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Panama country information

Panama map
Republic of Panama
Area: 75,517 sq km
Population: 3,309,679
Population density: 43 per sq km
Capital: Panama City
Passport & Visa
Passport Required?
British Yes
Australian Yes
Canadian Yes
USA Yes
Other EU Yes
Visa Required?
British No
Australian No/1
Canadian No/1
USA No/1
Other EU No/2

Passports

Passport valid for a minimum of six months required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.

Passport Note

(a) No brief account of the complex Panamanian visa regulations is likely to be fully successful as passport and visa regulations are liable to change at short notice. (b) Panamanian immigration procedures are rigidly enforced and non-compliance with the regulations may result in transportation at carrier's expense to country of origin. (c) Many nationals requiring visas also require authorisation from the Immigration Authorities in Panama before entry.

Visas

Not required by all nationals referred to in the chart above for stays of up to 90 days except:
1. nationals of Australia, Canada and USA who will be issued a tourist card in lieu of a visa for stays of up to 30 days (extendable to 90 days at the discretion of the immigration authorities);
2.  nationals of Bulgaria and Romania who do require a visa.


Note: Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements.

Visa Note

Types of Visa and Cost

Tourist: 30. Tourist card: Prices vary, depending on nationality and also on where the tourist card is obtained from (eg prior to departure, on the flight or upon arrival at the airport). Some nationals can obtain the tourist card free of charge (including nationals of the USA). Enquire at the consulate for details.

Validity

Visas and tourist cards are valid within a three-month period from the date of issue and allow stays for up to 30 days (extendable to 90 days at discretion of immigration authorities).

Applications to:

Consulate (or consular section at embassy). A tourist card can be issued either by the travel agent or on the flight or at the airport.

Working Days Required

Normally 24 hours if no authorisation is needed; up to 40 days if authorisation (which depends on nationality) is needed.
Getting there

Getting There by Air

The national airline is Compañía Panameña de Aviación (COPA - CM) (website: www.copaair.com ).

Approximate Flight Times

From London to Panama City is 14 hours and from Miami is 2 hours 45 minutes.

Main Airports

Panamá City (PTY) (Tocumén) (website: www.tocumenpanama.aero ) is 27km (17 miles) northeast of the city. To/from the airport: Buses and taxis go to the city (journey time - 30 to 60 minutes). Facilities: Bank, car hire, chemist, restaurant and full duty-free.
Departure Tax
US$20. Children under two years of age and passengers in transit to another country not leaving the airport and remaining for under nine hours are exempt.

Getting There by Water

Main port: Panama (Balboa), a port of call for both passenger and freight vessels. The Panama Canal is the major route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
For travellers to from Cartagena (Colombia): sail boats leave from either Portobelo or San Blas.

Getting There by Rail

There is currently no rail link between Panama and other international destinations.

Getting There by Road

The principal route to Panama is the Pan-American Highway from Costa Rica to Yaviza in Darién Province.

Note tour.tk: there are NO overland routes into Colombia via the Darien Gap. Sail boats will take passengers from Portobelo or San Blas in Panama to Cartagena or Sapzurro in Colombia. Fee as of July 2009: US$375 p.p.
Cycling & Maps

Cycling in Panama

The Pan American is a mixed bag in Panama. Some sections are immaculately paved with a wide smooth shoulder for total cycling bliss. Other parts however, are like a civil war took place on the tarmac, or more often than not concrete block slabs. Nonexistent shoulders or safety areas filled with vehicle debris, gravel or sand prevent you from keeping out of the line of fire from heavy traffic. In most of the country, traffic is friendly and respectful, but as you draw nearer to Panama City, aggression takes over and you'll more than likely find yourself pushed from the road on at least one occasion.

Road signage is a sponsored affair in Panama and therefore the emphasis lies more on the advertising than giving you relevant distance or directional information. It can therefore be contradictory, so you need to use your common sense. Street signs are also pretty well absent in towns and cities, which makes navigation fairly complex. Even locals don't know the names of some streets.

Technically, pedestrians and cyclists are not permitted to cross the Puente de las Americas into Panama City and you will be stopped by police before you get close to the foot of the bridge. The reason behind this is that too many people in the past, in dire financial difficulty have threatened to jump, unless of course their debts are cleared. The police tend to take a more lenient view of the rule with loaded cycle tourers and if you ask nicely, you'll probably get a motorcycle escort across the bridge. Other reports are of them stopping a truck and loading bikes and cyclists in for the 2 kilometre journey. In any case, they probably figure that someone brave enough to ride a fully loaded bicycle through Panama, let alone Central America, is not likely to end their life just yet.
       

National Geographic
Panama Adventure Map
scale 1:475 000

Waterproof

Panama Map
by International Travel Maps (ITMB)
scale 1: 480 000

Waterproof

Cost of living
Cost of Living in Panama: all prices in US Dollars (USD)
drinks and snacks

food: local markets; restaurants; and stores

water (drinking)
water (drinking)
juice
juice
soft drink (can)
soft drink (bottle)

1.5 litre
1gal (3.78 L)
1 litre
200ml
300ml
2 litre

0.75
2.45
0.99
0.27
0.60
1.60

bread loaf-white
bread loaf-whole grain
tortillas-wheat 10 piece
baguette

430g
530g
250g
large
1.12
1.55
1.05
0.55
papas (fried chips)
Chinese restaurant
vegetarian buffet
falafel or houmous-rest
vegetarian pizza
one serving
one serving
per portion
entree portion
large
0.60-1.00
2.50+
0.50
3.00+
12.00+
beer-local
wine- bottle
wine- cask
330ml
750ml
1 litre
0.47
3.75+
2.25
tea
coffee (cafe / bar)
Nescafe instant
coffee-ground
24 bags
per cup
50g
500g
0.85
0.30-0.50
2.50
2.00
rice (white)
pasta
eggs
tomato paste

kg
227g
per ½ dozen
113g

1.19
0.43
0.55
0.45
soya milk powder
milk
yoghurt / curd
cheese
Magnum like icecream
200g
1 litre
125g
365g
each

1.15
0.90
0.65
2.75
1.00

potatoes
onions
tomatoes
cabbage
brocolli
kg
kg
kg
kg
kg
1.32
1.76
2.64
0.99
1.87
chips
salted peanuts
cashews
sultanas
184.2g pack
170g
190g
425g
2.20
1.00
4.10
1.85
avocados
apples
oranges
bananas
each
each
kg
kg
0.35-0.50
0.25-0.50
3.85
1.21
cornflakes
chocolate
museli bars
biscuits-plain
biscuits-chocolate
350g pack
100g block
6x25g
200g pack
200g pack
1.40
1.85
3.25
0.85
1.99
pineapple (can)
oil (corn)
280g can
455ml
0.75
1.15
peanut paste
jam
honey
340g jar
300g pot
175g
2.19
1.59
1.19
* Majority of prices obtained from both Super 99 and Rey supermarket chains
accommodation personal
budget city hostel
budget city hostel
budget hotel
7.50-9.00+ per dorm bed
20.00+ private double
14.00-22.00 double with bath

deodorant - roll-on
soap
shampoo
toothbrush
toothpaste
disposable razor
toilet paper

50ml
125g bar
200ml
each
75ml
2 pack
2 pack
1.20
0.50
1.70
1.55+
1.85
0.65
1.20
camping

ask in local villages or by churches.

internet 0.50-1.00 per hour

* tba = price to be announced
* June 2009: at time of writing 1.00 EURO = 1.40 USD
all prices have been taken from internet resources such as wikitravel, hostel world, leading supermarket chains, travel blogs, forums and of course our own travel experiences and purchases of everyday products in food markets, bazaars and local shopping facilities. They are only an indication and designed to give you a general impression of the cost of living in Panama. Items are geared towards the budget conscious traveller with an occasional craving for a bit of luxury.

A couple of extra tips:
*
Bargaining for souvenirs or if you happen to be purchasing goods in bulk is commonly accepted in Panama. Markets are another place where you can practice your haggling skills. Otherwise prices are fixed.
*
Tipping is not compulsory, but generally expected in most mid to high range restaurants. Your bill will normally state whether a service charge has been added or not. The customary amount to leave is 10-15% of the total bill. A five percent government tax will be incurred in most sit-down table service establishments.

*

Taxi drivers do not expect tips and prices should be confirmed before entering the taxi. In Panama City, they are notorious for ripping foreigners off. In 2009, you can get virtually anywhere in the city centre for $US1.50 plus 35 cents for each additional person. Never pay more than $US3. Drivers are also known to be particularly unfriendly. So, if you don't like the attitude or the price: walk away and try elsewhere.
Accommodation
There is an extensive array of accommodation options in Panama and your budget will depict the level of privacy and comfort you get for your overnight stay. Those travelling on a shoestring, will mostly be limited to hostels in the bigger cities and tourist destinations. There are many of these establishments dotting the country and most have facilities like share kitchens, common rooms with cable tv, wifi connections, free tea and coffee and even the odd one comes with a swimming pool too. They are always a great place to meet other travellers and exchange stories.

Outside of these areas, you can pick up a decent double hotel room with private bathroom for literally the same price of two dorm beds. In 2009, a basic double cost from as little as $14 in a Chinese hotel to $22 in a mid-range Panamanian hotel in a small town.

Camping in Panama
It is possible to camp on some of the beaches in Panama, though safety can be issue in some areas. There are only a few official camp areas in the mountains, but it is not difficult to find a spot in a village if you ask first. Camping wild can prove a little more difficult as much of the land is owned or fenced off. If you do happen to chance upon something suitable, make sure you keep yourself well hidden from the road and prying eyes.

Acommodation we used while in Panama (June 2009): (prices based on two people sharing)
Star system explained: from 0 to ***** where 0 is a total disaster and ***** is luxurious (and out of our price range)
         
City / town: Name accommodation: Our experience: Price: Stars:
         
La Chorrera Hospedaje Lamas dubious US$ 14 *
David Purple House a bit too controled... US$ 20 **
La Lajas Paradise Inn a bit too luxurious..., WiFi US$ 37,50 ***
Panama City Zulys Backpackers crowded, WiFi not working US$ 22
Penonomé Hotel Dos Continentos a very good deal US$ 22 ***½
Santiago Hotel Hong small not too clean box US$ 15 *
Food & drink

Comida típica or traditional Panamanian cooking is pretty much similar to what you will find in the rest of Central America. Rice and beans provide the staple as do cassava (yucca) and plantano bananas. The corn tortilla in Panama however, is completely unique: considerably thicker and generally smaller, these distinctively yellow corn dough rounds are fried and a very popular breakfast essential. Often they are served with eggs and melted cheese.

Meat and seafood are also incredibly popular and there is little to tempt the vegetarian in the way of true Panamanian fare. In and around the west highland foothills of Volcán Barú, fertile soil and cooler temperatures result in a year round supply of fresh produce, which apart from imports, is where most of the countries vegetables come from. Other areas of the country are hot and humid and this severely limits the choice and availability of the non-meat eater's staples.

In fact, apart from corn, cassava, plantains and the typical side serve of cabbage salad topped with a slice of tomato, vegetables are rarely incorporated into conventional Panamanian meals.

But all is not lost for the hungry vegetarian. The result of years of cultural influence from a variety of backgrounds has left the cities with a diverse choice of culinary options. There are plenty of pizzerias and Italian restaurants as well as Lebanese and Indian establishments. All of which have enough choice of vegetarian and/or vegan dishes.

 
VEGETARIAN TALK - Spanish
Soy vegetariano/a = I am vegetarian m/f

No como...ni... = I don't eat...nor...
Yo como...y... = I eat...and...
No quiero...o... = I don't want...or...

carne = meat
cerdo or puerco = pork
pollo [poh-yo] = chicken
pescado = fish
huevos = eggs
leche = milk
lácteos = milk products
queso = cheese

vedura = vegetables
fruta (fresca) = (fresh) fruit

Quiero... = I want...
Quisiera un plato que lleve... =
I want a dish containing ...

por favor = please
gracias = thank you
de nada = you're welcome

But by far the most widely available vegetarian food throughout the country is easily found in the local Chinese eateries with their cheap, wholesome and decent sized portions of vegetables, rice and noodles. Some may even have tofu on the menu: known as queso China [Chinese cheese].

Furthering this, in the larger townships you can more often than not stumble upon a vegetarian buffet. Almost exclusively run by Chinese, these cafeteria-like dining halls have an array of vegan dishes to choose from. On average, it costs around 50 cents per portion and a hungry traveller can fill up on a nourishing meal for as little as $US2.00.

Self catering is also easy in Panama: large supermarkets stock everything necessary for whipping up a well balanced dinner. They generally have their own snack and fast food section as well, where you can often purchase fried rice and vegetables, chowmein, chips and other light snacks. You'll have the choice to eat in orpar llevar [take-away].

A couple of budget recommendations

HappyCow only has 4 listings in total and all are located in Panama City, which gives a rather bleak forecast for those vegetarians wanting to travel to Panama. In reality though, there are so many more choices available. Years of diverse cultural influence has left Panama with a melting pot and fusion of cuisines.

Here are just a couple of budget places to recommend for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike in David and Panama City. This is just the tip of the coconut ice cream, so explore and you'll find many more options.

Casa Vegetariana (David)
The famous veggie buffet where you can eat for as little as $US 2-3.00. Unfortunately only open for lunch from 11.00am-4.00pm, it is still worth the visit. Across the street from Ciclo Partes de Roux and Top Place Centro in the centre of David.

Comida Libanesa e Internacional (David)
Babaganoush, falafel, houmous, salad starter all around $US3.00 each. Vegetarian pasta dishes are also available for $4.50. On Avenida Miguel Angel Brenes; frente [opposite} Domino's pizza.

Casa Vegetariana (Panama City)
Chinese run vegetarian buffet next to restaurant Manolos in Via Veneto. Each portion is 50 cents and you can choose from an endless array of amazingly delicious vegan dishes. Each plated meal comes with a complimentary bowl of soup as well. Open from 7am to 11pm (Mon-Sat) and 8am to 9pm (Sun).

Me Gusta Comida Vegetarian (Panama City)
Another Chinese buffet style eatery next door to Restaurante Costa Azul. This small establishment tends to close earlier than a lot of others in the area, but nonetheless worth a visit for the great tasty vegetarian buffet for 60 cents per portion. A glass of juice is complimentary with your dinner. You can also order vegetarian hamburgers or hot dogs for $US1.00 each or a rice, cheese and vegetable meal for $3.99 from the set menu.

Pizzeria Sorrento (Panama City)
A little more upmarket with the familiar (xtra-large) vegetarian pizza costing $US12.00. But in its favour, the pizza is in delicious and true Italian style with its thin crust and flavoursome herbed sauce. There is no scrimping on the olives either. A large ensalada mixto [mixed salad] is $US4.50 and comes with all the little balsamic and olive oil extras. Though don't forget, in mid- to high-range table service restaurants, there's a 5% government tax added to the menu prices. And if the directions on Calle Ricardo Arias opposite Restaurante Costa Azul are not ample to get you there, then mention that it is between Hotel Continential and Hotel Marriott.

From one internet source, "the drinking water of Panama City is so good that it is known as the 'Champagne of the Chagres', after the river from which it is drawn". This is not completely true unfortunately and even though iced water is served free in every restaurant it smells a little of chlorine. The intensity of the chlor-levels in some towns are worse than others, but in general the tap water is safe to drink. The only spot where you should be careful are in remote ruralness and the island Bocas del Toro.

There are a number of Panamanian beers to choose from including Atlas, Panama, Soberano and Balboa and the popularity of drinking the amber ale is reflective of the cheap outlay for one can. In 2009, a 355ml can costs no more than 0.50 cents. You can also find all your favourite imports as well at extremely reasonable prices. When it really comes to celebrating, Seco Herrerano, commonly referred to as seco, is the party liquid. Wine from all over the world is readily obtainable in most supermarkets, the larger having the best selections to choose from.

Why not try these for starters?
Patacones
Fried plantain flesh, flattened and then fried again in a light crispy batter.
Hojaldras
Also known as “Panamanian donuts”, these piping hot fried bits of dough are served sprinkled with sugar or vanilla and compliment a strong cup of freshly brewed coffee perfectly.
Desayuna Típica
Panamanian tortillas are incredibly popular for breakfast. Much thicker and smaller than what you'll find else where in Central America, theses rounds of bright yellow corn dough are deep fried served with eggs topped with melting cheese. Great start to an energetic day.

The Chinese Vegetarian Buffet
Found in nearly all decent sized cities, these canteen like restaurants are the place to get your tofu fix and fill up at the same time. A plate full of deliciously flavoured vegetables complimented with a vast array of soya products costs no more than a couple of dollars.

Raspados
If you happen to be around Avenue Balboa or Casa Viejo in Panama City, then don't let the opportunity pass you by to purchase a deliciously refreshing raspados from one of the street vendors: shaven ice flavoured with the juice of any one of the amazing tropical fruits Panama has on offer. Don't forget to do as the locals do and top it off with a richly sweet dollop of condensed milk.
Pastel de Tres Leches
Originally from Nicaragua, but spread far and wide in Central and South American, this simple, but delicious dessert of sponge is, as its name suggests, soaked in three kinds of leche [milk]: evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream and just as icing on the cake, topped with a crown of soft meringue.
Pipas
The natural juice of a green unripe coconut is said to cleanse the system and this ice cold refreshing health drink can be sipped up through a straw at roadside stalls, food markets or even plucked directly from the coconut palm in the more traditional places. Careful though, too much of this pleasantly sweet pick-me up can act as a strong diuretic.
Chicha con Arroz y Piña
Chichas are are delicious blend of any number of fresh fruit juices available in Panama, but for a more exotic twist, why not try a chicha con arroz y piña. Pineapple skins and rice are boiled until soft; cooled; blended; and strained. The liquid is sometimes flavoured with strawberry, a hint of vanilla and sugar. Over the rocks with an optional nip of seco [Panamaniam rum], this is better than any cocktail you could imagine.

Be warned if you ask for chicha in Kuna Yala, you'll end up with something ceremonial and completely different. Here chicha is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented sugar cane juice flavoured with coffee or cacao.

Bike shops
   
Panama City Rali has five shops in Panama:
1. Vía España Tel. 263-4136 Fax. 263-5450
2. Punta Paitilla Tel. 223-8053 Fax. 223-8054
3. Centro Comercial Los Pueblos Tel. 217-8080 Fax. 217-8460
4. Gran Terminal de Albrook Tel. 314-6272 Fax. 314-6273
5. La Chorrera Tel. 254-0506 Fax. 254-1924
website: www.rali-carretero.com
   
Climate
climate chart David Panama climate chart Los Naranjos
Road distances
Panama road distance chart
         
Detailed distance chart from our trip through Panama 2009 (km/alti)      
         
  altitude (in metres) in brackets
accomm.:
km
total km
  H= hotel / cabañas . C= camping / trailer park . B= beach camp      
         
Paso Canoas (border Costa Rica) La Concepcion (226)
H
28
28
La Concepcion David (66)
H
28
56
David San Lorenzo
46
102
San Lorenzo San Juan Cerillos
17
119
San Juan Cerillos Las Lajas turn-off (65)
14
133
Las Lajas turn-off Las Lajas (43)
H
3
136
Las Lajas Las Lajas turn-off (65)
3
139
Las Lajas turn-off petrol station (265)
28
167
petrol station top 1st hill (289)
5
172
top 1st hill river crossing (50)
7
179
river crossing top 2nd hill (414)
17
196
top 2nd hill start old road
5
201
start old road top 3rd hill (177)
12
213
top 3rd hill La Mesa (183)
15
228
La Mesa Santiago (95)
H/C
29
257
Santiago turn-off to Divise / Chitré
35
292
turn-off to Divise / Chitré Aguadulce
H
22
314
Aguadulce Natá
10
324
Natá Penonomé
H
35
359
Penonomé Anton
H
17
376
Anton Rio Hato
H
12
388
Rio Hato Santa Clara
H/C
7
395
Santa Clara San Carlos
H
21
416
San Carlos turn-off El Coronado
H
10
426
turn-off El Coronado Chamé
6
432
Chamé start climb (30)
15
447
start climb Altos de Campana (217)
3
450
Altos de Campana Capira (150)
5
455
Capira La Chorrera (110)
H
19
474
La Chorrera Arraijan (130)
20
494
Arraijan Puente de las Americas (50)
10
504
Puente de las Americas Panama City
H
15
519
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