When I was traveling to Panama for the very first time, I, too, wondered — can you drink the water in Panama??? The last thing anyone wants is to spend their vacation sitting on a toilet…or lying in a hospital.
After some recent significant gut issues of my own, I’ve learned a few things about gut health and have become a bit of an armchair gut advocate. In this post, I’m sharing some helpful info about the water in Panama and how to prepare your gut for traveling here.
Can you drink the water in panama?
First, I’d like to say that even the United States can have water problems. Just ask the residents of Flint, Michigan.
Second, Latin America is particularly challenged in this area, so questioning the water in Panama is reasonable.
I’ll cut to the chase and then expand — it is generally safe to drink water straight from the tap in most areas of Panama.
In fact, 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.
The Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantaeillados Nacional (IDAAN) is the governmental body in charge and they treat about 70% of the country’s water and are required to treat any area with more than 1,800 inhabitants. (Boquete is an exception…see below.)
This is the short answer, but it’s incomplete, so don’t stop reading yet!
A few key points…
- First, there have been some small strains of E. coli found in Panama’s water that may give diarrhea to new visitors.
- Second, it’s difficult for a visitor to know when you’re drinking from the 30% of the country that’s not served by the IDAAN.
- Third, even if the water is technically safe, your body may still be disgruntled if you drink it.
Should I drink bottled water in Panama?
Although the overwhelming consensus is that there is no problem with the water in all but the poorest areas of Panama City, and there’s not likely to be a problem in areas with more than 1,800 residents, there is still reason for caution in approximately 30% of the country.
Says The Lonely Planet, “Tap water is generally drinkable in Panama, except in Bocas del Toro and the Comarca de Guna Yala.”
Other sources suggest sticking to bottled water in all outlying rural areas, indigenous communities, and islands (San Blas, Las Perlas, etc.).
Shai Gold of International-Triage Medical Networks suggests even the city is not exempt from concerns:
The answer to the question about the safety of the drinking water in Panama is not a resounding YES. While the quality of the water is SAFER than in many other LATAM countries, the water in Panama is heavily chlorinated. In some areas it has a discernable mineral content and in other areas the water color reflects the age of the water pipes…. Another problem is that when water supply is halted, or when pressure is low, there are no assurances that the quality has ben maintained.
The main challenge faced by people who really care about what they ingest is that there is a lack of transparency about the natural quality/mineral content and additives what actually goes in to the water.
The key concern of the authorities is POTABLE WATER and ACTUAL DISTRIBUTION. When the considerations are this rudimentary, it is HIGHLY ADVISE ABLE to use home filters for the main line, or in kitchen and shower.
Despite being one of the nicer areas in the country, having a large expat population, and handling their own water treatment, Boquete has had some serious problems with contaminated water. I read about a few serious cases of giardia that has my own gut trembling.
According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IMMAT), regardless of where you are in Panama, visitors should start out with bottled water and only have minimal amounts of tap water while the body develops immunity during the first few weeks.
YES…what IMMAT said!!!
My personal recommendation is that visitors drink bottled water no matter where they go in Panama — not just because of sporadic issues with water quality in Panama, but mostly because even relatively harmless bacteria can wreak havoc in a gut in which it is a stranger!!!
When your gut is out of whack…
Happy gut, happy life. This has been one of my biggest lessons of 2019
Our gut has a massive impact on our physical and mental well-being. Guts are creatures of balance and habit and will react when things are out of whack or a strange micro biome invades their space.
A suspicious, unhappy and/or out-of-balance gut can cause:
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
- Skin issues
I poo poo-ed the importance of gut health until I figured out that a disgruntled gut was the cause of some major perplexing issues I had been having for well over a year. Now, I poo poo no more…figuratively speaking. (Literally is a different story…💩).
The cause of my gut issues might have been because I drank the water during a four day stay in Bocas del Toro or it might have been my incessant need to add citrus essential oils to my drinking water starting about the same time and lasting until I started putting two and two together. (I suspect the latter.)
It all started about 19 months ago when my gut started whispering to me. It didn’t take long to start screaming.
I had skin issues (labeled rosacea and dermatitis…doctor speak for “I have no idea what’s wrong.”), I was often bloated and “irregular,” I felt more tired than usual yet struggled to get a satisfying night’s sleep, and I became “irritable” (okay, downright “bitchy”).
My doctor didn’t help me. My dermatologist didn’t help me. My acupuncturist did.
How to prepare your gut for travel to Panama
Our personal ecosystems are WAY more sensitive than we realize. They’re quite set in their ways if you don’t travel much.
Like with me, the symptoms can be subtle at first…but, unless you do something about it, they’re likely going to get worse.
So, in addition to drinking bottled water while you’re visiting Panama, I also highly recommend preparing your gut for travel to Panama AND continuing to nurture it after you return home.
I’ve found a gut regimen that works for me that I’ll share here for inspiration.
Some important caveats:
- At the core of my approach to health is the “Life is too short to suffer” philosophy. While I eat healthy, exercise almost every day, and take a reasonable amount of supplements, I enjoy occasional cocktails, bloody steaks, and dark chocolate—and more than occasional coffees where coffee is not the main ingredient.
- I’m a BIG believer in KISS (keeping it super simple) whenever possible. I quit complicated.
- I am NOT a medical professional. (If you have health issues, you should definitely run any gut cleanse or special diet by them before doing it!)
Here is my personal regimen (modified from the gut cleanse below from Body and Soul) that I do as a regular practice and is a good idea for most to do before traveling to a different country, in this case Panama:
- Drink 6 oz unsweetened kefir with 2 oz cranberry flavored aloe vera juice and a scoop of unsweetened powdered greens daily
- Take (1) probiotic capsule daily (I use Nature’s Way Primadophilus Optima based on the author’s recommendation of individual strains/strengths)
- Take a digestive enzyme capsule before (most) meals
- Take (2-3) Omega Fish Oil capsules daily
- Eat more sauerkraut
- Cut back on gluten and legumes
- …and try to drink my glorious cup of sorta-coffee only 4x a week instead of 7x week 😫
(All of the supplements I take, and link to above, are gluten and corn-free.)
Less than seven days after starting this regimen, my skin cleared up for the first time in 19 months and the rest of my symptoms resolved shortly thereafter.
When I feel like my gut needs post-travel help because of ingesting foreign water, a round of antibiotics, etc., I will do Body and Soul’s more comprehensive and regimented 14 day gut cleanse—“The 14 day gut cleanse that actually works”.
Enjoy your trip to panama!
You will LOVE Panama!!! You will love it even more if you take care of your gut health before and after your trip.
I have a bunch of other tips in my Panama FAQs, so head over there so your trip is as smooth and seamless as possible: