The holiday season is upon us, and it’s a busy time of year for many people all over the world, including here in Panama. Spending the holidays in Panama, whether for the first time or an annual tradition, can be a rewarding, fun, and exciting experience. It can also be a stressful one. Regardless of whether you’re a tourist, a retiree, or a full-time expat in Panama, you’ll find that the holidays in Panama are full of things to do, places to go, delicious food to eat, and lots of shopping. You’ll also find that it’s the beginning (and peak volume) of busy season, and the most popular time of year to be out and about. All that being said, we’ve broken down some ways to navigate the holidays in Panama with ease. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. You should be happy, and stress free!
Be aware of big travel days, and avoid them as much as possible
Much like the November patriotic holidays, December and January are big months for domestic travel in Panama. Due to the concentration of the population in Panama City, you’ll find that the worst traffic situations come from within the city, and getting in and out of it. No matter how you slice it, traffic is almost guaranteed to be worse over the holidays, but if you avoid the peak rush days and hours, you can save yourself both time and stress. The busiest days on the road, and in the air, are December 21st-23rd, and December 30th-January 3rd.
If you can avoid these travel days entirely, do it. Believe it or not, Christmas day is a pretty easy traffic day, as is New Years. And although not entirely convenient, if you don’t have too far to travel, you may consider doing so on these days. If you must travel on busy days, make sure to start early (7am-8am), or late (9pm-11pm).
Plan for attending any Christmas or New Year’s parties well in advance
Panamanians love to party, and Christmas is probably the biggest party of the year, outside of Carnaval. If you don’t have plans for either at this point, you may be out of luck. Restaurants tend to book up weeks before, as do bars, clubs, and hotels. Prices will spike heavily for last minute sign-ups and reservations, so if you absolutely must book attending an event for these nights, prepare to pay a premium. The same goes for hotels, which often price gouge due to incredibly high demand. If you want to go out, but don’t have any reservations anywhere, check with your local “alcaldia” (office of the mayor) to see if there are any public celebrations in nearby parks and squares. It’s always a fun time!
If you need to go shopping, do it as early as possible in the day
This may be tough if you are working 9-5 business hours, but if you can, do all of your shopping before 2pm. Panama is famous for its giant malls and shopping plazas, and they fill up to epic proportions during the holiday season. Luckily, most people don’t hit the malls until the afternoon, with volume increasing up through the night. The worst time to shop is about 7-9pm, with many people staying until the malls and centers kick them out to close. We recommend you go to smaller shopping areas and boutique stores if you can, and try to be as early, and efficient as possible.
Good luck, and happy holidays!