Visiting Panama is not always expensive. Traveling here is a little affordable than to Europe, Canada or the United States, but a little more expensive than to Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
It’s not the most expensive country in Central America – that price goes to Costa Rica, followed by Belize – but thrifty travelers will have to plan carefully and sacrifice some home comforts to keep costs to a minimum.
Fortunately, there are many ways to save on food, accommodation, transport and excursions. The beaches here are free and there is no shortage of outdoor enjoyment in Panama’s extensive and affordable national park system.
Here are our top tips to prepare your adventure in Panama Good, Nice and inexpensive (tasty, beautiful and inexpensive).
Visiting during the rainy season
The rainy season in Panama lasts from May to November. Prices in hotels can drop by 10-30% during this period, but you will have to struggle with torrential rains. Most showers are short-lived, starting in the afternoon and passing in an hour or two, but it is not uncommon for showers to last for several days in a row. Some outdoor activities, such as bird watching and white water rafting, are much more suitable in the rainy season.
Bocas del Toro has a very changeable microclimate; in the province it is usually humid when in the rest of the country it is dry, and sometimes vice versa. International flights to Panama are usually lowest at the end of the rainy season, from September to November.
If you want to visit only western Panama, you should fly to Costa Rica
Many of Panama’s best attractions are located in the western provinces of Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro. If you are not traveling outside of these areas, sometimes (but not always) it is affordable to fly to San Jose in Costa Rica, and then get to Panama by land.
The direct bus from San José to the international border to Paso Canoas is about an hour longer than the bus from Panama City to David (the second largest city in Panama). You will have to go through immigration formalities, which can take a long time.
A trip to Chiriki will be faster and affordable if you use long-distance buses, instead of international buses like Ticabus, which usually means longer trips, higher prices and non-stops in Davide.
Take the bus to and from Tocumen Airport
An official taxi from Tocumen International Airport to the center of Panama City. A shared taxi will cost about per person if you are traveling alone.
The lowest is a metrobus, which costs no more than. Before leaving the airport, you need to purchase a rechargeable metrocard, which is suitable for use on all metrobuses and trains. They cost are good for a trip with the included prices.
Note. You will need a metrocard to get to the long-distance trains at the Albbrook bus station.
If you are single, stay in a dorm
People traveling alone will find the lowest apartments in shared dormitories. Depending on the location, you can get various amenities and clean rooms for per night.
Hostels are widespread in the main tourist centers of Panama City, Boquete and Bocas del Toro, but are less common elsewhere.
Couples and groups should stay in hotels
A private room in a inexpensive hotel will cost as much as a separate room in a hostel – about per night. However, in terms of comfort, hotel rooms tend to surpass them. The lowest, spartan rooms have fans and a cold shower.
Some hotels have very basic and extremely inexpensive rooms with shared bathroom; ask at the reception if they have something affordable (a little affordable) or a room with shared bathroom (a room with shared bathroom).
Of course, the main disadvantage of using hotels is that there is no common kitchen at your disposal.
If you really want to save, sleep in a hammock
If you don’t mind being treated rudely, a hammock is the lowest option. Hostels usually charge a fee of per night for the presentation, and you can find locals willing to offer the same service.
Use mosquito repellents, nets and/or spirals with insecticides, especially in the rainy season. A warm blanket or sleeping bag may be required, as temperatures can drop noticeably at night, even in the warm lowlands. Please note that it is not safe to spend the night in public places, including the beach.
Use public transport to Panama City
Panama City taxi drivers are known for their cunning. Inflated prices are the norm, especially if you are a foreigner. Even worse, there are often traffic jams in the city that make driving a car slow and inefficient.
To save money and nerves, use metrobuses and trains. If you need a taxi, try to negotiate a price before getting into the car. And if your driver turns out to be a good driver (and there are a lot of them), take his mobile phone number for after use.
Avoid tourist taxis and taxis waiting in front of hotels. They will certainly exaggerate their price. Uber is usually affordable and easier than a taxi.
Choose buses instead of domestic flights
Domestic flights are undoubtedly fast. You can cross the entire country from Panama City to David by plane in about an hour. But since most round-trip flight, domestic flights are not inexpensive and also have a significant Co2 footprint.
Although the David-Panama Terminal (TDP) or Padafront buses are significantly slower (the same trip from Panama City to David takes seven to nine hours), they are much more economical and environmentally friendly.
Eat fruit for breakfast
Fresh fruit in Panama is nutritious, tasty, ubiquitous and inexpensive. The menu offers a wide selection of local products such as pineapples, papaya, avocados, bananas, watermelons and oranges.
Buy fruit from street vendors and local markets (a fruit breakfast in the restaurant is relatively inexpensive). Smoothies are another useful and inexpensive option.
Lean on carbohydrates for lunch
If you like to eat out a lot, lunch is the most economical meal of the day. There is little street food in Panama, but there are many inexpensive restaurants, and they usually offer inexpensive and complex meals and/or high-carb lunches for around per person.
A typical Panamanian lunch consists of a main course of fatty meat or chicken with lots of rice and beans, as well as a few slices of banana (sometimes sweetened) and a sweet drink. Unfortunately, vegans and vegetarians are not well served in Panama.
You can usually drink tap water
With the exception of Bocas del Toro, Guna Yala and other remote areas, tap water in Panama is generally safe to drink. Save on dollars and plastic waste by filling a reusable bottle with water from the kitchen tap.
Choose guides and excursions carefully
Unless the time is very stressful, you want to spend money on one or more tours. If you speak Spanish well enough, it may be affordable to find your own local guides than to use the services of a tour operator.
It is best to get reliable recommendations for your hotel or hostel, they usually know where the best deals are located. Most cities have an office of the National Ministry of the Environment, Mi Ambiente, which will show you the right direction.