I will be honest. I never had an incline to visit Panama. “What in the world is in Panama, besides the Panama Canal of coarse?” I knew so little about the country. I was nervous being a solo woman traveler, not knowing Spanish, and knowing so little about the country. But I went, and it was the best decision I ever made!!!
What you should expect when you visit Panama:
The country Panama, now I only visited the country for 3 1/2 weeks so I am not an expert on this country, but this is what I picked up from living in Panama for almost a month.
There is a lot to offer; whether you want to try out surfing (there are bigger waves in Costa Rica but you can still catch some waves), have non-stop beach days with awesome beach towns (Bocas Del Torro was my favorite), go hiking in the several National Parks and other nature preserves, go bird-watching (so many birds), and so much more.
If you are interested in getting involved in the Latin American culture, Panama can definitely give you that. I can’t express how many nights I danced the night away with Salsa!!!! The Latin guys sure know how to dance, and they love nothing more than twirling a woman around :). And boys, same for you. Yes, you are expected to be the “lead,” but even women from the areas will teach you too how to dance!!!! Bring on the Latin girls right boys!!!
Depending on where you go in the country depends on how much English speakers you should expect. Everyone told me before I left, Panama was filled with English speakers and there are quite a few, but some areas are desolate with English speakers. Basically more touristy areas have more English speakers, but even still, the primary language is Spanish and you will get around a lot easier if you brush up on some Spanish. You do not have to be fluent by any means but everything that was simple, is not going to be simple anymore.
Just think about ordering food. So easy in your native tongue, but in someone else’s, it really can be difficult. One of my first nights in Panama, I was in Coronado, which is not a touristy area, plus I went during off season where there was no one except the Panamanians. Anyway, I TRIED to order food and they came out with a plate of corn. I literally could not express what I wanted to eat. It was funny, a good laugh but what was easy, just wasn’t easy anymore.
One thing I would suggest is possibly going to a Spanish school. They have them everywhere!!!! It literally is what it sounds like. Most places you pay by the week and you learn Spanish anywhere from 3-6 hours a day. All of the schools are different but for the most part, you will be given an opportunity to live with a Spanish family so you are incorporated into the Spanish culture immensely day and night. If it is a good school, you will also have the opportunity to just work one on one, so you really get to study at your own pace and get to learn exactly what you want to learn. Also good schools have Salsa dancing lessons and are in areas where there is a deep Spanish culture to get even more of an experience.
There are Spanish schools all over Latin America; Columbia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Hondorus, El Salvador and Belize. Costa Rica it is a bit expensive, but if on a budget you can find pretty cheap prices. Guatemala there is a cheap school. I haven’t done it yet, but in a few weeks that is where I am going to school. It is a place called Sol Latino and is highly recommended. http://www.spanishschoolsollatino.com/en/index.php
Anyway, back onto Panama!!! Sorry, got side-tracked!!! If you are looking for a quite get-a-way, Boquette is good. There is something pretty cool to do. It is called the Lost and Found. http://www.thelostandfoundhostel.com/
This hostel is tucked away in the jungle about ten minutes from Boquette. You have to walk about fifteen minutes in the jungle just to get to the hostel (and it’s all up hill). This hostel offers two treasure hunts, one around the hostel and one on an epic adventure into the jungle. You literally take a map and go.
It roughly takes about six hours to figure out. There are clues you have to find hidden in the jungle. It is pretty cool. And then you get the treasure at the end! It’s a nice quiet jungle get away if your into that sort of thing. They also offer horse-back riding, coffee tour and a night hike.
On a more serious note, the taxis. Oh boy the taxis!!! As you probably already know, a lot of them rip you off, especially if you look like a gringa or a gringo. Which is exactly what I look like. I have even been trying to work on a tan so I don’t stick out so much but even still, I have blonde hair. I stick out!!!! The best tip I can give to you with taxis is…. don’t let them fuck you over!!!!
A lot of them will try and over charge you and it is your job to not let them. I am a pretty quiet person but when it comes to getting ripped off, hell no. I let them know, even in English, they know what I am saying with my tone and my body movements that it is not acceptable and I will not pay that.
First thing you do when it really comes with anything….
You ask how much it is before you hop onto that taxi, before you buy food, before you take that tour. CUANTOS!!!!!
That should almost be your most used word next to Buenas 🙂 Hello 🙂
So taxis, you say….. Cuantos? Then they say a price, and if that price seems ridiculous or even a couple dollars over your wanting, say No Gracias and walk away. 99% of the time, they will then lower the price by half!!!! Just in a few weeks of traveling, I saved hundreds of dollars on transportation. Not even kidding!!! Some people over charge you by 20 dollars and it happens a lot!!!! I have traveled a lot and used transportation daily so all the money I saved adds up so quickly!!!!
Another useful tip: you use your passport more than you would think. Crossing the border, of coarse, walking into the bar-what??? Are you serious! I need my passport to walk into this bar? Now I am not saying this happens all the time. In fact it only happened to me once. But it is illegal to walk around and not have any identification on you. No one tells you this!!!! I have never heard of this until three weeks into the country. I could have gone to jail one night because I did not have any identification on me. You spend one night in jail and the police officers take this rule very seriously. You even need your passport when you take a lot of buses. In America they say to take your license everywhere. In Panama, you don’t need your licence, you need your passport. Tip: Don’t carry your actual passport with you to the bars. Take a photo copy. And if you do have your actual passport on you, NEVER HAND YOUR PASSPORT OVER EVEN TO A COP! Unfortunately, a lot of the cops are corrupt. I am not even kidding when I say this…. Some cops will ask for your passport, you will hand it over, and then they take it and say “you can only have your passport back for 20 dollars.” You literally have no choice but to pay the officer twenty dollars to get your passport back. They are the police. Who else are you going to go to? It sucks, but it’s good to just be mindfully aware of everything. Always being aware of your surroundings is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Traveling solo and even with a group of people, it’s just always best to keep your wits about you.
I’m not trying to talk about the negatives here. Panama is relatively safe, but as far as walking in the city at night alone, don’t do that. Don’t continually trust everyone you meet. Always be subjective and take in your surroundings and the people around you. I have even heard of bus drivers hand over your backpack when you aren’t looking and you my friend are out of a backpack. Everything, gone!
Panama is an amazing place to visit. It really truly is, but jut like anywhere else, it does have crime and bad people and as long as you are aware of that, Panama can be an amazing place to visit with little to no hard-ships. I did just fine in Panama. More than fine. The worst thing that happened to me was I was drunk and stepped on a coral reef and had to have these two local Latin boys dig the reef out of my foot. But key word to that is drunk.
Which leads me to another point. If you want to go to a party town, go to Bocas Del Torro. Seriously, it is my most favorite place so far. Go to Aqua lounge on Saturday, go to La iguana and Barcos for some serious late night crazy latin dancing, and Summer is a new bar that is also hoppin! All walking distance away from eachother on the main island of Colon.
Colon is where most of the bars are and where most of the people will be. Aqua Lounge you do have to take a water taxi to from Colon but it isn’t far so the taxi is only one dollar each way and so worth going! And colon you also have to get to from water taxi and the last taxi is at 6 pm every day. So if you are planning on traveling to bocas, you have to plan ahead!!!
Well, that is a lot of information on the generality of Panama and of what to expect. I thought it was a scary concept at first going here alone but seriously, it isn’t bad at all. I had so much fun and no trouble at all!
And you don’t need shots. I went to Passport Health before I went to Panama and they gave me Hep A and typhoid because of the mosquitoes. I barely have seen one mosquito. And if you find yourself in the jungle where there are more of them, put on bug spray. Everyone made it seem to be so much more than it really is.
Also the water, I see a lot of people drinking the tap. I choose not to. It’s just a questionable decision and I can’t make that one for you. I see plenty of travelers not purifying the water, but I refuse to unless if the hostel or wherever specifically says “filtered water.” Then I don’t. It’s already filtered.
Something else to look into. San Blas Islands!!!! I did not do this unfortunately. It’s a bit pricey but I only hear good things about this place. You should really check it out!!!! Its near Columbia. Also Columbia has a bad reputation. I met so many travelers going to Columbia and say it’s just fine. Hondurus is the most dangerous country in all of Latin America and even there, you can still backpack to. You just should not go out at night. So if there is a place you want to check out in Latin America. Go! Seriously people make a big deal out of something that is not that bad. Just keep your wits about you and you will be fine :).
Oh and get ready for bad wifi :). Something to look forward to. Not in all places but a lot.
Well, I hope this helps and I hope you have an amazing time in Panama. It really is such a fantastic place!!! Check it out!!!!
Thank you for reading and hope you have a great day/night!