So, you made the bold decision to book a Panama vacation. Congrats! It was all thrills and joy until realizing that you know very little about the country and your friends are no help. You did “research” (a.k.a. a Google search for “Panama facts”) and still don’t know what to expect–but at least you learned about Pirate Henry Morgan and his invasion of Panama in 1671.
Truth is, experiencing Panama is more than just a quick Google search on the facts. But, you don’t want to get all the way over there without a clue either. The less time you spend trying to figure this stuff out in-destination, the more time you will have to visit these great sight-seeing places. Without further ado, here’s a few insider tips to know before traveling to Panama.
1. Panama isn’t your typical beach vacation
Being that you’re a #TrueBeachLover, we can only assume that most of your trips involve sunny skies and warm sand between your toes. Although the San Blas islands can cure that itch, Panama has much more than majestic beaches–believe it or not! There are historic sites ranging from Captain Morgan’s battlefields to the notorious Panama Canal, astonishing views from Ancon Hill or Volcán Barú, amazing architecture at Casco Antiguo and much, much more. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore!
2. Communicating with the locals takes a little more effort
If you frequent Mexican and Caribbean beaches, you probably already know that most locals speak English there. However, that’s not the case in Panama. While some do speak English well, most only know a few phrases or words. We suggest practicing your Spanish before visiting so that you’re ready to ask for a beer when you get there!
3. Panama isn’t the cheapest Central American destination
This is one that takes travelers by surprise: Panama uses the United States dollar as currency. The positive side is that it takes the hassle out of having to exchange money and converting prices in your head when shopping for souvenirs. However, it also means that prices will pretty much be the same as back home. Your best bet to try to save some money is to shop local.
4. Public transit will give you major Magic School Bus vibes
It’s been a while since the majority of us have been on a yellow school bus. But even back when our imagination was at its most creative, school buses were never this fun (except for Ms. Frizzle’s, of course). When they ran out their welcome in the States, school buses made their way to Central America where they’re now living their best lives. Their scars have been covered with fresh coats of colorful paint and artsy decals to give them each vibrant personalities. They’ve even swapped loud school children for amazed tourists. Now, this is a retirement plan we can all support!
5. Pack waterproof bug repellent
The beauty of Panama lies in its diverse ecosystems. But as we all know, well-preserved nature comes with a side of insects. Unless you enjoy mosquito bites, we recommend you bring lots of bug repellent with you wherever you go–especially the waterproof kind! Panama tends to be pretty humid, so we don’t want you sweating off your bug-be-gone in the middle of your trek through the Metropolitan National Park.
6. Panamanians love a good celebration
Did you know that Panama technically has two independence days? They first became independent from Spain in 1821 (November 3rd) and then from Colombia in 1903 (November 28th). Needless to say, November is a good month to be in Panama, as are April and February, when Panama celebrates Holy Week and Carnaval with colorful festivities. If you’re having major FOMO and can’t make it to Panama on any of these dates, visit Diablicos Restaurant in Casco Antiguo–a dancer dressed in traditional garb will welcome you to the venue with an awesome folkloric dance.
7. You can’t leave without a folding Panama hat
We’re not saying you have to get a Panamanian folding hat, but you definitely should! They hold their shape, are affordable and will take minimal space in your luggage, making them a great gift for a loved one. Or treat yourself and keep it (we’d probably do the same)! Check out how simple it really is to fit one in your travel bag.
If you don’t already have a trip planned, make sure to check our latest Panama deals as well as other places you can explore in Panama. Give one of our friendly Beachologists a call at 1-800-915-2322 to hear even more about this unique destination!