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Panama

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Hotel Riu Panama Plaza
Hotel Riu Panama Plaza - dream vacation

Calle 50 y 53 Este, Urb. Marbella, Panama City

Riande Aeropuerto Hotel & Resort
Riande Aeropuerto Hotel & Resort - dream vacation

Tocumen Avenue at the end of the South Highway, Panama City

Doubletree by Hilton Panama City
Doubletree by Hilton Panama City - dream vacation

Via Espana & Federico Boyd Bella V, Panama City

Veneto Hotel & Casino
Veneto Hotel & Casino - dream vacation

Avenido Eusebio A. Morales y Via Veneto, El Cangrejo, Panama City

Tryp Panama Centro
Tryp Panama Centro - dream vacation

Via Veneto, El Cangrejo Bellavista, Panama City

Country Inn & Suites Panama Canal
Country Inn & Suites Panama Canal - dream vacation

Amador Ave & Pelicano Ave, Panama City

Royal Decameron Golf Beach Resort & Villas
Royal Decameron Golf Beach Resort & Villas - dream vacation

Avenida Principal Farallon Km 115, Farallon

Panama is a country in Central America with coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. It has land borders with Colombia (and South America) to the southeast and Costa Rica to the northwest. It's strategically located on the isthmus that forms the land bridge connecting North and South America. It controls the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea with the North Pacific Ocean, one of the most important shipping routes in the world.

Regions

Cities

  • Panama City — the capital with 3 districts of interest: the new city, the old city, and the colonial city
  • Balboa
  • Boquete— coffee growing capital of Panama in the Chiriquí Highlands
  • Boca Chica— in the Gulf of Chiriquí
  • Colón
  • David
  • Gamboa
  • Portobelo — historic Spanish Forts, boats to Colombia, and dive centers

Other destinations

  • Coiba National Marine Park — frequently referred to as the Galapagos of Central America for its abundance of rare species in both the water and on land. Here you can scuba and snorkel and see some of the most rare pelagic species of marine life in the world.
  • La Amistad International Park — is Panama's second largest park, covering over 850 square miles (207,000 hectares). It is a bi-national park, as an additional 193,929 hectares stretch to the Costa Rica side. Amistad is the Spanish word for friendship and it was create to promote friendship between the two countries.
  • Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí — in the Gulf of Chiriqui, is dotted with dozens of small islands and islets, including Boca Brava, Isla Palenque, and Islas Secas. The area has some of the best sport fishing and whale watching in the region, and several resorts and boutique hotels have opened in the area since the mid-2000s.
  • El Valle — charming little town nestled in the second biggest inhabited volcanic caldera in the world.
  • Pearl Islands
  • San Blas Islands
  • Taboga
  • Volcan Barú National Park — 35,000 acres/14,325 hectares in size, and Panama's highest peak at 11,401 feet/3,475 meters is here.
  • Miraflores Locks - A good place to view the ships rising and falling as they pass through the Panama Canal

Understand

The ease of travel and wide array of experiences make Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourism destinations in the world. In just one week, visitors can enjoy two oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest, learn about native cultures and take advantage of vibrant urban life. The capital, Panama City, is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that resembles Miami and has established commerce, arts, fashion and dining.

Panama is known as the "Crossroads of the Americas" due to its privileged position between North and South America. The indigenous meaning of the country's name, "abundance of fish", reflects Panama's reputation as a paradise for water sports enthusiasts and eco-tourists. As the isthmus connecting two massive continents, Panama's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse. For example, Panama has been named the country with the most bird species in the world: over 900. Panama's many indigenous tribes are still thriving, living in the same ancient manner as their ancestors, making its cultural fabric exceptionally rich.

Panama's government has strong ties to the United States and strongly supports business, development and tourism. The International Monetary Fund applauds the country's diversified economy and predicts it to have one of the strongest GDP growth rates in the world for the next several years. Panama is known for its highly developed international banking sector, with about 80 banks from several countries establishing local branches, including HSBC, BBVA and Citi Bank. The canal, which is being expanded, continues to drive Panama's service-based economy and remains one of the most important transportation links in the world. In addition to the country's strong economic base, Panama's physical infrastructure, including modern hospitals, airports and roads, is much more highly developed than its Central American neighbors.

Panama has a large expatriate community; about 25,000 US citizens live in the country. It is worth spending some time reading up on Panama and communicating with locals, expats, and fellow travelers before arriving in the country. Consider joining some local forums or blogs for expats or the Central America Forum. Many of the local blogs can give you the most current information on: floods, earthquakes, trail closings, and the best restaurants.

Climate

Less than 9 degrees north of the equator, most of Panama enjoys temperatures that are fairly consistent year round, with daytime temperatures in the 90s F (30–33°C) and nighttime around 70°F (21–23°C). Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season, called winter or invierno (May to November); short dry season, called summer or verano (December to April). The most popular time to travel to Panama is December through March, when lack of humidity and nearly zero percent chance of rain make it ideal for travellers.

During most of the rainy season, mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny while late afternoons and evenings have intermittent rainfall.

Most areas are quite warm, but a few places, such as BoqueteCerro Punta and El Valle can get a little chilly at night. You definitely want a heavy rain-proof jacket if you're going to the top of Barú since you will be above 3000m for a little while.

Natural hazards: Occasional severe storms and forest fires in the remote Darien area. Hurricane-strong winds are only a very small possibility in Panama. Because of its geographic position, it is very unlikely that Panama could be in the path of any hurricane, unlike the other Central American countries.

Terrain

Interior mostly steep, rugged mountains and dissected, upland plains; coastal areas largely plains and rolling hills Highest point : Volcan Barú in Chiriqui Province 3,475 m. On a clear day they say you can see both oceans from the peak.

History

National holiday  Independence Day, 3 November (1903) (from Colombia)

Panama was colonized mainly by the Spanish. Scotland, which was an independent country at the time, made a short-lived attempt to colonize it in the late 17th and early 18th century. It failed so spectacularly that it caused the bankruptcy of the Scottish treasury and - as a consequence of that - the union with England that continues to this day.

For most of its colonial history, Panama was administered as part of Colombia. It gained independence from Spain as part of "Gran Colombia", which later broke apart into several smaller countries. The last part to break away was Panama.

With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. The treaty became infamous as "the treaty no Panamanian ever signed". It was largely repealed by the Carter administration, which promised to return the Canal zone by 1999 (which President Clinton did). Panama's domestic and especially foreign policies have historically been dependent on the opinion of the administration in Washington. No openly anti-US president of Panama has been able to cling to power for long.

On 7 September 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the canal from the US to Panama by the end of 1999. Certain portions of the zone and increasing responsibility over the canal were turned over in the intervening years. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the canal, and remaining US military bases were turned over to Panama by or on 31 December 1999. Panama has a history of military strongmen ruling with little or no regard for the law and the constitution, the last of which was Manuel "Pineapple face" Noriega. Noriega is in US custody after being deposed by a US military intervention with the name "just cause" (the just cause in question being an end to his drug smuggling regime). Noriega had been a de facto client of the US for some time before that. After this upheaval, Panama decided to follow in the footsteps of its Northern neighbor and abolished its military.

Get in

Countries whose citizens have passports valid for at least 6 months upon entry do not require a visa to enter Panama include (amongst others) Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore,Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Uruguay. See the website of the Embassy of Panama for more information.

The law regarding tourist visas for entering Panama. Executive Decree #248 states that: "Those who hold a valid passport for at least 3 months and a valid visa from ONE of the following countries: USA, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia or any of the member countries of the European Union, which has been used at least one time to enter those countries, may enter the Republic of Panama by purchasing a Tourist Card, regardless of their nationality."

Citizens of some countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and US citizens included, may enter Panama with a tourist visa that is stamped on arrival (the cost is automatically included in your airfare and is valid for a 180-day stay as of August 2010). The cost is US$13 for a visa stamp to enter at Bocas del Toro, when arriving by airplane, as of May 2008. Entry requirements are proof of:

  • a return ticket out of Panama
  • possession of US$500 in cash or travelers' checks
  • Recommended vaccination for yellow fever--only if coming from a country where yellow fever occurs (includes most of South America and Africa but not USA).

In practice, border officials may be lax about checking clean-cut travelers coming from the USA or other developed countries.

Also, because your tourist visa will be stamped in your passport, it is important to carry at least a photocopy of the ID page and the page with the tourist visa stamp at all times.

By plane

International flights arrive at Tocumen International Airport (IATA: PTY), which lies about 32km (20 miles) east of Panama City (from all countries) or David Airport (from Costa Rica on AirPanama). Panama City's PTY is well connected with the Americas by Copa Airlines (the 'national flag' carrier and member of the Star Alliance) which has non-stop flights to almost 20 countries in the western hemisphere in addition to other foreign carriers such as American Airlines, LATAM, Avianca, etc. Neighboring Colombia is especially well served with daily flights to more than 7 cities, including Bogota, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena by Avianca and Copa Airlines. Local travelers and tourists can also fly in and out of Bocas del Toro via Costa Rica.

From Tocumen, you will have to taxi, bus, or rent a car to get to the city. Airport taxis use set rates, and can be shared--the transportation information booth in the lobby will help you make arrangements. There are a couple of hotels near the airport where you can spend the night at relatively high prices (US$60 - unless otherwise indicated, all prices are in US dollars).

If you are short on cash you can catch a bus to the downtown of the city for $0.25. Just walk towards the highway and cross the street towards the bus shelter. Make sure you get the bus that says "Via España".

The country has more private airstrips per square mile than any other country in the world, and it is technically feasible for the adventurous private pilot to fly to one of them, either directly or through country hopping through Central America. Many of the remote interior regions of the country are best accessed by private plane, although a combination of hiking and canoeing can get you to most places, too. If you are flying a private aircraft into Panama, it is important to verify where you can clear customs and immigration--not all airstrips are equipped to clear you.

Business jet FBO services are available in Panama City (Albrook and Tocumen), David (by appointment), Howard, and Bocas del Toro.

By car

  • From Costa Rica: You can drive across at Paso Canoas (Pacific side) which closes at 11PM (Panama side) or 10PM (Costa Rica side), but be aware that it is one of the busiest (if not the busiest) and disorganized border crossings in Central America. It is very easy to accidentally drive across the border without realizing it. The various offices at the border are randomly scattered throughout the bordertown, and you can do quite a bit of trekking while finding them, as they don't look distinct from the surrounding buildings in any way. This is one crossing where it is definitely worth your money to hire a "tramitator", or helper, to assist you through the stations, if you do not speak Spanish.

There are also road crossings at Rio Sereno (Pacific side) and Sixaola/Guabito (Atlantic side). The Rio Sereno crossing sees very little traffic, so make sure all your papers are in order, as police can be very strict.

  • From Colombia: Be aware: there are no roads at all connecting the two countries.

You will not be allowed to leave the country without your car (i.e., change your mind, abandon the car, and fly home) without getting a stamp on your passport proving that you have paid the proper impuestos (importation taxes) on your vehicle. Expect to be stopped frequently by police, but don't worry, they are usually more curious about seeing a foreign car than interested in a bribe.

If you have car trouble in Panama, you will find dealers with service departments for almost all of the major car manufacturers from the USA (all), Europe (almost all) and Japan (all). Most of them, like in the USA require appointments to service your car. Most of the service personnel in all of the car dealers are manufacturer certify. If you need car repairs and do not want to go to a dealer to save some money or you have an emergency repair, you can find good independent mechanic services/shops in all of the major cities by looking in the yellow pages (paginas amarillas), in addition to towing services. If you need parts for your vehicle, you can find a great number of autopart stores for all major car manufacturers in the yellow pages too.

The use of "shade tree mechanics" and parts from junkyards are the same as in the USA; these options are for do-it-yourself type of people.

By bus

You can't cross from Panama to Colombia by bus--the Darien Gap begins at Yaviza, where the Interamericana runs out.

If you're coming in from Costa Rica, however, things will be a bit easier. There are three possible entry points, the main one being Paso Canoas closing at 11PM (Panama time) or 10PM (Costa Rica time). Panaline and Ticabus, among others, can get you straight from San Jose, Costa Rica to David or Panama City. The trip from San Jose is quite cheap, but takes about 18 hours. If you want to see things in between, you can also go by local buses, although the trip will take much longer.

If you want to save time yet not pay $280 or so for a SJO-PTY airplane ticket with Avianca or Copa Airlines, you could consider taking the bus from San Jose to Changuinola and fly from there to Panama city. That flight takes about one hour and costs $110 (Nov 2011). Check the website of Aeroperlas.com for flight schedules.

Keep in mind that Panamanian law requires you to have a return ticket to get into Panama. The border guard may not check, but you never know. A return flight from San Jose, Bogotá or Abu Dhabi won't work. The return ticket has to originate from within Panama. If you run into this problem, you can always buy a return ticket from the bus driver. In general, if you're having a hot-tempered day, it may not be a good day to cross any borders. Some border officials in Central America seem to love being sticklers about their crazy rules if they decide they don't like you.

By boat

Many cruise lines have the Panama Canal on their itineraries. You can make tours in Panama City or Colón City and take part in many packages.

It is possible to arrange for passage on banana boats traveling from Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, but such passage is recommended only for the truly adventurous, as the boats are often structurally unsound, terribly over-burdened, and are very likely to be smuggling drugs as well.

Private sail boats also provide service between Panama and Cartagena in Colombia. Fare can vary from US$400-500, and the trip takes usually four nights/five days including a two-day stopover in San Blas Islands (Carti Islands). The best way to find a boat is to ask around in hostels in Panama City or Portobelo popular with backpackers.

The cheapest way to reach Panama by boat from Colombia is by ferry from Turbo to Capurganá (COP$ 55000, daily around 8AM) and by small boat from Capurganá to Puerto Obaldia (COP$ 25000, daily around 7AM). From there by plane to Panama City (US$95) or by boat to Colon and Carti Islands.

On foot

It is possible to hike across the Darien Gap from Colombia with the help of trained guides, but this route is generally considered one of the most dangerous in the world. A large percentage of attempts have ended with the trekkers dead as victims of the Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries or the oppressive jungle environment, which is considered the densest and most difficult to breach in the world. Despite the bravado-filled tales of backpackers who will try to convince you that real travelers aren't afraid to cross the Gap, it really is a very dangerous trip and the Panamanian police are not interested in going in to look for you if you get into trouble.

The guidebook Getting to Know Panama, by Michele Labrut, gives the following advice for surviving in the Darien:

"Do not go naked into the water, some very undesirable protozoans can get into you. Do not drink untreated water. Never stray from the group, you can easily lose your bearings and get lost. If this happens, stay right where you are, do not panic. Shout or scream at intervals."

The rest of Panama has drinkable water.

Get around

By bus

There are two kinds of buses in Panama: the ones you find on the highway, and "city buses" (Metrobuses, which replaced the Diablos Rojos (Red Devils).

The highway buses are constantly making journeys from terminals in Panama city to different destinations along the Pan American Highway, and back to the terminal. They're pretty frequent, and the buses will pick you up or drop you off at any point along their route, and most of them are air conditioned. The roughly linear shape of the country makes it ideal for a bus system, so ideal in fact that you don't really need to rent a car to get around most areas. Take a bus to the intersection on the Pan American highway that you want. You can get on a bus any place on the Pan American highway going towards Panama City, but all trips originating from within the city require a ticket. The Grand Terminal in the city is large and modern, and will remind you of an American shopping mall or airport (it actually is a shopping mall, Albrook Mall, too). Schedules for all Panama are listed at HorarioDeBuses.com/pa.

If you want to get on a bus, stand by the side of the road, hold you out your arm and make obvious pointing motions toward the ground. If you're on the bus and want to get off, yell "parada!" or tell the driver in advance. You'll get the hang of it pretty quick. The locals are very helpful with tourists on buses, and may offer help.

The highway buses are very cheap, count on a fare of about US$1 per hour traveled, sometimes less. One exception is fares from Tocumen airport, which both buses and taxis charge through the roof for (by Panamanian standards), simply because they can.

City buses are modern, air-conditioned, and form the government-regulated Metrobus system, in use since December 2010, and replacing the old "Diablos Rojos" or "Red Devils" buses. Passengers must buy a Metrobus card ($2.00), which can be recharged with amounts from $0.50 to $50.00. A trip costs $0.25, or $1.25 if it uses the Corredor (South or North) highway.

By taxi

If your destination is far off the bus route, or if you just want to be lazy, taxis are also a decent way to get around in Panama. Taxi rates are negotiated and vary depending on location. Most short taxi rides are $2.50 and going across town is about $5. Unlike the urban taxis you may be used to, they can take you way out into the country.

A taxi ride from Tocumen airport to Panama City, at a minimum of $30, can easily exceed your taxi fares for the rest of your trip combined. If you share a taxi ride with other passengers going from the airport to the city, your fare per person can be cheaper, at around $12. You can save quite a bit of money by taking the bus to the Gran Terminal, but even the bus fares will be higher than normal.

By car

Panama is in the south of Central America and can easily be discovered independently. The road system of Panama is in very good condition (for Central and South American standards). You can rent a car and drive it around the country if you are an excellent defensive driver. While traveling by car you can discover attractions that are hard or impossible to reach with public transportation.

Panama City is more difficult to navigate than any big city in the United States, with terrible traffic jams at rush hours, few signs for names of streets, poor street design, and a lack of traffic lights at busy intersections. You must be aggressive about positioning your car to get anywhere, yet highly alert to erratic and irrational behavior by others. Drivers have little respect for or even knowledge of traffic laws, and drivers from North America or Western Europe will be stunned by their recklessness. In the rest of the country, driving is mostly stress-free.

The Pan American Highway is paved for the entire length of the country, and has many roads which branch off to towns off the highway, most of which are paved, and most of the rest are still easily navigable in a sedan. However, road engineering standards are low, so be on the lookout for off camber turns, deep potholes, and sharp turns with no warning. It is highly recommended to drive well informed about your route. Use the detailed information which cochera andina provides on its site when planning your trip and check out road conditions, distances and travel times. On the road, don’t forget to take also a good road map with you.

For driving in Panama you need the driver’s license of your country but to avoid trouble at police controls it is better to have an international driver's license with you as well. The traffic rules are almost the same as in Europe or the U.S. Road signs are frequent. The speed limits are 40 km/h within cities, 80 km/h outside and 100 km/h on the highways. You will find gas stations all over Panama. A lot of stations are open around the clock. Three types of gasoline are available: unleaded, super and diesel.

Panapass

For driving in the Corredor Sur and Corredor Norte highways, both toll roads, the only accepted payment method is the Panapass card; not having one will incur in a fine.

By plane

Local airlines serve many airports in Panama. Aeroperlas and AirPanama being the two local companies. Flights leave Panama City from Marcos Gelabert Airport in Albrook.

Booking private aircraft charters are available through online and local companies.

It is advisable to check the tail number of any aircraft chartered in Panama. All registered aircraft authorized for public charter work (air taxi) will have a letters after their numeric tail number (e.g., HP-0000TD). This signifies the aircraft is insured for charter work and is subjected to more inspections and increased maintenance requirements.

By train

Take the Panama Canal Railway from Panama City to Colón or vice versa. The first train made this trip in 1855 (though the line has since been abandoned and rebuilt in standard gauge) and it was the first interoceanic railway in the Americas, predating the transcontinental railroad in the US by a decade and a half. While the primary purpose of the railroad is the cargo business, a passenger train runs once per day and direction and is very much marketed as a luxury train, trying to justify the $25 one way fare.

Talk

Languages  Spanish (official), English 14%note: many Panamanians are bilingual

Spanish dialect

If you cross the border from Costa Rica into Panama, you will notice a large change in the dialect. True to its Caribbean orientation, Panamanian Spanish sounds much closer to Puerto Rican than Tico or Nicaraguan Spanish. For students of Mexican or European Spanish, it may take a little getting used to. However, it is very easy to understand and it is by no means more difficult than other Spanish-speaking countries. Panamanians tend to pronounce "h" instead of "s" and to not pronounce certain Ds at the end of certain words. It is part of their dialect but Panamanians are fully capable of speaking Spanish in a manner more intelligible to students of Mexican or Castillian Spanish, and they are aware of their regional idiosyncrasies.

Panama City has a different dialect in which they mix English words with Spanish. Although educated Panamanians try to speak proper Spanish, they are very proud of their dialect and would rather use it unless it is a formal conversation or public speaking.

Indigenous languages

Panama has a lot more indigenous culture than some neighboring countries. In Kuna Yala you will hear the native Kuna language spoken. In the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, as well as in Chiriqui or Bocas del Toro, you might hear the native Ngöbe-Buglé (Guaymí) language, although the Ngöbe and the Buglé are very quiet around foreigners. If you ask directions from one of them, you will probably just get a hand or lips pointed wordlessly in the right direction.

English

Much of the Caribbean Coast of Panama was settled by people from Jamaica and Barbados. More recently, the descendants of those settlers seem to be speaking more Spanish, but a lot of them still speak English, albeit a very Caribbean variety, called Guari Guari.

Until only a few years ago, the canal was controlled by the USA. The US has given the canal back to Panama, but many people in Panama City and other areas near the canal still speak English as a first or second language. Surprisingly, English is not as common as you would think considering how long the Americans spent in the country. It's not so common for people working in shops or people in the street to speak English. There are a number of English news and blog sites to help with your travels.

See

  • The Panama Canal - together with Suez one of the world's most important interoceanic canals and probably the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about Panama.

Moreover, there are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country:

  • Casco Viejo, or the Old Town of Panama City
  • Three national parks: Darien National Park, Coiba National Marine Park and La Amistad International Park (shared with Costa Rica).
  • The fortifications of Portobelo and San Lorenzo.

Do

Panama's strongest attraction is its diversity. In less than five days you can visit it all: beach, mountain, modern city and historic ruins. While in Panama city don't miss the four "must do": the Panama Canal, Panama Viejo, Casco Antiguo (also known as Casco Viejo) and the jungles surrounding the Canal area.

Panama Viejo was the first city of Panama, founded by the Spanish in 1519. It was the first city founded at the Pacific and it became rapidly a prosperous point where gold from the southern colonies would make it to the Caribbean and later to Europe. It was attacked by pirates several times, the last of them by Pirate Henry Morgan who destroyed it in 1671. In 1673, a new city was built, but this time using the knowledge painfully acquired by experience. The Spanish by then knew well the risks of settling cities in tropical swamps: mosquitoes, tropical diseases and difficulty to defend its territory. The second city was founded at the opposite side of the bay in very different conditions: a rocky peninsula easy to defend and with crossed winds that would ensure the health of its inhabitants. This city is known today as Casco Antiguo, and it is here where the Republic of Panama was born as it is known today.

A UNESCO protected site, Casco Antiguo (or Casco Viejo) is Panama City's second touristic destination because its buildings reflect the diversity of Panamanian society. Although a Spanish colonial city, because of several fires and the influence of merchants from all around the world, it became a vibrant city with styles ranging from Caribbean to French and even Art Deco. Today, Casco Antiguo undergoes an interesting revitalization process. Boutique hotels have started to appear, and some of the best bars and restaurants of the city can be found here. It has also become Panama City's artistic center with the recurrent art events and shows such as the Panama Jazz Festival, the Music Festival, Sobresaltos Dance Festival and many others.

Parque Soberania, Parque Chagres and Parque Metropolitano: fifteen minutes away from modern Panama City, you'll be able to hike primary and secondary tropical rainforests. There are several activities you can do here, from birdwatching at Gamboa's Pipeline Road to fishing at the Gatun Lake or visits of the caves at Madden. For those interested in research, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute offers visitors educational tours to Barro Colorado Island, one of the most studied jungles in the world.

A visit to the Panama Canal is probably the most important item in the traveler's list. There are several ways you can experience the canal, it will depend on your level of interest. For the curious visitor, there are two museums devoted to it: the Canal Museum at Casco Antiguo, featuring Panama's history as a crossroads of cultures, oceans and a bridge between continents and a second museum is located at the Miraflores Locks. This museum shows the technical aspects of the Canal. You can observe the transits at the balcony of the restaurant on the top.

Another way to experience the Canal is to cross it. Either partial crossing which takes four hours or complete crossing which might be done in eight, in both cases it is recommendable to hire a guide that is knowledgeable in history of the Panama Canal.

An interesting twist on viewing the Panama Canal is to travel the length by train. The Panama Railroad was first built in 1855 and then rebuilt in 1909 during construction of the Panama Canal. For many years the railway provided an invaluable link between the Atlantic and Pacific. Ocean to Ocean by railway, the trip will take one day and transits through the tropical jungle.

Although the Panama Canal is the most famous destination in Panama, travel outside the City is growing in popularity. Adventure travelers can take a bus or short flight, and in just a few days, can see both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Outdoor activities

  • Hiking: There are many hiking trails in Panama through the numerous National Parks. Most are accessible and easy enough to traverse with out a guide. However, due to the density of some of the rainforests, staying on the designated trail is recommended, if you don’t have a guide. To increase your chance of actually seeing wildlife, birds, or Quetzals in Boquete, you can hire a guide. In the Darien unguided travel can be dangerous. Because Panama is one of the top adventure destinations, there are many reputable tour companies offering guided treks throughout the country.
  • Quetzal Trail: Within the National Park, Boquete, is perhaps the most famous hiking trail in all of Panama. Visitors come from all over the world to have an opportunity to see the Resplendent Quetzal. Although the trail is easy enough to hike by yourself, unless you are an experienced birder, you might not spot a Quetzal. It is wise to hire a guide.
  • Zip-line canopy: There is nothing more exciting than flying over the canopy on a zip-line. You can find zip line canopy adventures in Panama City, Cocle, Bocas del Toro, and Boquete.
  • Horseback riding: Horses are a way of life in Panama. It is not unusual to look out the window of your casita, and have a horse looking back. Horseback riding in Panama is mostly Western horses and Western saddles. Privately owned horses can vary from Quarter Horse to a mix of Columbian or Peruvian Paso. By breeding the two, you get a larger horse, than the traditional Paso Fino, with the smooth and lovely gait of the Paso. There are two great areas for riding: on the beaches of Bocas del Toro near Dolphin Bay' and in mountains of Boquete.
  • Scuba diving and Snorkeling: Both the Atlantic (Bocas del Toro) and Pacific (Gulf of Chiriqui) offer incredible water sport opportunities. For Caribbean coral and reef fish, go Atlantic. For rare pelagic species and the best whale watching in the world, go Pacific.
  • Fishing: The Gulf of Chiriqui is known among sport fishermen to be one of the best spots in Central America. Saltwater Sportsman Magazine recently named Panama as the best place on earth to catch the Black Marlin. On the other side of the country, near the border with Colombia on the Pacific side, you can also find Piñas Bay and the Zane Gray Reef, which is renown worldwide as one of the best fishing spots in the worlds (and in Piñas Bay, you will also find the Tropic Star Lodge).
  • Coffee tasting: Boquete, Panama has now become synonymous with some of the best coffee in the world. It has always been a coffee producing region. You can visit a coffee estate for a tasting and explanation of the coffee process. For a single estate visit Ruiz or take a tour of multiple estates, like a wine tour, with Boquete Safari Tours.
  • Boating: Panama touches both oceans and is only 80 km (50 miles) wide at its narrowest point, so there's plenty of opportunities for boating. From David, a 5-minute cab ride will get you to the port of Pedregal and into the sparkling Gulf of Chiriqui. In Panama City, you will find many options for taking a boat, including Flamenco Resort and Marina, Balboa Yacht Club, Diablo Spinning Club, the Club de Yates y Pesca, and the Miramar Marina. There are also some other marinas in the lakes of the Panama Canal, and some near the city of Colon in the Atlantic side
  • White water rafting: World class white water rafting can be found on the Chagres River, 1 to 2 hours from Panama City; in the Chiriqui Province, on the Rio Chiriqui Viejo; and the Rio Grande, Cocle Province. There is usually enough water to paddle year around. However, the highest water level is in November, at the end of the rainy season, and the lowest water level is in May, at the end of the dry season. Class I to Class V rapids can be found in Panama. The classes are based upon Panamanian classifications. During the rainy season, the Panama class III’s are easily comparable to U.S. class IVs.
  • Kayaking: Ocean and river kayaking can be found in the Chiriqui ProvinceBoquete has many outfitters as the rivers are perfect for rafting and kayaking. And the Gulf of Chiriqui is protected by many islands, making the calm waters perfect for kayaking; white powdery beaches filled with wildlife.
  • Rock climbing: The best rock climbing is in the Chiriqui Province, in the highlands of Boquete. The Basaltic Rock was formed after the last volcano eruption. Cesar Melendez has developed over 30 routes, from beginner to advanced. He is also pioneering 'bouldering', climbing rocks while suspended over the river.
  • Birding: There are over 960 species of birds in Panama. Many are only found in this region. The Panama Audubon Society is a good source of information on the bird population by region.
  • Hot springs: Even though the volcano has been dormant for over 600 years, there are still thermal springs bubbling up around it. The Chiriqui Province has several areas with active springs. In Volcan, on the northern side of the Volcan Baru, about 30 minutes from town, there are several springs; however, due to the mineral content, there is a slight sulfur smell. In the Boquete region there are several hot springs to choose from. A local land owner in Caldera has started to develop his bubbling spring (no sulfur smell), and hopes to make it more like a 'spa'. However, it is not that easy to access yet; 4-wheel drive is required.

Buy

Panama is home to the hemisphere's largest free trade zone, the Colon Free Zone. There are also a number of large, American-style malls, such as Multicentro, Albrook Mall, Multiplaza Pacific , and the latest Metromall. However, prices vary widely from mall to mall - Albrook is quite cheap, while Multiplaza is home to designer boutiques and very high prices. Generally Panama is a good place to buy consumer electronics, clothing and cosmetics.

Traditional Panamanian crafts can be found most cheaply at artesania markets, such as the YMCA in Balboa and the market in Panama Viejo. In Panama City, the best handicrafts can be found at REPROSA. Panama's best-known craft is the mola, intricate reverse-applique handwork made by the Kuna. Molas can also be bought from vendors on the seawall in Casco Viejo. Other Panamanian crafts include carved tagua nuts, cocobolo carvings of animals, and woven palm-fiber baskets. There is a smaller craft market in El Valle, which specializes in soapstone carvings and other central Panamanian crafts.

  • REPROSA Treasures of Panama. Since 1975 REPROSA has been dedicated to the promotion of Panama's history, cultural traditions, ecological beauty and ethnic diversity. All their handicrafts are hand-made in Panama by Panamanian artisans, and there is something for every budget. REPROSA has three locations: Costa del Este Industrial Park (271-0033), Ave. A in Casco Viejo (228-4913), and Ave. Samuel Lewis in Obarrio (269-0457). REPROSA also offers a tour of their award-winning workshop where visitors can see first-hand how the Treasures of Panama are made. Their factory is in the Costa del Este Industrial Park just minutes from Panama Viejo. Tour $10 per person, Monday thru Friday at 9:30AM and 2PM.
  • Country Store & Café, 583, Cl Tomás Guardia, Altos de Balboa, Ancon (Near the Canal Administration Building), ? +507 232-7204. 8AM 6:30PM. Offers fresh organic food in a natural setting where it's easy to enjoy the local wildlife. The store has produce as well as artisan crafts. $12.

Money

Panama has used the US dollar ("$") as its only currency since 1904 although Panamanians often refer to it as balboa. Panama has its own coins, made by the US Mint, in the same weights and sizes as US coinage, but with Panamanian stampings. The Panamanian coinage is completely interchangeable with standard US coinage in Panama. You may get a handful of change back with a conquistador on the quarter and an Indian on one of your pennies, but Lincoln on the other penny and Roosevelt on the dime. Panama also still mints half dollars. You may hear these half dollars called pesos, but don't think you've accidentally ended up in Mexico.

If you run short on change in the United States, Panamanian coins work in parking meters, payphones, vending machines, etc.

You can typically use a credit card at all hotels in the capital, and in medium-sized regional cities (David, Las TablasColon, Santiago, Bocas del Toro, etc.) Restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores in major cities will also usually take credit, or even debit cards. However, outside the capital using your card could be difficult.

Though Panamanian ATMs function on the Cirrus/Plus system, they may not take cards with the Interlink symbol. Make sure you're carrying a lot of cash (especially small bills) and understand how to take cash advances out on your credit card. Travelers checks are not widely used.

Many businesses do not accept US$50 or US$100 bills at all. Most of those that do will ask for your passport and store your data/serial numbers of your notes in a special book. The reason is that many US$50 and US$100 bills have been counterfeited.

There are 91 banks in Panama [1]. Opening hours vary widely from bank to bank. On weekdays, all banks are open until at least 3PM, and some until 7PM. On Saturdays many banks are open until noon, and some branches located in shopping centers are also open on Sundays. Note that most banks will not allow you to enter wearing shorts and/or flip-flops.

Eat

In the larger cities you can find all types of food ranging from the French haute cuisine to the freshest sushi. There are Arabic restaurants, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican... whatever you're in the mood for.

Outside of the cities, the selection is largely Panamánian with bountiful seafood and beef due to the abundance of cattle farms and the fantastic fishing in the area. Panamanian cuisine is a mix of several cultures. Reminiscent of the country's Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish influences, the dishes take on a complete character of their own. If you get tired of eating beans or gallo pinto in the rest of Central America, you might want to head towards Panama. Since Panama has a little more Caribbean influence than other Central American countries, you'll see a lot more plaintain than beans here. Most dishes are served with coconut rice and a type of squash or other native vegetable. If Panamanian food has to be summed up in one word, that word would be culantro, which is a local plant that tastes like cilantro, except that it has a much stronger flavor.

A typical plate in a humble, family restaurant can range from $1.25 to $5.00, including your choice of meat: mondongo (beef stomach), fried or baked chicken, pork, beef and sometimes fried fish; rice, beans, salad: cabbage, carrot & mayonnaise; beet salad; green salad; potato or macaroni salad; and patacones (fried green plantains). The Panamanians also enjoy their "chichas" (fruit, water & sugar), of which there is always a selection, ranging from tamarindo, maracuya (passionfruit), mango, papaya, jugo de caña (sugar cane juice), or agua de pipa (juice from young green coconuts). If you like your food picante, Panama may not be the place for you. They definitely have several hot sauces, but the emphasis is not on the heat.

You can get excellent food really cheap if you look around. A quick and cheap lunch can be found at the so-called Fondas, which are small eateries located near schools, sports stadiums and in industrial areas where workers and students will have their afternoon meal. There are often several of these Fondas clustered together so just look for the one with the longest line and you can count on it having the best food for the money. A full plate of rice and beans with a large piece of chicken and a small salad will cost around $2-$2.50 plus the cost of a Coke (Squirt is very popular with lunch). If you choose to eat your food at the Fonda you will be given a real plate and actual silverware as well as a glass bottle of soda with a straw (be sure to return the empty bottle). The local food is far more tasty than the typical Subway sandwich, Whopper or KFC meal and a lot cheaper. If you eat at the same location often enough you will move from the status of a crazy gringo who must have gotten lost on the way to the Burger King to just another one of the locals enjoying lunch and casual conversation (in an industrial area the patrons will be mostly men and the subject of conversation mostly football and women).

The equivalent of a 5-star meal with drinks can be $8-30 in some places.

Drink

National beers are produced (Balboa, Atlas, Soberana, Panamá), but don't measure up to a good import. Balboa is probably the best of the domestic brands, however, Atlas is the most commonly purchased; many women favor Soberana. Beer can cost as low as $0.30 per 12 oz. can in a supermarket or anywhere from $0.50 in a local town bar up to $2.50 in upscale bars.

Carta Vieja and Ron Abuelo [2] are the main domestically produced rum. Seco [3], a very raw white rum, is the national liquor. Seco con leche (with milk) is a common drink in the countryside.

Listen

Music is definitely one of the highlights of Panama. Salsa music seems to permeate everything in the Latin parts of the country. Reggaeton originated in Panama and is also very popular and is known by the name Plena. There are over 100 radio stations in Panama broadcasting online, some in English [4]. In Bocas del Toro, you will hear a lot of Reggae with Spanish lyrics. Check out the summer music festival in Las Tablas.

Party

How the Panamanians love their "fiestas"! They know how to let loose and have a genuinely good time, dancing, conversing and drinking.

Carnaval is the main celebration in the country. It is held 40 days before the Christian Holy Week, running through the weekend and ending on Ash Wednesday (February 21-24 in 2009). The largest celebration being held in the province of Azuero, in the town of Las Tablas, where two streets compete with separate queens, activities, parades and musical performances.

The party begins on Friday with a presentation, parade and crowning of the queens, a fireworks show; with drinking in the streets legal, the party begins and doesn't stop until 5AM.

Every carnival day has a theme: Friday is the Opening, Saturday is International Day, Sunday is Pollera day, Monday is costume day, Tuesday is the Queens day and on Wednesday is the "entierro de la sardina"(the sardine burial) before 5AM.

Many discos and bars fill the capital city. The area known as "Calle Uruguay" has probably a dozen or so nice discos and bars within a two-block radius, and is the best place for partying.

Calle Uruguay bar area is a very trendy scene. You will find here many restaurants such as La Posta, Peperoncini, Habibis, Tomate y Amor, Madame Chang, Burgues or Lima Limon, which make up a great pre-party event. After diner you can cross over to Prive, Pure, Loft, Guru or People for a more fashionable club scene. If you want a more relaxed bar, Sahara and The Londoner offer retro music and pool tables.

Another great spot for "bar hopping" is Zona Viva in the Amador Causeway. Zona Viva is a closed off area so it is very easy for you to find everything in one place. You will find here clubs such as Jet Set Club, the Building, the Chill Out Zone, X Space.

Casco Viejo is a more cultural zone of Panama. Art galleries in the area coordinate Art Block parties once a month and there are always exhibits. The National Theater offers ballets, opera, and concerts weekly. Restaurants in this area are highly recommended. After dinner you can cross over to Relic, La Casona, Mojitos sin Mojitos, Platea, Havana Cafe or Republica Havana.

Sleep

Panama’s hotel accommodations are as diverse as its geography. Panama City has as much glamour and glitz as New York City, without the high price tag. You can find 5-star high rise hotels in the heart of downtown; or you can venture out to the smaller neighborhoods, where old Canal military barracks have been converted into B&Bs. In terms of an authentic Panama experience, the historic district of Casco Viejo provides the charm of yester-year with modern amenities of today. Because tourism is so new to the district, lodging accommodations are largely limited to the fleet of short term apartment rentals at Los Cuatro Tulipanes

Bocas del Toro has typical island cabanas and small hotels, some literally right on the water (similar to the cabanas in Bali). The Chiriqui Province, in the western lowlands, has small hotels on some of the outer islands, and an Eco-Preserve in Chorcha where you can spend the night in Jungle Hammocks with the monkeys. In the western highlands, around Boquete, there are hostels for $5 a night, and 5-star hotels for $300 a night or more. No high rises here, but small very artsy boutique hotels and casitas. David Panama, capital of the Chiriqui Province, has become a destination and a hub for backpackers crossing from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro and Costa Rica.

Learn

Panama offers many universities and high schools that are bilingual and world class. There's an ongoing project called City of Knowledge [5] that consists of several educational programmes in the old installations of a former US military base (Clayton). There is also a school at Justo Arosemena who teaches mainly to German speaking people, but it might be worth a glance at the UDI-Universidad del Istmo [6] . There's also a Florida State University branch [7], as many other alternatives.

Universidad Tecnológica de Panama [8] (Technological University of Panama, the best University in Panama in Engineering and Logistics programs) has a Language Center where you can learn Spanish, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Italian and many other languages. You can find people from these countries teaching in this Center.

In the western part of the country, such as in Bocas del Toro and in Boquete, there are other well reputed Spanish language schools which cater to university students and young professionals traveling to study abroad.

Stay safe

Most of Panama is very safe. People in rural areas are generally extremely friendly and very helpful. If you want to visit Latin America, but are paranoid about security, Panama might be a good place to cut your teeth. One exception is the border region between Panama and Colombia, which is considered extraordinarily dangerous due to Colombian rebel groups and drug traffickers. Most of the city of Colon is considered dangerous [9], and some neighborhoods in Panama City are a bit sketchy, in particular El Chorrillo, Curundu and El Marañón, poor and crime-ridden areas. The old colonial quarter, Casco Viejo (also called San Felipe) has a lingering bad reputation among travelers and some Panamanians, but is gentrifying rapidly. During the daytime, San Felipe is perfectly safe for foreigners. At night, the main streets and plazas, as well as the district of bars and restaurants toward the point, are also safe, but visitors should exercise caution as they move north along Avenida Central towards Chorillo.

Stay healthy

Panama is well known for its excellent medical care, making it a recent hot spot for medical vacations.

Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for all visitors over 9 months of age travelling to the provinces of Darien, Kunayala (San Blas) and Panama, excluding the Canal Zone. Most countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination before permitting travelers to enter from Panama.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control [10] state that risk of malaria exists in rural areas of Bocas del Toro, Darién, and San Blas provinces; no risk in Panama City or in the former Canal Zone. NB: Chloroquine is no longer effective for San Blas Province.

Dengue fever is endemic, particularly in the province of Darien.

Tap water is safe in virtually all cities and towns, with the exception of Bocas del Toro, where bottled water is recommended.

Female travelers should be aware that the moisture and heat of the tropics can encourage yeast infections. 3-day and 5-day treatment courses are available in pharmacies, but must be purchased from the pharmacist.

There are many hospitals that can give tourists first class attention. Many can take international insurance policies, though your insurance company may require you to pre-pay and submit a claim form. Verify with your company prior to travel what the requirements are for filing a foreign claim, as you will not typically be provided with a detailed receipt (one that includes diagnosis and treatment codes) unless you ask for it. Here are some of the best ones in Panama City:

  • Hospital Nacional [11] - State-of-the-art private hospital located on Avenida Cuba, between street 38 and 39, Tel. 207-8100.
  • Clinica Hospital San Fernando
  • Hospital Paitilla is a well-equipped hospital where Panama's wealthy upper class traditionally have gotten there medical services.
  • Punta Pacifica Hospital [12] is a newly-opened hospital near Multiplaza Mall and is now managed by Johns Hopkins International. It is attracting some doctors away from Paitilla.
  • Hospital Santo Tomas is considered by many emergency doctors and medical professionals to be the best for trauma care due to the volume of their trauma patients. Much like Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Santo Tomas medical teams see many types of trauma each day and are well equipped to handle these cases. Once a patient is triaged, they can be moved to a private facility.

Farmacia Arrocha, a drugstore chain, has branches throughout the country. Gran Morrison department stores also often operate pharmacies.

The new 911 system is now operational for medical emergencies only. Most coverage is in and around Panama City. However, during major holidays or national festivals, 911 units are stationed around the country especially in Las TablasDavidChitre, and Santiago.

Medical evacuation flights are not as organized as in the EU, Canada, and the US. Until a dedicated helicopter emergency service is operational, the only choice for fast evacuation from the interior is to charter either a small plane or helicopter capable of holding a litter. Charges are billed to a credit card or paid in cash. Contact charter aircraft companies for a quotation. Typically, a medical flight on a small twin-engined plane from David to Panama City will cost $4,000. Helicopters are significantly more. A new private membership air medical transport service is now available. Tourist memberships are $10 for 90 days coverage.

Evacuation flights out of the country are normally provided by air ambulance services from Miami and range from $18,000 to over $30,000 depending on the patient's medical needs.

Travelers with a prior medical condition, or who are at risk, should check their insurance coverage for these flights. Do not assume that a credit card's travel insurance will cover the cost. Many only cover up to $1,000.

Personal cleanliness and sanitation: The bathrooms in even the most remote areas and smallest restaurants of the country are amazingly clean and well-kept. They far exceed most North American public facilities in this respect. In most areas, the standard practice is to throw toilet paper into the provided bin - not the toilet. Most remote areas do not have the proper septic systems to handle toilet paper waste. This is especially true along the Pacific and Caribbean coastal areas.

Respect

What to wear

Panamanians appear to care about their appearance. Don't try to dress to 'fit in', just be yourself.

That being said, there is no need to wear a suit everywhere, either. Just dress conservatively and nice. For men, a clean pair of jeans and ironed collared shirt will do nicely for most excursions, you could dress more casually or more formally depending on the situation. Shorts are considered extremely casual wear suitable only for the beach, although this attitude has begun to change in some areas. Also, the longer Bermuda shorts made of nice fabrics are viewed as appropriate in many places.

However there is a dress code to follow to enter in all banks and governmental institution as well as many stores and supermarket. If you enter these establishments with inappropriate dress like wearing Bermuda or skirts above the knee, security will probably refuse access and ask you to leave.

Think nice, neat, and clean, and you will already be showing a great deal of respect for locals.

If you are making a side trip to Boquete, especially during the rainy season (April thru November) please dress in layers, bring a light rain jacket, and waterproof hiking boots.

Connect

The most popular app to call and text in Panama is WhatsApp. Viber is also used. These allow for free calls and texts to others that use the same app. Many Panamanians do.

Panama has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America. this is due to the fact that most major submarine fiber cables cross the Panama Canal, either by land or water. Calls to the USA and Europe are between 4 and 10 cents a minute. The best way to make international calls from Panama is to buy prepaid telephone cards that are sold at every corner. The most popular is the TeleChip card. These cards work from everywhere and they even work from the USA, Mexico, Europe, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia etc.

Panama's country code is 507. All cellular numbers start with the number 6 and have 8 digits. Land line phone numbers have 7 digits.

Hear about travel to Panama as the Amateur Traveler talks to Chaundra from London about her recent trip to that country. She spent a week in Panama before a SilverSeas Silver Explorer cruise in the area to see wildlife. As part of the cruise they visited the Pearl Islands as well as the Darien Gap. On their own they visited Panama City, the Old Panama City, Casco Viejo, Fort Sherman, Colon and Soberania and Chagres National Parks.

Pedro from Guatemala

Pedro from Guatemala

Journeymakers are the people you meet who make your trips more memorable. People who share their spirit & enthusiasm with everyone they encounter.

This month I’m partnering up with American Express for their 100th anniversary to highlight some of my favorite Journeymakers after 5 years on the road.

Who are Journeymakers? The people you meet on your travels who inspire you or somehow make your journey extra special.

The tour guides, locals, or others who find a way to enrich your travel experience.

It was difficult for me to choose, as I’ve met so many amazing Journeymakers during my travels. But these are the people who stand out the most.

Pedro The Volcano Man

Guatemala is where I met my first Journeymaker, Pedro. With my Spanish just as bad as his English, communication was basic as he guided us up the 9000 foot Volcano San Pedro on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan.

However you don’t need to speak the same language to make a new friend. Pedro was joking around with us all the way up — stopping to point out his favorite flowers, mushrooms, and birds as we climbed.

When he isn’t growing coffee along the nutrient rich slopes of the volcano, Pedro guides intrepid travelers to the top, clearing a path through the jungle with his trusty machete.

The view from the summit was breathtaking. It’s humbling to know that he hikes this giant volcano every day to earn a living. Makes you appreciate how easy the rest of us have it.

Pedro’s enthusiastic attitude about sharing his knowledge of the local landscape helped make our volcano adventure feel extra special.

Sorina from Romania

Sorina from Romania

Sorina The Gypsy

While traveling through Spain I met a remarkable community of gypsy travelers who live inside abandoned caves. Originally from Romania, Sorina and her friends kindly invited me to hang out with them and spend the night in their cave.

We shared stories, food, and played music all evening. They explained how they support themselves by selling homemade crafts to tourists in Granada. Other members of the community would pop in and join us from time to time.

The next day I helped them all build a vegetable garden.

The generosity of Sorina & her friends will always stay with me — sharing their crowded cave with a complete stranger simply because I was curious about their lifestyle. It made me want to go out and return the favor for someone else.

Thanks to them, my time in Granada was the highlight of my trip to Spain.

Isaac from Panama

Isaac from Panama

Isaac The Jungle Guide

While traveling through Panama, I teamed up with a friend to visit the Darien Gap. We hired a local Kuna indigenous guide named Isaac to lead us through this mysterious wilderness where no roads exist.

Trekking deep into the rainforest in search of rare frogs, birds, and snakes — Isaac used his knowledge of the area to locate animals we’d never have spotted on our own.

But the journey didn’t stop there. Rather than pay for a guesthouse, Isaac invited us to stay with him and his family.

Fishing is a major source of both food and income for the indigenous people living here. We spent an afternoon on the river hand-line fishing in the rain, later grilling our fresh catch for dinner.

Thanks to Isaac’s hospitality and outdoor skills, we received a fascinating glimpse of life in Darien that not many people get to experience.

Rudy from Nicaragua

Rudy from Nicaragua

Rudy The Ex-Soldier

I first met Rudy while searching for street food late one night in the city of León, Nicaragua. After ordering a giant chicken empanada with rice & beans I sat down to eat alone.

Another customer invited me over to join him. “No one should eat alone” he said. A former soldier from the Nicaraguan revolution, Rudy was visiting from Luxembourg where he lives now.

He told me the odd story of Dr. Abraham Paguaga, a famous doctor with magic healing abilities. Together we tracked down locals to verify his tale.

Eventually we ran into a pair of elderly sisters who were treated by the doctor. They invited us in for tea to share how he healed them both from sickness when no one else could.

Thanks to Rudy, I learned something unexpected about an enchanting place. He sparked my curiosity and helped add a layer of intrigue to local history.

Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Fleming & Ellen The Adventurers

While trekking 10 days across Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail, I unexpectedly met Fleming & Ellen from Denmark at a remote wilderness cabin 50 miles from civilization.

We chatted for a few hours waiting for the steady rain outside to subside.

At 70 years old, they’ve hiked the 100 mile long Arctic Circle Trail 6 times now. They had also spent a month trekking completely across Greenland’s vast ice cap, pulling their own food & supplies on sleds…

If that wasn’t enough to impress, they’ve both hiked to Everest Base Camp and climbed Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain at 15,777 ft.). They didn’t even start trekking until their 40’s either!

Before we parted ways, these incredibly inspiring senior citizen adventurers gave me tips for crossing a deep river further ahead on the trail, and ideas for my next adventure.

Thanks to Fleming & Ellen, I will never feel too old to seek out challenging new travel experiences. If they can do it at 70, so can we all.

Who Are Your #Journeymakers?

All these people shared their time & kindness with me while enriching my travel experience to help make it more memorable. Have you met any Journeymakers on your travels who deserve to be recognized or thanked?

Visit The Journeymakers Website to create a personalized postcard to thank someone who made your trip extra special.

Remember to share your story in the comments below too! ★

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Who has inspired or enriched your travels?

American Express

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Felices fiestas! Happy holidays! It’s strange that, just ten days into the new year, both Christmas and New Year’s Eve feel so remote, like they happened a long time ago. Perhaps it’s because I’m so excited about 2016 and am looking forward to everything that this year has to offer.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!We’ve just arrived in San José, Costa Rica, after a full month in Mexico. It’s been a month of work, time with friends, Star Wars, and using the sharing economy; with stays in Monterrey, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Guadalajara, as well as visits to Guanajuato and Tequila. Not to mention our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Slow, in other words!

Monterrey

In order to be allowed to enter Cuba, we had to have tickets out — and all the flights out on the dates we wanted were quite expensive. We ended up choosing the cheapest option and flying into Monterrey in the north of Mexico, with vague ideas of onward flights or long bus journeys to Guatemala. Then one day I sent a Facebook message to our friends Pete and Dalene: “We’d love to see you sometime, hopefully our paths will cross in the next year or so,” and they replied: “Are you going to be back in Mexico for awhile? We head in a few weeks…”

One thing led to another, and in the end we decided to stay in Mexico and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with them in San Miguel de Allende.

First, though, we had to get out of Monterrey, which wasn’t our cup of tea at all — just too smoggy. We booked a Blablacar and thoroughly enjoyed our onwards journey with a pleasant guy called Axa. He was heading to Querétaro, close enough to San Miguel to meet our needs, and we decided to spend a week there rather than rushing on. Good decision. Querétaro is a fantastic city with a comfortable, local feeling and lots of great restaurant options. Our AirBnb host Roberto showed us around the first night we arrived, and Pete and Dalene showed up not too long after us.

Mexican foodThe food in Mexico is just so good.

Querétaro

Our week in Querétaro was great: full of work days and fun evenings. We went to the cinema to see the new Star Wars movie (so good!) and in the process tried Uber for the first time. (By the way, if you sign up to Uber and use the code craigm5124ue in the promotions tab you get a free ride and so do we… That’s what I call the sharing economy.) We also discovered the joys of gorditas, ate tacos and churros, and generally had a great time.

San Miguel de Allende

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to Querétaro’s charming cobbled streets and make our way to San Miguel de Allende. We’d organized an apartment rental (with the help of the amazing Talon Windwalker) and spent our first afternoon with the apartment’s owner, Athea, who showed us around her neighborhood and amused us with YouTube videos.

We weren’t the biggest fans of San Miguel; it just seemed a little too much like a Disney idea of a Mexican village. However, we loved spending time with Pete and Dalene, mostly playing a card game that certainly wasn’t called Soily when we first started playing it but was by the time we left.

Taco stand in San Miguel de Allende MexicoSan Miguel de Allende was great for tacos!

Mexican fiestas!

Christmas Day was a low-key affair at Pete and Dalene’s place; Talon and his son joined us for a delicious dinner, games and a bit of piñata-whacking — the sparklers we bought weren’t a success, though. We also saw in the new year at their place, with tacos and fireworks; it was a lovely end to a great day. Well, for me anyway. Craig was having problems with an eye infection and Dalene wanted to work, so Pete and I headed off to the botanic gardens to admire the local flora and rock formations. We stopped for an artisanal beer on a rooftop terrace, and on our way home let ourselves be drawn to a mobile food vendor’s stand that was selling beer-like drinks in enormous chalices. I’d been putting off trying a michelada, which is more or less beer with a spicy sauce added, because they just sounded so disgusting, but the customer who explained this particular one to us was so enthusiastic that we ordered a couple on the spot. And who’d have thought that spicy beer with seafood could be so good?

Linda and Michelada in San Miguel de Allende, MexicoYep, that’s a shrimp in my beer.

Guanajuato

Craig’s eye was still playing up a couple of days later, so he stayed behind while I headed to Guanajuato with Pete and Dalene — what a beautiful place! The highlight was climbing to the viewpoint to look out over the city, and eating chilaquiles in their favorite restaurant.

View of Guanajuato, MexicoGuanajuato is pretty!

Guadalajara

It’s not the best reason for going somewhere, but we headed to Guadalajara just to catch a flight. Sadly, we had a lot of work to do, so we didn’t see too much of the city, but we did head out for dinner twice with my language exchange friend Omar and his wife Maribel. It was great to finally meet Omar after knowing him online for almost seven years, and we got on even better in person than we had online.

Guadalajara cathedral MexicoWe did at least manage to see Guadalajara cathedral.

Tequila

The highlight of our stay in Guadalajara was undoubtedly our day trip to Tequila. Omar and Maribel picked us up early so we could have breakfast in the market before meeting their friend Carmen and joining a tour of the Jose Cuervos distillery. After a wander around town, we made our way to an enormous bar on the outskirts of town for “jarritas” (jars of alcohol) and spent two hours slowly sipping our enormous tequila-based cocktails and becoming more and more merry. This week I read that adults laugh on average only 17 times a day (compared to kids, who average 400 times). Well, we blew that number out of the water in Tequila.

Jarritas in Tequila MexicoThose jars were full of deliciousness.

It’s been a great month, full of truly excellent people and beautiful places, and we’re looking forward to returning to Mexico someday. For now, though, it’s time for Costa Rica and Panama!

Join the sharing economy

We’re really into the sharing economy at the moment: we use AirBnB all the time, occasionally jump in a Blablacar, and have just discovered Uber. Use these codes when you join, and we both get benefits:

Uber: Enter the code craigm5124ue in the promotions tab to get your first ride for free. AirBnB: Use this link for $20 off your first stay.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!Exotic birds chirp in the trees, which are currently being buffeted by strong winds. I’ve just bought milk, cheese and yogurt from a woman who stops by every few days to make sure we have all the dairy we need. A small dog refuses to understand that he’s not supposed to be in the house and whines pitifully when I put him out…again.

This is our life in Santa Fe, Panama, where we’re halfway through a three-week housesit, and where we’ve just agreed to spend six months later in the year. Rural life is suiting us so far: we’ve made some new friends and established a good routine, and the three dogs and one cat we’re looking after have accepted us as adequate substitutes for the humans they really love.

Gorgeous views on the way to a href=One benefit of an early flight: gorgeous views on the way to Costa Rica.

Getting to Central America

Getting here was less of a hassle than we’d expected, though it certainly took a long time! From Guadalajara, Mexico, we hopped on an early-morning flight to San Jose, Costa Rica (and weren’t asked for proof of onward travel, despite my considerable stress over this point). On arrival we changed some pesos to colones at a terrible rate of exchange and caught the bus into town; an early arrival meant plenty of time to explore the city that afternoon.

Green church in San Jose Costa RicaSan José did have some pretty buildings… like this church, the iglesia La Dolorosa.

We weren’t enamoured with San Jose, and it’s a pity that we didn’t have time to see more of Costa Rica. As it was, we spent just two days in the country before hopping on a bus to David, Panama.

The Costa Rica/Panama border

We’d read a lot about crossing the border between these two countries, and while it’s certainly worth having your documents in order, we found it easier than expected. We paid our $7 departure tax at the bus station before we left San Jose, and were surprised to discover a $1 entrance tax to get into Panama — luckily we had a small stash of greenbacks with us! We weren’t asked for proof of funds or onwards tickets, but signs everywhere indicated that both of these were essential, so we were glad to have printed them out in advance.

There was an hour-long wait on one side of the border and a half-hour one on the other; we were taken into a small room with our luggage and the other travelers on our bus to engage in some communal form-filling. Although the process was long, it all went smoothly, and we arrived in David no worse for the wear.

David was just a stopping point on our journey; we didn’t see much of it even though we stayed for two nights. From there, we caught a bus to Santiago and another to Santa Fe, where John the homeowner collected us from the centre of town.

Bermejo waterfall in Panama.Bermejo waterfall.

Home

John and Janet had some friends staying with them, so our first couple of days were full of company and excursions: we went out for dinner twice, headed out on a night hike up a local hill, swam in a nearby river. It was sad to say goodbye to them all on Saturday, though we stretched it out as long as possible by heading into Santiago to have a final lunch together.

Back home, we settled into a routine of work and dog-walking, interrupted by visits from Janice providing us with milk and cheese and the fish guy selling fish off the back of his truck, plus conversations with Victorio, Janet and John’s employee. We’ve also spent a bit of time with Kim, Denny, Avril, and Derek, who are all local expats: first an evening of dinner and Farkle (a hilarious dice game), later a hike to the Bermejo waterfall.

Group hiking in PanamaOnce again, all the women were wearing blue shirts…

We’re already feeling at home here, which is great, because this will be our home for a good six months later in the year. It’s quite different from the bases we’ve chosen in the past, so should be an adventure in itself!

Travel Photography Tips

Useful Travel Photography Tips

Photography

Looking to improve your travel photography? I’ve spent the last 5 years shooting photos in exotic locations around the world, and these are my favorite travel photography tips.

Some people collect souvenirs when they travel, I prefer to collect beautiful images with my camera. Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years.

Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories. Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.

I never went to school for photography. And yet here I am now, making my living as a professional travel blogger & photographer who regularly licenses images to tourism boards, brands, and occasionally glossy magazines.

I’ve slowly learned the techniques of travel photography over years of reading books, watching online tutorials, and regular practice to improve my craft. You can learn this way too — if you put in the effort!

Here are my favorite travel photography tips to improve your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Early Morning Blue Hour in Norway

Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late

The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.

Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an epic postcard shot of a famous landmark like the ruins of Chichen Itza or the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!

Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.

In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact sometimes I’ll just take a nap during the middle of the day so I have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions, when the light is best.

Travel Photography Tips

Famous Postcard Location in Scotland

Pre-Trip Location Scouting

Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.

Some of my favorite tools for travel photography research are Instagram and Google Image Search. I use them to learn where iconic locations are. Actual postcard racks are also a great tool for helping to create a “shot list”.

Once I know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?

Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting Portraits in Afghanistan

Talk To People

Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a bit nervous.

But I’ve learned the key is to talk to people first. Say hello. Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes BEFORE asking for a photo. It’s far less invasive this way.

Always ask permission for close-ups too. Spend 15 minutes learning how to say “can I make a photograph” or “can I take your portrait” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to make a new friend.

Some people will say no. Some will ask for money (I sometimes pay, but that’s up to you). It’s not the end of the world. Thank them for their time, smile, and move on to someone else and try again. Actually the more you get rejected, the easier it gets to ask!

Travel Photography Tips

Composition with Rule of Thirds

Rule Of Thirds

One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections, and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the center. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!

Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.

Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Setting Up my Tripod in Mexico

Use A Tripod

I think more people should be using lightweight travel tripods. A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

You can also adjust exposure settings, focus points, and really spend time paying attention to the image you want to create. Or use advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and panoramas.

Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds (waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc) without worrying about hand-held camera shake. You can keep your ISO low (for less sensor noise) and use smaller apertures, so more of the image is in focus.

You’ll have greater creative control over your camera’s manual settings when using a tripod. This doesn’t mean you have to lug a tripod around with you absolutely everywhere. I don’t.

But for tack sharp landscapes, low-light photography, self-portraits, flowing water shots, and sunsets/sunrises, a travel tripod makes a huge difference.

Travel Photography Tips

Get Low For A Different Angle

Experiment With Composition

You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Sure, take that first shot standing up straight. But then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something nearby and shoot from a higher angle.

Along with different angles, try shooting from different distances too. Start with a wide shot, then a mid-range version, and finally, get up-close and personal. Never be satisfied with your first idea for an image!

Try to include powerful foreground, midground, and background elements too. If your subject is a mountain range — find a flower, river, animal, or interesting rock to include in the foreground. This gives images a 3-dimensional feel and helps convey scale, drawing a viewer’s eye into the rest of the photo.

Focal compression is another great compositional tactic in travel photography. Compression is when a photographer uses a zoom lens to trick the eye into thinking objects are closer than they really are.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting as a Storm Approaches

Make Photography A Priority

Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.

If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason.

Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better. It doesn’t go over well. For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts.

Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!

Travel Photography Tips

Contemplating and Complimenting the View

The Human Element

People like to live vicariously through human subjects in photos. Especially if the viewer can pretend the person in the photo is them. It adds more emotion to an image, you feel like you’re experiencing the location yourself.

How do you accomplish this? By posing the subject in such a way that they become anonymous. Not showing the subject’s face. This is why Murad Osmann’s “follow me to” Instagram photos went viral. Viewers felt like they were the ones being led around the world by a beautiful woman.

The human element also gives a better sense of scale. By placing your subject in the distance, you can get a better sense of just how big those mountains really are. It’s why photographing “tiny” people in large landscapes does well.

Adding a human element to photos helps tell a story too. Images seem to be more powerful when people are included in them. You can completely change the storyline of a particular photo depending on what type of human element you decide to incorporate.

Travel Photography Tips

Waiting For the Aurora in Iceland

Patience Is Everything

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart & mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!

When shooting the Northern Lights in Iceland, I spent all night camping in the cold at a perfect location, simply waiting for the magical aurora borealis to appear. When it finally did, I waited a few hours more to capture the brightest possible colors.

Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.

Protect Against Theft

Ok, this one is slightly off topic, but I think it’s important too. Cameras are small expensive products. As such, they’re a prime target for theft while traveling. I’ve heard many sad theft stories from other travelers. Luckily I’ve never had my camera stolen, but I also take precautions against it.

First of all, buy camera insurance. This is the best way to minimize losses if your camera gear does wind up in the hands of a criminal. Homeowner or rental insurance might already cover you. If not, organizations like the Professional Photographers of America offer insurance to members.

Keep your gear secured when not shooting, like in a hotel safe or hostel locker. Never check expensive photography gear under a plane, always take it carry-on. Try not to flash your camera around in sketchy or poverty stricken areas, keep it hidden in a nondescript bag until ready for use.

Register new gear with the manufacturer. Copy down serial numbers and save purchase receipts to help speed up insurance claims. Include your name & camera serial number on image EXIF data, so if your camera is stolen, you can track it down online using StolenCameraFinder.com.

Travel Photography Tips

Long Exposure Waterfall Shot

Shoot In Manual Mode

You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in AUTO mode. Well that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.

If you’re new to photography, you may not realize all the camera settings that need to be adjusted. These include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you want the best images possible, you need to know the relationship between them, and how to adjust these settings on your own.

To do this, switch your camera’s dial into Manual Mode. This camera mode gives you much more control of the look of your images in different situations. By manually adjusting aperture you’ll have more control over the depth of field in your image.

By manually controlling shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture motion in more creative ways. By manually controlling ISO, you’ll be able to reduce the noise of your images and deal with tricky lighting situations. Here’s a good free online tutorial about Manual Mode.

Travel Photography Tips

Prepared for Wildlife in Greenland

Always Bring A Camera

There is a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Be ready for anything, and always carry a camera around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.

The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the pro is planning in advance for this luck, ready to take advantage of these special serendipitous moments that will happen from time to time.

You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself while you’re traveling. Maybe while out walking you happen to stumble upon a brilliant pink sunset, a rare animal, or some random street performance.

While hiking in Greenland I kept my camera ready and within easy reach with a 70-200mm lens attached. This helped me capture great shots of reindeer, rabbits, an arctic fox, and musk oxen. If the camera had been packed away in my bag, I would’ve missed these wildlife opportunities.

Keep your camera on you, charged up, and ready for action at all times.

Travel Photography Tips

Lost in the Streets of Granada

Get Lost On Purpose

Ok. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites, and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring, and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.

If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown. Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend.

In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.

Travel Photography Tips

Some of my Hard Drives…

Backup Your Photos

Along with camera insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos. When my laptop computer was stolen once in Panama, backups of my photography saved the day.

My travel photography backup workflow includes an external hard drive backup of RAW camera files, as well as online backup of select images and another online backup of final edited images.

Sometimes, for important projects, I’ll even mail a small hard drive loaded with images back to the United States if the internet is just too slow for online backup of large RAW files or video. I use Western Digital hard drives for physical backup and Google Drive for online cloud storage.

Travel Photography Tips

Improve Your Photography with Processing

Post Processing

There is a ridiculous myth out there that editing your photos using software is “cheating”. Let’s clear that up right now. All professional photographers edit their digital images using software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or GIMP.

Some do it more than others, but basically everyone does it.

Post processing is an integral part of any travel photographer’s workflow. Just like darkroom adjustments are a part of a film photographer’s workflow. Learning how to process your images after they’re taken is FAR more important than what camera you use.

Learn how to improve contrast, sharpen image elements, soften color tones, reduce highlights, boost shadows, minimize sensor noise, and adjust exposure levels (without going overboard) using software.

If you are going to invest money somewhere, I’d recommend spending it on professional post-processing tutorials before you invest in the latest camera gear. Post processing knowledge can really improve your travel photography.

Travel Photography Tips

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem

Don’t Obsess Over Equipment

Want to know what photography gear I use? Well, here you go. But if you went out right now and bought all that stuff, not only would it be super expensive, I guarantee it won’t improve your photography skills.

Why? Because the gear you use is not what makes a great photographer. Just like the type of brush a painter uses doesn’t make them a great painter. It’s knowledge, experience, and creativity that makes a great photographer.

Camera companies are much better at marketing than paintbrush companies. That’s why you think you need that $3000 camera. Trust me. You don’t.

Professionals use expensive gear because it allows them to produce a greater range of images. For example, extremely low light star photography. Or fast-action wildlife photography. Or because they want to sell large fine-art prints.

Instead of buying new equipment, spend time learning how to use your current camera’s settings. It’s a far better investment, and cheaper too!

Travel Photography Tips

Getting my Fortune Read in South Africa

Never Stop Learning

Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Invest in a travel photography workshop. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better – not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.

Even though I’ve been earning money with my photography for the last 5 years, there’s always something new to learn. I regularly invest in online courses and books about photography to improve my craft. You should too.

Think you know everything about landscapes? Then go out and challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers. Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is. Stay up late experimenting with long-exposures of the Milky Way.

You’ll become a more skilled and resourceful travel photographer when you take the time to learn new techniques and skills from other genres of photography.

Travel Photography Resources

To go along with my top travel photography tips, here are some of the tools I’ve used to improve my photography over the years. I hope you find them as useful as I did! Remember, never stop learning.

Post Processing

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Powerful suite of editing programs (Lightroom & Photoshop) used by most professional travel photographers.
  • JPEG Mini – Reduces the size of images by up to 80% without loss in quality. Amazing plugin for faster upload speeds and faster websites.
  • Google Nik Collection – Free photography plugins for polishing your final images. Noise reduction, sharpening, color filters, etc.

Photography Tutorials

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about travel photography? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

I guess I have a thing for seedy islands.

A pirates lair, a leper colony, and a penitentiary for political prisoners — much like Koh Tao in Thailand and Isla de Coiba in Panama, Ilha Grande in Brazil has quite the illicit past. And much like those islands before it, this one also managed to steal my heart in just a few short days.

Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Ilha Grande Brazil

Though the last island prison dissolved in the mid-90’s, gorgeous Ilha Grande’s sordid reputation kept developers at bay, much to the delight of travelers now lucky enough to stumble upon it. And it’s pretty convenient to stumble onto — several boat and van services offer door-to-door connections between Paraty and Rio, making Ilha Grande a natural stop on a hop along Brazil’s emerald coastline.

The first stop for visitors to the island is Vila Do Abraão, a once sleepy fishing village now bursting with pousadas, canga shops, acai stands and other tourist trappings that manage to maintain the tiny town’s ramshackle charm. Adding to the adorability factor is the lack of motorized vehicles. A garbage truck, a fire truck and a police vehicle make up the list of exceptions, and everyone else gets around on foot or by bicycle.

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

After our rainy five days in Paraty, we could not have been any more thrilled to be greeted by the sun in Ilha Grande. Yet we quickly learned that one thing we were seriously unprepared for pretty much all through Brazil, with the exception of our first lucky week? The weather.

We spent three glorious nights on Ilha Grande, and during the day the weather was beautiful and the temperatures in the high sixties to low eighties. But with strong island winds and temperatures dropping into the fifties at night, we were seriously unprepared for anything Brazil was throwing at us past sunset — which was around 5:30pm at that time of year.

Thank goodness I had bought a pair of jeans specifically for this trip! We fell into a pattern of enthusiastically planning a night out every day, then gradually putting on every layer we had in our bags as the temperature dropped until we were huddled in our beds wrapped in our comforters cursing ourselves for having acclimated so seamlessly to the tropical climates of our adopted homes. The last thing I expected to be on this Brazilian holiday was cold — though on the upside, I’ve lived happily through a Thai heat wave with no air conditioning, so there’s that!

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

We’d waffled on where to stay in Ilha Grande, entertaining lush pousadas, budget hostels and even a charming houseboat on Airbnb. In the end, we settled on the Che Legarto Paraty, a sister property to the hostel we’d tried in Paraty.

We’d been won over by the waterfront location, though I can’t say I’m itching to return. Our dorms were painfully pricey at $25 per night per person (private rooms are no longer offered), the included breakfast was pitiful, the location was a bit out of town and there wasn’t much in the way of hostel camaraderie during our stay. We were tickled by the local luggage service, however, which consisted of a bicep-flexer tossing our bags into a custom push cart and leading the way to our hostel for $4 each.

Che Legarto Ilha Grande

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

How to fill one’s days on such a charming island? Options are a-plenty. We’d originally enthusiastically planned to go diving though were warned off by the local dive shop due to the storm that had plagued us in Paraty and churned the visibility up to nothing.

Other tours for snorkeling, island hopping, and waterfall rappelling were appealing, however in the end we decided to give our budget a rest and entertain ourselves on the cheap. We spent the majority of our time on Ilha Grande tackling three of the island’s sixteen signposted hiking trails — leading to just a few of its hundred and two beaches! This was such a special experience that I have a whole post coming up dedicated to our hiking adventures. Stay tuned!

Ilha Grande Brazil

Hiking on Ilha Grande

And, needless to say, with a professional shutterbug as my co-pilot (she took both the beautiful photos above!), photography walks were a fun part of almost every day. I love how creatively challenged I can be by my travels with Heather, and comparing the different ways we see the world through our lenses.

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande BrazilPhoto by Heather Holt

Also kind of needless to say when it comes to the two of us, eating and drinking were also a main form of entertainment.

While Ilha Grande doesn’t have close to the dining scene that Paraty boasted, we did find a few favorites. Fornilha Pizzaria was the perfect comfort food for our first chilly night, Kebab Lounge was a healthy dinner option, and Cafe do Mar was our pick for chic beachside eats in the sun — don’t forget to look for their special evening BBQ a few night a week, too! We both gave a thumbs up to the vegetarian-friendly self-serve buffet at Biergarten, and the flavored mojitos and fresh empenadas at Coruja were definitely the hippest thing happening in town. And let’s just say we made a thorough sampling of the local acai bowl offerings, and we weren’t let down once.

Ilha Grande Brazil

Vila do Abraão Ilha Grande Brazil

On our final morning, we decided to go wild and for over a few riels for fun. While rentals for bikes, surfboards and kayaks were tempting, we saved our mild splurge for a mutual favorite: stand up paddle boarding.

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

For 40BR each (about $11), we had an hour to play in the bay. We were heading onward to Rio de Janiero that afternoon, and while it was a city I’d looked forward to visiting for much of my life, I couldn’t help but feel wistful about leaving. The three nights we’d originally budgeted due to rumors of horrific wifi (a serious concern for two online business owners) suddenly seemed far too short. We’d actually tried to extend our trip by another day, but found our transfer was non-refundable and couldn’t be budged.

We were both overwhelmed with happiness as we paddled around and looked back on the beautiful island we were saying goodbye to all too soon. How rare to find such a gem of nature, so unsullied by overdevelopment. Ilha Grande is truly a special place.

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Stand Up Paddleboarding on Ilha Grande Brazil

Ilha Grande left a big impression on my heart. Here’s hoping I’ll be back someday!

Proof Of Onward Travel Tips

How To Provide Proof Of Onward Travel

Travel Tips

Planning to travel internationally on a one-way ticket? You might have a problem. Some airlines and countries require proof of onward travel. Here’s how you can get it.

“Before you can board this flight, I need to see your proof of onward travel.” What?! But I’m traveling on a one-way ticket!

I remember the first time it happened to me. I was checking in at Boston’s Logan Airport for an international flight to Bangkok, Thailand.

Excited to visit Southeast Asia for the first time, and planning to spend a few months living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad. I was flying one-way because, you know, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay.

One month? Three? Would I even go back to the United States? Maybe I’ll travel to a different country after Thailand… overland. I simply hadn’t planned that far ahead yet.

However due to my American privilege, and my inexperience with international travel, it never once crossed my mind that this would be a problem.

Can’t I just buy another ticket when I’m ready to leave? Nope.

Proof Of Onward Travel Tips

How To Provide Proof Of Onward Travel

What Is Proof Of Onward Travel?

Basically, some countries want to make sure you aren’t attempting to move there on a tourist visa and never leave. It happens all the time here in the United States, and other countries too. They are trying to prevent illegal immigration.

Government officials need to see proof that you plan on flying out eventually, respecting the rules of their tourist visa. They want proof of onward travel to another destination.

So while you can technically travel on a one-way ticket, they also need some kind of official return ticket confirmation showing that you are leaving the country eventually.

They won’t necessarily care where that ticket goes, just as long as it’s out of their country.

Ticket Confirmation

Example Ticket Confirmation from FlyOnward.com

Airline Requirements

Many countries actually pass this responsibility on to airlines, meaning that it’s the airline check-in desk who will ask to see proof of your onward travel before they let you board the flight.

Because if they don’t check, and allow you on the flight with a one-way ticket, but immigration officials refuse to let you in, the airline will be responsible for the costs of flying (deporting?) you back to your home country, along with possible fines.

Some airlines are very strict about the proof of onward travel rule.

If you can’t provide proof, you won’t be allowed to board your flight. Or they’ll ask you to buy a return ticket from them right then and there — which can often cost hundreds of dollars.

Onward Travel Rules Suck!

I feel your pain. Why can’t they just make it easy and allow me travel on a one-way ticket, trusting me when I tell them I plan to leave in two months?

Some of us prefer to travel spontaneously, without plans!

Most long-term travelers are on a tight budget, trying to make their money last as long as possible. Or they aren’t exactly sure which country they want to visit next. Or they want to travel overland by bus.

Buying round trip tickets just isn’t in the cards for everyone.

Don’t take it personally though. These are their rules, and we have to respect them. We have the same laws for foreigners attempting to visit our country.

Luckily there are a few easy (and legal) ways to get around this proof-of-onward-travel requirement, so you can travel on a one-way ticket, and not be forced to pre-plan your entire trip down to the last detail.

Proof Of Onward Travel

Rent A Ticket Confirmation!

How To Get Proof Of Onward Travel

If you think you may need proof of onward travel during your adventure, there are a few legal ways to get around the rules without having to buy round trip tickets everywhere you go.

Buy A Cheap Ticket

Extreme budget airlines around the world can have some amazing flight deals. While the airline itself might not be the best, if you don’t plan on actually using the ticket, who cares!

Find the cheapest one-way ticket to a major city in the country next door, and eat the cost. Maybe $50 or $100.

This works best in cheaper areas of the world, like Asia or Latin America. Some examples of budget airlines include EasyJet, AirAsia, Volaris, etc. Click here for a full list.

Use FlyOnward To Rent A Ticket

My favorite option these days is to use the online service FlyOnward.com. For about $10, this company will go ahead and purchase a refundable airline ticket in your name, on their dime.

The ticket will then be automatically canceled after 24 or 48 hours.

While it’s active, you’ll be able to view a REAL flight reservation under your name, and show it to the airline check-in agent or immigration officer, “proving” your onward travel. Simple, fast, and cheap.

You can see an example of what the confirmation looks like here.

Purchase Your Own Refundable Ticket

If you don’t mind waiting (sometimes months) to receive your refund, then buying a fully refundable, second one-way ticket is possible too.

To make it work, you’ll need to buy that second ticket before you leave for your destination.

Once you’ve entered the country, cancel your exit ticket, and wait for the refund. Just make sure to read the fine print — because some airlines charge cancelation fees, or only refund tickets using flight vouchers instead of cash.

Use Your Airline Miles

If you are a travel-hacking whiz and have accumulated a ton of points or miles on your travel rewards credit cards, you can use those points to book a one-way return flight and cancel it later.

Most of the time you’ll find that points are refunded right away, making it a no-brainer.

Which Countries Require Proof?

Many countries technically require proof of onward travel, however they don’t always enforce the rule. To reduce your chances of them asking, it’s wise to avoid dressing like a bum/hippie with no money.

Business casual works best at airports if you want to avoid questions.

A few countries definitely require documented proof of onward travel. They include New Zealand, the United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Peru, and the Philippines.

However depending on the airline you use, you might also get asked for proof before visiting countries like Thailand, Mexico, and Panama. Do your own research beforehand, just in case.

Don’t Get Caught Off Guard!

Even though this rule might seem ridiculous, if you are a long-term traveler who prefers to travel on one-way tickets, you will eventually get asked for proof of onward travel.

I’ve probably been asked at least 10 times over the past few years.

Luckily there are legal loopholes around it. You just need to remember to get everything sorted in advance, before you find yourself stuck arguing with the airline check-in agent, about to miss your flight. ★

READ NEXT: How To Find Cheap Flights

Have any questions about proof of onward travel? Have you ever been asked? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Remote CEO

Photo: Tranmautritam

I’m the kind of person who believes in the magical life-enhancing properties of travel. Whether it’s for business or pleasure (the two, as far as I’m concerned, aren’t mutually exclusive anyway, but that’s a whole other story), traveling encourages the movement of ideas and helps us all see the world from new perspectives. That mission — spreading ideas and innovation beyond borders — is what I’m working on with Jobbatical, the global hiring platform I co-founded a bit more than two years ago.

My most hardcore travel extravaganza of recent years — or perhaps of all time )) happened in September 2016, when over a one-month period my travel trajectory went like this: Estonia-Singapore-Malaysia-Singapore-Malaysia-Australia-Malaysia-Japan-Malaysia-Singapore-Estonia. What looks like a serious accident with a typewriter is, in fact, just par for the course when you’re the founder of a startup with global reach.

My most recent absence from the Jobbatical office was also precisely one month long. Enough time, apparently, for my desk to be reassigned to a new team member. Now I’m a digital nomad in my own office, with no desk to call home. It’s a small price to pay for the privilege of getting to see so much of the world — and there are plenty of comfy beanbags to choose from (as required by startup law), so my loss isn’t that great.

Over the course of that fateful month, I did my work from the USA, Costa Rica, Panama, and the USA again. For me, working on the go is the new normal. We humans tend to get used to situations pretty easily if they repeat often enough. As soon as I open my computer or my smartphone, it’s like I’m entering my office virtually. In many ways, it doesn’t feel that different from being in the same room with the rest of the team.

In reality, of course, working remotely requires a different structure of communication and I’m still learning how to be present for the team even when I’m on the other side of the planet. Our team as a whole has learned countless lessons over the past year. Getting a constantly growing startup team to work as a unit when people are distributed all across the globe has been the learning experience of a lifetime. Managing expectations, wrangling time zones, and keeping communication flowing freely — all the while remembering that people are just people, wherever they are )) is a balancing act for all of us. With the use of tools like Slack, Asana, Timetastic, and the art of common sense, I think we’re getting close to uncovering the secrets of efficient remote work.

To stay connected while I’m away, I like to carry my team in my pocket (in smartphone form) and share snippets of my travel experiences. In Costa Rica, while I was interviewing a senior sales candidate for Jobbatical via video call, I suddenly spotted a huge iguana. I cut our discussion off, ran to the iguana and showed my interviewee the tiny monster via our video call. Team Jobbatical knows me well enough not to be surprised when this sort of thing happens. They’ve all seen footage of me being chased by monkeys on a morning run in Malaysia. In the same vein, my regular announcements of “I almost missed my flight because this crazy thing happened” don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. But the candidate was rendered quite speechless by my little adventure with the iguana.

I’m not afraid to declare that I love the world and its creatures in all their weirdness, and I believe that sharing such moments of genuine emotion helps shape a culture of openness. And beyond that, it’s just fun!

It’s not just the work aspect of remote work that can be challenging. I myself am lucky enough to be highly adaptable to time differences, and my 4-year-old is also already a master of traveling, having accompanied me on so many of these trips. My personal struggle is the fact that I have Restless Legs Syndrome, which becomes quite torturous on long flights. That’s one reason I’m crazy about collecting frequent flyer miles and bargaining possible upgrades to Business Class (for the bed). Another thing I’ve found is it is essential to be well prepared for in frequent flying are the effects it has on your skin. On long flights, I always have to wear the most moisturizing face masks, even if it means my fellow passengers see me as the lady with the scary face for the rest of the flight.

On balance, it’s obvious that these are minor inconveniences. What’s a patch of dry skin compared to the extraordinary privilege of being able to build and lead a startup team from the lush jungles of Costa Rica? What could be more rewarding and eye-opening than meeting clients from NYC to Singapore, hearing their stories, and working with them to build a more open world? Restless legs or not, I can’t think of anything I would rather do with my life. More like this: How are the digital nomads changing the World's cities

HERE ARE 35 places around the world to strap on your GoPro, do some underwater exploring, and come back with amazingly clear imagery.

1

Linapacan Island, Palawan, Philippines

MatadorU Photography faculty member Scott Sporleder shares this image from Palawan, the Philippines' most remote province and home to many beaches with super clear water.Photo: Scott Sporleder

2

The Maldives

The 26 atolls that make up the Maldives sit in the Indian Ocean about 400km southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. Abundant reef wildlife (including whale sharks) + incredibly clear waters bring in a lot of tourists. It's also one of Matador's 9 places to experience now before they literally vanish.Photo: Rishwan (Richy)

3

Dog Island, San Blas, Panama

Another from Scott Sporleder, here is a shot from one of Panama's San Blas Islands, the largest of the politically autonomous reservations of the Kuna Indians.Photo: Scott Sporleder

Intermission 181

35 places to swim in the world’s clearest water

by Hal Amen

25 places we’re dying to explore right now

by Matador Team
35

How to: Independently trek Nepal’s Annapurna sanctuary

by Matt Huntington
4

Cayo Coco, Cuba

A resort island on Cuba's north coast, Cayo Coco is linked to the mainland by a 27km causeway. The adjacent reef and clear waters have earned international recognition as a dive destination.Photo: O.Taillon

5

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

At the south end of the Mediterranean island of Menorca, the beach at Cala Macarelleta can only be reached on foot or by boat -- probably one of the least-crowded beaches you'll find in Spain.Photo: visualpanic

6

Sua Trench, Samoa

We sent MatadorU student Abhimanyu Sabnis on a photojournalism assignment to Samoa. He came back with this insane gallery.Photo: Abhimanyu Sabnis

7

Crater Lake, Oregon

Visibility in Crater Lake has been measured at 43.3m -- among the highest in the world. Photographer Rhett Lawrence adds this note about swimming here: "[It's] allowed, but there's only one access point down to the lake -- a steep, mile-long trail (it's easy enough on the way down, but my then-4-year-old daughter did not appreciate the climb back up). Since that's the only access point, you've got to really want to jump in the lake to do it -- especially since it's so damn cold -- but it is permitted by the Park Service."Photo: Grant Montgomery

8

Bak Bak Beach, Borneo

A shot from the northern tip of Sabah, Malaysia, near Kudat Town. From the photographer: "It takes 3 to 3 1/2 hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu city. I wanted to shoot a longer exposure but I had a difficulty judging the light or maybe because I was lazy ? kidding. I had to go further the beach, thigh deep and very clear water. Stacked 2 Cokin GND filter P121s, manual exposure 0.25sec, F13."Photo: Nora Carol

9

Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan, China

In the north of Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a national park, nature reserve, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to several crystal-clear lakes, it's a region of multi-tiered waterfalls and snowy mountains. Tourism arrived late but is growing strong, and while swimming isn't allowed...there's always night-time skinny dipping.Photo: Who is taking pictures?

Intermission 445

10 volunteer opportunities for free travel

by Matt Scott
10

Your top 20 bucket list trips

by Joshywashington
2

Banff and Lake Louise might be the most gorgeous places to ski on the planet. Here’s proof.

by Ailsa Ross
10

Sabah, Malaysia

Another one from the remote Malaysian state, which covers the northern portion of Borneo and is ringed by reef-rich islands. This photo was taken near Semporna, which is a hub for people who come to dive Malaysian Borneo.Photo: Zahriel

11

Jenny Lake, Wyoming

Jenny Lake sits right below the peak of Grand Teton and is a landmark for many hiking trails, backcountry trails, and climbing routes. Despite the fact that motorboats are allowed on the lake, its waters are still considered "pristine."Photo: Jeff Clow

12

Rio Sucuri, Brazil

Located in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Rio Sucuri is a spring-fed river that has some of the measurably clearest water on Earth. Multiple tour outfits run trips that let you snorkel the river.Photo: Luiz Felipe Sahd

13

Calanque de Sormiou, France

Calanques are steep-walled coves, and there's a series of them along the 20km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis. Sormiou is one of the largest of these, and it's popular for its nearby climbing routes as well as its beach.Photo: Paspog

14

Panari Island, Okinawa, Japan

Panari, also called Aragusuku, is one of the Yaeyama Islands, the most remote area of Japan. The photographer notes: "The islands are also known as one of the world's best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef. (Over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and all kinds of tropical fish species all live around Okinawa.)"Photo: ippei + janine

15

Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

The most populous town in the Galapagos still sits right up next to some amazingly clear ocean water. Even here in Academy Bay, you can see pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, herons, rays, and other iconic wildlife.Photo: Bill Bouton

Intermission 1K+

20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world

by Jason Wire
3

9 places to visit before they change forever

by Morgane Croissant
4

20 charming illustrations of Christmas traditions from around the world

by Ailsa Ross
16

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The photo above was taken in the Bonsai Rock area, on the east shore of the lake, which apparently flies under the radar. Says the photographer: "30 years in Tahoe, and until this winter I'd never heard of it."Photo: SteveD.

17

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Rounding out the Sporleder collection, this one comes from the central Caribbean coast of Honduras. For more images, check out the full photo essay.Photo: Scott Sporleder

18

Primosten, Croatia

On the Adriatic Coast north of Split, Primosten is most famous for its vineyards, in addition to beaches that have been voted the best in the country.Photo: Mike Le Gray Photography. See more at his website.

19

St. George, Bermuda

The oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the New World features many historic forts, like the small Gates Fort pictured above. Also: some damn clear water.Photo: JoshuaDavisPhotography

20

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Visit on a weekend during high season and you'll be surrounded by busloads. If you can get it on a slow day with clear conditions, though, it's some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.Photo: ThomasOfNorway

21

Pupu Springs, New Zealand

At the very top of the South Island, on Golden Bay, the photographer says: "14000 liters of crystal clear water comes out of these springs per second!"Photo: pie4dan

22

Calanque d'En-Vau, France

Another calanque on the southern coast of France, d'En-Vau has a narrower, steeper channel than Sormiou, giving a real feeling of seclusion and emphasizing the clarity of the water in this cove.Photo: afer92 (on and off)

23

Rio Azul, Argentina

Put in to the Confluence section of the Rio Azul near El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina. Matador Senior Editor David Miller notes, "This was the first river I've ever paddled, played, and swam in where the water was clean enough to drink. The entire Rio Azul watershed is born in the glaciers and snowfields of the Andes and the water is incredibly clear and pure."Photo: David Miller

24

Corfu, Greece

Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea, off the northwest coast of Greece. Prior to the 1900s, most of the tourists that visited were European royalty. Today, its clear waters draw a lot of package-tour-style action.Photo: smlp.co.uk

25

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Matador Co-Founder Ross Borden visited the Cook Islands for a week and came back with images and video of epicly clear water.Photo: Ross Borden

26

Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Made famous when its smaller neighbor, Koh Phi Phi Leh, was used as the filming location for The Beach, the main island sees a lot of traffic from both backpackers and luxury travelers these days. Water like this is a big part of the draw.Photo: mynameisharsha

27

Playa Blanca, Colombia

This is a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena and well worth the trip. In between swims in that crystal-clear blue water, be sure to snag some fresh ceviche from one of the vendors walking up and down the beach.Photo: Ross Borden

28

Blue Lake, New Zealand

One of many bodies of water in this list that someone or other has claimed has the clearest water in the world, Blue Lake is located in Nelson Lakes National Park, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.Photo: Kathrin & Stefan

29

Königssee, Germany?

This one's made the rounds on the internet, but no one really seems to know where it was taken, or by whom. The best guess I found was the Königssee, a lake in southern Bavaria, near the border with Austria. If you have any info, clue us in.Photo: ??

30

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

The clear waters of the Verzasca River run for 30km through this rocky valley in southern Switzerland. A dam of the same name, featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye, blocks the river's flow and forms Lago di Vogorno. Just downstream from it, the river empties into Lake Maggiore.Photo: http://i.imgur.com/ukgxS.jpg

31

Tioman Island, Malaysia

This photo comes from the town of Kampung Genting on Tioman Island, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Away from its beaches, there's significant rainforest terrain in the interior, where you can see the endemic soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish.Photo: Chang'r

32

Belo Sur Mer, Madagascar

Ross Borden explains: "I started in Moronvada, on the west coast of Madagascar and hired a boat and driver to take me down the coast to Belo Sur Mer, a super-isolated section of coastline known for diving, fishing and the fact that almost no one makes the trip down there. Belo Sur Mer is amazing on its own, but when the owner of the eco-lodge there told me about a string of uninhabited islands 80km off the coast, we jumped back in the boat and pointed it west, towards Mozambique and mainland Africa. What we found was four uninhabited gorgeous islands and one that had a tribe of "sea gypsies" living on it. These fascinating and hospitable people live off the rich fishing stocks of the Mozambique channel. We camped and lived with them for two days and they even took me along on an all-night fishing expedition in one of their sailboats in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. During the day I would go snorkeling. Shoving off these tiny islands the water gets several hundreds of feet deep very quickly; I was out there with massive schools of deep ocean fish."Photo: Ross Borden

33

Lake Marjorie, California

From the photographer: "Lakes in the High Sierra come in a number of colors. Lake Marjorie, at 11,132' has an aquamarine "swimming pool" tint. Crater Mountain dominates the skyline, with Pinchot Pass to the south. I was happy to see clouds at dawn, but by noon a fast moving storm was spitting hail, thunder, and lightning as we cleared Mather Pass. Damn, this spot is gorgeous."Photo: SteveD.

34

Bodrum, Turkey

Along the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, Bodrum has an ancient history and was the site of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). It also has some amazingly clear water. From the photographer: "[It's] so clear at certain places that boats appear to be floating in mid-air! It reminded me of Luke's Landspeeder from Star Wars."Photo: Oky - Space Ranger

35

Mystery spot

Another unidentified location. Anyone have an idea?Photo: Imgur

Photo: Colin and Sarah Northway

Haz clic para leer este artículo en español. ¡También puedes darnos un “me gusta” en Facebook!

1.

Your children grow up saying that America is a continent and not a country.

2.

When a bell ringing breaks the usual sounds of the streets, you grab your wallet to ready yourself as your children are bound to appear soon asking for money to buy a popsicle from the paletero who’s pushing his cart down the road. Same thing when you’re casually strolling around and you spot a raspa’o (shaved ice) cart in the distance.

3.

You’re used to going inside an Arrocha drugstore looking for medicines or something for your home and coming out with a new toy for the little one.

4.

You keep thinking that you should take them to see the Panama Canal at some point, but then again, it’s not like the canal is going to walk away anytime soon…

5.

If you didn’t know how to prepare arroz con leche (a type of rice pudding), you had to learn it once your firstborn got its first tooth, or perhaps you cheated by asking someone to prepare it so you could offer it to friends and family paying you a visit.

6.

Their school is packed with children with a broad spectrum of nationalities, ethnicities and beliefs, so it seems pretty normal to you that their groups of friends are multicultural.

7.

Weekend outings are usually at a shopping mall, because normally it’s either too warm outside or there’s a downpour of biblical proportions.

8.

Even if you don’t normally walk out in the streets with your children, you have a baby stroller, which you use during your shopping mall excursions.

9.

If the weather is fine on a weekend, you’ll wait until the sun goes down and the air is a bit cooler to take them to the Cinta Costera or the Amador Causeway for a stroll. Sometimes you need to get out of the shopping malls!

 Cinta CosteraPanamá, PanamaGreat place to chill at night and see the city lights of Panama. It’s best to going during sunset to photograph the magenta colors. #cityscape #sunset #travelphotography

10.

You can’t forget to buy cheap toys and gifts to put into the baskets given out as presents to all of the kids showing up at your children’s birthday parties. Similarly, you can’t miss handing out small plastic bags for them to pack the candies that will be picked up once the piñata is broken.

11.

Since most schools in Panama require the use of uniforms, at the start of each year you have to check how your kids’ uniforms fit them and their overall conditions in order to determine if you have to buy new ones. If your children attend a private school, it’s likely that you know very well the prices of Fermín Chan, the exclusive manufacturers for many of these schools.

12.

Your children grow up being used to the beach and it’s incredibly hard for them to move to a city with no easy access to the coast. It’s quite normal, considering that in Panama you can choose between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean any day during the whole year.

13.

Their favorite breakfast includes fried food.

14.

You open up a Christmas Savings Account for your children to teach them the habit of saving money with the added benefit of allowing them to buy whatever present they desire the most at the end of the year.

15.

If your child is cute or amusing, you’ve gotten used to people telling you that you have to be careful of the “evil eye” and that you should put a red band on his or her wrist for protection. If he or she suddenly falls ill, you know you’ll get the advice to go to a santero for healing.

16.

You keep light coats at home to keep them warm during the torrential rain days, when temperatures drop to the incredibly low 25 Celsius.

17.

It doesn’t seem weird to you that your kids understand and/or speak English, given that they’ve been watching subtitled movies and TV shows since they were very little. The fact that there are plenty of magazines sold in English probably helps as well.

18.

You know fully well the abono (layaway) system of large stores, wherein you pay a small part of its cost to reserve it and keep on paying it, little by little. It’s especially useful for Christmas presents for the youngsters.

19.

You endured the nightmare of looking for schools for your kids, with knowledge, psychological and other kinds of tests in the way, even for a 2 year old boy looking to enter a kindergarten.

20.

As they grow older, you start getting worried about their plans for Carnival.

Lonely Planet Panama (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

# 1 best-selling guide to Panama*

Lonely Planet Panama is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Sip coconuts on a Caribbean beach; lay eyes on the awe-inspiring Panama Canal; or hike through sublime cloud forests; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Panama and begin your journey now!

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Color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - land & wildlife, music, cuisine, arts, politics, history Over 46 maps Covers Panama CityPanama Province, Cocle Province, Peninsula deAzuero, Veraguas Province, Chiriqui ProvinceBocas del Toro Province, Colon  Province, Comarca de Kuna Yala, Darien Province and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Panama, our most comprehensive guide to Panama, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

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Frommer's Panama (Complete Guide)

Nicholas Gill

Frommer’s books aren’t written by committee, or by travel writers who simply pop in briefly to a destination and then consider the job done. We use seasoned journalists like Nicholas Gill who has been covering Panama for over a decade and has strong opinions on what travelers should do in country…and what they can skip without regret. He’s also understands that not all travelers have the same needs or budgets and so has created a guide that is extremely helpful whether you’re a honeymooner, a backpacker or are traveling with kids.The book covers Panama's top ecolodges, beach stays and wilderness resorts (for luxury travelers or those on a budget). It features the best beaches, bird-watching and other outdoor activities, with fastidiously researched information on the best outfitters for adventuring. It also offers an in-depth look at Panama's history and culture, from pre-Columbian times, through the building of the Canal, to the 21st century's issues and debates, as well as an overview of the ecosystems and native flora and fauna. With doable, smartly conceived itineraries for one or two weeks, for families, and for adventurers it also includes savvy, sometimes sneaky, tips for saving money in ALL price ranges.

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The Best Panama travel guide on Kindle!Today only, get this Kindle book for just $2.99. Regularly priced at $4.99. Read on your PC, Mac, smart phone, tablet or Kindle device.All other guides look the same why ? cause they are the same and typical boring books , the same tourist trap as well as the few other things ? No !!! In this book you will have way more !!Why this book is different ?This guide will help you on :-Your trip from Day 1 with what to bring with you ,- The different seasons and weather in Panama , what to wear and bring with you.- How to speak with locals in Spanish -Famous sites like the Teatro nacional, Plaza de la independancia or even parque bolivar- Pictures are present to help and enjoying reading ,-Transportation with different airports metro bus ferry etc.. -Emergency number to contact in PanamaDownload Today!Tags: Panama, Panama travel, Panama canal, Tokyo Travel Guide ,panama canal book , panama guide

Fodor's In Focus Panama (Travel Guide)

Fodor's Travel Guides

Written by locals, Fodor's travel guides have been offering expert advice for all tastes and budgets for 80 years. Panama has become Central America's hottest destination. Looking beyond the country's famous, century-old canal, an increasing number of travelers are discovering Panama's vast jungles, remote islands, and rain forests filled with exotic birds. Panama City is the exciting, rapidly developing, hub--a vibrant metropolis with a colonial heart and excellent dining, lodging, and nightlife options, as well as an abundance of easy day-trip opportunities.This travel guide includes:· Dozens of maps· An 8-page color insert with a brief introduction and spectacular photos that capture the top experiences and attractions throughout Panama· Hundreds of hotel and restaurant recommendations, with Fodor's Choice designating our top picks· Multiple itineraries to explore the top attractions and what’s off the beaten path· Major sights such as The Panama Canal, Barro Colorado, Bocas del Toro, The Embera, Casco Viejo, and Land of the Guna· Coverage of Panama City, The Canal and Central Panama, Chiriqui ProvinceBocas del Toro Archipelago, Guna Yala (San Blas)

Panama (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

Designed for the needs of adventure travelers, National Geographic's Panama Adventure Map is the most comprehensive map available, covering the entire country, with expertly researched background information, travel tips and descriptions of popular destinations. A user-friendly index of selected towns and protected areas, including National Parks, nature and forest reserves, wetlands and wildlife areas, will help you select areas to explore. The marked road network of major and minor roads, including the Pan-American Highway, airstrips and railway tracks will get you to your desired location, including those outside of major tourist hubs. Some of the pinpointed recreational, historical and cultural features include areas for surfing, fishing and diving, hiking trails, archeological sites, reefs and mangroves.

An inset map of Panama City provides in-depth detail of the capital, including its hospitals, churches, synagogues, monuments, cemeteries, embassies and other notable buildings. The Casco Viejo (San Felipe) area is shown with even greater detail, for those planning a self-guided walking tour. An inset map of the Panama Canal region details this must-see engineering feat, that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Some of the points of interest shown are the Canal's locks, visitor centers and the Panama Railway connecting Colon and Panama City. This abundance of specialized content makes the map the perfect companion to National Geographic's Panama Traveler Guide or any other guidebook.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:475,000 & 1:165,000Sheet Size = 37.75" x 25.5"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

National Geographic Traveler: Panama, 3rd Edition

Christopher Baker

A small-scale country on the surface, Panama is a Central American giant and gem just awakening to its vast potential. Esteemed travel writer Christopher Baker takes the reader on a journey of this fascinating place in his fully updated edition. Beginning in the cosmopolitan, steamy capital of Panama City, you move on to the Canal Zone and the central Caribbean, with world-class birding and rafting; Kuna Yala, administrated anonomously by indigenous Kuna people; the Darien, a biological Eden; and Central Panama, blessed with fine beaches, mountains, pre-Columbia sites, and important colonial architecture. Among the guide's special features are mapped walking and driving tours--including a walk around Panama City's Casco Antiguo and a drive across the Continental Divide; and special two-page entries on topics such as the Panama Canal and parrots and macaws. National Geographic and local experts provide insider tips on favorite or little known sites and events, and dozens of sidebars highlight experiences that show you how to truly get the most from your trip, including how to assist archaeologists uncover ancient artifacts at Panama Viejo and white-water rafting in the Highlands. This comprehensive guide includes essential background information and the author's pick of hotels and restaurants.Aimed at active travelers who want authentic, enriching, cultural experiences and expert advice from a trustworthy source, National Geographic Travelers provide ways for people to experience a place rather than just visit, and give the true feel of each destination not easily found online.

The Rough Guide to Panama

Rough Guides

The new Rough Guide to Panama is the ultimate travel guide to this vibrant and fascinating country. Discover Panama's highlights with stunning full-color photography and maps and more listings and information than ever before.

Inside The Rough Guide to Panama you'll find detailed practical advice on what to see and do — from a boat trip up the Panama Canal to a jungle trek in the Darién, from sightseeing in Panama City to beach-lazing in Guna Yala — as well as up-to-date descriptions of the best hotels, bars, clubs, shops and restaurants, across every price range, that give you clear, balanced reviews and reliable, first-hand opinions.

Whether you have time to browse our detailed chapters, or need fast-fix itineraries and hand-picked highlights, The Rough Guide to Panama will help you make the most of your time.

About Rough Guides: For thirty years, adventurous travelers have turned to Rough Guides for up-to-date and intuitive information from expert authors. With opinionated and lively writing, honest reviews, and a strong cultural background, Rough Guides travel books bring more than two hundred destinations to life.

Panama Canal Day: An Illustrated Guide to Cruising The Panama Canal

Richard Detrich

Cruise ship lecturer and Panama resident, Richard Detrich, tells you what you need to know to get the most out of your passage through the Panama Canal. The more you know in advance, the better you will enjoy your day in the Panama Canal. • Here’s the history and background of the creation of the Panama Canal and the information about the Canal expansion, right up to today. • Here’s the story of the Republic of Panama, its sometimes confused and tumultuous relationship with the United States, what Panama is like today, and why it is one of the world’s booming economies. • Here’s information about the types of Panama cruise itineraries, what to look for, and what to expect, and how to get the best deal. • Here’s information, and pictures, of the shore excursions available in Panama, both with the cruise line and independently. • Here’s a guide what to look for as you experience your own Canal Day. Detrich says, “When we owned travel agencies, we always gave clients who booked Panama Canal cruises a copy of David McCullough’s definitive Panama Canal book, THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS: THE CREATION OF THE PANAMA CANAL 1870-1914. It took me a while to realize that, although it is the definitive story of the Canal, it is also a long and heavily footnoted historical tome, so in many cases folks just stuck it on their book shelf. I had a captain once tell me, “Richard, I’m trying to read it, but I keep falling asleep.” I told him to stick with it and once he got through the first 150 pages, he’d be hooked … and he was. “But since 1914, over a million ships have passed through the Canal, the Canal Zone has ceased to exist, and the Canal has been returned to the people of Panama. The Canal is being massively expanded, and even while the expansion is being completed, engineers of the Canal de Panamá are beginning plans for yet another expansion that will be able to accommodate the newest and largest class of container ships yet, ships that carry over 18,000 containers. “While lecturing on ships transiting the Canal, I realized that there was a need for a simpler and more current book, a book written for cruise passengers that included information about the Panama as information about the Canal. I wanted to write a book that would be helpful to folks planning a Panama Canal trip, as well as serve as a guide during the voyage. Detrich recalls the time, “I had just completed a lecture in the show lounge on a ship scheduled to transit the Canal. After the talk, as I walked out of the lounge, I was behind two ladies, both in their early 60s, and I overhead one say to the other, ‘I didn’t know the Canal was man made.’ Here these gals were, taking the ‘bucket list,’ trip-of-a-lifetime through one of the great wonders of the world, and they didn’t have a clue!” A good trip has three memorable parts: anticipating and planning, taking the trip, and reliving the experience when you get home. PANAMA CANAL DAY: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO CRUISING THE PANAMA CANAL will help you understand the history of Panama and its Canal, let you know what to expect, and, if you have a port call in Panama, know what there is to see and do. Lavishly illustrated with both historical photographs and actual photos of the ship in the Canal, including behind the scenes shots of Canal Day on the bridge, PANAMA CANAL DAY: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO CRUISING THE PANAMA CANAL will help you anticipate the adventure of your own Canal Day. .

Exercise normal security precautions; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Crime

Petty theft is common in rural and urban areas of Panama, especially in Panama City and Colón. Violent crime is rare, but does occur throughout the country.

Theft from hotel rooms occurs in both urban and resort areas. Stay in busy, reputable and well-protected hotels and always verify the identity of a visitor before opening your door. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

In Panama City, high-crime areas include Calidonia, San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorillo, Ancón, Curundú, Veracruz Beach, Parque Soberania and Tocumen, as well as bus stations and shopping areas on Avenida Central. Do not walk alone after dark in Panama City and stay within well-known tourist areas. Remain vigilant in all public places, especially at airports and bus terminals.

Avoid displaying signs of affluence or carrying large sums of cash, and be alert to your surroundings when using automated banking machines. 

Demonstrations

Demonstrations and protest marches over various social and political issues occasionally occur in Panama City near the university, and on main streets and highways. These demonstrations are unpredictable and could potentially lead to violence. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and monitor local news reports.

Road travel

Poor road conditions, dangerous driving habits, and poorly lit streets and vehicles are hazards. Keep car windows closed and doors locked at all times.

Night construction on the Pan-American Highway is frequent. Be prepared for possible roadblocks.

Marine travel

The southeastern coast of Comarca Kuna Yala, on the Caribbean, and Coiba Island as well as the entire length of the Pacific coast, are known as transportation corridors for narcotics. To visit the national park on Coiba Island, you must obtain special permission from the Panamanian Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority.

Public transportation

Travelling by local bus is not recommended, as these vehicles do not follow a permanent route, and are relatively unsafe.

Registered taxis are the safest way to travel in urban centres. Sharing a taxi with strangers is not recommended, and passengers should sit in the back of the vehicle. Taxis are not metered, and fares are calculated according to the number of zones crossed to get to a destination. Agree to a fare before departure, as many fees are inflated for tourists.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Some beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts can be dangerous, as there are strong currents and undertows, and drownings have occurred. Most beaches lack sufficient rescue equipment and are not adequately monitored or marked.

Emergency services

Dial 104 to reach local police and 103 for firefighters.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is a risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination may be recommended depending on your itinerary.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), West Nile virus and yellow fever.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

The Government of Panama offers free health insurance to foreigners arriving through Tocumen International Airport.

Panama City has very good private hospitals and clinics. Public hospitals and clinics do not offer services comparable to Canadian facilities. Medical facilities outside Panama City are limited. Expect to pay in advance for medical services, including emergency care.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for use or possession of illegal drugs in Panama are very strict. Offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Laws

Panamanian law requires all individuals to carry official identification documents at all times. Failure to produce identification upon request may result in travellers being taken to jail and charged a fine.

Under the Panamanian penal code, knowingly infecting others with a sexually transmitted disease is a crime.

Although homosexual activity is not illegal, discretion is highly recommended in public places since homosexuality is not socially acceptable in all areas.

There may be curfews for minors (under 18 years old) in Panama City. Minors circulating alone late at night in Panama City may be detained by police until their parents can be contacted if the police deem that they are involved in suspicious activities. Fines may be imposed.

Ask permission before taking photographs of individuals, particularly of children and women. When taking pictures of indigenous persons, it is normal to be asked to pay a small fee.

Canadian tourists can use their provincial driver’s licences in Panama for a period of up to 90 days.

Although vehicle insurance is compulsory, many Panamanians drive without it. In the event of an accident, call 104 to reach the police, and do not move the vehicle until you are advised to do so by a police officer.

Money

The official currency in Panama is the Balboa (PAB), which is used interchangeably with the U.S. dollar (USD). Because of problems with counterfeit US$50 and US$100 bills, carry small denominations of U.S. dollars.

Climate

Hurricane season

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.

Rainy season

The rainy season extends from April to December. Occasional flooding can occur, making some city streets impassable. You should keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

Seismic activity

Western Panama is located in an active seismic zone.