Travel Panama

Everything You Need to Know About Travelling in Panama.

Everything you need to know for your trip to Panama! What’s the best time to go, and where can you find vegetarian or vegan food? What is the currency in Panama, and do you need to protect yourself against mosquitos? And more questions answered about travelling in Panama in this ultimate guide.

📍Geography & Places to Visit in Panama

Panama City

Panama City is the vibrant capital city of Panama and a central hub for business and travellers alike, home to Tocumen International Airport. Highlights include visiting the historic old town (commonly referred to as Casco Viejo), the modern skyline that you can see towards the business district, and, of course, the world-famous Panama Canal. I was in Panama City for three days and I wasn’t blown away by the culture or museum options, but the skyline is great and a distinct feature that sets it apart from other capital cities in Central America. Here’s a guide on which areas to stay in in Panama City.

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of islands known for its stunning beaches, clear waters, and vibrant nightlife. Bocas del Toro is an extremely popular destination for tourists, and it’s one of the best places to go as a backpacker as it has such a range of activities available, from scuba diving and snorkelling to Central America’s first island-hopping bar crawl, Filthy Friday. The most common islands to visit are Isla Colón, Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos.

Here’s a guide to the best beaches in Bocas del Toro!


Boquete is located in the rural highlands of the Chiriquí Province, and is famous for its coffee plantations and adventure activities like hiking and zip-lining. I also met a lot of people heading to Boquete’s Lost and Found Hostel, which is right in the middle of the jungle, so much so that you have to hike to get there! The nearby Baru Volcano is also a stunning feature that attracts a lot of people to Boquete.

San Blas Islands (Guna Yala)

The San Blas Islands (also known as Guna Yala) are an autonomous territory, home to the Guna indigenous community. The islands are an untouched paradise, offering pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, and an unforgettable cultural experience. You have to take a tour or guide to the San Blas Islands, because you have to have permission from the Guna people to visit their incredible territory.

Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina, once a small Panamanian fishing village, is now a surfer’s paradise that overlooks the Pacific Ocean in the middle of Panama’s Pacific Coast. It’s also the gateway to Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its rich biodiversity, including more incredible diving and snorkelling spots.

Pearl Islands

The Pearl Islands, located in the Gulf of Panama, are known for their luxurious resorts, beautiful beaches, and excellent fishing. Isla Contadora is the most developed island, offering a range of accommodations and activities.

🌎 Panama’s Borders

Panama borders two countries: Costa Rica to the north, and Colombia to the south

Generally, to enter Panama, you will need to show proof of your accommodation and proof of onward travel out of the country (as well as all of the usuals like a valid passport with more than six months left on it). Always double check the rules against your home country’s official government advice, and always be sure to get your passport stamped!

Panama-Costa Rica Border

The main crossing points to Costa Rica are Paso Canoas and Sixaola-Guabito. Paso Canoas tends to be the busiest and offers a straightforward crossing with plenty of transport options, but more recently the northern crossing point of Sixaola-Guabito on the Caribbean Coast has become more popular with travellers and backpackers, as it connects the Costa Rican towns of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita with Bocas del Toro. This is the crossing that I did personally, and although it was a long process it was straight forward and we did it with a pre-organised tourist shuttle that cost just $20 all the way from Puerto Viejo to Isla Colón.

Panama-Colombia Border

You cannot cross the Panama-Colombian border by land, due to the dense jungle of the Darien Gap, which is the only break in the pan-American highway that otherwise runs unbroken from Alaska to Buenos Aires. Talking about this border opens a bit of a can of worms in terms of immigration, but as a traveller, let’s just say that you cannot cross it. To travel into South America from Panama, or vice versa, your two options are to take a boat (either sailboat or speed boat), or to fly. Soon I’ll be uploading a full review I’ve written of the boat trip I took from Panama to Colombia through the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala).

🌦 Weather in Panama & When to Go

Touristy Seasons in Panama

The touristy season in Panama aligns with the dry season, which runs from December to April. During this time is, of course, Christmas, New Years and Easter, which are all celebrated seriously in Panama. This is when the weather is most favourable, especially for beach activities and outdoor adventures, due to higher temperatures and a lack of rain (supposedly! when I went to Bocas del Toro at the end of January it rained relentlessly!).

Rainy Season in Panama

The rainy season is from May to November, with the heaviest rainfall in October and November. While rain can be intense, it usually comes in short bursts in the afternoons, which means there’s still plenty of dry spells. It’s not like in the UK, where I’m from, where it literally rains all day every day!

Dry Season in Panama

Like I mentioned before, the dry season runs from December to April, and this is when most of the tourists come. However, if you’re interested in scuba diving, the best time of year to go is around September or October time, because although it’s wet, the waters are calmer for diving, and there are less tourists.

Sunrise & Sunset in Panama

Sunrise is around 6-6.30am in Panama and sunset is around 6-6.30pm. There is some variation throughout the year, but nothing like we get in Europe. This is because Panama is so close to the equator.

🚍 Getting Around & Public Transport in Panama

Public Buses (Diablos Rojos)

Public buses, including the incredibly colourful “Diablos Rojos” (the retired American school buses that are referred to as the “chicken bus” in other parts of Latin America), are common and affordable but can be crowded. In Panama City, there is also a modern Metrobus system and a metro rail line which are more widely used by tourists. In Bocas del Toro it’s more common to get around by water taxi or by tuk tuk.


Boats are common in Panama simply because there are lots of amazing islands to see. The boats that run to and from Bocas del Toro, and the boats that will usually take you through Guna Yala (San Blas Islands) are small speed boats on which you have a serious chance of getting wet, so be prepared and waterproof your belongings!

Shuttle Buses (Tourist Shuttle)

Tourist shuttles are a comfortable option for getting around Panama, but they can be quite expensive. Sometimes you can book a “transfer” which you’re led to believe is a shuttle bus, only to find that you paid 3x the price for a public bus! Be sure to do your research before you book and ask around, but generally if a tourism agency tells you that they’re going to get you from A to B, then they will, no matter how hectic the journey seems you will get to your destination at some point!


Taxis are widely available in the big cities, and the further along my trip I went, the more comfortable I became jumping into a cab at the bus station when I arrived somewhere. I’d generally recommend taking Uber if possible, because it is safer, but they aren’t always available outside of Panama City. Taxi drivers can be quite abrupt and often don’t speak English, so be prepared before you get in.

🍽 Food in Panama

Vegetarians & Vegans

The food in Panamanian cuisine usually involves a lot of meat and seafood, but the areas that are quite accustomed to tourism (like the places I mentioned above: Panama City, Bocas del Toro, Boquete, Guna Yala and Santa Catalina) often have vegetarian and vegan options. Just like in the rest of Central America, you’ll almost always find the staples of rice, beans and plantains on offer!

Is Street Food Safe?

Street food is generally safe to eat in Panama, although I found it was less common here than in other parts of Central and South America. As always, look for stalls that have a high turnover of food and steer clear of anything that isn’t cooked through, including salad, fruit and smoothies!

Can You Drink Tap Water in Panama?

Tap water is safe to drink in Panama City, but the safety of tap water is variable in other places in Panama. Always check with your accommodation if tap water is safe to drink in the area that you’re in, and if in doubt, stick to bottled or purified water.

🤟 Languages in Panama

What Languages Do They Speak in Panama?

The official language of Panama is Spanish, however many indigenous languages are also spoken, including Ngäbe, Buglé, Emberá and Kuna (the latter the language spoken by the indigenous people of Guna Yala).

Do People Speak English in Panama?

English is widely spoken in Panama City and more touristy areas, as well as by a lot of tour guides and tour operators. However, it is always a good idea to have a few Spanish phrases on hand to communicate with locals in shops and markets.

💵 Money & Currency in Panama

What is the currency in Panama?

You will read online that the official currency in Panama is the Panamanian Balboa, which is tied to the US Dollar. However, in reality, the Balboa is rarely used. In fact, I don’t think I saw any for the whole time I was in Panama. The Balboa is only produced in coins of values of $1 or less; for any larger amounts only US Dollars are used. So, there is very little need for the local currency in Panama; you can easily just use US Dollars. Read more about money and currencies in Central America!

How much does it cost to withdraw money in Panama?

ATM fees vary, but they are expensive. All banks have a charge of at least $6 to withdraw cash, and a maximum withdrawal amount of $200-250. I wouldn’t recommend withdrawing more than that at once anyway, but the fees can especially rack up if you’re paying for an expensive tour in cash, which is quite common.

Do they take card in Panama?

Debit and credit cards are accepted in major hotels, restaurants, and shops in larger cities and tourist areas, and there isn’t usually an extra charge to pay on card. However, cash is preferred in smaller towns and rural areas, so carry enough local currency for these situations.

⛑ Safety and Medical Care in Panama

Tourist Areas & the Tourist Trail

Panama is generally quite safe for tourists, but it’s important to stick to the tourist trail unless you’re with a local or guide. Going into more rural areas that are not used to unknown faces can land you in some trouble. It’s also important to abide by local laws, such as no drinking and no smoking in the street, and no swimwear in the street.

A friend and I got caught out with this one in Bocas Town when we left a pool party to go to the shop. Without thinking, we took our beers with us, and ended up getting a stern talking to from the police both because we were drinking in the street and because my friend was topless. Luckily they were just so impressed that I could speak Spanish that they let us go without a fine, but the police can and will fine you for these kinds of things. (And rightly so, when dumb tourists like us aren’t following the very basic rules they put in place..!)


Pickpocketing can occur, especially in busy areas and on public transport. I used a bum bag and made sure to keep my belongings close to me whenever I travelled in Panama and I was absolutely fine. The only thing I lost was my swimsuit, and that’s because I left it out to dry on a hostel terrace and forgot to put it in my bag…

Violent Crime

Violent crime is not common in the touristy areas of Panama, especially against tourists. However, you should never walk alone at night and try to avoid walking at night all together, even in groups. Stick to well-lit streets and use Uber or a taxi to get home.

Hiring a Local Guide

I often recommend hiring a local guide, especially to do day explorations of Bocas del Toro or hikes. This is for several reasons: firstly, it can keep you safe, because local guides know where to go and, often when hiking in rural areas, simply being with a guide will keep you safe. Secondly, you get a much better experience and get to see so much more than if you were doing it DIY. Lastly, it’s a great way to give back to the local community financially, especially in a place like Central America where their tourism industry is growing so rapidly.

Can you drink the tap water in Panama?

Tap water is safe to drink in Panama City and most urban areas, but it’s not safe in all areas so it’s always best to check with your accommodation.

Travel Insurance & What to do if you get ill

Always, always travel with insurance, even if it’s just for peace of mind. Medical treatment varies across Panama, but you can get good, reliable treatment in Panama City. Private clinics and hospitals generally offer higher standards of care compared to public hospitals.


Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is endemic to Panama, meaning it is a present risk throughout the country, especially during the rainy season. As of Spring 2024 there has been a Latin-America wide outbreak, so be extra careful in covering up with long sleeves and pants at night, and using insect repellent is an absolute must.

Yellow Fever & the Yellow Fever Vaccine

Yellow fever isn’t a risk in Panama, but if you’re travelling from a country with a risk of yellow fever, you may need proof of vaccination to enter Panama. Always thoroughly read entry requirements before you travel!


Malaria is a risk in Panama in Bocas de Toro, Guna Yala and surrounding areas, as well as in places close to the Darien Gap. Whilst the risk is not considered to be huge, make sure to use mosquito repellent and talk it over with your doctor before you go to make sure you take anti-malarial medication if necessary.

One of the main streets in Bocas Town, Panama
Bocas Town, Isla Colón