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Backpacking Panama | Practical information

When you go backpacking in Panama you will experience the perfect mix of rugged nature, tropical islands, great surf spots, cozy villages and modern cities. And above all, a very relaxed atmosphere! Are you planning a trip to Panama? Then prepare yourself with our tips!

Also read: Discover the highlights of Panama
Also read: Travel Guide Bocas del Toro | A paradise piece of Panama
Also read: San Blas Islands | A tropical paradise

General information Panama

  • Location and Region: The southernmost country in Central America, it borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Is known for: The Panama Canal, tropical islands, rugged nature.
  • Language: The official language in Panama is Spanish.  
  • Population: Panama had about 2020 million inhabitants in 4,3. Most of the inhabitants are a mix of Spanish, Indigenous and West Indian: they are also called mestizos.

Safety while backpacking in Panama

In general, Panama is a very safe backpacking destination. However, there are a number of places that you should avoid as a tourist, such as the border area with Colombia, the port city of Colon and some parts of Panama City. In addition, do not wear striking and valuable jewelry and never leave your belongings out of sight.

For the rest, we always traveled by public transport in Panama (more on this in a moment) and we never felt unsafe. On the contrary, the Panamanians were always very helpful.

Locals
Islander San Blas

Transport in Panama

As a backpacker you will often use the public transport of a country. The buses in Panama are very cheap and you can get (almost) everywhere with them. Old American school buses are often used for this, which are completely pimped with lights and colors. 

Large comfortable tour buses run over the longer distances and smaller buses run over the shorter distances. Don't be alarmed when they tie your luggage on the roof of the bus, this is completely normal in Central America. This frees up more space for passengers.   

Cost overview backpacking in Panama

In Panama you can pay with two currencies: the local Balboa and the US dollar. The dollar is mainly used everywhere. Currently 1 dollar is equal to 0.86 Euro. Unlike in the Netherlands, almost everywhere in Panama, payment is made with cash. Make sure you always have some cash with you, because the ATMs do not work always and everywhere.

Below is a cost picture for your expenses in Panama:

Stay in a hostel

  • 1 bed in a shared dorm: between 10 and 15 euros per night 
  • Private double room: between 40 and 50 euros per night 

Also read: What is a hostel? And why should you stay there?

Hostel Panama
Our hostel in Boquete: Bambuda Castle

Food and drink

The prices in the supermarket are somewhat comparable to those in the Netherlands. However, you can get some products cheaper, such as fresh fruit. Cooking yourself is of course the cheapest option if you have a limited budget. Most hostels have a public kitchen where you can prepare your meals. In addition, you cannot drink the water from the tap in Panama, so you will always have to buy bottled water. 

  • Bottle of water: 1,5 liters €1,28
  • Local beer: 0,5 liters €0,89
  • kilo of bananas:€1,36
  • A bread:€1,69
  • Breakfast in restaurant: €5,- per person
  • Lunch/dinner in restaurant: €10,- per person

Outing Supplies

Prices for local buses, each way

  • Panama City – Boquete: €15,- per person
  • Boquete–Almirante: €7,- per person
  • Panama City – Portobelo: €4,- per person

Excursions and Tours

One of the biggest expenses when backpacking in Panama is the cost of tours and excursions. You pay on average between 25 and 50 euros for a tour, depending on the number of hours and what exactly you are going to do. Of course you don't have to use tours, you can also just go out on your own. We ourselves liked to go on a tour every now and then, for example we visited a bat cave in Bocas del Toro.  

Bocas del Toro, Panama
Boat trip through the jungle and mangroves, en route to the bat cave

Best time to travel for backpacking Panama

Panama has a tropical climate with an average temperature of 30 degrees all year round. There is a high humidity and in addition there are two distinct seasons.

  • The rainy season: December to April
  • The dry period: May to November

It is not immediately the case that it rains all day long in the rainy season, usually there are short, heavy showers in the afternoon, evening or night. We ourselves were in Panama during the rainy season and this did not spoil our fun. In addition, nature is at its best during this season. But if you have the flexibility to visit Panama during the dry season, this is of course a lot nicer.

Boquete, Panama
Rainy weather in Boquete

Destinations during your Panama tour

Which spots will you visit while backpacking in Panama? Below is an overview of popular destinations that you can visit in 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Panama City: A modern capital with an old part of town | The Panama Canal. 
  • Bocas del Toro: An archipelago in the north with a laid back vibe.
  • Boquete: A mountain village in the jungle, perfect for outdoor activities and hikes.
  • San Blas: tropical bounty islands.

Also read: Discover the highlights of Panama
Also read: Travel Guide Bocas del Toro | A paradise piece of Panama
Also read: San Blas Islands | A tropical paradise

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Lieke Thijssen

?️ Latin America lover
??‍? Travel & hospitality copywriter
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