Panama travel guide, including map of Panama, top Panama travel experiences, tips for travel in Panama, plus where to see wildlife and meet indigenous tribes in
The southernmost of all the Central American countries, this sliver of land linking Costa Rica and Colombia never made it onto the ‘gringo trail’. Thankfully. Look beyond the eponymous canal; Panama has far more to offer the traveller. Its diverse cultural make-up reflects a medley of ethnicities from the descendants of Spanish conquistadors to Native Indians, and the little-visited, steamy rainforests and virginal coastlines play host to an array of exotic wildlife. You can venture into jungle communities, where puberty rites and other tribal customs still hold sway, or soak up the rays on an uninhabited island. Moreover, despite recent development, the country retains serious ecotourism credentials: there are vast swathes of untouched tropical wilderness bustling with monkeys, jaguars, bears and more species of bird than anywhere else on the planet.
Take a torch for the unlit rural areas and frequent power cuts.
Wanderlust web intern Thomas Rees on the thing he wished he'd known before he arrived:
"Book ahead for onward trips to Colombia. Places on backpacker yachts through the San Blas Islands fill up quickly. Organise your journey ahead of time and be sure to check-out the testimonials available online when choosing which boat to travel on. Some of the captains can be a little shady.”
The dry season runs from December to April on the Pacific side, though the Caribbean side gets rain all year round. The heaviest rainfall, usually in October and November, can cause flooding, landslides and travel disruptions. Dry season generally has the best hiking and diving conditions although it is also peak tourist season, so things get booked up pretty quickly. It’s worth planning your trip to coincide with one of the festivals such as the Panama City carnival and Peninsula de Auero’s carnival (Mardi Gras), held in February and the run up to Ash Wednesday respectively.
Tocumen Airport (PTY) is 24 km from Panama City.
Car hire is available and there is a good road network everywhere except Darién Province. Bear in mind that car insurance isn’t compulsory and many locals don’t have any. Trips on buses and in taxis can be a little hair-raising and accidents are common. It’s possible to chug between Panama City and Colon on the world’s first transcontinental railway.
Most of the tourist accommodation is to be found around Panama City and along the coast, though in sections of the country you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere at all to lay your head. Standards and prices are a hit and miss affair – expect varying quality and a pricing system that fluctuates depending on factors such as who serves you and how rich you seem to be. Book well in advance if you want somewhere to stay during a festival or public holiday. Options include sumptuous and budget hotels, eco resorts, national park campsites, traditional village homestays, coastal houseboats and roadside motels (although these are usually ‘push buttons’– sex hotels where you pay by the hour).
Panama has a unique blend of African, Spanish and Native American cuisines. Meat, fish, rice and plantains dominate. Flavours are mild, though you will have the option to slather food in salsa piquante (spicy sauce). Along the coast seafood such as lobster, corvina, snapper, and octopus abounds. The country produces an array of fruit. Popular foods include sancocho (chicken and vegetable soup) and empanadas made from flour or corn and filled with anything from minced meat, fish and spices to cheese or dessert fillings. Vegetarians may need to develop a penchant for Chinese fare. Tap water is, by and large, safe to drink (but be wary in Bocas del Toro Province). Tropical fruit juices and local coffee are good. Locals swig seco (the national drink), rum, palm wine and an array of nationally produced beers.
Earthquakes pose a risk. Swimming off the Pacific and Caribbean beaches can be dangerous and drownings are frequent. Don’t even dip a toe in the Bay of Panama – it is jam packed with sewage and industrial waste. Street crime does occur so take precautions. Darién Province can be perilous – enter by air and only if you’re on an organised expedition accompanied by Panamanian police. Consult your GP or travel health clinic before departure for advice on jabs and malaria prophylaxis. Healthcare is good in the capital but facilities further afield are limited. There is a risk of contracting malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, leishmaniasis and leptospirosis. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and Chagas’ disease are also a threat; try and avoid rodent habitats and mud and thatch huts.
With a new series about the bad behaviour of animals about to hit our screens, BBC Science and Wildlife presenter Liz Bonnin reveals the wildlife experiences that moved her – and one that changed her life More
Two wheels means twice the thrill – and best of all, none of these cycling trips are graded tougher than ‘moderate’, so you won’t be left saddle sore… More
Whether scaling the volcanic slopes of Cotopaxi on horseback or snorkelling the reefs of Belize, Central and South America are packed with thrills. Daniel Neilson reveals the best... More
From touching the North Pole to reaching Antarctica, some of the best adventures can only be undertaken by expedition cruise – here are some of our favourites More
Crawl through mud, wade through water and leap over fire in some of the most beautiful corners of the world. These challenging obstacle runs are both demanding and fun. More
Survival expert Ed Stafford lists the most extreme places on Earth that he's survived, from Mongolia's Altai mountains to Chile's Atacama desert, as well as one place on his Bucket List... More
From colour-shifting chameleons to dramatic deforestation, award-winning photojournalist Christian Ziegler captures stealthy characters and fresh aerial perspectives in these 10 incredible images... More
Hardcore adventurer Ed Stafford talks about the power of the mind, escaping the world's most demanding environments, being inches away from death and his new survival TV series More
If it’s volcanoes, colonial towns, Mayan ruins and abundant nature you’re after, head to Central America. From Belize to Panama, Guatemala to Nicaragua, adventure is guaranteed More
Proof that you don’t need thighs of steel to see the world on two wheels... Grab life by the handlebars and pedal fantastic landscapes around the world, including Burma, France, Sri Lanka and the UK More
5 places called Paris that aren't overrun by tourists and why you should visit them More
Five super-sized noggins from across the ages – and across the globe – that you really need to see face-to-face More
There’s no better way to experience the diversity and authenticity of Central America than a road trip along the legendary Carretera Panamericana More
Why fly between Panama and Colombia when you could explore the islands and coral reefs of San Blas, says Thomas Rees More
Bored of standard hotel rooms on your holidays? From converted jet planes to Geodesic domes, here's how to spice up your accommodation options on a trip to Latin America More
Filmmaker Russ Malkin's journeys have taken him to all points of the globe. Here are his favourite, secret corners More
Wanderlust blogger and avid traveller Alastair Humphreys shares his top ten must-see places in Latin America More
The world's most daring female motorcyclist tells it how it is More
Panama’s Kuna islanders are among the most contented people on Earth. Wanderlust discovers their secret in this award-winning article from Nick Boulos More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
This holiday includes the jungle waterways of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, picture-perfect Arenal Volcano, the Cloud Forest and the vibrant Panama City and iconic canal.
Journey Latin America
Visit two contrasting Central American countries. Costa Rica is a treasure trove for the nature-lover with many divine national parks, while Panama is a cultural melting-pot where you'll discover t...
Journey Latin America
Spend time at an enchanting wildlife lodge in Costa Rica before moving on to Panama, full of delightful surprises and unspoilt landscapes. After these explorations, laze on a sunlit beach on Panama...
Journey Latin America
A good value expedition cruise on a small and friendly vessel exploring the wildlife-rich wilderness coast of Panama and Costa Rica.
Journey Latin America
Visit Andean Colombia's preserved colonial cities Cartagena and Bogotá but go deeper, to discover the pre-Columbian San Agustín, the coffee country and quirky Caribbean Island Providencia, ending...