To travel is to take a journey into yourself.
~ Danny Kaye ~
In this post I’ll give you some helpful tips on making the most of you journey. I’m not going to tell you where to go or how to do it but I thought it would be helpful to give some ideas on what to expect of Panama after you arrive:
1. Expect Panama to be hot, very hot, it’s a small land mass that is filled with rain forests and bordered by oceans on either side and is very close to the equator. You’ll really find it hot if you’re coming from a cold weather climate or somewhere very dry. The temperature stays the same all year round but during Dry Season the humidity lifts and bit and there are more cooling winds. During Wet Season it will often rain in the late afternoon or early evening, bringing a little cooling relief. Remember, the rains are warm here not cold like they are in many parts of North America and Europe. Drink lots of water, try not to stay out in the blazing sun too long, plan indoor activities to balance the outdoor activities. Plan your outdoor activities early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The Panamanians have nice tradition, a siesta in the heat of the day is a good idea. If you’re planning on being in the mountains expect it to be noticeably cooler. Not parka cool, but you may need a sweater at night;
2. Make sure you tuck your money safely away. Separating it and having a couple of different places to stash it doesn’t hurt either. Panama in general is pretty safe and the people are among the nicest I’ve ever met but it’s best to be prepared rather than taken advantage of. Make sure that you have plenty of one dollar bills on hand as many merchants, taxi drivers and cashiers will claim not to have change. At stores, clerks and other customers will wait patiently while you count out the coinage for payment of your bill. Try and avoid $100 bills, they will create a hassle at the cash register, even the new ones;
3. Carry Kleenex or toilet paper with you and learn how to squat over a toilet. It will be a lifesaver. Also, hand gel is your best friend and if you’re out and about and if there is bathroom that looks remotely clean take advantage of it. Many places either don’t have public washrooms or charge for them. You might also see something like “No ponga papel higiénico en el inodoro” or something similar. This means they don’t want you to flush the toilet paper, indicated by the garbage can full of dirty paper beside the toilet;
4. Have some ideas on what your “must sees” are but try not to plan every day. Be willing to go a little over your budget on an activity that you really want to do. Balance less physical activities with some things that are more active to keep from feeling like a lump. Let things flow naturally some days and be open to trying something new. Those spontaneous days will probably create the best memories. And don’t forget to plan rest days, if you’ve traveled a long way you’ll need them to keep from going home exhausted. The same goes for trying to rest while in transit, being jet lagged and feeling crappy the first few days can spoil your trip;
5. Did you know if you have a cell phone in your home country with a removable, unlocked SIM card you can buy a SIM card here and have a phone to use while in Panama? Data and talk are relatively cheap and come in handy if you want to communicate via email, SKYPE, FB Messenger etc. to people at home without incurring roaming charges. I noticed whilst in the airport arrival area that there are now a couple of young women on hand representing Movistar that can help you with buying minutes or a SIM card. If you wish to use other telephone companies the Mini Supers or cell phone stores can help you. Note: Reader Kevin offers a very good explanation of his experience in the comments section of Part 2 located here;
6. Even though the drinking water in Panama is potable I really dislike the taste of the water in PTY so I drink bottled or filtered water while in the city. I find our water in the campo quite palatable. Water will also come out warm no matter how long you run the cold water tap as water lines are close to the surface. Most people will keep a jug of water in the fridge and fill their own bottles, although it’s not necessary to drink bottled water, it may taste better than regular tap water. And for those of you with a sensitive stomach stick with bottled water and even the same brand of bottled water. I have never heard of anyone being sick from the water but if you’re the sensitive type drink bottled water;
7. Did you know that by law, when in Panama you must have your cedula (government issued identity card), residency card or passport on you if you’re out in public? Put an extra copy of the first pages of your passport separate and in a safe place in the event the original gets lost or stolen;
8. Try to take advantage of the cheaper prices on aesthetic services such as facials, massages and mani/pedis if you want to treat yourself. I try to get my $12.00 mani/pedi when I travel to PTY although prices will be higher in the larger malls, hotels and areas that cater to tourists. If you look you can find some bargains in the smaller strip malls;
9. It’s o.k. to feel like a fish out of water. You’re in a foreign country. Keep your expectations low and you’ll be surprised by how Panama and Panamanians might just surprise you. Remember to smile and have fun, and if you dislike one part of the country move on to another. For such a small place there are many diverse climates and ways of living; and
10. Finally, don’t listen to anyone who tells you you’re not going to do it or you can’t do it. If you really want to, you can. Good or bad, embrace it and learn from it, that’s the whole reason why you should travel. Take it easy and don’t sweat the small stuff and you’ll have an enjoyable trip!
One last word of advice, travel with an open mind and don’t expect everything to be the same as it is at home. There is some garbage along the road sides, power outages, bad internet and animals wandering the streets, it’s a fact of life, but; I have never experienced beggars here. Relax, be cautious but not fearful. All of life is about the journey, if you want to travel, start saving and go somewhere!
Again, if you’d like to offer any personal insights or experiences from your adventures, either in Panama or elsewhere please add them in the comments section. For now, whether you’re planning on traveling down the hallway to your television, around the world or down the street I hope you make it your best trip ever. Have a wonderful day from SU, Dos Gatos and myself…in the campo.