Tag Archives: Panama

Traveler or tourist? 6 Tips for planning a vacation to Panama

Century Bridge
One of the two bridges that lead out of Panama City and into the countryside.

The gentle thumping against the window drew us out of the night. It’s raining in Panama City, which is not unusual in October. We’ve come to this  Central American country to enjoy the sun, play some golf, and explore. Flying in during the early evening, we’ve stayed in a hotel downtown to avoid driving at night from the airport. As we traveled in this country, we discovered several planning strategies to help make your trip to Panama more enjoyable. With the advent of non-stop flights between Denver and Panama City, more tourists may make the trek.

1. Be prepared with basic Spanish. English is not widely spoken or understood. Tourism is new to Panama. Aside from the Canal and Bocas del Toro, the country hasn’t been much of a vacation destination for English speakers and most folks outside of Panama City only speak basic English. In the city, those in the hospitality industry may be more fluent but our waitress in the hotel restaurant still was puzzled when I asked for unsweetened iced tea. Be prepared with some rudimentary Spanish.

2. Rent a car to explore. Transportation is problematic. Officially, taxis are pretty inexpensive in Panama City. In reality, if you don’t know what it should cost, they charge you as much as they can get away with. From the airport to downtown Panama City, legally it should be about $12.00. In reality, it costs about $30.00 for a tired, non-Spanish speaking gringo.

Traffic in Panama City
Weaving through Panama City traffic

Traffic is awful and this affects both private and public transportation. There is a country-wide bus system as well as flights to the major cities if you need to get to David or Bocas del Toro quickly. If renting a car, be prepared to drive very aggressively and take the comprehensive insurance.  The condition of the roads range from good on the major highways to challenging in the neighborhoods. While my husband drove on the side roads, I kept an eye out for potholes that would swallow the front right quarter panel. Since many roads aren`t marked or named, GPS is not very useful either in the city or in the smaller towns. There aren’t many roads outside Panama City, particularly compared to most American urban areas. A good map is as useful as any GPS.

3. Arrange excursions before leaving home. Know who you want to call when you get in country for excursions. Our experience was that businesses that catered to tourists didn’t reach out or do much advertising. For example, we stayed in Coronado, a well-known resort area. My husband was interested in learning to surf, and we knew there were several well-known surf beaches close to where we were staying. We never found any information about any surf schools in the area. The resort didn’t have any brochure racks that we saw, and we never found a tourist office in town. We did plan on a day trip to El Valle before we left, and were able to drive there and enjoy the area. If there is something you want to do during your stay, arrange it or gather the information before you leave.

Pilot boat
A pilot boat comes to pick up the pilot that maneuvered the ship through the locks

4. Be ready to shop. Stocking items that are not necessities is not high priority for Panamanians. There were no vendors on the beach, unlike the beaches in Mexico where vendors constantly approach visitors. For those of you who expect to shop for souvenirs, Coronado has many stores, but they don’t cater to tourists. We did see a couple of stores for the local artisans along the Pan American Highway, but didn’t want to stop at the time. There are also many vendors in Casco Viejo with a large variety of handmade goods.  If you plan to return home with souvenirs, shop for them when you find them. The airport has mostly stores that cater to the high-end luxury goods crowd and very few T-shirts and shot glasses.

5. Ask about wireless service when booking a hotel. We had free Wi-Fi in the Doubletree in Panama City, at our resort in Coronado, and at the Country Inn and Suites on the Canal. My research indicates that not all hotels offer Wi-Fi, some offer it and charge, and some don’t. When booking accommodations, be sure to ask.

6. Talk to your cell provider. Cell coverage is fine in the bigger cities but may be less than stellar outside the most populated areas. We didn’t use our phone for calling or data on the cell network because it was too expensive. However, T-Mobile is offering international calling and data without additional charge. Check with your cell provider to determine what charges may be incurred in country. If you absolutely must have a phone, it is easy to buy a phone and load it up with minutes. Movistar and Cable & Wireless are the major cell providers in Panama and they have outlets in all the major Panamanian cities.

Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach on a Saturday morning.

Spending  time in Panama takes a bit more planning than the traditional resort vacation to, say, Mexico. Panama  is still up-and-coming, and hasn’t focused on tourism like some of it’s neighbors. For those who prefer to explore and travel rather than visit and be served, Panama is a great vacation destination. Go, meet the people, and experience the deserted beaches and beautiful jungles. You’ll plan to go back.

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Cruise the Panama Canal, visit sunny Palm Springs, adventure in the Maldives

The Panama Canal
Exiting the Panama Canal on the Atlantic side

This week’s deals include a trip through the Panama Canal, a great hotel deal in Palm Springs, and exotic adventure in the Maldives.

For those with flexible schedules, Princess Cruises is offering a great deal on 11-night cruises through the Panama Canal, starting at $649 per person. Set sail from Ft. Lauderdale, visiting Aruba, Cartagena, Columbia, and then a partial transit through the Panama Canal to Colon. From Colon, sail to Limon, Costa Rica and Ocho Rios, Jamaica before docking back in Ft. Lauderdale. This deal is available on the December 7, 2014 sailing on the Island Princess and the December 12 sailing on the Coral Princess. Princess Cruises offers such amenities as wine bars, live entertainment, and Movies under the Stars with 300-square foot open-air screens. There is an additional $331 fee per person the covers the cost of passing through the Panama Canal. Visit Travelzoo.com soon for more information and the book your holiday cruise.

As the holiday travel season approaches, the Palm Mountain Resort in Palm Springs, CA is offering a deal on room rates through January. Two people stay in Garden King Room for $60 per night. Select the two-night package and get a $25 dining credit at the Matchbox Restaurant. The hotel is within walking distance to downtown Palm Springs, with its restaurants, shopping, and delightful art museum. The sun shines 300 days per year here, allowing visitors to golf, hike, or just enjoy time around the pool nearly every day. Palm Springs is also the birthplace of desert modernism, and there is a self-guided tour of the midcentury modern architecture available at the Palm Springs Official Visitors Center. Visit Groupon.com soon for more information and to book your winter getaway.

The Maldives are found several hundred miles off the southern tip of India. Indus Travels is offering a seven-day trip to these exotic islands, starting at $2239 per person. This package includes round-trip airfare between New York City or Los Angeles and Malé, double-occupancy accommodations for five nights at the Fihalhohi Island Resort, five breakfasts, lunches and dinners, airline taxes, fuel surcharges, and resort fees. The Maldives have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the reef is a snorkeler’s paradise. Visit Livingsocial.com by November 13 for more information and to buy your exotic island vacation.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information, go to www.debtalkstravel.com and follow Deb on Twitter at debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.