A FIRST APPROACH
Which Panama Is Right for You?
Here's a snapshot of Panama's defining experiences: a modern capital on the canal, near-deserted islands, and trails for spotting wildlife and waterfalls. Get a sense of which ones fit your travel style and your budget.
5. So-called Panama hats are actually from Ecuador. You can find them in Panama, but they're not genuine souvenirs.
6. It's a big hassle to drive a rental car in Panama City, and not necessary. Taxis and buses are cheap, plentiful, and safe.
7. If you want to cover a lot of ground, avoid visiting Panama during national holidays, particularly around Christmas, New Year's, Carnaval (the four days before Ash Wednesday), and Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter). These are festive times, which means everything shuts down.
Panama has two general seasons, rainy and dry. The dry season lasts from mid-December to mid-April and is Panama's summer, when schools are out, prices are higher, and hotels are fuller. Panama is especially beautiful at the beginning of the dry season; late in the dry season the foliage turns brown. For most of the rainy season, storms blow through quickly, leaving much of the day and evening clear. Only those planning serious jungle hikes or backcountry drives should be too concerned about the rain. Rain tends to be heaviest and last the longest toward the end of the rainy season, in November and early December. However, there is some regional variation.
• Bottle of Cerveza Panama, a locally brewed beer: 75¢–$1.50
• Meal-of-the-day at a comida corriente (fast-food) diner, including meat, rice, beans, and salad: $2.50–$3
• Mola (hand-stitched artwork made by Kuna women from layered, brightly colored cloth): $15–$25
• Average taxi ride within Panama City: $1–$2
• Average rate for a two-star hotel in Panama City: $45 (one or two guests)
William Friar, who grew up near the banks of the Panama Canal, has written three Panama-related books, including Moon Handbooks: Panama.