Panama or the Republic of Panama is a country in Central America on the Isthmus of Panama between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, bordered by Costa Rica to the west (330 km) and Colombia to the east (225 km). The country has an area of 75.5 thousand km², is 60-177 km wide and 772 km long.
From one of the Indian languages, the name can be translated as “a place with lots of fish.
The topography of the country is mostly coastal plains, a mountainous interior and tropical jungle in the northwest and east.
Two mountain ranges, the Cordillera de Veraguá and the Cordillera de San Blas, run the length of Panama. Volcan Baru (3,475 m) is Panama’s highest peak.
The Bocas del Toro Archipelago is located off the Caribbean coast of Panama, while the Las Perlas Archipelago and most of the smaller islets are scattered along the Pacific coast.
Panama’s jungle is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. There are about 10 thousand plant species, 1200 species of orchids, more than 1500 species of butterflies, about 900 species of birds.
Climate in Panama
The climate in Panama is a tropical maritime climate. Most of the year in Panama is hot, humid and cloudy. The average annual air temperature is +25 ° C … +28 ° C and the water temperature is + 24 ° C.
The rainy season lasts from May to December and the dry season from January to May. On the Caribbean coast and islands of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, precipitation is more intense than on the Pacific coast. In Panama’s capital, heavy downpours are likely in May and November, while fresh sea breezes help with the heat.
The best time to travel to Panama is the dry season. At this time is the most comfortable weather for any type of holiday. In general, you can vacation here all year round.
The rainy season is different only in the sense that heavy tropical downpours lasting not more than two hours occur in the evenings.
Population of Panama
The population of Panama is 4.177 million (2018).
Ethno-racial composition: mestizos 70%, blacks, mulattoes and sambos 14%, whites 10%, Indians 6%.
Catholics make up 85% of the population, Protestants about 15%.
Spanish is the official language, English is spoken by 14% of the population, and many Panamanians speak several languages.
Money and currency of Panama
The Panama Balboa (PAB) is Panama’s monetary unit of 100 centesimo. Coins in denominations of 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/10 Balboa, 5, and 1 Sentesimo are in circulation. Commemorative coins of 500, 200, 100, 75, 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1 balboa are also issued.
The role of paper money is performed by U.S. dollars, which are legal tender. Only once, in 1941, were 20, 10, 5, and 1 balboa bills issued, but they were withdrawn from circulation a few days later, being called “seven-day dollars.”
The balboa exchange rate is firmly pegged to the U.S. dollar at a 1:1 ratio.
Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks and numerous exchange offices (“casa de cambio”). In the capital of the country almost any international currency can be exchanged, in the provinces preference is given to the dollar and euro.
Credit cards from the world’s leading systems are widely accepted for payment. You can cash your traveler’s checks at almost any bank. To avoid additional expenses related to exchange rate fluctuations, it is recommended to take checks in U.S. dollars.
Communication in Panama
The telephone code is 507.
The emergency number is 911.
How to call
To call from Russia to Panama, you need to dial: 8 – dial tone – 10 – 507 – city code – subscriber number.
To call from Panama to Russia, dial: 00 – 7 – city code – telephone number.
Shopping in Panama
In Panama there is a Free Trade Zone Colon (the second largest in the world after Hong Kong). It is located next to the entrance to the Panama Canal from the Caribbean Sea. Here you can buy electronics, clothes and cosmetics at a good price.
As a souvenir you can buy many products of local handicrafts. The most famous are the “Molas” – bright local cotton fabrics decorated with abstract designs. From Darién come finely carved figurines of the wood known as “tagua” or “plant ivory,” while artisans from the western regions and the Azuero Peninsula produce an extensive range of earthenware, masks, leather goods, and straw sombreros. Brightly colored characas dresses and long strap bags are the trademark of the Ngobe-Bagle tribes.
The famous panama hats are most often not made here, but in factories in Ecuador.
It is customary to haggle only at market stalls and in the case of buying from hand, in stores and artisanal markets haggling is not worth it.
Sea and Beaches in Panama
Due to its advantageous location between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and because of its very long coastline Panama has many and varied beaches that attract fans of water sports and beach vacations.
Safety in Panama
The crime rate in Panama is quite high. In the capital the cases of violent crimes, theft (including hotels) and outright fraud are not uncommon. In addition to the metropolitan areas, visiting Darien and Kuna Yala is also a definite danger. These remote areas adjacent to the Colombian border are often visited by guerrillas, bandits, and drug traffickers.
Solitary visits (especially at night) to remote areas and streets should be avoided, especially in the capital and in Colón. Increased security measures should always be taken against pickpockets, especially in crowded areas, at ATMs, or on transport. If you plan to continue your trip to (or from) Colombia by sea, be aware that many coaster ships are often also carriers of drugs or contraband.
Hotel personnel are a good source of information about the security of an area or region.
The Panamanian police, despite the many accusations of bribery, are quite correct with foreigners and rarely confront them without serious offenses from the tourist. It is strongly not recommended to argue or bribe the local police – in such cases the punishment automatically increases proportionally to the offense.
Useful information about Panama
Along the Pacific coast of Panama, often at a short distance from the shore are powerful currents that form strong eddies in the areas of the islands, which may be a source of danger. Before entering the water, you should consult your guide or the locals about the safety of swimming in that area.
Never entrust your luggage to strangers without uniformed porters or hotel employees.
When visiting national parks, you must obtain a permit ($3-$10) from the park office or local tourist bureau. Moving around the protected areas without a guide is prohibited. It is also recommended that you bring a supply of food, repellent and mosquito nets, clean water and water purifiers, and a first aid kit when visiting national parks.
Tap water is usually chlorinated and considered safe to drink, but bottled water is still recommended.
What to bring: light summer clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, sweater or jacket (when visiting mountainous areas), business attire or elegant dress for visiting some establishments in Panama City.
Penalties for crimes, especially drug trafficking or distribution, are very severe.
How to get to Panama City
There is no direct flight connection between Russia and Panama.
From Russia, the most convenient way to get to Panama is via Madrid (Spain) or Amsterdam (Netherlands). The main air gateway of Panama is Tocumen International Airport (PTY).
Iberia flies from Moscow to Panama City via Madrid. Travel time is 5:10 (Moscow-Madrid) + connecting time + 10:50 (Madrid-Panama). Average travel time is about 18-25 hours (depends on the connection). Flight cost is about 1500 – 1700 USD (roundtrip).
From Moscow to Panama through Amsterdam flies KLM Airlines. The flight time is from 15 to 23 hours (depends on the connection). Flying cost is about 1700 – 1900 USD (roundtrip).
Exotic Panama is a country located on the border between Central and South America. It is located on the Isthmus of Panama and is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The country borders Costa Rica to the north and Colombia to the south. The name of the country translates from the Cueva Indian language as “a place with lots of fish”. This immediately suggests that it is the basis of the state economy. The capital of Panama is the city of the same name, which is sometimes called Panama City.
The first inhabitants of this territory were the Guayami, Choco, and Kuna Indians. Then begins the European period of Panama’s history. In the early 16th century the first contact between the natives and the Spanish, in particular Christopher Columbus, took place.
Climatic features and nature of the country
The climate all over the country is subequatorial, so the rainy season here lasts long enough – from May to December. And only from December to January to mid-April, tourists can enjoy dry weather. The temperature ranges from +25 … +28 ° C all year round, varying between 2-3 degrees in winter and summer. Rainfall is more intense in the foothills of the Caribbean coast, where tropical storms often rage.
If you look at a photo of Panama taken from an airplane or satellite, you can see why the locals are proud of their amazing nature. The terrain here is predominantly uneven, with many hills. Panama’s central part is crisscrossed by a chain of mountains, flanked on both sides by coastal lowlands, while the jungle delights travelers with its luxuriant vegetation and rich fauna. The birds here include the sacred Indian bird quetzal, the world’s largest raptor, the harpy eagle, a variety of parrots, herons and toucans. Panama is also home to such animals as monkeys, cougars, anteaters, sloths, ocelots, deer, peccaries, armadillos, alligators, snakes and kinkajou.
The highest point of the country is the Baru Volcano (3,475 m), located in Chiriqui Province. Between the mountain ranges of western and eastern Panama lies the famous Panama Canal, dug in the lowest part of the isthmus.
Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are characterized by deep bays and small islands located close to land. One of the most famous in Panama are the Pearl Islands, where pearls have been mined for centuries.
State system and symbols
In the democratic Republic of Panama the head of state and government is the president. He appoints the cabinet of ministers, while the president and vice-president are elected to their posts by popular vote after a five-year term. The legislative body of the state of Panama is the unicameral National Assembly. The country consists of 10 provinces and includes three autonomous regions, or comarcas. Panama’s coat of arms and flag look rather interesting. In the central part of the coat of arms there is an image of Panama’s isthmus, in the upper two quarters a rifle and a silver sword are drawn, in the lower quarters – a bird and a horn of plenty.
The flag of the country consists of two white, blue, and red rectangles symbolizing the conservative and liberal parties. On a white background are two stars: blue and red.
Panama’s national currency is the Balboa, which is issued in denominations of 1 and 5 balboas. However, in practice, more often the U.S. dollar is used for payments.
The population of Panama, as the census shows, is very heterogeneous. Most are descended from the indigenous Amerindian population and from Spanish colonists who intermarried with each other. Spanish is the official language of Panama, but many natives also speak English and French.
The largest city is Panama, located on the Pacific Coast, with a population of more than 1 million people. The basis of its economy – the banking sector, real estate development, transport and services. Most of Panama’s exports and imports pass through the port of Balboa, which is located at the entrance of the Panama Canal. But it is not the only important transportation hub of the country. On Panama’s Caribbean coast, it competes with Colón, which is also connected to the capital by a high-speed highway and railroad.
Other noteworthy localities in Panama are Boquete, Bocas del Toro, David, Portobelo, La Palma and Penonome.
Resort life of the country
Organizing a vacation in Panama is not difficult: the tourism industry is well developed here. Warm sea, pristine coast, jungle tours – all this deserves attention even of an experienced traveler. Such Panamanian islands as San Blas, Islas Secas, Bocas del Toro, Contador and Grande Islands are popular as resorts. Portobelo and Colón are also considered a resort city.
Since Panama is almost in the tropics, you can swim here practically the whole year. Also, you will be offered to ride a boat, yacht or jet ski, go fishing or explore the beautiful surroundings. Panama’s beaches are great for diving and windsurfing.
What can I see in the country?
Panama has plenty of natural and man-made sights so you will not be bored. Definitely worth a look at:
- The Panama Canal, one of the modern wonders of the world with a magnificent museum that opens the veil on the history of its creation;
- The Chagres National Reserve is still home to the Embera-Wounaan Indians who have preserved their national identity;
- Old Panama, an area of the capital that still has several buildings from the Columbus era;
- The cathedral in the capital, famous for its 36-meter bell tower: from here you can enjoy an amazing view of the city;
- The zoo in Panama City, which is the largest in the country and has almost every representative of the local fauna;
- Lake Gatun , ideal for fishing enthusiasts;
- the Summit Botanical Gardens where you will encounter more than 15,000 species of plants and 40 varieties of animals;
- The ancient “Way of the Cross” , along which Spaniards in the 16th century exported gold from Peru to their homeland;
- Metropolitano National Park, one of the most popular national parks in the country because of its pristine rainforest;
- The National Theater in Panama City, a magnificent example of Baroque style;
- The statue of Christopher Columbus in Colon City, which dates back to the 19th century;
- Castillo de San Jerónimo, a fortress erected in the 18th century to protect the city of Portobelo against attacks by pirates;
- The Episcopal Church of Christ in Colonie , the first Anglican church on the Isthmus of Panama;
- The Minimalist design of Panama’s subway.
Where to Stay?
Hotels in Panama are well regarded by travelers from all over the world. In the capital and major cities you will find many first class facilities that provide a high level of comfort for its guests. Among them are Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis, RIU Plaza Panama, Amador Ocean View, Country Inn & Suites Panama Canal, Radisson Decapolis Hotel Panama City. Here you will find comfortable rooms with balconies, free wi-fi, air conditioning and minibars. Some hotels in Panama, considered the best in Central America, tourists will be offered a gym, outdoor pool or massage sessions.
Inexpensive hostels are very popular on the islands, allowing you to feel closer to unity with nature. They offer tour booking services, free parking and internet access. You can also try any local dishes.
Tips in hotels are usually included in the bill and are 10-15% of its amount.
Cuisine and restaurants of Panama
Life in Panama is so simple and unhurried that the inhabitants of the country almost always have time to cook real delicacies that you can’t try anywhere else in Europe. Among them are rice and bean dishes and fried cassava. Bananas here are prepared in many different ways: fried, salted, mashed. In the province the locals adore beef, pork and chicken meat. In Caribbean restaurants you can order fish and seafood under garlic sauce or with tomato and onion dressing. Turtle egg dishes are a real exotic.
If you want to explore the local cuisine, visit the Manolo restaurant, where you can enjoy cured meat as well as rice, beans and maize roasted with green chilli and onion pods. At Vesuvio restaurant you can taste amazingly delicious pasta and other Italian dishes. Gourmets should also check out La Vespa, Donde Jose, Segundo Muelle, Madrigal and the pub La Rana Dorada. In restaurants, waiters usually expect a tip of 5-10% of the service cost, but in small cafes or pubs it is not necessary to give a tip.
Among the interesting facts about Panama it is worth mentioning that many small stores prefer to pay only in cash. A bank card can only be used in a boutique or large mall, and paying in U.S. dollars is preferable to paying in local currency. Among the relatively cheap goods in the country are clothes and shoes, jewelry, watches, handbags, electronics and other appliances.
The most famous malls are Albrook Mall, Multicentro Mall, and Multiplaza Mall. In rural areas, products and souvenirs made by local craftsmen, you can buy in small markets, but remember that bargaining is not accepted here. Before Christmas and national holidays there are often sales where goods are discounted by up to 60%. Stores are usually open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Safety for tourists
The crime rate, as confirmed by the Embassy of Panama, is quite high. Therefore, the tourist should be extremely careful. Try not to show currency, passports, photo or video equipment on the street, which may interest local criminals. Do not walk alone on the streets at night and do not go on excursions to secluded places without a guide. In the evening or when transporting luggage, be sure to order a cab from a large company, and if you drive yourself, close all doors and windows carefully. To call anywhere, remember to use the Panama area code, +507.
The most important means of transportation in Panama are buses. Buses are relatively inexpensive: 25 cents in the city and $1 for an hour on the intercity route. Buses on highways are air conditioned and traffic is right-handed. You can also rent a car or take a cab: most short trips cost about $5. To rent a car, you must be over the age of 23 and have a credit card and an international driver’s license. Small boats from private companies ply between the islands. There is also a subway in the capital city.
How to get into the country?
For Russians and other CIS citizens a visa to Panama is required. Upon departure from the country all tourists, except children under 2 years old, will be charged a fee of $ 20. The best way to get into the country – use transit flights through the U.S., Cuba and European countries, landing at the main airport of Panama – Tocumen.
Importation of any currency is not restricted, but amounts over $10,000 and gold jewelry must be declared. Vegetables, perishables, fruits, narcotics, and weapons cannot be brought in. You don’t have to pay the duty if you bring no more than 500 g of tobacco, gifts not exceeding $50, three bottles of spirits and the same number of bottles of perfume.