Panama Vacation Guide for Beginners: Everything you need to know before you visit

Jun 7, 2021 | Panama Holidays, Panama Tourism

If you’re looking at booking a Panama vacation this year, you have a lot of great options right at your fingertips. Panama is a country that offers a wealth of tourism options, and its one of the biggest growth markets for travel for a number of reasons. A Panama vacation can be done for a short period time, or a long one, and the cost/value tradeoff is immense. For people who are on a budget, there’s a lot to do on a Panama vacation that can be fun, fulfilling, and culturally rewarding. Likewise, if you feel like splurging some extra cash for a more luxury experience, you’ll find that no other destination in Latin America offers the level of quality at price that Panama does.

To get started on planning your Panama vacation this year, let’s take a look at just what Panama has to offer, and how you can fit it into both your schedule and budget.


What time of year is best to visit for the perfect Panama vacation?

Obviously, everyone’s schedule is different, so when you can visit will heavily rely on when you are able to take time off to travel. Panama’s busiest tourist season runs from early December to early May. The reasons for this are mostly related to weather as well as winter and spring holiday breaks for families. There is no “winter” or “summer”, per se, in Panama. Rather, there is a “dry season” and a “wet season.” Dry season is noted for having low humidity, and next to no rain, which makes outdoor activities more comfortable, and Panama’s adventure tourism options a bit easier to participate in.

During the wet season (late May-November), it rains almost daily, with high humidity throughout the country. Don’t let that turn you off from a Panama vacation, though! Typically the rain lasts only an hour or two, and the humidity can be escaped on the ocean, in the mountains, or inside in A/C. The season shouldn’t stop you from taking a Panama vacation, but rather help guide you as to what type of Panama vacation to take. Also, during the wet season, Panama’s flora and fauna flourish from the rain. The entire country is green and glows with life. You’ll find less volume when it comes to visitors, too, which is an advantage for people who don’t like crowds, or those looking for lower prices.

Where in the country should you visit during your Panama vacation?

It all depends on what you want to do, but in general, there are a few places you can group together during an average week-long Panama vacation that will give you a good cross-section experience of the country. Everything starts and ends in Panama City, due to travel logistics. Almost all of the international tourists that come by air have to fly through Panama City’s airport, and many decide to stay a few days there even if it’s not going to be the main focus of their trip. If you want the best well-rounded type of experience, try starting in Panama City, and spending two days on the beach, and two days in the mountains. Here’s what we recommend.

Let’s say you take a 10-day Panama vacation. That may seem long, but if you time it right, can work well by bookending the front and back with the weekends. Also, with so much to do and see in Panama, it will feel like it goes fast. Start your trip in Panama City, where we recommend spending the first three nights. Do some nighttime walking, dinner and drinks in Casco Viejo on your first night to acclimate yourself to the historic old town and its world-class restaurants. Then, try to see the Panama Canal early in the morning on the next day, and perhaps Ancon Hill for a nature walk in the afternoon. Try dining in the more modern area of El Cangrejo or Marbella at night, to get a different perspective than the old city, as far as culture and cuisine.

On your third day, start off by shopping in one of Panama’s glamorous modern malls, then maybe a little more shopping and walking tour through Casco Viejo again. During the day, Casco Viejo offers many more history and art-based activities than at night, so you’ll get a completely different experience than you did on the first night out at dinner. After three nights in Panama City, head for El Valle de Anton for two nights. In El Valle, as it’s called locally, you will find cooler temps and mountain-style living with natural surroundings and a warm, welcoming community. This is a great place to explore by bike, ATV, or car, and you can get there by bus or private shuttle charter in just a few hours from Panama City.

After you’ve taken in the cool breeze and tall trees of Panama’s mountains, head directly south to the area of Chame, or San Carlos. These areas are just under an hour’s drive away from El Valle, and are called Panama’s “gold coast”, because of their beaches. No Panama vacation is complete without the beach, and because of its proximity to both the mountains and city, it’s easy to include a few days in a 10-day trip. We recommend spending three nights here, or even four if you and the people you’re traveling with really love the beach. There are miles and miles of beaches in this area, but the most comfortable/convenient towns to stay in are Coronado, Gorgona, and San Carlos. You can also find many hotels in Farallon, and along the coast around of of the previously listed areas.

Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, try to head back to Panama City for one more night before you head home. Be sure to check out Panama Viejo if you have time during the day, and perhaps treat yourself to one of Panama’s towering skyscraper hotels to get some incredible views, Panama vacation pictures, and good food and drinks. Getting to the airport from Panama City is fairly easy (20-30 mins), and should cost you between $30-$50. After all you’ve done, you’ll realize that even 10 days is not enough to see all of the wonder and beauty the country has to offer, and you’ll want to book your next Panama vacation immediately.

What is the average cost of a Panama Vacation?

Budgeting for a Panama vacation is not that hard if you know what type of trip you want, what you typically spend money on when you travel, or where you’d like to stay while there. Flights from the US and Canada are typically cheaper during the wet season, ranging from between $300-$600 round-trip from major travel hubs. There are some budget options like Spirit that offer the best deals, but be mindful of the late/early arrival times, and how many connections you’ll need to make between your origin and Panama. Luckily, Panama has over 100 direct flights coming in from abroad, so finding a non-stop flight is pretty common for North Americans, Latin Americans, and even some Europeans.

Hotels in Panama tend to run at the same rates as a mid-sized North American urban market would. Hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, and Holiday Inn offer rooms in the $80-$200 per night range depending on room type and dates. Local boutique hotels can go for as low as $60-$100 per night for smaller, yet stylish and well-located rooms. Hostels cost about $15 per night for a dorm and $30-$40 a night for a private room. Casco Viejo hotels tend to be the priciest in the city due to location, demand, and supply. Avenida Balboa and Punta Pacifica hotels are also on the pricier side, mostly due to the views, convenient location next to the bay, and luxury tower amenities that include spas, dining, shopping, and even casinos on-premises. The best value-to-quality pricing for Panama vacation hotels is found in the area of El Cangrejo.

Food and drink costs in Panama are also around average, compared to mid-sized North American cities and tourist markets. Expect to pay $30-$50 per person for dinner in a nice restaurant in Casco Viejo, Punta Paitilla, Punta Pacifica, or Ave. Balboa. Expect to pay almost half that in the rest of the city, unless at a fine dining restaurant or a restaurant that specializes in high-priced cuisine (like sushi, French, etc.). If you’d like to eat on a budget, you can spend a mere $20 or so per day on all your meals at local Panama eateries called “fondas.” These eateries are the lifeblood of everyday Panama cuisine, and even if you have the budget to go somewhere else, we recommend trying at least a few meals at them. You will get a true Panama culinary experience, and you’ll save a lot of money in the process.

Excursions and activities on a Panama vacation, and what they cost

Of course, any Panama vacation isn’t complete without some fun and adventure, and you can get all of that (and more) with some outdoor activities and Panama tours. With a growing eco-tourism sector, beach tourism sector, and adventure sports tourism sector, you’ll never run out of fun activities to do on a Panama vacation. You can take boat tours through Gamboa and the Panama Canal, or a city tour through the historic sites of Casco Viejo and Panama City. You can learn about coffee in Boquete while watching how the beans are harvested. You can learn how to surf, or waterski, or parasail on the beach. You can even do ATV trail riding, or zip-lining through the canopy of the dense Panama rainforests.

Activities, excursions, and tours in Panama are very fairly priced and have great value as far as adding to your overall Panama vacation experience. For tours, you’ll need to budget between $50-$100 per person for most multi-hour offerings. The exact price depends on what you do, but in a general sense, this is the average price range. Tours that involve food and drinks will typically come with some sort of sampling of food and drinks included in the price. Sometimes, even full meals are included depending on the nature of the tour. Transportation is also often included in tour pricing, especially if done by companies that service tourists in the city with activities outside of town.

How to book your Panama vacation

To book the best Panama vacation for you, your friends, or your family, start by picking how many days you will travel for. Once you know what days you can travel on, and how many, book your flight first, and then your hotels. You can do all of this through online booking platforms, or contact a Panama vacation specialist or agency online and work with them to book everything in advance. If you book yourself, you may want to wait until you arrive to pick which activities and excursions you participate in. Travel can be spontaneous, and you may be inspired to do something you didn’t plan on previously after spending even just one day in Panama.

Plan to budget a bit more cash than you think you’ll need, just in case, and try to practice a few local phrases in Spanish before your Panama vacation. Almost everyone in the tourism sector in Panama speaks English, but knowing a few phrases will endear you to locals, and make the trip that much more fun and educational. Panama uses the US dollar, so there is no need to exchange currency before your Panama vacation. Panama also has dozens of international banks, and ATMs accept most foreign cards. Keep in mind that unless your specific bank is located in Panama, you will have to pay around a $5 ATM fee to withdraw cash, so you may want to take out a bit of cash before leaving home. You can use VISA, MasterCard, and American Express pretty much everywhere in Panama, though cash is king in small towns, and street vendors and some local fondas will only take cash as well.

No matter what the reasons, the length of time, or the budget, you’re destined to have a great time on your Panama vacation. And once you’ve been here, you’ll want to come right back, and do it again. For more info, or to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns, contact POLS Attorneys here.

POLS Attorneys Staff Writer

POLS Attorneys Staff Writer

As one of the leading Panama Law Firms, and one of the regions most reliable offshore service providers, POLS Attorneys brings a wide range of professional knowledge to our clients needs. Our staff is made up of professional offshore consultants, Panama attorneys and immigration specialists who are experienced in offshore business, understand international investment and asset protection strategies, and are experts in providing a seamless Panama immigration process.

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