Panama Travel FAQ | VISTACANAS.COM

Welcome to Vista Cañas’ frequently asked questions about Panama travel, Playa Venao and more. Learn how to get here, what money you’ll need, how to get mobile phone service, and much more. If your question is not there, use the contact form below to personally message us and we’ll get it answered!

all panamá:

Panamá has two seasons—wet and dry. The dry season generally begins in mid-December and lasts about four months until early to mid-April. With its clear skies and trade winds, this is the time to visit IF staying dry is a top priority and you want to play it safe.

Although wetter, the wet season, which begins in April, is NOT cold and it does not necessarily rain all the time. It’s typical for the skies to open and dump an inch of rain in an hour, often with thunder and lightning, only to stop just minutes later. This time of the year offers some incredibly special treasures, so it should absolutely NOT be ruled out for a visit. (Check out my Guide to Playa Venao for details on what treasures you’ll find during this season.)

Playa Venao is located in the “dry arc,” which results in about two times less rainfall than the northern Caribbean coast. It’s entirely possible to not have any rain from December to April. Note that the vegetation on the Azuero Peninsula, including the Playa Venao area, will be DRY.

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

As with many things in life, there’s the official way and the way most people do things. This is definitely the case with immunizations for Panama.

Panamá’s public health standards are very similar to the U.S. However, it isthe tropics and there are areas of dense living with less than ideal sanitary conditions in pockets throughout the country. And, while the government has active campaigns to control mosquitos (the transmitters of yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria) in the populated areas, they cannot possibly control them in the dense jungle areas.

So, the need for vaccinations depends on where you will be visiting in Panamá. For the most part, yellow fever and malaria have been eradicated in the populated areas and are really only a concern if you’ll be deep in the jungle.

The official recommendation by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) is that all visitors should be up-to-date on their regular immunizations (including tetanus) and “most” visitors should get Hepatitis A and Typhoid shots based on the risks of these diseases throughout Panamá.

It’s recommended that you get yellow fever and malaria vaccinations if you’ll be visiting any mainland area east of the canal, including the provinces of Darién, Emberá, Kuna Yala (AKA Guna Yala), Colón and Panama; they are not considered necessary if you’re visiting areas west of the canal, Panama City, the canal itself, or the Balboa (Pearl) or San Blas Islands. Note that if you’re an American and do decide to get a yellow fever vaccination, plan ahead as they’re not always easy to come by.

Vista Cañas is located in the Playa Venao area of Panamá, which is west of the canal so there’s no need for yellow fever or malaria vaccinations.

There are some special circumstances that may call for additional immunizations for Panama:

  • Hepatitis B—if you plan on having sex with someone new, get a tattoo or piercing or have any planned medical procedures.
  • Rabies—if you are traveling to a remote area, doing adventure travel (such as caving where you may be exposed to bats) or you’ll be around wild animals.
  • Zika—if you’re pregnant, you should get educated on this and talk to your obstetrician.

There have been cases of dengue fever in the populated areas. The good news is that it’s much like a nasty flu and rarely fatal. It’s a problem in areas where waters are stagnant, specifically in urban areas close to Panama City and Colon. Panamá has gotten it largely under control, but previously known problematic areas were around Chorrera (Western Panamá), San Miguelito in Panama City, and certain areas of Chiriqui where there are waste disposal issues. Whether you decide to get vaccinated or now, definitely get educated on the symptoms so you can recognize them early enough to get treated.

Visit the CDC for the most up-to-date information on immunizations for Panama. And, here’s a helpful independent resource for more vaccination info—Lonely Planet on Panamá Health.

For more info on Panamá and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

The primary language in Panamá is Spanish. Many people working in establishments catering primarily to locals will only speak Spanish, even in Panama City. And, of course, English will not likely be spoken in the more remote locations.

However, because of the U.S. involvement with the Panama Canal, and the country’s popularity as an international travel and expat destination, there are many locals who are accustomed to interacting with non-Spanish speakers and speak English well.

Before you arrive, be sure and download a language app—I recommend SayHi (on iTunes or Google Playor bring a travel Spanish dictionary!

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

One word: YES. You should definitely get travel insurance for Panama!

Here is a longer explanation:

Being a frugal person with a long history of paying insurance premiums, I never used to buy travel insurance. Adding on the $60-$80 fee to my plane ticket felt a lot like buying those unnecessary extended warranties. Then, I went to Bali.

A super cheap plane ticket (and probably good karma) had me click the insurance box for this particular trip—and my $80 investment saved me $720 in broken camera repairs and urgent care fees.

Now I consider it a must when traveling to a more “adventurous” country—and that definitely includes Panama! It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind you gain.

If you don’t already have a company you use, I recommend World Nomads. It’s very easy to buy a policy on their website. Be sure and take some time to read over the policy before you need it—if you do end up needing it, you’ll be thankful you did.

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

Technically, Panamanian currency is Balboas NOT dollars. However, the value of Balboas is tied to the US dollar and, since there is no paper currency in Panama, U.S. dollars are accepted in its place. So, long story short—get U.S. dollars to spend on your trip to Panama. While you’re here, you’ll get a mix of Balboas (coins) and U.S. paper currency as change.

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

There are definitely some things you should—and should not—bring on your Panamanian adventure. I wrote a comprehensive blog post on what to pack here—Your Panama Packing List.

It’s important to know that this list was created with Playa Venao specifically in mind. If you are staying in Panama City the entire time, or going to some place like Boquete where the temperatures are colder, it would need to be modified!

If you’re not prepared, renting a car in Panama can be a bit of a shock—not the process itself, but the actual cost.

Do NOT get excited if you see a daily rate like $2-$6/day. Most Panamanian rental car companies do NOT include the country’s mandatory liability insurance in their quote. The required insurance, which is NOT provided by your credit card, adds about $25/day to the final cost.

Most credit cards provide collision insurance coverage for rental cars. Assuming your credit card company is typical, here is what you need to do to get the best possible price on your Panama rental car:

  • Book directly with the rental car company. Most third-party websites will not quote an accurate price and will try to sell you things, like third-party insurance. Do NOT buy third-party insurance coverage as it is not valid in Panamá!
  • If the rental car company does not include the mandatory insurance in the initial quote, wait to purchase the insurance when you’re picking up your car.
  • Bring a letter from your credit card company stating the rental car collision coverage they provide to ensure you are not forced to purchase it in addition to the liability insurance.
  • Be prepared for the car rental company to charge you a refundable deposit when you pick up your car. If there is no damage to your car, they will refund the deposit; if you do have damages, they will use a portion, or all, of your deposit to pay for the damages. You will then file a claim with for reimbursement by your credit card company.

Based on our personal experience, we recommend the following Panama car rental agencies (in order of preference):

  • Ace Rent-a-Car (inside the Tocumen Airport; you will find the correct quoted price, including the mandatory liability insurance, on the second screen after you click on the first ‘Continue’)
  • Thrifty (inside the Tocumen Airport; the mandatory liability insurance is included in their quoted rate)
  • Sixt (inside the Tocumen Airport; the priciest of the three)

If you’re coming to Playa Venao, or exploring off the main road, we highly recommend that you invest in an all wheel (or four wheel drive) vehicle. While the main roads are good, side roads, and even driveways (like the future Vista Cañas driveway), may not be! Not all rental agencies offer (or guarantee) all wheel/four-wheel drive vehicles, so make sure you confirm this ahead of time.

Yes—in Panama City. Not only is Uber in Panama City, but I highly recommend you use it. The yellow taxis are not metered and drivers are notorious for charging wildly inflated prices if they think they can get away with it.

Note that if you got a local SIM card for your mobile phone, you’ll just have to change your phone number in the Uber app the first time you use it.

While you may find Uber in some of the more populated areas, I wouldn’t count on using it outside of the city. There is a reliable bus system and, in some areas, including Playa Venao, you will find private shuttles.

For more helpful info on visiting Panama and Playa Venao, check out our FAQ page!

If your mobile phone is unlocked, the best way to get mobile phone service for tourists in Panama is to buy a SIM card from a local service provider. Claro will give you the best coverage in the Playa Venao area; but Movistar also works fine and is the definite choice if you’ll be staying with us or in Cañas.

Even though they charge a huge premium for SIM cards at the airport (it’ll run you $30 for one week and 1.5GB data), I don’t suggest attempting to drive in Panama City without meticulous directions or GPS! The extra $25 you’re paying is an investment in your sanity. The ladies at the airport kiosk will install and set up your SIM card, which is not an easy task if you don’t read Spanish.

If you’re good with driving blind for a bit and know some Spanish, you can find them for about $5 at the mobile phone carriers in the mall or at one of the many small electronic stores throughout the country.

Before you come, I suggest setting up Whatsapp as this is widely used by locals and will enable you to make local and international calls using data.

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

Before 2016, tipping in Panama was included in the bill—but, not any more. Today, tipping is not only appreciated, it’s necessary for workers to earn a decent wage.

Here are guidelines for tipping in Panama:

  • Restaurants & bars—10{e37cd810aec401cdc45de71bedbfa9978684d68c87d47c0b10c9ff215f6a5483}
  • Take out—None
  •  Airport & hotel porters—$1 per bag
  • Grocery baggers—25 cents to $2, depending on services rendered (putting parcels in your car, home delivery, etc.)
  • Barbers & shoe-shiners—10{e37cd810aec401cdc45de71bedbfa9978684d68c87d47c0b10c9ff215f6a5483}
  • Aestheticians & Stylists—10{e37cd810aec401cdc45de71bedbfa9978684d68c87d47c0b10c9ff215f6a5483}
  • Maids & other service workers—None
  • Taxi drivers—I highly recommend you use Uber, rather than taxis. Independent taxis are not metered and you’re very likely to get charged an exorbitant price. If you tip on that, you’ve just made a dishonest driver extra happy.
  • Uber drivers—10-20{e37cd810aec401cdc45de71bedbfa9978684d68c87d47c0b10c9ff215f6a5483}

Now, that being said, good service is not one of the things Panama can boast about. No matter where I am in the world, I don’t tip on bad service, so if you don’t feel like your service provider has earned it, don’t feel pressured to tip!

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

Panama uses the same power plugs and has the same voltage as the United States. The standard voltage is 120V and the power sockets will look like one of the following:

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

Many areas, including some areas of the United States, have water problems. Latin America is particularly challenged in this area, so questioning the water in Panama is reasonable. The short answer to this question is—yes, it is generally safe to drink water straight from the tap in most areas of Panama. Panama’s water treatment system is pretty state-of-the-art, making it one of the only Latin American countries where it’s safe to drink the tap water.

But, just like everything in life, it’s just not that simple. I highly suggest you read my blog post on this topic—Can You Drink the Water in Panama?—for the full scoop.

playa venao:

Playa Venao is a popular laid back surf community in the middle of the Azuero Peninsula on the southern Pacific coast of Panamá. It’s an approximate six-hour drive from Panama City. The closest town is Pedasi, which is approximately 30 kilometers to the east; the closest cities are Las Tablas and Chitré, about 1-1/2-2 hours by car. Check out my Playa Venao Guide to learn all about it!

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

In theory, there are several options for getting to Playa Venao from Panama City. However, when you take into consideration time, effort, cost AND mobility once you’re there, renting a car and driving the 5-1/2 hours there is the best way to do it.

You’ll understand why—and find specific suggestions on how to get to Playa Venao—in my Playa Venao Guide.

If you do decide to rent a car and your flight arrives in the afternoon or evening, we suggest you wait until the next day to drive to Playa Venao. It’s best to be well rested and arrive before dark so you can find where you’re staying with as little stress as possible! Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historical district, is an excellent place to spend a night or two! Or, you can stay at our favorite hotel near the airport—Riande Aeropuerto Hotel is just a few minutes from Tocumen International Airport and has an onsite restaurant with a free breakfast.

If you want to maximize your time in Playa Venao, take a red eye flight that arrives at Tocumen early in the morning. You can pick up your rental car and arrive in Playa Venao just after lunch so you have beach time on your first day!

For directions to Playa Venao, check out this FAQ.

Both driving in Panamá and giving directions to someone driving in Panamá are not easy. It’s definitely best to used these directions in conjunction with GPS.

Keep in mind that your ultimate goals are: 1) to get to Corredor Norte as quickly as possible (avoid Corredor Sud as it will test your sanity 😂), 2) take Highway 4 over the Centenario Bridge toward Las Tablas, and 3) stay on Av. Dr. Belisario Porras, which will take you to Tonosi, then Playa Venao.

NOTE:

  • Even with these directions and GPS, your Spanish, directional and driving skills will all be tested!
  • The route to Playa Venao has toll roads so you will need to make sure your car rental company gives you a car with a Panapass that has at least $6 on it…$10 is safer. If you find yourself with a depleted account, head to a Super 99 grocery for a refill.
  • Use Waze for directions. It has the added benefit of warning you of the MANY speed traps on the route to Playa Venao.

Here are general directions to Playa Venao from Tocumen International Airport:

1. As you’re exiting the airport, take Av Domingo Díaz to Carr. Panamericana/Corredor Sur/Interamericana/Route 1/CA-1

2. Right on Calle del INADEH

3. Take a left on the first through street

4. Slight right toward Carr. Panamericana/Corredor Sur/Interamericana/Route 1/CA-1 then turn right onto the highway

5. Take the ramp to Corredor Nte./Route 6 (You do NOT want to go in the direction of Pacora, Chepo, or Darien…you want to go the other way!)

7. From this point on, you are following the signs to Las Tablas

8. Exit onto Autopista Panamá-La Chorrera/Av. Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá/Vía Centenario/Route 4

9. Head southwest on Puente Centenario Bridge/Route 4 (over part of the canal!)

10. Keep left at the fork and merge onto Carr. Panamericana/Interamericana/Route 1/CA-1

11. Turn left to merge onto Av. Dr. Belisario Porras/Route 2 and continue to follow the signs to Av. Dr. Belisario Porras/Route 2, Tonosi and Playa Venao

12. Av. Dr. Belisario Porras is the only road that goes to Playa Venao, so if you stay on it, you’ll get there!

Unless you’re a competition surfer, it’s not really worth it to bring a surfboard to Playa Venao.

If you’re considering it, here’s where you can find out what the airline will charge you—Airline Baggage Fees. The last time I checked, Copa Airlines, Panama’s airline, charged $75 each way for surfboards; other airlines may charge as much as $150 each way.

You’ll also have to consider how you’re getting to Playa Venao—do you really want the hassle of making sure your rental car or other transportation can fit your board or, worse, lug it on a bus or shuttle?

Renting a surfboard in Playa Venao is easy and very affordable. There are several surf camps to choose from, including our favorites—Beachbreak Surf Camp and Surf Dojo.

For more info on Panama and the Azuero Peninsula, head over to our FAQs!

still have a question about panama travel, playa venao or something else? ask us!