Capital: Panama City
Currency: US Dollar; Balboa.
The official currency is the Balboa but in practice the currency used day to day is the U.S dollar which is also legal tender.
ATM Networks: common in major cities usually connected to major banks.
Water: Safe to drink
Taxi: Taxi fares are based on zones or areas, and not determined by meters -
Tipping: Not compulsory but good etiquette. It is standard to leave a 10% gratuity. Check to see if tip has been added as some restaurants add the tip.
My interest in Panama was borne out of the fact that it is a popular expat destination so I wanted to check it out. Being used to city living, it seems to have the amenities that I have gotten used to without the high cost of living.
I had 3 choices on how to get to Panama from Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. I could take the bus from Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro, Panama which is a Venice-
An alternative would be to go to and leave from Manuel Antonio on the pacific side where most of expats in Costa Rica are clustered. This is mostly a beach area and I found the accommodations too rich for my budget.
I ended up going back to San Jose, Costa Rica to catch the bus to Panama City.
The highways and skyscrapers are a sharp contrast to the dirt roads in Costa Rica. They have a subway though nothing like the complexity of the New York system. The city is divided into zones and cab fares are based on the zones. It can also be shared so don’t be surprised if somebody gets on “your” cab. As always, being a tourist, it is best to ask about the fare before getting on because there will always be those that will take advantage. I am talking from experience.
I arrived in Panama before the crack of dawn, ahead of schedule. It was still dark and being in a place I have never been to before made me apprehensive about taking a cab to my hotel and although I could pass the time in the station, after a 12 hour bus ride, I decided to just go ahead instead of waiting. Unfortunately, waiting seemed to be my fate. Check in time at the hotel is 6:00 a.m. and I was asked to wait. I thought it was ridiculous since the room was available and ready but I was not in the mood to argue especially since th receptionist did not speak English. But the real deal breaker was the poor wifi reception. I stayed for 3 days and moved out.
I moved to a hostel which is located a couple of blocks to a promenade by the ocean. At least one of the receptionist speaks English well. Here I stayed for the remainder of my stay in Panama. I would go to the promenade and walk to the fish market where I like to have lunch. It was always breezy, sometimes too much. The sun is hot in Panama and it sometimes feels like my skin is burning so my umbrella came in handy.
Not Quite Off the Beaten Track
Being that the Panama Canal is well known, it is one of the places of interest to see. We watched a huge ship going through from east to west and the entire thing is a feat of engineering. Too technical to describe. At the time, they were building a new facility but was not yet open to the public.
Next I joined a tour to see the howler monkeys but luck was not with us. We did hear them howling. And we had a few other monkeys come and get bananas from the guide. If nothing else it was a different view of Panama.
I joined another tour to Colon on the Caribbean side. From Colon we took a short boat ride to a small island There was one facility with a swimming pool but we walked along some pathways around the island and had lunch at one of the restaurants. It was a pleasant experience -
Clearly Panama lives up to its reputation as a backdrop for city life with a reasonable cost of living. Yet, somehow, it is probably not where I would like to retire. First off, I don’t speak Spanish and most people don’t speak English. But it is more than that and I can’t quite put a finger to it. So for now, I am where I am supposed to be. But the yearning to gadabout lives on. Until my next journey …