Why go to Panama ?


You will find here the results of our backpackers' survey as well as comments on some aspects of Panama.

We asked backpackers who had traveled in Panama for at least one week already to answer the followings.

Do you like Panama ?  88% of the backpackers surveyed (17) say yes !

Most people enjoy Panama and those who did not had specific reasons not to : they ran into trouble with the police or were mistaken for arrogant Americans...


Would you happily come back ? 71% of the backpackers surveyed (17) say yes !

Panama is a rather small place whose main attractions can usually be visited in one short trip. Still, most would not mind visiting again !


Would you recommend Panama ?  88% of the backpackers surveyed (17) say yes !

Most travelers would encourage their friend to visit Panama, as long as they do not show too much arrogance, of course...

We also asked them to rate the followings :

The tourists attractions        Backpackers (17) : 12.94 /20
Panama is a small country and there aren't too many places to visit. It also keeps a rather low profile, not over-promoting its treasures yet. The Panama Canal is the most famous attraction but Bocas Del Toro Archipelago is probably the locality with the most potential of development in the area. Boquete is another perfect gateway, with fresh air and mountains instead of water & beaches. More remote, the San Blas Archipelago delights most of the adventurers who venture there.  

The city scenery       Backpackers (17) : 11.53 /20
In terms of cities, Panama City is the only one worth a good look & a stay : it is the most cosmopolitan and contrasting capital of the area, with modern buildings facing an old charming colonial district. The villages are less interesting but much more relaxed, with colonial charm or minorities atmosphere.  

The natural scenery         Backpackers (17) : 15.53 /20
The offering may look limited but Panama is actually one of the best kept secret of the area : with 15 national parks, a dozen forest reserves, 10 wildlife refuge and 2800km of coasts, the total protected area amount to 29% of its superficy. That is more than Costa Rica (25%) !  Its archipelagos in particular offers some of the finest beaches, snorkeling & diving possibilities of the area while its hilly villages offers numerous treks in lovely settings. As for spotting wildlife, there are more species of birds in Panama than in all of North America, with around 954 species !

The cultural opportunities        Backpackers (17) : 10.12 /20
The Panama Canal, museums and colonial architectures are certainly excellent cultural sights but probably not enough to justify a trip in themselves. The remote eastern part should however offer a fascinating glance into the life of the Kuna people and, if more people where going there, there is no doubt that the rating would improve a bit... Other tribes (from one of the five major ethnic groups) can also be met in other parts of the country.

The food         Backpackers (17) : 9.75 /20
The lowest rate of the survey. Indeed, the cheapest restaurants serving ready to serve chicken, rice & beans are usually best avoided as quite tasteless. Acceptable & cheap alternatives exist but eating well in Panama requires a slightly higher budget. On the positive side, pastries are numerous, excellent and cheap ! 

The infrastructures         Backpackers (17) : 15.06 /20
The best rate this time, as traveling in Panama is a rather comfortable activity, with far less chicken buses than in the other countries. Minibus do most of the short or medium trip while luxury coaches deal with the long distances. The roads are good and the departures frequent. However, not all the country is well connected and traveling the eastern part would certainly be much more adventurous (and costly)...  

The cost of living and traveling        Backpackers (17) : 11.06 /20
After Costa Rica (and probably Belize), Panama is the most expensive country in the area. The major expenses by far are the accommodations, in particular in Panama City. Transport is reasonably priced, considering the quality. Basic food & snack are very cheap and the tap water usually free to drink. As for the attractions, they are usually free to enjoy. Altogether, expect around US$15 per day. Much more for San Blas, thanks to its overpriced accomodations. 

The safety        Backpackers (17) : 12.47 /20
With the exception of the capital & Colon, Panama is a fairly safe country to visit : you can relax and enjoy the scenery ! In the above mentioned places however, being cautious at all time and avoiding certain districts are very good idea to avoid trouble. Visiting with the Police Tourist is also a solution... 

The cleanliness        Backpackers (17) : 12.47 /20
Panama is a relatively clean country, with limited rubbish in the countryside and rather well maintained cities' streets (at least in the safe parts). Not bad for such a developing country...

The pollution        Backpackers (17) : 12.47 /20
Another fair rate as the essential of the problem is located in the big cities. There, walking by the side of any road won't be a very pleasant activity but the vehicles aren't that dirty and there are numerous pedestrian areas.  

The Shopkeepers' attitude        Backpackers (17) : 12.71 /20
Most people enjoy the shopping delights of Panama City but, as many big cities, smile on the face of the shopkeeper is optional. In the other places, things are more relaxed without being over-friendly. As for the touts, I found them remarkably absent of the traveling scenes. The Kuna people were reported a bit greedy...

The Panama people's attitude        Backpackers (17) : 13.88 /20
The lowest rate of the survey, reflecting the bad experience of a few people : they were confronted to corrupt policemen and mistaken for Americans ! Truly, not all the officials were as lovely as the tourist police of the capital and it is a good idea to clarify your nationality as early as possible. With my French accent and limited Spanish, I however found the local people to be among the friendliest of the whole area, with some remarkable examples of hospitality !

Entertainment        Backpackers (13) : 9.85 /20
A surprisingly low rate ! After all, Panama City is the most cosmopolitan capital of Central America, with numerous places to go out (theatres, cinema, bars or disco) in a relatively safe night district.  This may be due to the usual high cover charge and the fact that some trendy places aren't too friendly with people wearing casual. Outside of the capital, you go to bed early !

Shopping        Backpackers (17) : 15.29 /20
For consumers goods (electronics, clothes, jewellery, perfumes, watches,...), Panama City is clearly paradise in the area : enormous choice and often lower prices than in Europe or the States. It will be even cheaper (15% less) in the Colon Free Zone, the second largest duty-free zone in the world after Hong Kong. As for handicrafts, Panama would be second only to Guatemala, as its minorities produce top quality & colorful objects. Enjoy !

Generally, the country        Backpackers (17) : 14.12 /20
If it was not for those two backpackers who had problems with the officials & locals, Panama would be second only to Guatemala. Indeed, quite a few people consider it their favorite country in the area : great escapes by the coast or in the mountains,  charming colonial houses, lovely people (with a few exceptions), impressive canal and colorful minorities for the adventurers. All this and more to enjoy without too many tourists !  

Value for money        Backpackers (17) : 11.76 /20
The lowest rate of the survey, probably due to the rather bad quality-price ratio of most accomodation in Panama City and of a view places on the coast. Except for those, I found Panama to be fairly well priced and, considering that most attractions are free to visit, actually much better value than more popular Costa Rica.

Give your opinion !  If you have traveled in Panama for at least 1 week, please participate to our surveys !

Compare Panama with other countries in the Central America Section


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