Monday, January 12, 2015

Before You Go: Panama - Central America

Next month me and my family will be traveling to the Bocas del Toro islands in Panama and since this is a country I have never visited I am going to research the dos and don'ts.

 Savvy travelers do research.

Take Panama for example...
What is the national currency?
How do I get to Bocas del Toro islands?
Is any English spoken?
Do we need any vaccinations?
Do you tip?
What is the best way to get around?
Is it safe?
Do I need a Visa?
Can I drink the water?
How to handle fresh fruit?

Our goal is to stay safe and have fun!!!

Here is what I have found...

Do: Learn some Spanish - just a few key words to get by.  
But in general Panama's second language is English so you will be fine especially in tourist areas.
Hola (hello)
Gracias (thank you)
Por Vavor (please)
Buenas Dias (good day)
Buenas Noches (good night)
Que Pasa (how are you)
Bien (good)
Quiero (I want)
Aqua (water)
Cuanto Cuesta (how much)
the list could go on and on....

Do: Tip.  
Always check your bill to see if a 10% gratuity has been added, if not add at lease that yourself.

Do: Bring U.S. Dollars as it is the national currency.  
Only bring small bills and change.  It will be close to impossible to break a $50 or larger.  

Do: Bring bug spray with deet and lots of it.  
Mosquitoes down there are vicious near the rainforest and carry malaria so protect yourself.  But in general mosquitoes are fairly well controlled and no vaccinations are needed. Just be smart.  

Do: Hire a driver if you plan on touring vast areas of the country.  
We will not need a driver as we are going to a contained area.  Hiring a driver is less expensive than a taxi and safer.
*Always determine the rate of a taxi BEFORE taking off!
*Only take taxi's that are painted yellow and with a number on it or connected with Uber
.  And if there are two people in the front seat - DON'T take it!

Do: Have a Passport (no Visa necessary).  
This is all that is required for entry and exits from Panama if you are a American, Canadian or from the European Union.  

Do: Exercise common sense concerning safety.  
Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America for tourists as theft is not that prevalent as in other destinations.  
Just follow common sense rules: don't wander into poor areas especially at night.  Never carry large sums of money or flash your smart phones, wallets or jewelry.
There is one city to avoid in Panama and that is Colon.  There are zero tourist attractions there so you will not find many Americans or other nationalities making you a walking target.  If you must go there go with a guide.   
The only Department of State warning about Panama is for the remote location of Darien province which borders Colombia and typically the only people who go there are journalists and missionaries.  

Do: Only drink bottled water.
I do not care if locals say the water is safe to drink....just say no.  Wherever you go always keep a few bottles of water on you and when you have an opportunity buy water do it.  Even if you have some - you can never have enough.  
Biggest rule when it comes to bottled water.
Do not purchase if safety seal is broken!
That means the locals are reusing the bottles and filling them with local water.
Even when I brush my teeth I use bottled water...just to be safe.

Do: Wash all fruit off with bottled water and if you can peel it then do so.
Enjoy all the fresh local fruit you can but just make sure it is clean and if you can peel the skin away do so.

Do: Save an extra $300 for your airfare to and from Bocas del Toro.
Each way to fly costs $150 for a 45 minute flight.  Your other option is a 10 hour bus or taxi ride then a ferry.  

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Now part of the biggest challenge in any trip is figure how much money you should bring.
Lets look at the costs of food and accommodation:

Depending on how you want to spend your money you can find cheap accommodations in a hostel dorm room around $11-15 per night.  Private rooms usually are $40 per night for a double room.
Then you have budget hotels that come with a private bath, A/C and occasionally breakfast starting at $40 per night and going to to $60 per night.
I am looking into a surf resort so we want to rent a bungalow and are willing to spend $140 because we are going to split that with another couple.

If you avoid western chains and stick to local food stalls you can eat between $2-5 per person and that will get you chick, rice, and beans.  For a nice meal with wine expect $30-40 per person. 

Buses: $10-20 (overnight $25)
Taxi: Depending on where you are going varies.  In general they do not haggle but do decide on a price before getting in car.

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And that my friends are the basics of Panama - stay true to them and you will enjoy your stay.
Once you decide on your itinerary just expand your knowledge on transportation or hotels. 

The travel consultants at United Military Travel can help you too with any questions.  
Contact them today to start your planning!

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Thank you so very much for taking the time to visit my blog! Traveling is very dear to me and sharing my travels and desires with you makes my heart smile. I want to hear all about your adventures because sharing travel stories is the root to all inspiration. Also, any suggestions you may have on how I can improve this blog - I am all ears!!
Allie xoxo