Panama is a relatively small strip of land in Central America at the crossroads of two continents and two oceans. This little country is home to the iconic Panama Canal, a popular tourist attraction, but it is by no means all that you can enjoy on holiday here.
Travel to Panama to explore tropical rainforests teeming with wildlife, some of the most exquisite beaches in the Americas, paradise islands in the Caribbean, volcanoes, plenty of history and a vibrant capital city with loads of entertainment on offer. It’s also an adventure playground with numerous activities available on its 3,300km coastline and on some of the 2,000 islands offshore. As Panama is relatively unexplored, a holiday here is full of surprises.
Why travel to Panama
- It’s easily accessible from both the USA and South America.
- The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that opens the way between two continents and transforming shipping in the process.
- Its coffee is considered some of the world’s best.
- Panama’s tropical rainforests offer an incredible diversity of wildlife.
- You can wander off the beaten track and explore thousands of islands.
- The weather is superb – in Panama, it’s summer all year round.
- Adventure holiday options abound, as Panama is relatively untouched.
- You can drive from one end of the country to the other in under two hours.
Few people know that Panama was once underwater, but now it’s literally a bridge separating North and South America. The Spanish also used Panama as a way to transport gold from Peru to Spain. Its history is fascinating and its cultures unique, with seven Indian tribes still living in the country. It may be small, but it’s packed with so many different opportunities for a sensational holiday. Thompsons can take you on a Panama holiday package to discover its allure.
Things to do on a Panama holiday
Holidays in Panama are all about adventure and culture. This beautiful little country that bridges North and South America is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts. Here, you can visit untouched islands filmed in the TV series Survivor, go scuba diving, white-water rafting, zip-lining, surfing, hiking and snorkelling! For those who enjoy viewing unusual wildlife, Panama is your next holiday destination. There are 125 species of wildlife in Panama that are found nowhere else on earth!
Panama is renowned for playing an important role in global trade and politics, but now it’s becoming a popular holiday destination. And no wonder! With its beautiful white sand beaches, delicious coffee and rum, rainforests and untouched islands, Panama is an absolute delight to discover.
Things to do in Panama
- Enjoy rafting in the rainforest.
- Explore Casco Viejo, Panama City’s old district that was once ransacked by pirates.
- Taste Geisha coffee, considered the champagne of coffee.
- Visit the iconic Panama Canal.
- Buy yourself a Panama hat (although they actually originated in Ecuador!).
- Climb the dormant Baru Volcano.
- Enjoy snorkelling and diving in the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
- Discover the wilderness of the Darién Gap.
- Embark on a tree canopy adventure in the Anton Valley.
- Go surfing in Santa Catalina.
- Take an evening stroll along the promenade on Avenida Balboa.
- Visit Iglesia San Jose to see its spectacular gold altar.
- Discover Panama Viejo, the original Panama City built in 1519.
- Explore the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo.
One of the world’s most beautiful countries, Panama suits every kind of traveller. Whether you’re taking the family on an all-inclusive holiday, seeking adventure with a group of friends, going solo or enjoying a honeymoon on a paradise island.
Know before you go...
- Best time to visit Panama is in the dry season (summer), December to March.
- Wet season (winter) is May to November.
- Flight duration from Johannesburg to Panama City with one stopover: 23 hours, 30 minutes.
- There are few flights from South Africa to Panama.
- South African passport holders do not require a visa to enter Panama for a stay of up to 180 days.
- Passports must be valid for 3 months after departure from Panama.
- Panama is 7 hours behind South Africa.
- The official currency is the Panamanian Balboa (PAB), but the US Dollar (USD) is widely used instead.
- Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are prevalent.
- Tipping is not obligatory but happily accepted in Panama.
- The official language is Spanish.
- English is not widely spoken, so learn a few Spanish phrases so you can communicate with the locals.
- Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Panama.
- When visiting sacred sites and temples, dress conservatively. (See ‘What to pack’).
- It is safe to drink tap water in parts of Panama. However, bottled water is readily available.
- Smoking is not permitted in public areas such as restaurants, bars and indoor work places as well as on public transport. Airports offer designated smoking rooms.
- Vaccinations – please check with your travel clinic before you go.
What must I pack?
- Lightweight clothing in summer, warm layerable clothing for winter or beach wear depending on where you are going.
- Comfortable walking shoes.
- Sunscreen, lip balm, hat and sunglasses.
- Mini first aid kit and regular prescription medication.
- Hand sanitiser and insect repellent.
- Travel adaptor.
- Transport within Panama includes buses, boats, taxis & private cars.
- Towns in outlying areas may have less sophisticated transport infrastructure – it depends where you are going.
What can I do to be a responsible traveller?
- Wherever possible, buy local food and souvenirs and support local artisans.
- Instead of using plastic bags, take fabric shopping bags with you.
- Respect each other's cultures and customs and avoid imposing your beliefs.
- Be safety conscious: don’t display cash or valuables. Leave jewellery and expensive watches at home.
- Keep your belongings safe – use the hotel safe for passports and valuables and watch out for pickpockets and bag snatchers when out and about.
What do I do in an emergency?
- If passports or valuables are stolen, report the theft to the hotel/police immediately.
- Contact the Thompsons Holidays 24-hour care line to assist.
Out of season
We’re sorry! The holiday you’re looking for is not in season. Luckily, we have loads of other exciting options. Take a look!