Caribbean Travelweb


Guide To Panama




Description

The Republic of Panama with an area of approximately 29,700 sq. Miles (76,900 sq. km.), located between Costa Rica and Colombia, forms the narrowest and lowest portion of the Isthmus that links North and South America.

Shaped like an elongated letter "S", which extends west to east some 420 miles (676 km.), the country has a width that varies between 31 and 115 miles (50 and 185 km,) and has a coastline of 490 miles (788 km.) on the Atlantic Ocean and 870 miles (1,400 kin.) on the Pacific Ocean. The Canal, which joins the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, is about 50 miles (80 km.) long. Because of the lateral nature of its extension and its curved contour, directions are often surprising. A transit of the Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic involves traveling not to the East but to the North-West; in Panama City the sun is seen to rise out of the Pacific.

Panama City is the country's capital and the principal commercial center. It lies on the Gulf of Panama in the Pacific Ocean. Colon, the country's second largest city, is located on the Caribbean Coast. Its economy is dependent on traffic through the Panama Canal and on business activity in the Colon Free Trade Zone, the largest duty-free zone in the Americas.

The diversity that is Panama extends to its picture-perfect beaches. Bordering the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, along the 2857 kilometers (1,786 miles) of coastline, are myriads of lagoons, bays and countless islands from which to choose. Whatever your preference there is a beach for you! From smart resorts to Robinson Crusoe islands where the only footprints will be your own; from calm palm-fringed bays to surfers’ paradise; coral islands and atolls where indigenous people sustain a very different culture; beaches bordered by lush mangroves or hidden beaches where the rainforest meets the sea. The choice is yours.

Panama is the ultimate location for adventurers and nature lovers. Jungle and rainforest are just a few minutes from Panama City. Panama's rainforests are home to about 10,000 different plants and more than 1,000 species of birds.

The unique geographical location of Panama as a land bridge between two continents has contributed to one of the most complex ecosystems on earth. Panama is making an effort to protect its natural resources with 30% of land set aside for conservation, 25% of this land is designated as national parks, i.e. approximately 5 million acres. Of the 29 national parks, forest reserves and wild life refuges, five parks are within two hours drive of Panama City, and one is within the metropolitan area itself.

Getting There

International Airlines serving Panama with regularly scheduled flights:

American Airlines

Copa Airlines

Cubana

Delta Airlines

Iberia


Entry Requirements

All visitors require a valid passport and an onward/return ticket.

Additional requirements vary according to nationality and are subject to change. You are recommended to check with a Panamanian Consulate or Embassy or ticketing agents for airlines that fly to Panama to obtain the most updated information.

At the time of writing, nationals from the following countries do NOT REQUIRE any further documentation: Argentina, Austria, Belgium Costa Rica, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxemburg, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland and UK.

Nationals from the following countries do REQUIRE a tourist card (US $5) or a tourist visa, available from Panamanian embassies and consulates, airlines serving Panama, border crossings, or at the international airport : Antigua, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Granada, Greece, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, San Marino, South Korea, Suriname, Taiwan, Tobago, Trinidad, USA, Venezuela.

Nationals from Chad, Ecuador, Egypt, Philippines, Peru, Dominican Republic and Thailand require tourist visas and should contact an embassy or consulate.

If your country is not listed above, contact your nearest Panamanian Consulate or Embassy or the Panamanian Immigration office Tel: 507-227-1448 Fax: 507-227-1227

Upon entry, every visitor is given a stamp allowing him or her to remain in Panama as a tourist for 90 days. This may be extended by applying to an immigration office in Panama City, David or Chitre, the only offices that can issue an extension.

For information regarding Pensionado and other Residence Visas, 2nd Passports etc. click here

You may enter Panama with 200 cigarettes and 3 bottles of liquor tax free. If you try to leave Panama with articles made from endangered species you may be severely punished.

Helpful Visitor Information

Getting Around

If your stay is confined to Panama City, don't bother with buses or rental cars. Taxis are available for reasonable fares. Choose a relatively new car that is in good condition. The slightly higher fare is more than worth it for reliability and cold air conditioning. For longer trips or journeys to remote areas, plan to get a vehicle with four-wheel drive capability, as you may be driving on rugged terrain. These vehicles are popular and run out fast, so plan ahead. Most major towns have car rental agencies, so renting a car is a relatively easy process. It's important to bring the rental reservation document that states the agreed upon rate. Remember, you must be at least 25 years old to rent a car (23 if paid by AMEX). All major rental car agencies are represented in Panama.

The Pan American Highway, also known as Interamerican Highway, joins Panamanian cities with Costa Rica. At this time, the Darién jungle continues to be impenetrable, preventing access by land to Colombia. A tour by car along the Transisthmic Highway joins Panama City with Colón. Even the most remote areas of Panama are accessible by paved secondary roads. The bus service is good and covers the entire country as well as the other countries in Central America and Mexico.

Religion

Most Panamanians are Roman Catholic. However, due to the great diversity in the country, there are numerous churches, temples and synagogues all over the country. There is freedom of religion in Panama.

Language

Although the official language in Panama is Spanish, English is widely spoken and understood in the major cities.

Climate

The country enjoys an agreeable tropical climate and an average daytime temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with cooling in the evenings. The average humidity is 70%. The rainy season goes from May to December. Throughout the dry season, trade winds keep the air continuously cool. In the mountains, the average temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Clothing

Light clothes are recommended. Business clothing is formal. A light jacket for men and a tailored suit or a two-piece pants suit for women is recommended. A wide-brim hat and sun glasses are necessary if you go to the shore or inland.

Time Zone

Panama's time is five hours behind Greenwich Mean time (GMT). Thus, Panama is on Eastern Standard time (EST); it does not have daylight saving time.

Electricity and Public Services

The current is 110w - 60hz and 220w. Telephone and international cable services in Panama are excellent. There is a direct-dial system to locations inland and all over the world. Our country code is 507.

Local calls are 10 cents and the bright blue Cable and Wireless phone booths are everywhere, although some take calling cards only.

For international calls your best bet is to bring an international calling card with you. International calls made through hotels,like everywhere are very expensive. A more time consuming option is to go to a Cable and Wireless office to make an international call or send a fax. You can also visit one of the numerous internet cafes that offer Net2Phone international phone calls for 25 cents a minute.

Renting a cellular phone in Panama is easy, as several companies offer convenient plans for those visiting the country. Most companies require a valid passport and a deposit, which can be paid in cash or with credit card; for an additional fee insurance is available. Calls are charged on a "per minute" basis, and are offered on a daily, weekly and monthly plans, with international access often available. Each company might differ in their policies and pricing, thus we recommend that you act accordingly.

The two major cell phone operators are Bell South and Cable & Wireless. There is an enormous amount of competition between the two, so services are quite extensive reasonably priced. If you wish to purchase a phone several options are available to you. Both prepaid and one year contracts are available.

Money

Since 1904, the United States dollar has been the legal currency in Panama. The Balboa, the Panamanian monetary unit, is par valued with the dollar. Prices can be expressed in Balboas (B/.) or in Dollars ($). Traveler cheques and credit cards are widely accepted. The International departure duty is US$20.00, payable in the airport. The hotel tax is 10%. The added tax value to products and services, with the exception of food and medicines is 5%.

You can access your American bank account in Panama City at the ATM machines that have "Cirrus" or "Plus" sign on them, provided that you have a personal ID number. Look on the back of your debit card to see if it has these names. This a quick and hassle-free way to get cash in increments of up to $500 a day, depending on the daily limit your card imposes.

Business Services

More than 150 international banks and their branches operate in Panama. The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Taiwan, Argentina, South Korea, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, China, Spain, France and others are represented here. The banking hours vary, but most of them are open from Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Some banks offer services on Saturday.

Most private business offices are open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. It is customary for all offices and stores to close for the lunch period for at least one and a half hours. Office hours for government offices vary and it is advisable to check prior to visiting any government office.

If a holiday falls on Sunday, it is observed on the following day. The executive branch is authorized to designate days of national mourning on which all offices and commercial businesses are closed.

Medical

Health care is both excellent and reasonably priced in Panama. Many of the country's physicians earn their degrees in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, and the state university offers a top quality medical program. Bilingual doctors are common in all Panama City hospitals. Water supply is safe to drink with few exceptions throughout the country.

Health

No vaccines or pills are necessary prior to visiting our country. Remember, the tropical sun can be strong; so it’s wise to take protective sunglasses and sunscreen with you. Although Panama is indeed a tropical country, mosquito control is effective. Exceptions would include hiking and over-nighting in the jungle, in which case you should use protective insect repellant.

Water
Panama is the only country in Latin America where you can drink water straight from the tap.

Activities and Attractions

Golf

Panama has the best championship golf courses in all of Central America. The two most well known golf facilities in the area are the course at Coronado and the Summit Golf Resort. Coronado is an 18-hole par 72 course offering 7,092 yards of professional play. This course is especially beautiful for its fruit trees, including the abundance of Mango trees, which surround the greens and fairways. To put it simply, the course is considered a "jewel" in all of Latin America.

Nestled in the forests of the Panama Canal watershed lays Summit Golf and Resort. This luxurious complex includes two courses, the first of which has 18 holes and the second, designed especially for kids, has 6 holes. Summit Golf and Resort is the only facility of its kind in Latin America equipped with GPS technology. This resort also caters to children by offering a family center, day care and games for all ages. Sounds like it couldn't get any better? It does. The Summit Golf and Resort is just a twenty-minute drive from downtown Panama.

Dining

Restaurants in Panama reflect our cultural diversity by offering a wide range of cuisines. Whatever you are in the mood for, you'll have no trouble finding it. Naturally, seafood is excellent and abundant in Panama. The most common fish on many menus is also one of the most delicious: corvina. And you can't talk about Panamanian cuisine without mentioning ceviche. This traditional dish consists of raw corvina that is marinated in limejuice, peppers, and onions and is considered to be a delicious treat by locals. Whatever your preference in dishes, Panama offers something to suit everyone's tastes and pocketbook.

Shopping

Panama City is a paradise for shoppers. Vía España and Avenida Central offer everything from the latest in fashion to the most complex computers and crafts at low prices. The craft stores offer a variety of straw and wood products, embroideries and paintings, in addition to the famous molas, hand-made by the Kuna Indians.

Panama is an international free port. You can find jewels, precious stones, embroidered tablecloths, oriental art, watches, perfumes, photography and electronic equipment, electric household products, fine glassware and porcelain - all at reasonable prices. Most stores are open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Many of them open on Sunday and hold numerous special sales (baratillos) throughout the year. Supermarkets, many of which are open 24 hours, are modern and well stocked. There are also large, modern commercial malls with a vast variety of specialized stores.

Casinos

In Panama, casinos and other games of chance are operated both under the government and privately. Profits from the national lottery go to support hospitals and local charities. There are a number of popular gambling houses that can be found in downtown Panama.

Scuba Diving

Whether is snorkeling or tank diving, the diving enthusiast is bound to find his appeal in any of the various waters of Panama. Panama offers both, the lively and colorful clarity of Caribbean style Atlantic; the vast and mysterious Pacific Ocean full of large marine species, exactly where Balboa discovered it; and the jungle encircled Gatun Lake, bed of the Panama Canal.

The isthmus of Panama, running on an east-west axis, finds the Atlantic Ocean on its northern shores. Starting from the west, the first dive site is Bocas del Toro. The scuba diving in and around Bocas can be enjoyed throughout the year, with most of the dive spots no more than one hour boat ride from Bocas town. The water temperatures is very tropical and constant, so full or even short wetsuits are not required. Water visability varies from one dive spot to another, and is always dependent on weather conditions. The months of September and October are traditionally the better months, due primarilly to more suitable climatic conditions. During this period there is less rain and wind, allowing for clearer water conditions.

Surfing

The best beaches for surfing are some 50 miles west of the city traveling through the Pan American Highway. Some of the most popular ones on the Pacific Side are Santa Catalina, Venado and Río Mar. On the Atlantic the spot are Isla Grande, Bluf and Careneros. You can surf on both coasts with ranging from 3 to 15 feet.


Rafting

There are several rivers in Panama that will provide a white knuckle thrill. The rivers Chiriquí and Chiriquí Viejo, rated level 3 and 4 respectively, are excellent for whitewater adventure.

CHIRIQUI RIVER
Bajo Mendez Section - Class III & III+; Considered to be the forgiving river to its counterpart, the Palon, this section involves big water with plenty of room for maneuvering. Long wave trains and wild scenery make this river a perfect starting point for the first-time rafter.
3.5 Hours

Barrigona Section - Class III; Perfect for beginners and families, this section offers a glimpse of what whitewater can look and feel like. The Barrigona features a few exciting class III rapids while the rest of the stretch is filled with continuously moving water that will keep you on your toes. A shorter trip, the Barrigona gives the rafter 2.5 hours of milder rafting and vistas of Chiriqui's pretty stretches of plains and gentle rolling hills.
2.5 Hours

CHIRIQUI VIEJO RIVER
Palon Section - Class IV; Perhaps some of the most beautiful and classic rapids in all of Central America, this section is only run during the low water months of December through April. Intrepid first-timers and seasoned rafters will undoubtedly hail this river as a world class run with it's non stop rapids, technical maneuvers, deep canyon gorges and it's spectacular tropical jungle scenery.
4 Hours

Sabo Section - Class III; Lush and verdant forest borders along this lower section of the Chiriqui Viejo River. Big rapids dominate the first half of the Sabo section while the second half levels out to allow participants a chance to enjoy the surrounding wildlife and scenery. Feast your eyesCormorants, Kingfishers and Iguanas abound!
2.5 Hours

Fishing

Panama offers three world-class areas for deep-sea fishing: Bahía Piña and the Pearl and Coiba archipelagos. Bahía Piña holds more world fishing records than any other place in the world. These three areas offer shipboard and beachfront lodging with either full or half-day trips. In addition, a number of the local hotels often organize deep-sea fishing expeditions. This is a wonderful opportunity to sail about and enjoy the open sea, while learning about the various fish native to the Atlantic or Pacific.

Horse Racing

The Presidente Jose A. Remón Racetrack in Juan Díaz is conveniently open on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. In Panama, no earnings from games of chance are subject to taxation.

Bird Watching

Panama offers magnificent bird watching.The total number of bird species found in Panama, about 950, is surprisingly large, especially when you consider the relatively small surface of the country. Some 150 of these are neotropical migrants that only occur in the country from September till April. It is not rare to see more than twenty different migrant warblers and vireos on a good morning on spring or fall migration, and that added to fifty or sixty resident species. Due to the country's location between two continents and its narrow girth, more species of birds inhabit Panama than anywhere else in Central America. In this country, many North and South American birds are represented, both native and migratory. The famous resplendent quetzal, the three-wattled bellbird, the harpy eagle and the king vulture are just a few of the many species that flourish here.

A number of organizations and companies, like the Panama Audubon Society, can help assist in planning your bird watching expedition and maximize your chances of seeing the greatest number of bird species. But all you really need to do to see birds in Panama is grab a set of binoculars and head for a trail.

Carnival

Carnival, the annual celebration before Lent, is perhaps the most widely attended of Panamanian festivals and certainly the most widely recognized internationally. Is a 4-day celebration, which starts on Saturday, and ends on Tuesday. Dates change every year. Carnival Sunday is seven weeks before Easter Sunday.

There's much more to Carnival than the Parades, though. Street Carnival is loads of fun, free, and it happens all over the country. You are more than welcome to watch and to participate.

Each town in Panama has its parades during the morning in Carnival, called "Culecos" or "Mojaderas" and during the night. They consist of a car with the Street Queen and her princesses, followed by an orchestra marching along a pre-determined route, followed by hordes of enthusiastic dancers dressed in typical dresses or customes (during the night), bathing suits (during the morning), or simple clothes. The performance of the queens is legendary.

Attractions

La Amistad International Park
Location: Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro provinces, northwest
Area: 207,000 hectares (511,290 acres)
Distance from Panama City: 480km
Nearest accommodation: Cerro Punta
A cooperative effort between Panama and Costa Rica, this huge national park contains 12 life zones and protects an enormous diversity of flora and fauna.

Bastimentos Island Marine National Park
Location: Bocas del Toro Province, northwest
Area: 13,226 hectares (32,668 acres)
Distance from Panama City: a one-hour flight or about a day by road and ferry
Accommodation: Hotels on the islands of Colon, Almirante and Changuinola.
Protecting the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Bocas del Toro archipeligo, this park featues pristine white sand beaches and great snorkeling and diving on its coral reefs. Three species of marine turtles nest on the beaches and the waters are home to manatees, lobsters and more than 200 species of tropical fish.

Soberania National Park
Location: Panama and Colon provinces, central
Areas: 22,104 hectares (54, 596 acres)
Distance from Panama City: 25km
Accommodation: Panama City
Located in the watershed of the Panama Canal, this is one of the country's most accessible forest areas. It has several hiking trails and a fantastic variety of plant, animal and bird life. One of the trails includes a section of the old Las Cruces Trail used by the Spanish mule trains taking goods between Panama City and Nombre de Dios.

Chagres National Park
Location: Panama and Colon provinces, central
Area: 129,000 hectares (318,630 acres)
Distance from Panama City: 40km

Fort San Lorenzo, Colon
King Phillip II ordered the fortress to be built in 1595, which is located on the Chagres River commanding a view of the mouth of the river and miles out to sea.

Portobelo, Colon
Picturesque bayside village features the ruins of five Spanish forts, a restored treasure house and the burial place of Sir Francis Drake.

What to see in Panama City

Casco Viejo, Panama City
Historic district that features wide brick streets and a range of architectural styles that reflects the city's cultural diversity.

Summit Gardens, Panama City
Featuring a small zoo and paved trails, this tropical botanical garden features Panama's national bird, the Harpy Eagle.

Soberania National Park, Panama City
Located 15 miles from downtown Panama City, this scenic park features two hiking paths called el Charco in Gamboa and Pipeline Road, both known for excellent birding and wildlife viewing.

Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador), Panama City
Located at the southern entrance of the Panama Canal and stretching nearly three kilometers into the Pacific Ocean, this popular causeway features many tourist-related venues and activities including hotels, restaurants, and jogging and biking trails.

Gatun Lake, Panama City
After Lake Mead, this is the world's largest man-made lake that forms the central part of the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal, Panama City
Though it was built 90 years ago, the Panama Canal remains one of mankind's most impressive feats of engineering. It took 30 years and cost the lives of some 25,000 workers to dig 25 miles of channel, build three massive locks, and dam up the Chagres River. Today, ships make over 14,000 transits through the 51-mile network of locks and lakes. Tolls, based on a boat's measurements and cargo volume, must be paid in cash. (A cruise liner set the record in 2003, paying nearly $218,000.) The canal is a major source of income for Panama—during its last fiscal year it posted revenue of $800 million. Canal aficionados can take a Panama Jones cruise that makes the full passage from Panama City to Colón over ten long hours. Along the way, the boat passes by jungle islands inhabited by gregarious monkeys and through all three locks, as well as the famous Gaillard Cut, the nine-mile section of the canal that was dug through the highest elevations. If you prefer a quick thril, a chartered helicopter from a company called Helipan Corporation ($650 per hour for up to four people; 507-315-0452). The hourlong flight gives you a stunning heart-in-your-mouth overview of the parade of ships and the jungle corridor that lies between the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Panama Interoceanic Canal Museum, Panama City
Opened in 1997, this history museum chronicles the planning, construction and present-day operation of Panama's landmark canal.

Metropolitan National Park, Panama City
Located within the limits of Panama City, this protected tropical forest is the site where the Smithsonian Institute carries out scientific research on the ecology of the forest canopy. Here you can walk through marked paths, surrounded by orchids and cedar trees and see more than 200 different species of birds, mammals and reptiles.

Bridge of the Americas, Panama City
Spanning the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, this 5,007-foot-long arch bridge connects both North and South America and serves as an important part of the InterAmerican Highway.

Panama Canal Railway, Panama City
This tour on the newly restored Panama Canal Railway, the western hemisphere's first transcontinental railroad, follows the east bank of the canal that offers excellent views of the waterway and rainforests along its shoreline.

Avenida Central, Panama City
Six-block-long pedestrian mall that is lined with shops and restaurants.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa Park, Panama City
Paying tribute to Spanish adventurer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, this scenic park features a statue that depicts the explorer holding a Spanish flag in one hand and a sword in the other.

Monkey Island, Panama City
Located in Lake Gatun, this island gets its name for the white-faced monkeys that inhabit it.

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitan), Panama City
Built between 1688 and 1796, this is a magnificent example of the religious colonial architecture of Panama.

Limon Bay, Panama City
Located at the north end of the Panama Canal, this 4.5-mile-long and 2.5-mile-wide bay is protected by rough seas by breakwaters at its entrance.

San Jose Church, Panama City
Built soon after the first Spanish settlement in the 16th century, this small church features the famous Golden Altar (Altar de Oro), which is made entirely of pure gold.

Embera Indian Village, Panama City
Visitors to the authentic village of Parara Puru have the opportunity to learn about the culture and society of the Embera Indians.

The Old City (Casco Viejo), Panama City
This charming old community’s churches, pedestrian walkways and historical plazas and palaces make it a must-see on any tour.

 
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