Things Tourists Should Never Do in Panama, Ever

Panamanian flag
Panamanian flag | © CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay
Brittney Schering

Panama is an incredible place to visit with so much to explore and discover. However, there are a few things that tourists should never, ever do during their time in Panama. Find out the most advised points to avoid in the best interest of the traveler in order to have the most positive, problem-free experience.
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Don’t carry your actual passport around

Bring a copy of your ID or passport to carry around with you. Leave the real documents – passport, license, whatever it may be – in a safe, secure place. Doing so helps to avoid the potential for theft that could otherwise lead to major headaches and difficult challenges, especially with regards to a return flight.

Passport

Always carry your ID

The police in Panama are always out and about and will regularly check for passports of passersby. They do this for a number of reasons, but mostly with regards to safety and assurance that folks in Panama are who they say they are, and they are where they are supposed to be. Kindly oblige to the policemen and show them your ID, but be sure it is only a copy and not the real document to avoid unnecessary problems.

Don’t be surprised when prices jump during Carnaval

Wherever you go, if there is something major going on, price inflation is a normal result. Whether trying to purchase a plane ticket during the holidays or a beer during Carnaval, don’t let the price tag serve as an unwelcome surprise when it is a few dollars more than the regular cost.

Don’t panic at the sound of random fireworks

Panama likes to celebrate a lot, and sometimes with no real indication as to what the celebration is for. That said, fireworks go off at random frequently, and though they may sound explosive or like that of gunshots, rest assured that this is just another way Panamanians like to celebrate – loud and proud.

Don’t wander unfamiliar territories at night or alone

Relatively safe with plenty of policemen around, it is still advised to proceed with caution when wandering the streets of Panama at night or alone. This is especially true for unlit alleyways and the areas that border major tourist hotspots, such as Casco Viejo and the Via Veneto areas, which are probable danger zones for tourists wandering unknowingly with their guards down.

Don’t forget to stay hydrated

Panama is hot all year round, and the blazing heat comes with extreme humidity. Welcome to the tropics, where heat is a beast not to be messed with, nor can it be tamed. That said, the best way to navigate through without suffocating or suffering is to stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of water handy, and a small towel to wipe the sweat from your face if you’d rather not feel wet and slimy all day.

Don’t count on the forecast

If you visit Panama during the wet season, despite what the forecast may say, heavy rain is likely every day. These torrential downpours will remind you to carry your umbrella wherever you go. Prepare with proper footwear, too, and a safe case to hold items you’d rather not get drenched, such as a wristwatch, smartphone, wallet, etc.

Never forget to use bug spray

Panama is a tropical country, and with the tropics comes unwanted critters such as mosquitos, and spiders and the like. Prevent awfully itchy skin and dreaded bug bites with repellent when exploring. With Dengue and other diseases popping up in jungle areas, it is best to take precautions to avoid health issues that may come with insect encounters.

Don’t hop in a cab without first confirming payment

Uber is available in Panama now, making it far easier for tourists to get around. Uber even offers UberENGLISH for those who are intimidated by Spanish, the language of Panama. However, there will be times when a cab seems more sensible, or Uber is unavailable for whatever reason. If you find yourself needing to take a yellow cab, be sure to confirm the price before entering the cab. If you do not, the driver will take advantage of your lack of knowledge for how the fixed price system works, and you will overpay as a result.

Don’t be offended by odd looks if you wear shorts and sandals

Despite the heat and humidity, Panamanians wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. That said, tourists wear shorts and sandals because they are not used to the heat or aware of such social norms. So, when locals look at you sideways as they glance, glare, or even stare at your shorts and sandals, do not be offended or surprised. They just think you are a little crazy, no big deal.

Don’t freak if all the lights go out

Power outages are normal in Panama, and they occur, on a large scale, somewhat frequently. Don’t fret if everything turns off and shuts down suddenly, randomly, day or night. These power outages are nothing to worry about. Lights will likely turn on in an hour or less, though sometimes it takes longer.

After visiting Panama, why not visit nearby Colombia? You can discover the Caribbean coast on our eight-day trip – including exploring Cartagena and trekking through a jungle in Tayrona National Park. Or, head north to Mexico on our nine-day epic adventure around the Yucátan Peninsula.

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