What Not to Do When Visiting Panama?

by Alice

Panama, with its vibrant culture, stunning biodiversity, and the famous Panama Canal, attracts travelers from around the globe. While the country offers a rich tapestry of experiences, there are certain things travelers should be aware of to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what not to do when visiting Panama to help travelers navigate this beautiful Central American destination.

1. Disrespecting Local Customs and Etiquette

Respecting local customs is crucial when visiting Panama. One of the first things to remember is to greet people with respect. Handshakes are customary when meeting someone for the first time, and using titles like “Señor” or “Señora” followed by the last name is considered polite. Additionally, avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics or socio-economic issues unless invited to do so. Furthermore, while the dress code is generally casual, wearing beach attire in urban areas may be frowned upon.


2. Underestimating the Weather and Sun

Panama’s tropical climate means it can get incredibly hot and humid, especially in coastal areas. It’s important not to underestimate the strength of the sun. Always carry and regularly apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and stay hydrated. Moreover, sudden downpours are common, so carrying a light rain jacket or umbrella is advisable. Being unprepared for the weather can quickly turn a pleasant day into an uncomfortable experience.


3. Ignoring Safety Precautions

While Panama is relatively safe for tourists, it’s essential to remain vigilant. Avoid displaying expensive items like jewelry or cameras in crowded places to prevent becoming a target for theft. Don’t wander into unfamiliar areas alone, especially at night. Stick to well-lit and populated areas and use authorized taxis or ride-sharing services instead of hailing random vehicles on the street. Additionally, be cautious when swimming in the ocean, as some beaches might have strong currents or dangerous undertows.


4. Disrespecting the Environment

Preserving the environment is crucial in Panama, home to diverse ecosystems. Refrain from littering, especially in natural areas like national parks and beaches. Avoid touching or disturbing wildlife, as some species are endangered or protected. When visiting delicate ecosystems such as coral reefs or rainforests, follow designated trails and instructions from guides to minimize impact. Remember, leaving nothing behind but footprints is the best approach.

5. Neglecting to Learn Basic Spanish Phrases

While English is spoken in tourist areas, learning basic Spanish phrases can greatly enhance the travel experience in Panama. Attempting to communicate in the local language shows respect and can foster positive interactions. Simple phrases like greetings, requesting directions, or ordering food can go a long way in making connections with locals and experiencing the authentic culture.

6. Overlooking Street Food Caution

Panama offers a tantalizing array of street food that’s a must-try for visitors. However, exercising caution is vital to avoid potential health issues. Avoid consuming food from unhygienic-looking stalls and ensure that the food is cooked thoroughly before consumption. Verify that fruits and vegetables have been washed or peeled before eating to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.

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7. Disregarding Transportation Safety

Panama’s transportation system consists of taxis, buses, and the Metro in Panama City. While these are generally safe, it’s essential to prioritize safety. Avoid hailing taxis on the street; opt for official taxi stands or trusted ride-sharing apps. When using public buses, keep valuables secure and be mindful of pickpockets. Additionally, follow safety instructions when using the Panama Canal ferries or any other water transport to ensure a safe journey.

8. Forgetting Travel Documents and Cash

Ensure you have all necessary travel documents before arriving in Panama. This includes a valid passport with at least six months’ validity and any required visas. Make copies of important documents and keep them separate from the originals. Moreover, while credit cards are widely accepted, having cash on hand is beneficial, especially in smaller towns or local markets where card payments might not be accepted.

9. Disrespecting Indigenous Communities

Panama is home to several indigenous communities, each with its distinct cultures and traditions. When visiting indigenous territories or villages, it’s crucial to show respect and seek permission before taking photos or engaging in any activities. Avoid treating these communities as tourist attractions and instead approach interactions with humility and a willingness to learn about their ways of life.

10. Overlooking Health Precautions

Before traveling to Panama, consider necessary health precautions. Check if any vaccinations or medications, such as for yellow fever or malaria, are recommended for the areas you plan to visit. Mosquito repellent can be essential due to the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases. Moreover, drink bottled or purified water to avoid stomach issues caused by untreated water sources.

In Conclusion

Visiting Panama can be an enriching experience filled with diverse landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality. However, to make the most of your trip, it’s essential to be mindful of the cultural nuances, safety measures, and environmental considerations outlined above. By respecting local customs, staying aware of safety concerns, and being considerate travelers, visitors can enjoy a memorable and rewarding journey through this captivating Central American country.



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