Last updated 2023, April 9th: Did you know that Panama was once underwater, connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic? Thanks to tectonic movement, the Pacific tectonic plate, and the Caribbean plate formed a landmass, the Isthmus of Panama, that now connects the two Americas.
Once a land undersea, the small country borders Colombia and Costa Rica. First inhabited by indigenous tribes of the Paleo-Indians, Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva before it got conquered by the Spanish Empire. The country voluntarily joined Columbia as a subdivision, but sought separation later on, which was supported by the United States. The US was primarily interested in finishing the Panama Canal as it was and still is a strategic waterway that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic. Thanks to US President Jimmy Carter, Panama (1977) and its canal (1999) were returned to the Panamanians. Panama is a small country with a big historic heritage.
🌱 Travel health insurance for Panama
🇵🇦 Entry requirements for Panama
- Valid visa: Apply for the visa before traveling.
- Health declaration form: This form must be filled out before traveling to Panama.
- Proof of exit: You need to show an onward flight, return ticket, or any proof of exit.
✈️ How to get to Panama
- Plane: Getting to Panama from Europe with direct flights is possible from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid, or Istanbul. You find several other direct flights from other Latin American and North American hubs. Arriving at Panama City airport, you can easily get Amber Luna or Radio Taxi. A drive to the city center costs about 25 to 30 Euro and takes about 30 minutes.
- Overland: It is possible to take the bus and cross the border between Costa Rica and Panama. You can do this for example when you stay in Bocas del Toro in Panama and you want to go to the surf town of Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.
🏡 How to find a place
- Hotels: Depending on which country you are coming from, Panama provides a pretty good range of hotels and you can get decent accommodation for 60 Euro per night.
- Airbnb: I tried out Airbnb in Panama but the success rate is 50:50. The accommodation listed by private landlords are often very basic, dark and many of the listings don't offer a suitable desk or dining table to work from. You can find stays on Airbnb but you need to take time to find the good ones.
🚌 Public transport in Panama City
- Uber: The first Latin American country Uber started its business in was Panama back in 2014. Since then, Uber is a strong part of the transportation network in the country. Uber can not access Panama City airport but if you have light luggage and you walk outside the airport, you might get one. Otherwise, Uber is available in Panama.
- Metro: El Metro is currently two lines with 14 stations running north to south from Albrook to San Isidro (Line 1) and Line 2 which is running between San Miguelito and Nuevo Tocumen. Costs for a ride is 0.33 Euros.
🏘 Where to stay in Panama City
- San Fransisco: San Fransisco is the hub for the digital nomad scene in Panama City. If eating out is your daily bread you will be amazed by all the delicacies in front of your doorstep. If you are craving international brands and stores you will all find them at Multiplaza Mall.
- Casca Viejo: The old town of Panama City is known for being the trendiest and coolest neighborhood as most of the nightlife happens here. During the day you will find panoramic views over the Pacific and trendy bars and cafés within its beautiful narrow streets. Here you are also only a stone’s throw away from Cinta Costera, the scenic oceanfront walkway and park.
- Marbella: If you have a bigger budget, try out Marbella, a fancy area of high-end shopping and embassies. In Marbella, everything is modern and within walking distance, which makes the district very attractive for living.
🧑🏻💻 Where to work from in Panama City
- My Office: At two attractive locations you find the rooftop and panoramic view combined with all amenities of modern working space. The friendly founders are all English-speaking, making it a very convenient place for international visitors. The monthly membership starts from 94 Euro.
- Workings: The coworking space has two locations one in Costa del Este and one in Punta Pacifica. Both locations have all essential services including a modern and friendly atmosphere. The monthly membership starts at 143 Euro.
- Casa Sucre: Nestled within an artisan boutique hotel, you will find a cozy café with delicious coffee blends and strong Wifi. Perfect spot for having a good cup of coffee while being productive at work.
- Mentiritas Blancas: The owners are fervent coffee enthusiasts and will take the time to explain all the options available to suit your particular preferences. Mentiritas Blancas is also a great place to try Geisha coffee, which Panama is renowned for. This coffee shop is particularly appealing for Panama City digital nomads and remote workers so you’ll find many like-minded working there.
- Nomada Eatery: At the eatery, you have strong Wifi, a work-friendly interior, and decent snacks and drinks on the menu.
🏘️ Where to stay in Boquete
- Boquete center: If you have no car, it is best to stay in the center or in walking distance to the center. However, the center is the most noisy part of Boquete and the further you live in the surroundings, the more you live in nature and tranquility.
- Selina: The popular coliving brand was founded in Pedasi in Panama, and has a new coliving space in Boquete (opened in 2022). The space is beautifully designed with a creek running through the property which helps with the noise. The restaurant serves delicious food, and the coworking area is for guests only.
🧑🏻💻 Where to work from in Boquete
- The Perfect Pair: This coffee shop is right in the center of Boquete, serves really good coffee, cakes and suits, has decent and stable wifi and you can choose to sit indoor upstairs or on their spacious veranda.
- Selina: Located on the main road of Boquete, Selina is a very nice place to work from. The space is newly built and well designed to merge with the surrounding nature. Working here means listening to the little creek that runs through the property, to birds, and the humming sound of the coffee machine.
- Kotawa Chocolateria: A good choice for a few hours is Kotawa Chocolateria. This place is famous for their pralineses and hot chocolate. Wifi is good, the staff is friendly and if you are getting hungry, try out Otto next door which is the most amazing little eatery!
🚊 How to travel around Panama
- Rental car: Renting a car is by far the best way to get around, especially in rural areas. You can find rental cars from 20 to 50 Euro per day, depending on the size and provider.
- Bus: Most Panamanians and travelers use buses and shuttle buses to travel around Panama. The biggest bus terminal is located in the capital, Panama City, the Gran Terminal de Transportes. But also Santiago and David have good bus terminals for overland travel.
- Panama to Bocas del Toro: If you want to go from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, you need to take the bus and ferry, the journey is quite affordable (less than 40 Euro) but takes about 9 hours. A quicker way is using a plane and ferry which takes about 4 to 5 hours.
- Panama City to Playa Venao (surf town in the south): This trip takes about 5 hours and costs 35 Euro.
- Panama City to Valle de Anton: With a shuttle bus, this trip takes about 2 hours, depending on the traffic in Panama City. Valle de Anton is a popular weekend spot for locals, so best to come here during the week.
- Panama City to Boquete: This trip takes about 5-6 hours and costs 30 Euro.
- Pedasi / Playa Venao to Boquete: It takes about 5-6 hours to go from Pedasi area to Boquete. The price is around 30 Euro.
- Ferry: Depending on where you go, you might need to take a ferry, especially when you go to an island. You can take the ferry from Panama City to Isla del Rey which costs around 40 Euro per person and takes about 2 hours.
- Plane: Air Panama is the only domestic airline in the country and a quick and easy way to get around. Flying to David, for example, allows you to access Boquete and the Gulf of Chiriquí.
- Ancon Hill: Panama City, however, is the only capital in the world that has a rainforest within the city limits (Cerro Ancon). The 30-minute hike to the top results in an incomparable panoramic view over the city skyline.
- Panama Canal: If you are a first-time visitor you should visit the locks of the famous Panama Canal, an artificial 82 km waterway connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean. Construction began in 1904 and it's supposed to be one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. The closest locks to Panama City are the Miraflores Locks located less than 30 minutes from downtown.
- Casco Viejo: No visit to Panama City would be complete without taking a stroll through its old town. Casco Viejo is the historic center of Panama City that is being restored to its original glory. Dating back to 1673, Casco Viejo is worth visiting on a tour to learn about all the buildings, cathedrals, and history of the area. Nowadays it is also a perfect area for bar hopping.
- Anton Valley: Or Valle de Anton is a popular weekend spot for locals. Take the shuttle bus from Panama City and within 2 hours you find yourself surrounded by lush green hills, creeks, forest and a wonderful fresh air. Anton Valley is very walkable and many trail heads start right in the center of the town.
- Pedasi and Playa Venao: If you are into surfing and/or windsurfing, Playa Venao is a great spot. Check out my friends place, Surf Lodge Venao, work from their beautiful balcony or from the two Selinas, and sip on a cocktail during sunset. When staying in Pedasi and you wish to live off the beaten track but still enjoy fibre optic, try The Inn at Punta Mala. Libia and Yeti are the best hosts and their two dogs Coco and Gurri make you never want to leave again.
- Bocas del Toro: If you want to trade Panama City for an island experience or cut your time in Panama City shorter, take a plane to Bocas del Toro. The island region is located on the Atlantic coast, in the northwest corner of Panama, close to the Costa Rican border. Check out the Cocovivo Ecolodge. From Bocas del Toro, you can take a direct flight to San Jose in Costa Rica for less than 200 Euro. You can easily take a bus to Costa Rica from Bocas.
💡Good to know
- Internet: The average internet speed in Panama is 90 Mbps download and 13 Mbps upload, which makes Panana a wonderful destination for remote working travelers.
- Sim cards: A good sim card is Mas Movil which has good coverage across the country.
- Currency: Panama adopted the US$ as its national currency, although the national balboa still exists.
- Climate: You get summer all year round in Panama. Rainy season means green season, as locals call it, but it rains only an hour or two per day. And because of the tectonic formation, Panama has a beautiful mountain range with a cool breeze in El Valle, Boquete, and Cerro Punta.
- Socket: Type A, Type B.
- Digital nomad community: A growing community of digital nomads can be found in Bocas del Toro, which offers pristine waters great for watersports, jungle, and a much-undeveloped landscape. Around 95% of the Caribbean underwater animals can be found in Bocas which makes the place a divers' paradise. Other rising stars among the digital nomad community is Boquete and Playa Venao.
- Cost of living: Panama is using the US dollar, which makes the country a bit more expensive than neighboring countries Colombia and other Latin American countries. However, Panama is a bit more affordable than Costa Rica. The country, especially Panama City, provides good health care and the standard of living is pretty high - in general. Panama City is by far the most expensive destination but with the best infrastructure. You will easily spend 1,500 USD per month when living on a budget, and of course, there are no limits to spending more.
- Safety: Compared with Mexico and especially Medellin in Colombia, Panama is a stable and safe heaven! The Global Peace Index for Panama of Panama is 1.9, ranking the country 64th, between Jordan (63) and Namibia (65). Greece ranks 66th, and nobody would question traveling to Greece, right?
- Outdoor adventures: Kayaking, rafting, snorkeling, diving, sailing, hiking, swimming, surfing, paragliding, and mountain biking are just a few ideas of what you can do in Panama. The country is rich in nature with lush rainforest, sun-kissed beaches, and colorful and diverse flora and fauna. Did you know that Panama has more bird species than North America? Nearly 1,000 bird species can be found in Panama.
- Indigenous heritage: There are still 7 indigenous tribes living in Panama, the Ngäbe, the Buglé, the Guna, the Emberá, the Wounaan, the Bri Bri, and the Naso Tjërdi. Their population makes up about 12% of the country's population and counts around 500,000 people. Unfortunately, like in many countries, Panama treats its indigenous people unfairly and developments, funded by foreign countries, such as Germany or the Netherlands, are built on tribes' lands without their permission.
- Wildlife: Panama is home to many wild cats, for example, pumas, ocelots, margays, jaguars, and the jaguarundi.
- Carnival: Traveling to Panama, you should at least know about the Carnival season that starts four days preceding Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Panamanians will be out and about on the streets enjoying dancing, music, parades, decorated floats, dressed queens and dancers, and long hours of partying. It is lively, colorful, and loud. Prices might skyrocket during the Carnival season.
- Fashion: Did you know the Panama hat is not from Panama? The hat is actually originated in Ecuador. However, Panamanians - like Italians - are pretty well dressed and wear closed shoes and long pants despite the heat. So if you see someone in sandals and shorts, don't bother asking for directions as that person will be a tourist.
🚧 What to avoid
- Unknown taxi fees: Before entering a taxi, make sure you agreed on a price. Negotiating is accepted, and the taxi should use meters.
- Carnival season: This depends on your travel style and the level of quietness you are seeking. If a short week of music, dance, party, and rising prices don't bother you, then Carnival season should be fine.
- Power cuts: A sudden power cut is normal in Panama and it can happen during the day and at night. Mostly, the power is back on within an hour.
🚴🏻♀️ How to stay healthy
- Gym and Pools: If you are in cities, like Panama City or Santiago, you can get a gym membership at a normal gym, or you join one of the 5-star hotels which give you access to their pool.
- Yoga: Just have a look on Facebook and you should find someone who offers yoga classes. Yoga studios can be found in all tourist areas but you can also find yoga retreats far away from the beaten track.
- Hiking el Pianista trail: An 8 km hike in the Boquete district, moderately ranked and takes about 3 hours. You can find many hiking trails in Panama, just make sure to bring enough water with you as the country is burning hot.
- Running: Walking, running, jogging - no matter your speed, you will find thousands of beautiful running trails in the Panamenian countryside. Panama's long-stretched beaches are the perfect setting for some cardio fitness, including running, long beach walks, volleyball, or other fun activities.
- Watersports: Panama counts many islands, and you will find surfing, diving, and snorkeling spots on beautiful white sandy beaches, for example in Bocas del Toro.
- Cocovivo Eco Lodge: Located on Isla de Cristobal, Cocovivo offers remote tropical island adventure in Bocas del Toro. Jungle, coral reefs, and wildlife included. This is for everyone looking for a recharge in nature.
- La Loma Lodge: Accessible only by boat, the lodge is located in the rainforest of Isla Bastimentos at the Bahia Honda Bay.
- Water quality: In general, you can drink tap water in Panama, but we recommend drinking bottled water.
- Air quality: The air quality in Panama is good.