It's exciting traveling to the enchanting country of Panama! By reading below and clicking on the above links, you will view extensive pointers concerning the logistics of enjoying your time in Panama City and Bocas del Toro. They're compiled from my experience of making numerous trips from the States to Panama City, and then to Bocas del Toro (hereafter when I mention "Panama" I'm referring to Panama City, and when I mention "Bocas" I'm referring to Bocas Town, Isla Colón, in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro). Welcome and bienvenidos! Buen viaje…
I get no compensation from any merchants or service providers listed below. This visitor information is provided because I want your stay in Panama/Bocas to be as pleasant as possible, so that someday you'll come back to our paradise.
A Few Essential Tips:
- Arriving at Tocumen airport (PTY). I highly suggest you use the services of José Saenz. He offers many services to smooth your logistical needs. He has a small fleet of trusted drivers. His drivers are LESS EXPENSIVE than if you were to take a random taxi from the airport to your hotel. They are more reliable, and are honest. It's also very comforting, when arriving in a foreign country, to have someone there to greet you, holding up a card with your name on it. It makes things much less confusing, and you'll be in good hands. If you're inclined, the driver can also give you a city tour before heading to your hotel, or you can schedule a city tour for another time (more on the city tour later). Email José at email@example.com
- Tap water in Panama a FINE to drink. Tap water in Bocas is non-potable - okay to brush your teeth with, but not to drink - there is plenty of bottled water available in Bocas. Ice in restaurants in Bocas is fine.
It is advisable to carry a copy of your passport with you at all times, unless you are going swimming - you don't want to leave it unattended on the beach. Police in Bocas sometime decide to crack down on illegal immigrants (people who stay beyond their 3 month tourist-visa) and may want to see your passport stamp to see how long you've been in the country. This has never happened to me, but it's better to be prepared just in case. Also, when making a purchase by credit card, in Panama City, merchants will ask for your passport as identification, just like they do in the States with your driver's license.
- Money - The US Dollar is the national currency. This is a left-over convenience of when the Panama Canal Zone was in tact. Most places in Panama take credit cards, but virtually no place in Bocas takes credit cards. Before traveling to Panama be sure to call your credit card company to have them authorize payments in Panama. Most credit card companies will place blocks on international charges, so make sure your credit card company knows that, yes, it will be you making charges. For Bocas del Toro, be sure to bring plenty of cash, and/or bring an ATM card to use at the lone ATM in Bocas Town. On national holidays it is not ucommon for the Bocas ATM to run out of money, so bring plenty of cash with you. Do not leave your valuables unattended on the beach. Again make sure your bank who issued your ATM card approves the foreign charges before leaving home. Some hotels take credit cards in Bocas, but most take cash only, or give discounts for cash payments. No restaurants or stores in Bocas accept credit cards. Cash is necessary. Also, have plenty of small bills making it easy for paying drivers, tipping bell-hops in the city of Panama, or buying inexpensive trinkets or produce in Bocas. Merchants in Bocas are not used to being presented with bills larger than a $20.
What To Bring:
HIGH SPF SUNSCREEN - We are very near the equator and it's advisable to make applying sunscreen a part of your morning regimen, whether it looks cloudy outside or not. You can even get too much exposure to UV rays even when it's cloudy, and often times when it's cloudy or rainy in the morning, it'll likely clear up later in the day. The last thing you want is a sun burn to ruin your vacation, and of course, sunscreen helps to ward of skin cancer and wrinkles! I like to use a separate facial sunscreen that won't make your face break-out. Any drugstore in the States will carry it. Make sure your body sunscreen is water-proof, so you're protected even when snorkeling. Our beautiful waters here are so clear, that the sun's rays go right through them. Even with sunscreen you'll still get enough color so that when you return home to the States, people will be asking you what exotic location you were at!
OFF BUG SPRAY - The only time bugs bother me is around dusk, near the water. Any other time seems to be fine. These bugs on the beach at dusk are called "no see ums" but OFF repels them.
PRACTICAL SHOES - In the city, any shoe is fine, but when you get to Bocas it's best to be more practical. Bring shoes that you don't mind getting wet, such as flip-flops, shoes that you don't mind getting muddy, such as Teva's for jungle hiking. A great place to buy flip flops in Panama and Bocas is at a surf-shop called Super Deportes. Surf flip-flops (such as Reef brand) are made to withstand exposure to water without getting damp with mildew rot. Super Deportes is located in the Multicentro Shopping Center, the Allbrook Mall, we also have one here in Bocas Town (a surfing town). If you plan on going spelunking (caving) you'll need closed-toe shoes that can be submersed in water. This is not the place for expensive white tennis shoes or high heels.
COMFORTABLE CLOTHES - As with shoes, when you're in the city of Panama anything is fine - high heels and little black dresses would not be out of place for going out at night. Long pants for men. When you're in rustic, bohemian Bocas, it's better to be more practical considering all the outdoor activities awaiting you. White clothing is not something that will stay white. Bring clothing that is comfortable and breathes well. I live in nothing but sarongs and sports bras when I'm at home, and when I'm boating, sarongs and bikini tops. Sarongs are a girl's best friend in Bocas! They can even be used as a towl or a picnic blanket at the beach. If you don't have any sarongs, they are readily available at the street vendors in town, for only $10. If you have yoga tops, with built in bras, those are also wonderful and can be worn with shorts or skirts. Yoga tops are great for every day wear, as they allow movement and are made to be sweaty in. I wear them even when not practicing yoga. For men, shorts and tank-tops/T-shirts are the norm in Bocas. Bocas is very laid-back and casual. There's no pressure to feel like you have to look wonderful here. I enjoy not wearing make-up anymore! Of course, if you go out dancing at night, you can put on a cute dress, but it's not expected. It's not uncommon to see surfer girls walking down the street, or riding a bike in a bikini, however, it is a law that men must wear shirts at all times when they are in town.
CAMERA BATTERY/CHARGER - Extra memory card is advised as well. You'll have tons of beautiful memories you'll want to capture. If you do bring your laptop, don't forget the AC adapter and the cable to connect your camera. If you are interested in a professional photo shoot, please contact Laura Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is nothing better than getting personal, professional, fun photos taken of yourself in the stunning back-drop of Bocas del Toro! No more pictures of you extending your arm to take your own picture. These are quality photos that will last a lifetime, suitable for framing, and for sharing with family/friends. Please CLICK HERE to view Laura Kay's photography work and information on prices. The yoga studio also doubles as a photo studio for indoor, private work.
SWIMSUITS - bring two if you have them. That way, while one is still wet (things take a while to dry in the tropics) you'll have a fresh bathing suit for the next day's adventure! Women, to prevent Urinary Tract Infections, DO NOT WEAR A WET BIKINI BOTTOM unless you have to, especially if you are riding bikes on top of that. Nothing ruins a vacation like a painful UTI. Dry ot no panties is the way to go.
CASH and an ATM Card - You will need cash in Bocas, as no place accepts credit cards. There is only one ATM in Bocas and sometimes on weekends and holidays it runs out of cash.
POLARIZED, UV PROTECTION SUNGLASSES - Polarized allows you to see what is underneath the water, while on a boat, such as fish and coral.
POCKET UMBRELLA - The only time I use an umbrella is when it's sunny (I call it my parasol). The rain water here is warm and refreshing. You are coming to the rainforest, but there are sunny days too.
SPANISH/ENGLISH DICTIONARY & PHRASE BOOK OR APP - Most people speak some English (again a nice leftover from the former Panama Canal Zone), but it goes a long way when you at least try to speak some Spanish. The local people really appreciate you trying. Remember you are visiting another country with it's own unique culture. Please be respectul. When greeting people, it's polite to say, "Buenas" for saying a casual hello, and "Mucho Gusto" for saying nice to meet you. It's customary, moreso in Bocas, where it's more casual and familiar, to say "Buenas" whenever entering a store or restaurant, even if you don't know anyone in the place, and it's not uncommon to say "Buenas" to strangers you may be passing by on the sidewalk or street. It's just a general good-will greeting, which locals appreciate.