Welcome To Panama: 17 Best Travel Tips for Digital Nomads

Here are 17 Panama travel tips to make the “Crossroads of the Americas” a perfect destination for digital nomads like you.

Flavio Amiel

Flavio Amiel

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Published in Travel on 1/12/2024
Welcome To Panama: 17 Best Travel Tips for Digital Nomads

Famous for its glittering white-sand beaches, picturesque landscape, and abundant wildlife, Panama has always been on the bucket list of many travelers worldwide.

But currently, Panama is more than just a tourist gem in Central America. It’s becoming a top destination for remote workers due to its first-rate internet infrastructure, low-cost living, affordable healthcare, and hospitable communities.

What’s more, Panama doesn't require digital nomads to pay taxes, and after a stay of over 9 months, they can apply for tax residency and avoid paying taxes in their home countries.

Are you ready to explore Panama? I bet you are. So, in this guide, I’ll share some helpful Panama travel tips to make the most of your trip to this beautiful island. Discover how to stay productive work-wise while enjoying its breathtaking attractions and local culture.

Top 17 Travel Tips for a Great Stay in Panama

1. Plan Your Trip in Advance

It’s tempting to go straight to Panama and go with the flow. After all, traveling is all about thrills and adventure.

However, you’re not just a tourist visiting a foreign country. You’re a digital nomad going to a new “second home.” You’re here not just to lounge on its beautiful beaches but also to immerse yourself in a new environment and work remotely. And there’s only one way to a successful work-travel experience—create a travel plan.

So, let’s craft your plan, shall we?

Everything starts with thorough research. Learn more about Panama and see if it fits your lifestyle and work preferences

For instance, I saw that this country has one of the fastest and most reliable Internet connections in Central America (download speed of 94.76 Mbps, upload speed of 14.18 Mbps). Therefore, it's a perfectly conducive environment for digital nomads working with data-heavy software.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of co-working spaces in cities like Panama City where you can peacefully work with the basic amenities of urban life available in malls and convenience stores nearby. One of the popular working spaces here is the Panama Coworking Center in Obarrio, Panama City, which has fast Internet, private meeting rooms, and call booths.

Once you’re convinced that Panama suits you well, it’s time to get to know it better. Learn its laws, culture, history, norms, government, currency, language, tourist destinations—everything to live here well!

Then, start researching for possible accommodations and itineraries. Continue reading this Panama travel guide to learn more about this enchanting country and thrive here as a digital nomad.

2. Consider the Cost of Traveling to Panama

What I love about Panama (aside from its first-rate beaches) is its affordability. This country is almost 50% cheaper than the US and other European countries. It’s also considered a more affordable destination in Mesoamerica than Belize or Costa Rica.

But you'll still burn tons of bucks here if you’re not mindful of your expenses. Indulging in high-priced destinations, accommodations, and eateries will skyrocket your expenses. So, here are some of my wallet-friendly Panama travel tips for digital nomads like you:

  • Get a private hostel room to work online without much distraction. A room costs around $25 to $40 per night. Some cheap hotel rooms start at $30. Wi-Fi and toiletries are already provided for guests in these accommodations (some also offer complimentary breakfast).
  • Many cheap food stalls (Fondas) exist, especially in the cities. A meal of rice, beans, and meat typically costs around $3 to $5 per serving. There are also mid-range restaurants that cost around $10 per meal.
  • You can also cook for yourself. Just buy at local markets (not in malls) to save money. A budget of around $30 to $50 is good for a week’s groceries.
  • Buses are the cheapest form of transportation in Panama, costing you only around $0.35 to $1 per trip. Car rentals are affordable, typically around $15 per day, but I don’t recommend them because buses are quite easy to ride in for intercity travel.

Note that two currencies are accepted in Panama: Panamanian Balboa (PAB) and US dollars (USD). However, USD is more commonly used than the other, so there is no need to exchange your currency if you travel here.

3. Choose the Best Time to Visit Panama

Panama has a warm climate all year round (averaging around 30°C in the daytime and 21°C at night). This means you can enjoy its beaches and do water adventures anytime. There are occasional rains from May to December, but they usually shower only in the late afternoon.

The driest season is from January to mid-April, when tourism is at its peak. But don’t worry; most destinations are not crowded, so you can still enjoy the island’s laid-back vibe with some travelers around.

4. Explore the Must-Visit Destinations in Panama

Panama overflows with splendid destinations. If you’re the sun-worshiping tourist type, many beaches stretching along the Pacific coast await you. If you’re a history buff, plenty of its museums, cultural centers, and old towns will captivate your gaze. And if you’re a thrill seeker, there are active volcanoes and mountainous highlands you can explore.

Take a look at some of Panama’s well-known attractions below:

  • The Panama Canal: Opened in 1914, this 80-kilometer artificial waterway is an engineering feat with the breathtaking Panamanian landscape as a backdrop. This canal created a shortcut for ships to navigate from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and avoid the treacherous ocean at Cape Horn.

The canal lock system has three locks that raise the ship to over 85 feet. Among them is the Miraflores lock, which tourists visit most often. You can witness the massive ships passing through the Panama Canal and the intricate process of sailing them toward the Pacific Ocean.

  • Casco Viejo: Also known as Casco Antiguo, this is a charming, walkable district at the heart of Panama City. People love its antique, classy vibe, brick-paved streets, and colonial buildings. Some of the top attractions here are the stone promenade of Las Bovedas, the Iglesia de la Merced, and the Palacio Presidencial.

  • Bocas Del Toro: This province is a top destination among nature lovers with its mesmerizing beaches and lush rainforests. Its crystalline island waters remain warm throughout the year and are perfect for diving or snorkeling. When you explore here underwater, you’ll surely find Bocas’ marine wildlife, such as turtles, dolphins, sharks, and gorgeous coral reefs.

  • Santa Catalina: This fishing village along the Gulf of Chiriqui will surely capture surfers’ hearts with its invigorating, sharp waves and warm weather. For surfing daredevils, the huge waves of La Punta Beach will keep your adrenaline pumping. For beginners, Playa El Estero has some small waves for you to enjoy. If you’re not into surfing, you can still enjoy swimming or kayaking on the beaches mentioned above or the black sand beach of Playa Santa Catalina.

  • Boquete: Visit some of Panama’s coffee plantations in the small village of Boquete in the Chiriquí Highlands. You can also embark on a 2 to 3-day hike to climb Volcán Barú, an active stratovolcano and Panama’s highest mountain. The Los Quetzales Trail is also brimming with biodiversity along its lush rainforests. If you're lucky, you might see some rare, resplendent quetzal birds in the mountains.

  • Panama City: Don’t forget to tour the bustling capital city of Panama and get a glimpse of the daily Panamanian urban life. There are a lot of bars, clubs, and restaurants to chill and hang out with locals and other travelers.

I also recommend biking along the famous Amador Causeway, an artificial island made of excavated rocks from the Panama Canal. It extends up to the southernmost portion of the city, giving you a breathtaking view of the city on one side and the canal on the other.

5. Pack Appropriately for Panama

What’s inside your backpack can make or break your Panama trip. One essential thing forgotten can turn your dream travel into a nightmare.

So, to ensure that everything you need is included, here’s an exhaustive list of must-bring items to put in your suitcase:

  • Lightweight Clothes: These include T-shirts, shorts, or pants made of natural fabrics like cotton, silk, or linen. You can bring sundresses, tank tops, leggings, and skirts for girls. Make sure that they’re slightly loose-fitting and breathable, and take up less space in your suitcase.
  • Warm Clothes: Panama generally has warm weather, but it can be chilly at night or in a mountainous area. Bring a light sweater, light cardigan, and jacket as layers against the cool temperature.
  • Rain Jacket: As a safeguard for sudden showers, bring a rain jacket and a small umbrella.
  • Shoes: Bring a pair of walking shoes for traveling around malls, restaurants, and other establishments. For the beach, use flip-flops or sandals. For trekking or hiking, a pair of hiking boots is a must. Bring some casual shoes and heels as well if you’re planning to enjoy the nightlife in clubs or bars.
  • Sun Protection: Bring broad-spectrum sunscreen with high SPF, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses as protection against intense sun rays, especially on beaches.
  • Insect repellant: This is important, especially for jungle hikes.
  • Travel documents: Put your passport, visa, and other documents in a separate waterproof pouch. I advise you to produce photocopies of these documents before your trip in case you need to submit one for various transactions in the country.
  • Laptops, smartphones, and other electronic devices: Don’t forget to include their chargers. I also recommend bringing a universal travel adapter and a power bank.
  • Water bottle (preferably filtered): While tap water is mostly safe to drink in Panama, I still recommend having your own water bottle just to be safe.
  • Toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo, deodorant, towels, etc.

6. Stay Safe in Panama

Panama is safe for travelers and digital nomads like other Central American countries. No terrorism, political unrest, or heinous crimes are happening daily.

Of course, there are some exceptions, as there are some areas to avoid in Panama. For instance, the slam town of Colon is notorious for its high homicide rate. Some travelers advise not wandering outside its port (or not visiting the place at all), especially at night, because of the prevalent petty crimes in the area (especially against foreigners)

Snatchers and pickpockets are the most common threats for Panama travelers. As much as possible, keep valuable stuff like money, ATM cards, mobile electronic devices, or jewelry within a properly worn bag so petty thieves can’t easily snatch them away.

7. Learn the Visa Requirements for Panama

Remote workers can apply for Panama’s digital nomad visa to stay there for up to 18 months. The Panamanian government created this special visa in May 2021 to bolster the country’s tourism in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To qualify for a digital nomad visa, you must have an annual income of at least $36,000 (proven by bank statements), a remote worker (online freelancer, employee, or entrepreneur), a clean criminal record, and health insurance coverage in Panama.

Applying for this visa is pretty straightforward. Book an appointment with the Panamanian embassy or consulate in your home country and submit the following requirements:

  • Passport
  • Three passport-sized photos
  • Recent bank statements
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Proof of clean criminal record
  • A sworn statement (affidavit) indicating that the applicant works remotely for an employer outside Panama OR proof of remote work (e.g., signed employment certificate, signed company letter)

After submitting your requirements, you must wait around 30 days to receive your Panama digital nomad visa.

8. Consider All-Inclusive Vacation Packages

Traveling to a foreign country isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, especially for first-time travelers. Imagine the hassle of planning every aspect of your trip—accommodation, transportation, meals, itinerary, and more. On top of that, you also have to deal with your work deliverables. You’ll surely turn weary in no time!

But there’s a solution to make your trip stress-free: an all-inclusive package. With this package, there is no need to stress out about arranging every component of your trip. You only have to pay a fixed price for a bundle of travel services and amenities a tour company provides.

From your flight, accommodation, and meals to your destinations and outdoor activities, the agency takes care of every detail for a seamless travel experience.

9. Make the Most of Panama Itinerary

Every memorable trip has a well-thought itinerary showcasing the unique culture, stunning natural marvels, and nerve-wracking adventures a country offers.

Here’s how to plan a well-rounded Panama travel itinerary featuring its culture, nature, and adventures:

Step 1: Create an outline for your itinerary consisting of three sections: (1) Destinations, (2) Schedule and Budget, and (3) Notes.

Step 2: Complete the “Destination” section by choosing the attractions you want to visit. If possible, pick destinations that are close to each other. Grab a map to help you prepare this section.

Step 3: Indicate each destination's travel schedule under the “Schedule and Budget” section. You must specify the arrival and departure dates, as well as the reservation and accommodation details. Moreover, indicate the amount of money you’re willing to spend during your stay per destination.

Step 4: Write any other information in the “Notes” section, like what items you’ll bring for each destination or what activities you want to do at every attraction.

10. Experience the Local Cuisine

Panama’s multi-cultural influences go all the way down to their kitchen. Panamanian gastronomy is a fusion of culinary techniques from Native Americans, Spanish, Chinese, and Africans

Generally, the local dishes have a mild yet fresh and flavorful taste due to their reliance on veggies, fruits, herbs, spices, and seafood. It’s difficult to describe how authentic and sundry the taste of Panamanian food is. So the only way to appreciate them is to try these famous dishes for yourself:

  • Sancocho de gallina: This well-known Latin American stew is made of gallina (young chicken), onions, garlic, culantro (sawtooth coriander), and ñame (Caribbean yam). This dish is well known for its simple ingredients mixed together for a bright and fresh flavor. It is usually served with white rice or plantains during breakfast or lunch.
  • Tortillas de maíz: This traditional Panamanian meal consists of thick and crispy tortillas made from a dough mixture of cornmeal and water. People love serving this with a creamy dip of queso blanco (white cheese).
  • Ceviche: This staple dish of the Caribbean region is also frequently served in Panama’s local restaurants. A ceviche is a seafood meal with fish (or shrimp or octopus) simmered in a mixture of lime juice, oniocilantrotro, and salt. Some also add aji amarillo chili for a bit of spicy flavor.
  • Gallo pinto panameño: A “rice and beans” meal with pork or chicken. This meal typically consists of rice, frijoles (beans), Chinese sauce, and chicken broth.
  • Ropa Vieja: “Ropa Vieja” literally means “Old Clothes” because of its shredded beef appearance, which resembles an old cloth’s fabric. This stew is made of shredded or pulled beef, black pepper, oregano, tomatoes, cumin, garlic, and olives. It’s mildly spicy but juicy and tender, making it a Panamanian comfort food.
  • Carimañolas de Carne: One of Panama’s best finger foods is the Carimañolas. It looks like an empanada because it has a crispy, deep-fried wrapper made of mashed cassava stuffed with ground meat.

11. Engage in Sustainable Tourism Practices

The Panamanian government actively campaigns to preserve the country’s natural environment in the face of the ever-growing tourism and commercialism.

In 2015, the Iniciativa Turismo Verde (Green Tourism Initiative) was launched, which introduced a modern strategic approach to promoting ecotourism in Panama. With the help of this initiative, you can download the Ecotur Panama app to your smartphone, which provides travelers with information about trails, maps, and protected wildlife.

Being an eco-conscious traveler is a way to give back to Panama's beautiful nature and vibrant communities. As a guest of this tropical paradise, you have the moral obligation to engage in sustainable practices like the ones listed below:

  • Reducing carbon footprint by walking or biking to your destination, if possible.
  • Minimizing the use of electricity in your accommodation
  • Avoid littering at natural attractions like jungles, beaches, or mountains.
  • Respecting wildlife by keeping a soft voice during hikes and not disturbing their habitat.
  • Supporting local businesses that engage in ecotourism practices.

12. Stay Connected

As a digital nomad, a stable internet connection is one of your basic needs. So, when you arrive here, one of the first orders of business is to acquire a local SIM card so your phone can access the internet on the go.

It’s easy to get a SIM card in Panama. There are some kiosks in the airport or mobile stores in malls (and even in the streets) where you can buy one.

A SIM card from MasMovil is recommended for travelers because it has the country's fastest connection and widest coverage. I love its unlimited data plan for 10 days, which costs only around $7.

You may also bring a portable Wi-Fi hotspot device, which is typically more costly. For instance, the WiFiVox pocket Wi-Fi will cost you around $8 per day for internet access.

13. Learn Basic Spanish

Spanish is Panama’s official language, with more than 90% of its population being Spanish speakers. Only a handful of locals (less than 15%) can understand English, so you’ll surely have a hard time living here without learning Spanish.

Well, Panamanians are friendly people, and they’ll never judge you for not learning their language. Also, they can usually pick up the “thought” of your English sentences, even if they only understand half of them.

But if you want to immerse yourself in the Panamanian culture and get along well with the locals, I recommend learning the basics, like the Spanish words/phrases below:

Basic Greetings and Expressions:

  • Hola (Hello)
  • Gracias (Thank you)
  • Buen dia (Good morning)
  • Buenas noches (Good evening)
  • Disculpe (Excuse me)
  • Mucho gusto (Nice to meet you)

Asking Questions:

  • Cómo estas? (How are you?)
  • Cuánto cuesta? (How much does it cost?)
  • Qué sopá? (What's up?)
  • Dónde está.......?(Where is ......?)
  • Hable Ingles? (Do you speak English?)

14. Be Prepared for Outdoor Adventures

Panama’s natural wonders are more than just breathtaking scenery. From its majestic landscapes to its sun-kissed beaches, a heart-stopping adventure awaits, making your trip one-of-a-kind.

Here are some of Panama’s thrilling outdoor activities that you must add to your bucket list:

  • Surfing: With over 1800 miles of coastline between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Panama is a must-visit spot for avid surfers. La Punta Beach in Santa Catalina will surely excite surf gurus with its 20 to 30 feet of strong waves during high tide. There are also a lot of surfing destinations in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro, and Pedasí-Tonosí.
  • Hiking: For hiking enthusiasts, I recommend climbing Panama’s highest point—the Volcan Baru near Boquete town. There’s also the Las Tres Cascadas Trail, where 3 captivating waterfalls await you after a 3 to 4 hour-long trek. And the Cerro la Piedra de Lino trail with a stunning overlook after a challenging and steep 2 to 3-hour climb.
  • Ziplining: Witness Panama’s jungle treetops as you fly high with kilometer-long zip lines. Some famous ziplining spots are the 1.4-kilometer zipline of the Tree Trek Gamboa Adventure Park near Panama City and the 2.5-kilometer zipline of Volcan Baru at Finca El Oasis.
  • Diving and Snorkeling: The waters of Panama are teeming with rich marine life, so it’s a delight to see them diving or snorkeling. Top destinations for these activities include the Pacific Coast in the Gulf of Chiriqui, the islands of Bocas del Toro, and the Pearl Islands archipelago in the Bay of Panama.

15. Capture the Moment

Relive your fondest memories in this tropical paradise by capturing images of its marvelous sights. A DSLR camera is my top recommendation for travel photography because it performs well even in low light conditions or extreme weather.

It can also handle high shutter speeds (around 1/4000th of a second), which is great for capturing fast-moving objects like waves or birds.

16. Protect Against the Sun

Due to its proximity to the equator, sun rays in Panama can quickly damage your skin when exposed and unprotected. The estimated UV index of this country is around 11 to 13, which implies extreme skin health risks due to sun exposure.

Having a sunburn during your trip is no fun, so you must seriously protect your skin with these tips:

  • Avoid exposure to the midday sun (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). UV rays are intense during these times.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30. If you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, an SPF rating of at least 15 is good.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with UVA and UVB ray protection.

17. Embrace the Panamanian Lifestyle

My previous Panama travel tips converged on one ultimate goal: immersing yourself in the Panamanian way of life. Embrace its one-of-a-kind culture and relish every moment of adventure you’ll have with its sublime nature.

Cast your worries aside and be present in the moment. Let this country be the bridge not only between oceans and continents but also between unforgettable memories and life lessons.

Make the Most of Panama

From its world-class beaches to its bustling cities, Panama’s allure will surely entice you to come back for more. Don’t forget my Panama travel tips to make the most of your adventures, and get travel insurance from Nomad Insurance for any unexpected events.

People Also Ask Questions

What I wish I knew before traveling to Panama?

Prior to your trip to Panama, you must first know if this country fits your preferences and lifestyle as a digital nomad. Check out its affordability, coworking spaces, Internet infrastructure, and top destinations.

What do you need before traveling to Panama?

Before traveling to Panama, you need a digital nomad visa to stay in the country for up to 18 months.

What are some things tourists should be careful about in Panama?

Tourists should beware of petty thefts, mainly in Panama City and Colon. Don’t leave your valuables unattended; always put them in a well-strapped bag on your body.

Do I need malaria pills for Panama?

No, Panama has a low risk of malaria in most areas.