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PANAMA

In the past couple of years, Panama has become Central America’s hottest destination. Beyond its famous canal (which, 100 years after its completion, still astonishes all who visit), scads of travelers are discovering vast jungles that hold amazing biological diversity, idyllic islands ringed with coral reefs, and mountain forests filled with exotic birds. Panama City is the exciting, and rapidly developing and become a hub from which to explore–-a vibrant and diverse metropolis with excellent dining, lodging, and nightlife, and an abundance of day-trip options.

EXPLORE PANAMA

TRAVEL TIPS

AIR TRAVEL

From New York or Chicago flying time to Panama City is 5½ hours; from Atlanta 4 hours; from Miami 3 hours; from L.A. 6½ hours; and from Houston 4¼ hours.

Flights

Copa, a United partner, is Panama’s flagship carrier. It operates flights from Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, New Orleans, New York–JFK, Orlando, Toronto, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington Dulles. Copa also flies to many Central and South American cities. You can fly to Panama from Houston and Newark on United, from Atlanta on Delta, from Miami, Dallas, New York, and Newark on American, and from Fort Lauderdale on Spirit.

Air Panama is Panama’s domestic carrier and serves destinations all over the country, including Contadora, Guna Yala, Bocas del Toro, David, and the Darién. Domestic flights usually cost $100 to $250 round-trip; you can buy tickets directly from the airline or through a travel agent. Air Panama offers charter flights as well, although these tend to be quite pricey.

Airports

Panama’s main air hub is Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen (PTY), about 11 miles northeast of Panama City. All scheduled international flights land here. The airport underwent a $600 million expansion in 2012 that included the addition of airy, glass-walled corridors; the construction of a new terminal began in 2014. Tocumen has two tourist-information booths, shops, a few eating places, ATMs, 24-hour luggage storage, car-rental agencies, and a telephone and Internet center. Arrival and departure formalities are usually efficient. Minimum check-in time is two hours prior to departure; your airline may recommend longer.

Domestic flights operate out of Aeropuerto Marcos A. Gelabert (PAC), more commonly known as Albrook Airport, after the U.S. military base that once stood there. Albrook has a tourist-information stand, an ATM, a small food court, and some car-rental offices.

Ground Transportation

Taxis are the quickest way into Panama City from Tocumen Airport. The fare is $30 to $40, depending on your hotel’s location, but a few hotels offer a shuttle service. Only licensed operators are allowed to offer services as you leave the airport doors. The trip can take between 20 and 60 minutes, depending on traffic and your hotel’s location.

The 15-minute taxi ride from Albrook Airport to the city center costs $4 to $6.

Public buses stop far from Tocumen’s terminal and take well over an hour to get into the city, so we recommend taking a taxi or shuttle if your hotel offers one.

Transfers Between Airports

A taxi ride between Tocumen and Albrook airports can top $40, though if you’re catching the cab at Albrook, you might be able to negotiate a cheaper price. The trip takes about 30 minutes. Alternatively, buses to both airports start and finish at Plaza Cinco de Mayo.

BOAT AND FERRY TRAVEL

Ferry Panama Cartagena operates a weekly service between Colón and Cartagena, Colombia. The ship departs the Colón 2000 port each Monday, and Cartagena’s Puerto de Cruceros each Tuesday from November to May. Departure time is 7 pm and the trip takes 18 hours. The ship carries up to 1,320 passengers and 300 motor vehicles.

Within Panama, boats are the only way to get between points in the islands of Guna Yala and Bocas del Toro. There are regular, inexpensive water-taxi services connecting the city of Almirante with Bocas del Toro.

BUS TRAVEL

Domestic Bus Services

Getting around Panama by bus is comfortable, cheap, and straightforward. Panama City is the main transport hub. Services to towns all over the country (and to the rest of Central America) leave from a huge terminal/mall in Albrook with shops, ATMs, Internet access, and restaurants. To get to smaller cities and beaches, you need to catch minibusses out of regional transit hubs.

Long-distance buses are usually clean and punctual. Routes are operated by many different bus companies, and there’s no centralized timetable service. Call the bus company or go to the terminal to get departure times.

International Bus Services

You can reach Panama by bus only from Costa Rica. Services cross the border at Paso Canoas. The Darién jungle causes a gap in the Panamerican Highway, meaning bus travel to Colombia is impossible.

Ticabus is an international bus company connecting all of Central America. Air-conditioned coaches leave Panama City daily at 11 am and noon and take 16 hours to get to San José, Costa Rica. Ticabus continues to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Panamanian company Expreso Panamá operates an air-conditioned coach service from Panama City nightly at 11 pm arriving at San José, Costa Rica 16 hours later.

CAR TRAVEL

Driving is a great way to see Panama. The Panamerican Highway takes you to or near most towns in the country, and with a car, you can also visit small villages and explore remote areas more easily. Most secondary roads are well signposted and in reasonable condition.

Panamanian drivers can be a little aggressive, but they’re not much worse than New Yorkers or Angelenos. We recommend saving the car for outside Panama City: traffic jams, a dearth of road signs beyond major avenues, and lack of safe parking can make downtown driving stressful.

Gasoline

Gas stations are plentiful in and near towns in Panama, and along the Panamerican Highway. Some are open 24 hours. On long trips fill your tank whenever you can, as the next station could be a long way away. An attendant always pumps the gas and doesn’t expect a tip, though a small one is always appreciated. Both cash and credit cards are usually accepted. Most rental cars run on premium unleaded gas, which is generally a bit more expensive than in the United States. Gas is sold by the liter.

Parking

On-street parking generally isn’t a good idea in Panama City. Instead, park in a guarded parking lot—most hotels have them. Many rental agencies insist you follow this rule. Restaurants often have free parking.

Rental Cars

Stick shift is the norm in Panama, so check with the rental agency if you only drive an automatic. Rental-car companies routinely accept driver’s licenses from the United States, Canada, and most European countries. Most agencies require a major credit card for a deposit, and most require that you be over 25. Panamanian rental vehicles may not leave the country.

Rental-Car Insurance

If you own a car, your personal auto insurance may cover a rental to some degree, though not all policies protect you abroad; always read your policy’s fine print. If you don’t have auto insurance, then seriously consider buying the collision- or loss-damage waiver (CDW or LDW) from the car-rental company, which eliminates your liability for damage to the car. Some credit cards offer CDW coverage, but it’s usually supplemental to your own insurance and rarely covers SUVs, minivans, luxury models, and the like. If your coverage is secondary, you may still be liable for loss-of-use costs from the car-rental company. But no credit-card insurance is valid unless you use that card for all transactions, from reserving to paying the final bill. All companies exclude car rental in some countries, so be sure to find out about the destination to which you are traveling. It’s sometimes cheaper to buy insurance as part of your general travel insurance policy.

Car-rental agencies in Panama require basic third-party liability insurance, and the fee is included in their cheapest quoted rental price. Optional insurance to cover occupants and the deductible if you are in an accident deemed your fault is about $20 extra per day for a compact car.

Roadside Emergencies

Panama has no private roadside assistance clubs—ask rental agencies carefully about what you should do if you break down. If you have an accident, you are legally obliged to stay by your vehicle until the police arrive, which could take a while, depending on your location. You can also call the transport police or if you’re near Panama City, the tourist police.

Emergency Services

National police. 911.

Tourist police. 507/511–9262; 911.

Transport police. 911.

Road Conditions

The Panamerican Highway is paved along its entire length in Panama, and most secondary roads are paved, too. However, maintenance isn’t always a regular process, so you may encounter worn, pockmarked surfaces if you stray from the main routes. Turnoffs are often sharp, and mountain roads can have hairpin bends.

In and around Panama City, traffic is heavy. An efficient toll highway connects the capital and the Caribbean port of Colón in an hour.

Turnoffs and distances are usually clearly signposted. Be especially watchful at traffic lights, as crossing on yellow (or even red) lights is common practice.

Rules of the Road

You cannot turn right on a red light. Seat belts are required. Cell phone use and texting while driving are prohibited. As you approach small towns, watch out for topes, the local name for speed bumps.

TAXI TRAVEL

Panamanian taxis range from sleek air-conditioned sedans to stuffy, banged-up rust buckets that seem to run off the sheer will of the driver. Hailing cabs on the street is widely considered safe during the day and is your cheapest option for private transportation around the city. Short hops are as little as $1; fares within town shouldn’t top $3; a trip to an outlying area should run about $5. Airport taxis and hotel taxis are nicer but considerably more expensive, so check to see if your hotel has a shuttle service. Don’t feel obliged to tip, but city cab drivers who strictly adhere to low city fares are genuinely appreciative (and sometimes surprised by) the extra quarter or two. You may want to ask how much the fare is before getting aboard to avoid a tourist premium.

TRAIN TRAVEL

Panama’s only train service is the Panama Canal Railway, which operates between Panama City and Colón on weekdays. Tracks run alongside the canal itself and over causeways in Gatún Lake. The hour-long trip costs $25 each way; trains leave Panama City at 7:15 am and Colón at 5:15 pm. You can buy tickets at the station before you leave.

COMMUNICATIONS

Phones

The country code for Panama is 507. To call Panama from the United States, dial the international access code (011), followed by the country code (507), and the seven-digit phone number, in that order. Note that cell phones have eight digits. Panama does not use area codes. To make collect or calling-card calls, dial 106 from any phone in Panama, and an English-speaking operator will connect you.

Calling Within Panama

Panama’s telephone system, operated by Cable & Wireless, is cheap and highly efficient. You can make local and long-distance calls from your hotel—usually with a surcharge—and from any public phone box.

The bright blue public phone boxes all take phone cards and some also accept coins; you insert coins or your card first, and then dial. You can also use prepaid calling cards from them free of charge. Standard local calls cost 10¢ a minute, less with a prepaid calling card. .For local directory assistance (in Spanish), dial 102.

Calling Outside Panama

To make international calls from Panama, dial 00, then the country code, area code, and number. The country code for the United States is 1.

Many cybercafés have Internet phone services with cheap rates (they’re usually posted outside the shop), but communication quality can vary. You can also make international calls from payphones using a prepaid Telechip or card, which are sold in the abundant convenience stores. Dialing the international operator lets you make collect international calls. It’s also possible to use AT&T, Sprint, and MCI services from Panama, but using a prepaid card is cheaper.

Calling Cards

Ovinicom prepaid calling cards can be used to make local and international calls from any telephone in Panama. Calls both within Panama and to the United States cost as little as 5¢ a minute; cards come in denominations of $3, $5, $10, and $20. To use them, you dial a free local access number, then enter your PIN and the number you want to call. You can buy cards at supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies. Ask for una tarjeta telefónica de prepago.

Calling Cards

Cable & Wireless Panama. Cable & Wireless Panama’s Telechip cards can be used in payphones for national or international calls.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are immensely popular in Panama. If you have an unlocked tri-band phone and intend to call local numbers, it makes sense to buy a prepaid Panamanian SIM card on arrival—rates will be much better than using your U.S. network. Alternatively, you can buy a cheap handset in Panama for $10–$20.

There are four main mobile-phone companies in Panama: +Móvil (owned by Cable & Wireless), Claro, Movistar, and Digicel. Their prices are similar, but +Móvil has better coverage in farther-flung areas of the country. You pay only for outgoing calls, which cost between 5¢ and 50¢ a minute. You can buy a SIM card (tarjeta SIM) from any outlet of either company; pay-as-you-go cards (tarjeta de prepago para celular) to charge your account are available from supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, and kiosks.

You can also rent from companies such as Cellular Abroad, Mobal, or PlanetFone.  If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

You may import 500 cigarettes (or 500 grams of tobacco or 50 cigars) and three bottles of alcohol duty-free. You can import duty-free up to $2,000 of various goods; customs is not overly strict on applying duty to items that are obviously yours for personal use. Prescription drugs should always be accompanied by a doctor’s prescription.

DINING

Panama’s cosmopolitan history is reflected in its food. Panama City has a great range of restaurants serving both local and international fare. Among the latter, Greek, Chinese, Italian, and American eateries are the most common. Fast-food outlets abound—some are names you’ll recognize, others are local chains.

Eateries offering traditional Panamanian fare for locals are cheap—you can get a full plate of beans or lentils and rice and fried chicken for as little as $4. Most restaurants, however, charge U.S.-level prices for meals.

Meals and Mealtimes

A typical Panamanian breakfast (desayuno) consists of eggs or beef served with deep-fried tortillas or hojaldre (fried bread), washed down with coffee. Most hotels catering to foreigners also offer fruit, toast, and cereal, and you can expect breakfast buffets at the four- or five-star hotels.

Lunch (comida or almuerzo) is the main meal and is generally served around midday. Many restaurants do set-price meals of two or three courses at lunch. In Panamanian homes dinner is often merely a light snack eaten around 9 pm. If you’re eating out, dinner is just as big a deal as in the United States but is usually served until 10:30 pm.

Paying

In restaurants with waiter service, you pay the check (la cuenta) at the end of the meal. You’ll usually have to ask for the check, sometimes more than once. In fast-food restaurants and at food stands, you generally pay up-front. Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants, but it’s always a good idea to check before you order, especially as some establishments only accept one kind of credit card.

Wines, Beer, and Spirits

Alcohol is available in just about every restaurant in Panama, though cheaper places have limited selections. For meals and light drinking, beer—usually lager—is the local favorite. Good brands made in Panama include Balboa, Atlas, Panamá, and Soberana, but North American and European brands are also widely available. For more serious drinking, Panamanians reach for a bottle of seco, a fierce white rum that gets you under the table in no time. Seco is often mixed with cranberry juice. Wine still isn’t a big thing in Panama, but most decent restaurants have imported bottles from the United States or Chile and Argentina. Imported liquor is also easy to find in supermarkets.

ELECTRICITY

Electrical current in Panama is 110 volts, the same as in the United States. Outlets take either plugs with two flat prongs or two flat prongs with a circular grounded prong. No converters or adapters are needed.

EMERGENCIES

Dial 911 nationwide for police, fire, and ambulance. In a medical or dental emergency, ask your hotel staff for information on and directions to the nearest private hospital or clinic. Taxi drivers should also know how to find one, and taking a taxi may be quicker than waiting for an ambulance. Many private medical insurers provide online lists of hospitals and clinics in different towns. It’s a good idea to print out a copy of these before you travel.

For theft, wallet loss, small road accidents, and minor emergencies contact the nearest police station. Expect all dealings with the police to be a bureaucratic business—it’s probably only worth bothering if you need the report for insurance claims.

The private Hospital Punta Pacifica is affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine International and has many English-speaking doctors. The Hospital Nacional is an excellent private hospital with English-speaking doctors, a 24-hour emergency room, and specialists in many areas. The Centro Médico Paitilla is one of the country’s best, and most expensive, hospitals.

Medical staff at Panamanian public hospitals are well-trained and professional. However, hospitals are underfunded and often lack supplies: as a rule, you’re best going to a private clinic, which means medical insurance is a must.

Pack a basic first-aid kit, especially if you’re venturing into more remote areas. If you’ll be carrying any medication, bring your doctor’s contact information and prescription authorizations. Getting your prescription filled in Panama might be problematic, so bring enough medication for your entire trip.

HEALTH

It’s safe to drink tap water and have ice in your drinks in urban areas but stick to bottled water everywhere else. Two mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent in Panama: dengue fever (especially in Bocas del Toro) and malaria (in the Guna Yala and parts of Chiriquí). Prevention is better than a cure: cover up your arms and legs and use a strong insect repellent containing a high concentration of DEET. Don’t hang around outside at sunset, and sleep under a mosquito net in jungle areas.

Sunburn and sunstroke are potential health hazards when visiting Panama. Stay out of the sun at midday and use plenty of high-SPF-factor sunscreen when on the beach or hiking. You can buy well-known brands in most Panamanian pharmacies. Protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses, and bear in mind that you’ll burn more easily at higher altitudes and in the water.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

In Panama farmacias (drugstores) sell a wide range of medications over the counter, including some, but not all, drugs that would require a prescription in the United States. Familiar brands are easy to find, otherwise, ask for what you want with the generic name. Note that acetaminophen—or Tylenol—is called paracetamol in Panama (just as in the U.K.). Farmacias Arrocha and Farmacias Rey, which are located inside Rey supermarkets, are two Panamanian drugstore chains with branches all over the country, many of which are open 24 hours.

Shots and Medications

If you’re traveling anywhere east of Panama City and the former Canal Zone, a yellow fever vaccination is recommended. Remember to keep the certificate and carry it with you, as you may be asked to show it when entering another country after leaving Panama.

The CDC recommends mefloquine, proguanil, or doxycycline as preventive antimalarials for adults and infants in Panama if entering a malaria zone east of the Panama Canal. Chloroquine is sufficient for western Panama malarial regions. To be effective, the weekly doses must start a week before you travel and continue four weeks after your return. There is no preventive medication for dengue.

HOURS OF OPERATION

Businesses and government offices typically open weekdays between 8 and 9 am and close between 4 and 6 pm; many keep these hours on Saturday, too. Banks open between 8 am and 3 pm, but ATMs are usually open 24 hours. Standard hours for shops are 9 am–6 pm, but malls are open a couple of hours longer. Small-town businesses frequently close for a couple of hours at midday. Restaurants are generally open until 10:30 pm, as dinner in Panama is eaten later than in the rest of Central America.

Holidays

Panama’s national holidays are as follows: Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day), January 1; Día de los Mártires (Martyrs’ Day), January 9; Viernes Santo (Good Friday), March or April; Día del Trabajador (Labor Day), May 1; Día de la Independencia (Independence Day from Colombia), November 3; Primer Grito de la Independencia (First Cry of Independence), November 10; Día de la Emancipación (Emancipation Day from Spain), November 28; Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day), December 8; Navidad (Christmas), December 25. Things operate at half-speed during Holy Week and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Each region also has its own holidays, and many towns have saint’s days.

MONEY

Although Panama is Central America’s most expensive destination, prices compare favorably to those back home. Midrange hotels and restaurants where locals eat are excellent value. Rooms at first-class hotels and meals at the best restaurants, however, approach those in the United States. Trips into remote parts of the country and adventure travel are also relatively inexpensive.

You can plan your trip around ATMs—cash is king for day-to-day dealings—and credit cards (for bigger spending). U.S. dollars are the local currency; changing any other currency can be problematic. Traveler’s checks are useful only as a reserve.

Using large bills is often a problem in Panama, even in big shops or expensive restaurants. Have plenty of ones and fives at hand. Counterfeiting is a problem with $50 or $100 bills. Many businesses won’t accept anything larger than $20.

Prices are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.

ATMs and Banks

ATMs—known locally as cajeros automáticos—are extremely common in Panama. In big cities even supermarkets and department stores usually have their own ATMs. On-screen instructions appear in English; you are usually prompted to select your language. Make withdrawals from ATMs in daylight rather than at night.

The main ATM network accepts cards with both Cirrus and Plus symbols. ATMs are located all over the country, with the exceptions of Isla Contadora and Guna Yala. Many international banks have branches in Panama City.

Credit Cards

Inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.

Credit cards are widely accepted in Panama’s urban areas. Visa is the most popular, followed by MasterCard and American Express. Discover is gaining ground. Diners Club is rarely accepted. If possible, bring more than one credit card, as smaller establishments sometimes accept only one type. In small towns only top-end hotels and restaurants take plastic.

Currency and Exchange

Panama’s national currency is the U.S. dollar. Don’t get confused if you see prices expressed in balboas: it’s just the local name for the dollar. All bills come in standard U.S. denominations, although Panama also issues its own version of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and 50-cent pieces. New as of 2012 are one-balboa coins, still new-fangled enough that much of the population is suspicious of them, with plans for a two-balboa coin on the way. Try to avoid coming to Panama with other currencies, as the exchange rates are generally unfavorable.

PACKING

Think capri pants, skirts, or khakis for urban sightseeing, with something a little dressier for eating out at night. Shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, and bikinis are all acceptable at the beach or farther afield. Leave flashy jewelry behind—it only makes you a target.

“Insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses” is your packing mantra; long-sleeve shirts and long pants also help protect your skin from the relentless sun and ferocious mosquitoes. Panama’s rainy season lasts from mid-April to December, and rain is common at other times, too, so a foldable umbrella or waterproof jacket is a must. So are sturdy walking boots if you’re planning any serious hiking, otherwise sneakers or flats are fine. A handbag-size flashlight is also very useful: blackouts are more common than at home.

Tissues and antibacterial hand wipes make trips to public toilets more pleasant. Finding your preferred brands of condoms and tampons in Panama can be hit and miss, so bring necessary supplies of both. Familiar toiletry brands are widely available.

PASSPORTS AND VISAS

Most travelers from Western countries can visit Panama for up to 90 days with the purchase of a $5 tourist visa; you can buy this upon arrival or at the check-in desk of some airlines. Your passport must be valid for at least six months. The visa may actually say it is valid for only 30 days so ask the usually friendly officer to write “90 días” by the stamp on the visa.

Arriving tourists are technically required to show proof that their travels continue beyond Panama. A return ticket will suffice. Airlines are often more demanding than immigration officials on this particular issue: If you don’t have a return ticket they might not let you board the plane.

It is nearly impossible to extend your stay in Panama unless you are a retiree investing in property or sponsored by an employer. If you need to stay longer, it’s easier to simply leave the country for 72 hours by grabbing a cheap round-trip flight to Colombia or Costa Rica and then returning.

SAFETY

Panama is relatively safe. In most of the country crime against tourists is usually limited to pickpocketing and bag snatching. Taking a few simple precautions is usually enough to keep you from being a target.

In urban areas, strive to look aware and purposeful at all times. Look at maps before you go outside, not on a street corner, and keep a firm hold on your purse. At night exercise the same kind of caution you would in any big American city and stay in well-lit areas with plenty of people around. Ask hotel or restaurant staff to call you a taxi at night, rather than flagging one down. If you’re driving, park in guarded lots, never on the street, and remove the front of the stereo if possible.

In Panama City, it’s best to steer clear of the neighborhoods of El Chorrillo, parts of Calidonia away from the parallel thoroughfares of Peru and Cuba avenues, and El Marañón, where muggings are commonplace. (We shade dangerous neighborhoods on our Panama City maps.) Finally, local drivers are a danger to pedestrians in all the city’s neighborhoods, so look twice (or thrice) before crossing the street.

Two places in the country are blots on Panama’s safety reputation. The city of Colón is a hot spot for violent crime, and locals warn against wandering its streets alone. Bordering Colombia, the Darién Province is a largely impenetrable jungle far from the reach of the law, and thus a hotspot for paramilitary activity and drug smuggling. An organized tour should be your only choice for visiting the Darién.

In the unlikely event of being mugged or robbed, do not put up a struggle. Nearly all physical attacks on tourists are the direct result of their resisting would-be pickpockets or muggers. Comply with demands, hand over your stuff, and try to get the situation over with as quickly as possible—then let your travel insurance take care of it.

Report any crimes to the nearest police station. In Panama City, you can also ask English-speaking tourist police (identifiable by a white armband) for help. Panamanian police are usually helpful when dealing with foreigners. However, their resources are limited: they’ll happily provide you with reports for insurance claims, but tracking down your stolen goods is pretty unlikely.

In Panama, you’re legally obliged to carry ID—preferably your passport—with you at all times. If you prefer to keep your passport safe, laminate a color copy of the photo page and carry that, together with your driver’s license or other photo ID. You may be asked for proof of your identity when dealing with the police, and you can be fined $10 or hauled away if you don’t have ID.

Distribute your cash, credit cards, IDs, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don’t reach for the money pouch once you’re in public.

Government Advisories

U.S. State Department travel advisories are known for being very cautious. A perusal of the corresponding sites for other English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom) gives a larger sampling. All warn against independent travel to the Darién region and recommend avoiding rougher neighborhoods of Panama City and most of Colón.

TAXES

Panama has a value-added sales tax (IVA) of 7%, which is usually included in the displayed price. No tax-refund scheme exists for visitors. Hotels also have a 10% tax. Visitors departing by air are charged an exit tax of $40, though this is usually included in your ticket.

TIPPING

In Panama tipping is a question of rewarding good service rather than an obligation. Restaurant bills don’t include gratuities; adding 10% is customary. Bellhops and maids expect tips only in more expensive hotels, and $1–$2 per bag is the norm. You should also give a tip of up to $10 per day to tour guides. Rounding up taxi fares is a way of showing your appreciation to the driver, but it’s not expected.

TRIP INSURANCE

Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.

Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.