Panama is a very "visitor-friendly country". And in the past, it has been rated the highest positions in relation to "Tourist Safety" from the Pinkerton Intelligence Agency. Its people are warm & friendly. For centuries before its Separation from Colombia in 1903, Panama has always been an international crossroads; Panamanians have always mingled with Guests from throughout the world, & English is widely spoken. Aside from the fact that since 1904, the US Dollar is the Legal Currency (and the "exchange rate" is 4 Quarters to a $ 1 !).
The Most Frequently Asked Questions about our beautiful country PANAMA
What's Panama like?

Panama is probably the most, "Americanized" country in Latin America (& definitely not "typical" of any other country in the Region). This little country of 3.3 million is truly a "melting pot": Local native Indigenous groups, Afro-Antilleans, Mestizos, Caucasians, Orientals... & from so many other Nations & cultures.... all living in harmony.

There are 7 different native indigenous ethnic groups, each with their own language, dialect & writings (& can only communicate with each other in Spanish!). These are: The Gunas (in the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean), Embera and Wounaan in the province of Panama & Darien, Ngobe Bugle (the largest of the 7 groups) in the Provinces of Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro & Veraguas; as well as the Teribes, Nasos & Bokotas in the most North-easternmost location of Bocas del Toro near the border with Costa Rica. The Indian Reservations make up approx. 25% of the country's territory.

What's the basis for the Panama's economy?

Panama's GNP is made up of approx. 15% in the Primary Agricultural Sector, approx. 15% in the Secondary Industrial Manufacturing Sector, & approx. 70% in the Terciary Service Sector (made up of tourism, the Canal, commerce, maritime transport, the Colon Free Zone, the Financial Banking Center, among others). Definitely not the fragmentation that is typically associated or structured like that of a, "Developing Country", per se.

And a very unique labor-intensive construction boom (residential, business & hotels) has helped offset the major employment problems that other countries are currently experiencing.... & the Baby Boomers are coming in droves. We're a very fortunate country..... & we don't take it for granted.

Even though small in relation to the overall GNP picture, other labor-intensive phases like the exports of bananas, shrimp & coffee, primarily, help our people live a modest life.

What's the Government Like?

Panama is governed by the Executive, the Judicial & the Legislative bodies, & elections are held every 5 years. Presidential Re-Election is prohibited by the Constitution. Since the USA's Military Invasion of Panama in DEC/1989, we have had 4 Presidents elected …. & 4 hours after the electoral booths are closed, the Electoral College goes on national TV to proclaim the winner. As simple & as clear as that.

Any resentment towards Americans?

A definite "NO". With all the exposure to the Americans for the past Century, travelling to & from the USA for education & business purposes, with the US Dollar as the free medium of circulation, et al, it can be genuinely said that Panama is probably the most "Americanized" country in Latin America. Every marriage has its "ups 'n downs", & this is no different.

Panama is currently ratifying the, "Free Trade Agreement" with the USA, & our joint efforts with the USA to intersect the drug-trafficking that comes from South America & passes along Panama's coasts, is a true testimonial of the genuine cooperation between the world's most powerful Nation & a little country of 3.3 million.... all of which is based on mutual respect & trust.

How is Panama operating the Canal?

Panama has been operating the Canal since 12 Noon, on Fri. 31st., 1999.... 12 hours prior to the turn of the Century (as stipulated in the Sept. 07, 1977-signed Panama Canal Treaties). Thanks to a concerted working arrangement with the USA authorities, all the military & civilian facilities were turned over in a staggered & coordinated matter from Oct. 01, 1979 to Dec. 31, 1999.

This 20-yr. "transition period" allowed both countries to work things out smoothly, thus reducing the stress & pitfalls normally attributed to a venture of this type. And things worked out just fine.... to the extent that a Decade ago, the Wall St. Journal wrote a very complimentary Article on how surprisingly well Panama was operating the Canal. But when one comes to think & dwell on it, it is only fair & just to highlight the fact that the USA contemplated & agreed to these transition matters, & did its utmost to make it happen.... & our Panamanian work force rose to meet the challenge. And we jointly accomplished it.

We must always remember that we must, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's".

What is the local currency?

Since 1904, the US dollar is Panama's legal tender. So, we're sorry you can't go shopping around to get the best "exchange-rate deal" around! No need to get your calculator out in this hassle-free ambiance.

Is it safe in Panama?

Yes! No "ifs or buts". The Pinkerton Intelligence Agency published an Article in Newsweek years ago, highly rating the country (curiously, in the same category as the United States). And major crimes are not part of the everyday lifestyle. As a common rule when travelling anywhere in the world, when going around the country itself, it is not advisable to carry large sums of cash with you, & do take a (preferably color) photo copy of your passport. And the unnecessary flashing of expensive watches & jewelry may obviously attract undesirable eyes. And there's no need to look for trouble by wandering off into the poor areas of town.

One area in Panama has had a State Department warning… & that is in the remote (Easternmost) part of Darien Province that borders with Colombia (where mainly bird lovers, journalists & Missionaries go).

What time of the year is the best to be in Panama?

Tourism in Panama is a year-around activity. The temperature varies between "the rainy season" & the "dry season". Our weather "stations" are diametrically opposite those in the USA & Canada. Curiously, our Summer months (from mid-Dec. to May) are cooler than our "winter" (rainy) months. And that is because of not only our nice Northerly breeze in our summer months, but also because there's no humidity in that period of time.

Do I need a visa to visit Panama?

Citizens of most countries including the USA, Canada & most of Europe do not need a visa (and a $5 Tourist Card can be purchased onboard your flight, or at arrival in Panama City's (PTY) Tocumen International Airport. This Tourist Card allows one to stay for 90 days (& can be extended for another 60 days), but does not allow you to work in Panama.

International regulations require that a child travelling with one Parent requires a Notarized letter of permission authorizing the child to travel with the travelling Parent.

Additionally to the USA, Canada & most of Europe, citizens of the following countries are also eligible to enter Panama on a $5 Tourist Card: Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Curacao, Ecuador, Granada, Greece, Guyana, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Samoa Occidental, San Cristobal & Nevis, San Marino, San Tome & Principe, South Korea, Surinam, Sweden, Taiwan, Tobago, Trinidad, The United States of America, the Vatican City, and Venezuela.

Citizens of the following countries can enter Panama WITHOUT a Tourist Visa: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Uruguay.

I don't speak Spanish. Will that be a problem in Panama?

Not a problem. Basically, English is spoken by many Panamanians (even though "sign language" comes in handy with our people's genuine interest in helping & assisting tourists).

This high-proficiency in English is due to the USA's presence here since the California Gold Rush (when the ocean-to-ocean. 50-mile long train line was built to ferry the Gold Rush Seekers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, & vice-versa.

Due to the busy business, commerce & banking in the country, it all adds up to a "win-win" situation.

What's the best way to get to Panama?

Panama is a 2.5 hour flight from Miami, & non-stop flights are also available from Newark, JFK, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington D.C. (Dulles), Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Chicago, & Toronto.

And if your cruise ship is stopping in Panama, your onboard Shore Excursion Desk ("SHOREX") will be more than glad to assist you in getting space on a land tour. And when you return back onboard, you can attest to the fact that, "Panama is more than just a Canal" (& the country's best kept secret!).

How do I get from the airport to my Panama City hotel?

On the recently-built (toll) Expressway ("Corredor Norte") running parallel to the coastline, & barring any traffic jam, Tocumen International Airport is just about a 20-minute drive from Panama City. The Panama Tourism Bureau ("ATP") has an Information Booth just as you exit Customs. By the way, no bus service is available.

How are the prices in Panama?

Due to the tourism boom that the country is experiencing, prices are understandably not as low as they were before this priceless surge in visitors. But, nevertheless, we are not a "massive-tourism destination", the usual commerce-tendency is widespread, & bargaining is still in people's lifeblood in this "affordable destination" with its unique & exotic "off-the-beaten-path kind of experiences" in an unspoiled Natural habitat.

How is the quality of drinking water?

Thanks to the USA's influence as far back as the 4th. of July 1905, one can drink the tap water (even though your intestinal flora may not be quite ready to try it massively right from the start!).

Also due to the USA's influence at the beginning of the Canal's building in 1904, the sanitation conditions is Panama City, primarily, are very acceptable, & there are no other "health hazards" to worry about (unless drifting off to places where even Panamanians seldom go, like in the remote Darien jungle on the country's Easternmost side).

Where do I take domestic flights?

Panama's (domestic) Marcos Gelabert Airport is located at the former U.S. Air Force Base at Albrook, located 10-20 min. away from most 5-Star hotels in Panama City (& approx. a 30-40 min. drive from Panama City's Tocumen International Airport ("PTY").

What are the distances between Panama City & some other tourism sites?

(barring any traffic congestion…..)

Panama City-Costa Blanca Beach (Pacific): 1.5 hrs. by car
Panama City-Gamboa Rainforest Resort or Canopy Tower: 40 minutes by car.
Panama City-Panama Canal Miraflores Locks and Visitor Center: 20 minutes by car.
Panama City-Contadora Island (in the Pacific's Pearl Islands): 20 mins. by plane, or 2.5 hrs. by launch
Panama City-San Blas Islands: 30 mins. by plane (weather permitting), or 2.15 hr. drive
Panama City-Isla Grande (Caribbean/Atlantic): 2.5 hours by car
Panama City-Bocas del Toro: 1 hour by plane.
Panama City-Boquete: 1-hr. flight to David, & 45 min. car drive (or approx. 7 hr. drive from Panama)
Panama City-Anton Valley (El Valle): 2.5 hrs. by car

What sort of souvenirs and gifts can I find?

Panama has 7 native indigenous ethnic groups, so our souvenirs are very varied. The most famous are the hand-sewn tapestries known as Molas made by the Guna Indians of the San Blas Islands (now known as, "Guna Yala"). The Embera indians carve precious woodwork from Tropical rosewood trees, as well as Taguas (known as the, "vegetable ivory). The natives' pride is shown in each item done.

Handbags made from Molas, native jewelry (as well as Pre-Columbian & Spanish Colonial-style items), Panama hats (the ones we know of are NOT made in Panama!), fine woven baskets from the rainforest palms …. & when visiting the Embera indians up the Chagres River, get "tatoo-painted" with Jagua extracts (that wear off in a week).

What Type of Wildlife can I see in Panama?

Panama's unique "letter-"S"-shaped" geographical position is a natural land bridge joining the 2 land masses that make up the Western Hemisphere. Panama City is the only Capital City in the Continent to have a Natural Metropolitan (rainforest) Park within its perimeter, approx. a 15-min. drive from any 5-Star hotel in Panama City, & covering an area of approx. 660 football fields (with a huge yellow crane that stands out above the rainforest, & used by the Smithsonian's scientists to research the insect life above the canopy!).

Panama has approx. 972 bird species (more than the USA & Canada put together!), all in a little country of 3.3 million persons…. roughly a little smaller that the Great State of South Carolina (or roughly a little smaller than Scotland, & a little larger than Ireland).

While Nature hiking, many of our Guests have seen monkeys, sloths, the tropical "Neque" & "Gato Solo" (Coatimundi), crocodiles, armadillos, toucans, etc….

Ornithologists love Soberania National Park just 45 minutes from downtown Panama City. And Pipeline Road at Gamboa (located next to the Canal's Dredging Div. at the midway mark of the Continent), has been the site where the most bird species have been sighted on the single-day Christmas Day Bird Count.

No wonder the Washington, D.C.-based Smithsonian ("STRI") has been in Panama for approx. 90 years…. a location they consider to be an ecological treasure.

Where are the Best Places to See Wildlife?

In Panama's National Parks, namely Soberania National Park, Barro Colorado Island (a 2.5 sq. mile former mountaintop located on the Canal's freshwater Gatun Lake, where the Smithsonian has a Research Facility), Monkey Island (another former mountaintop on the Canal's Gatun Lake), Canopy Tower (a birdlover's delight on a former US Air Force radar station nestled above the rainforest), Pipeline Road, Plantation Road, Achiote Road, Bocas del Toro (in the country's north-easternmost province), Amistad National Park in Chiriqui (on the border with Costa Rica), Pearl Islands, Darien National Park, Coiba National Park (a former Penal Colony in the Pacific, lovingly known as, "Panama's mini-Galapagos").

What is the electrical voltage? Can I use my electrical appliances?

The voltage is 110V, so all your USA/Canada appliances will work here.

What are the medical facilities like?

Facilities good enough for the Shah of Iran when he was to be operated by Dr. Michael DeBakey, or where one of the two Johns Hopkins Hospitals outside the USA is located , attest to the quality of Panama's medical facilities. By the way, the other Johns Hopkins Hospital outside the USA is located in Singapore.

And with the USA placing strict Visa Requirements after Sept. 11th., many wealthy Latin Americans come to Panama in what is now, little by little, being billed as, "Medical Tourism". And the same goes for passengers that wish to take a cruise (that have to get an Immigration Visa to enter the USA prior to boarding their cruise ship in the USA). So, instead of undertaking all the USA Visa formalities, etc., they simply come to Panama…. and kill 2 birds by coming for a medical visit AND a cruise.

What about mosquitos?

Mosquitos? Ah.... they migrated somewhere else. You may end your trip without seeing any of these little insects that gave the US Health Authorities nightmares during the building of the Canal.

And our Panama Hats are off to the US Health Authorities as a sign of respect & appreciation.

Is it safe to drive there?

Yes.... & it could be a harrowing experience (which is not included in the tour description). Nevertheless, it is less chaotic outside the Metropolitan Panama City area. Roads are being repaired, overpasses are being built, underground mass transit rail is being built.... all to be finished by 2014. Coincidentally, that's when the next Presidential Elections are being held.

There are special (public) cars that are geared for tourism transportation. These run a little more expensive than the taxis that are constantly moving around town. A new Law requires that these taxis all be painted yellow, & there is no fare meter in place..... so, bargaining & price negotiations should be done prior to boarding the car.

Be aware that street directional signs simply do not exist.....

How Much Should I Tip?

10 % - 30 % is normal, & is not included in the prices listed for the item or tour, etc.

What Time Zone is Panama in?

Panama is 5 Time Zones from Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT), & does not change time when the USA & Canada changes from Standard to Daylight Savings, & vice versa. That is like saying that Panama always stays on Eastern Standard Time (& is the same as Miami & New York when the USA & Canada are on Standard Time).

And when the USA & Canada change to Daylight Savings, Panama does not change, & then becomes the equivalent as Central Daylight Savings Time (like New Orleans & Chicago). We don't, "Spring forward an hour, & Fall back an hour". We stay put.... with no hassles changing clocks.

Communicating from Panama, & how is the phone service?

Internet service is widespread, so is "Wi-Fi". Public "Cyber Cafes" are widespread, & cost could be approx. $1 per hour. Cellular service is available with the Roaming feature, & if push comes to shove, purchase a Pre-Paid card at every little Mom 'n Pop Shop around the corner.... or even rent a cellular. Communication is readily accessible.

Panama's (fixed, land-based) telephone service is operated by the UK's Cable & Wireless, & 4 companies provide cellular service: Cable & Wireless (C&W), Spain's Movistar (which purchased Bell South's rights in Panama years ago), Claro & Digicel.

Curiously enough, the country has a population of 3.3 million, & at last year's closing, all 4 cellular providers reported their individual figures of how many registered cel numbers each one had subscribed. The Government Regulators compiled all 4 companies' registered cellular numbers, and it added up to 7.4 million ..... no, it's not a misprint, it's just a genuine & verifiable statistic to attest the fact that cellular service has proliferated in Panama.

How's THAT for a closing comment on whether Panama is modern or not?

Come on down.... we'd love to host you.... & PBA Holding Group would be honored to be able to show you that Panama is much more than just a Canal!

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