One of Panama’s peculiarities is that addresses are very vague and zip codes non-existent. If you are asking locals to help you find your way, they will probably tell you something like: “go to Via Argentina, turn right after Trapiche Restaurant, and continue for 200 meters”. While this may (possibly) work if you’re walking, it will be mission impossible when driving. So what’s the best way to locate yourself in Panama City? Waze! The app is surprisingly accurate and precise. Unlike Google maps, it seems to cover all the backstreets, side roads and shortcuts of the country whilst providing real-time traffic information. An absolute must when visiting (or living) in Panama.
Panamanians love WhatsApp. They don’t just message their friends, but also doctors, lawyers, plumbers and their kids’ school teachers. They also love audio messages. Widely used and abused, you will spot people in the street pressing their phones to their mouths and gesticulating for minutes at a time. The app is so ubiquitous that it frequently features on business cards and in advertising campaigns. For a population that has skipped desktop computing and fully embraced the smartphone, WhatsApp works as a versatile channel that can send messages, pictures and media files, for almost no money at all.
LiveWalkPTY is an app that allows you to discover Panama City at your own pace through exciting audio walks. This is especially valuable in a place like Panama, whose history and character can be harder to grasp at first glance. Exploring the streets, plazas, monuments and parks through local storytellers is a fantastic way of reliving historic events and getting under the skin of the Panamanian culture.
No more bargaining with taxi drivers! Uber has finally come to Panama. The car-sharing service, loved by tourists and expats and despised by regular yellow cab drivers, is now taking over a big share of the market. And rightly so. Yellow taxis have a dreadful reputation, and they are still resisting installing meters. Uber instead gives you a predetermined rate of your journey based on time and distance, whilst keeping record of payments and trips. So why pay more? Whether you are a gringo or a local who appreciates the practicality of the service, Uber will change your life in Panama.
Choosing a restaurant in Panama City is becoming an increasingly daunting task. With new restaurants popping up all over the place and almost every gastronomic style available in town, it’s hard to know where to go. You could go for a walk in Amador, Casco Viejo or Calle Uruguay and simply follow your inspiration, or you could download Degusta Panama – an app that provides restaurant recommendations based on your location, budget, preferred cuisine and previous user ratings. The service also offers discounts when you book through the app.
Despite decades of American presence in Panama, it seems like Panamanians are still perfecting their English. If you are not fluent in Spanish yourself, or have trouble understanding the accent and idioms of Panamanian Spanish, Google Translate can be a true game-changer. Type or record something in the app and it will be immediately translated to Spanish. Fortunately, Panamanians are good-humored enough to play the game and besides a few hiccups you should be able to get by. Also useful for reading restaurant menus.
Though Panama City offers all kinds of accommodation, from luxury boutique hotels to backpackers’ hostels, there are also more and more apartments and rooms for rent on Airbnb. The online community marketplace that connects individuals willing to rent their own homes to travelers is winning over Panama. This is a great option for those seeking an authentic experience when visiting Panama City. Prices won’t necessarily be lower than hotels, but you will have a greater chance of getting to know locals and discovering the country through their eyes.