Travel Tips
Weather

Panama’s tourist season is during the dry season from mid-December to mid-April. This is true for the Pacific slope, but the Caribbean side can get rain throughout the year.

The weather can be hot and steamy in the lowlands during the rainy season, when the humidity makes the heat oppressive. But it won’t rain nonstop – rain in Panama, as elsewhere in the tropics, tends to come in sudden short downpours that freshen the air, and are followed by sunshine. If you’ll be doing any long, strenuous hiking, the dry season is the most comfortable time.

High Season

High tourism season in Panama, also known as dry season, goes from December to April.

Money

Even though there is a name for the Panamanian currency, the "Balboa", there is no Panamanian paper money, only coins, which are the exact same size and denomination as US coins. Since 1903 the legal currency in Panama is the US Dollar.

ATMs

Throughout Panama, ATMs are readily available except in the most isolated places – look for the red 'sistema clave' sign. Generally speaking, ATMs accept cards on most networks (Plus, Cirrus, MasterCard, Visa, Amex), though a charge is usually levied depending on your issuing bank. The amount that can be withdrawn at one time varies from bank to bank, though it is usually around US$500.

Credit cards

Although they are widely accepted at travel agencies, upscale hotels and many restaurants, credit cards can be problematic almost everywhere else. In short, carry enough cash to get you to the next bank or ATM.

Moneychangers

The only bank that exchanges foreign currency is the Banco Nacional de Panamá counter at Tocumen International Airport. Once you have departed from the airport, the only place that can change foreign currency for dollars is a casa de cambio (exchange house), which can be difficult to find outside Panama City.

Traveler's checks

Although they can be cashed at a few banks. traveler's checks are rarely accepted by businesses, and traveler's checks in currencies other than US dollars are not accepted anywhere in Panama. In addition, some banks will only accept American Express traveler’s checks. The banks that do accept traveler’s checks typically charge an exchange fee equal to 1% of the amount of the check.

Availability of health care

Good medical care is widely available in Panama City. The following hospitals and clinics are generally reliable:

  • Centro Médico Paitilla (265 8800; cnr Av Balboa & Calle 53, Paitilla)
  • Clínica Hospital San Fernando (278 6300, emergency 278 6305; www.hospitalsanfernando.com; Vía España, Las Sabanas Apartado 363)
  • Clínica Hospital San Fernando Hospital Pediátrico (229 2299/229 2477; www.hospitalsanfernando.com; Vía España, Las Sabanas 363)
  • Hospital Nacional (switchboard207 8100, emergency room 207 8110; Av Cuba btwn Calle 38 & 39)
Medical facilities outside Panama City are limited. David has the best hospitals outside the capital:
  • Hospital Centro Médico Mae Lewis (775 4616; Vía Panamericana, David, Apartado 333)

Food

When in Panama do as the Panamanians do... try the local food. "Sancocho" is a very tasty chicken soup, "Comida Corriente" is served at informal places and it translates to meal of the day, it usually includes rice and beans with chicken, beef or pork. Other things to try are "Carimanola", "Yuca Frita", "Patacones", and "Pescado Frito". Our version of the corn "tortilla" is different than what most people are used to, it's thicker, like a hockey puck.

Drink

The local alcohol is called "Seco" and it's made from sugar cane. People mix it with milk or fruit juices. There are several brands of local beer, the one that sells the most is "Atlas".

Tipping

10% is the norm. Some restaurants include the tip on their total. Your bill should include the amount consumed, a 7% service tax, and either the 10% tip (servicio) or a space for you to include this.