Panama City, Panama
Since the creation of the world famous Panama Canal in 1914, this country has been at the heart of international shipping, serving as a connection point between the Pacific and the Caribbean. Panama has become a major tourist destination in recent years as flights from the US have become increasing cheap and more Americans begin to retire here. Most travelers stick to the well-worn tourist trail of Bocas del Toro, Boquete, the San Blas islands, and Panama City but if you head to some of the lesser-known places, you’ll be rewarded with better food, vistas, and cheaper prices.
Accommodation – Accommodation is extremely cheap in Panama with a night in a hostel dorm costing between 11-15 PAB. Private rooms in hostels average around 40 PAB per night in a double room. Budget hotels with a private bath, A/C, and (sometimes) breakfast cost between 40-60 PAB per night.
Food – Local food stalls meals will cost around 2-5 PAB and will get you chicken, rice, and beans. Westernized restaurants will cost between 7-10 PAB per meal. For a nice meal with wine, expect to pay around 30-40 PAB.
Transportation – Buses around the country cost between 10-20 PAB. Overnight buses cost around 25 PAB. To travel from one side of Panama City to the other is around 4 PAB. Intra-country flights are really expensive – never take them.
Activities – Coffee tours are 25 PAB, a two-tank dive is around 60 PAB, most day hikes are around 50 PAB. A visit to the Panama Canal is 15 PAB. The popular San Blas island cruise is about 400 PAB for 4 or 5 days.
Money Saving Tips
Carry small change – Taxi drivers and shop assistants will not accept 20 PAB bills to pay for inexpensive items. Be sure to break notes before going shopping or getting a taxi in case you are left with no other option but to pay with a 20!
Eat at the local stands – Meals at local food stalls cost between 3-4 PAB. You’ll get rice, chicken, beans, and maybe another side plus a drink. I didn’t love the food in Panama but at the price they had, it made eating very cheap.
Avoid taxis – I found taxis here to be a complete rip off. As my friend JP says “You get Gringoed.” They were also far more unwilling to negotiate than I found in places like Asia. I’d try to avoid them if at all possible.
Refill your water – In most of the country, you can drink the tap water. It won’t kill you or make you sick. There’s no need to always buy new water bottles. Save yourself a few dollars a day and fill up from the tap.
Stick to beer – Beer is usually 0.50-1 PAB during hostel happy hours. Otherwise, a local Panama or Balboa was 1.50 PAB. Mix drinks are usually 2 PAB. So stick to beer, spend less, and save more without cutting into your good time.
Avoid hot water – Get rooms with cold water showers. Hot water always costs a lot more. It’s so hot here anyways, you’ll hardly ever want it anyways. Even I got used to cold water showers, and usually I get cranky without hot water!