For some travelers, the first trips to Panama can be a daunting and challenging experience. Despite the close ties to the United States and the many similarities, it is still foreign country with its own customs and a wide variety of attractions to choose from.
Mark Chesnut, founder and editor of LatinFlyer.com., a travel information site, worked on chapters for the Fodor’s Guide to Panama and he recently shared some of the lessons he learned from his travels. He calls Panama “one of my favorite destinations in Central America” and his advice addressed several specific issues.
- Don’t be afraid to drive: Chesnut had always avoided renting a car, which he regrets. Panama traffic, he discovered, is not so bad. “The drivers are, for the most part, more courteous than some big cities in the United States, and they don’t honk as much or swear at fellow motorists as much, either.”
- Explore the islands: Get off the mainland and travel to such island paradises as Taboga and Contador. Too many visitors to Panama don’t make it to the islands, which are spectacular.
- Try Uber: This was an interesting choice. Chesnut says Panama City cab drivers are “notorious price gougers,” which may be unfair. (Tip: Simply ask the price before you get in and it’s cheaper if you catch a taxi away from one of the hotels.) Either way, Uber provides a viable option, Chesnut says.
- Remember the Caribbean: Many travelers in Panama never make it to Colon and the Caribbean coast. “One of my favorite places in the world is just a quick plane ride away too: Kuna Yala, the semiautonomous indigenous territory where you can sleep in thatch-roofed huts over the warm Caribbean waters and explore perfect beaches and fascinating Guna culture,” Chesnut writes.
- Enjoy the resorts of the Pacific coast: People looking for a quick vacation can find several beautiful resorts only a few minutes from Panama City. Playa Bonita is less than 30 minutes from downtown and the resorts of Coronado are two hour away.
Read Chesnut’s full comments here.