewater rafting to kayaking or zip lining. There is also some excellent scuba diving, snorkeling and hiking.
- Public transportation here is superb and you are unlikely to need any form of private transportation to get around. The buses are usually of a high quality and the prices for intercity trips are quite low. The roads are generally paved and in good condition as well.
Top Tourist AttractionsCoiba National Marine Park: This is a great place to see rare land and sea animals and is sometimes referred to as the Galapagos of Central America. Located about thirty miles off the coast of Panama in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Coiba National Marine Park has many islands, the largest of which is called Coiba.
Islas Secas: This is a series of islands located in the Chiriqui Gulf that is famous and world class for its sport fishing. The islands are privately owned by an American and you will find a nice eco-resort that you can visit.
Volcan Baru National Park: Here you will find Panama's tallest peak, standing high at over 11,000 feet. This park offers wonderful opportunities for hiking and wildlife spotting. It's near the town of Boquete and at the top you can see both oceans on a clear day. You'll also see crops of the famous geisha coffee growing along the edge of the volcano.
Popular FoodsFood in Panama is heavily influenced by the Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish cultures. In the city you can find almost any type of food, but once you're in the countryside you'll find predominantly seafood and beef options. Plantains are common in many dishes, and rice and beans are common staples.
Patacones: A traditional dish of fried green plantains, patacones are included as a side dish with most meals. They are comparable to potato chips or fries, but are typically served with a garlic dipping sauce. This side dish reflects the Caribbean influence on cuisine in the area.
Chichas: This is a delicious fruit, water, and sugar drink that is often made with mangoes, tamarindo, papaya, or passionfruit. The drinks can be either alcoholic or nonalcoholic.
Empanadas: A quick snack dish, empanadas are a pastry that is filled with either meat, cheese, and sometimes vegetables. They can be quite large and are made with dough folded into a semicircle. They are a wonderful, affordable lunch option that are available at a lot of street stalls and many different restaurants.