Tina Tiano, Apple Vacations Senior Manager of Sales for the Midwest, visited Panama on a recent trip.
To say I was impressed with Panama is an understatement. I think it offers a great deal to the average American traveler and is truly a newly discovered gem. There are several main tourist areas – Panama City and environs (i.e. the Canal), Playa Blanca – the main beach area on the Pacific, and the rainforest both near the city and on the Caribbean as well as north towards Costa Rica (i.e. Boca Del Toro) – Truly something for everyone.
What I loved about Panama –
- It’s close to the USA. It is a relatively short flight even with a connection and change of planes. Nonstop flights from the east coast are approx. 4 ½ hours.
- The main attractions in Panama are close and easy to get to – the canal, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Panama City, are all within a 1-1.5 hour drive or less. You can swim in the Caribbean, drive one hour and swim in the Pacific. This is not just a beach destination, not just an “eco” destination and not just a city destination- it is the combination of all three. It is a great place for those that want to participate in multiple excursions and have multiple vacation experiences. You can go to Panama City to eat, shop, see the canal etc. as well as go to the beach for relaxation and the rainforest for soft adventure all in one vacation.
- Because the USA controlled the canal area for so long, everything is up to US standards, including the water which is safe to drink straight from the tap just about anywhere you go. Medical facilities are also up to US standards and many Panamanian doctors are US trained.
- The roads are like US highways, which is one reason why travel time can be easily estimated. Panama City does have its fair share of rush hour traffic however and the driving is crazy in the city. Stop lights are often just a suggestion, so I wouldn’t recommend car rentals for most American travelers.
- The official currency used is the US dollar. It is easy and convenient because you know exactly what you are spending. There are ATMs everywhere in the city and in small neighboring towns.
- The voltage is 110 and the plugs are 2 pronged US plugs– no converters needed.
- The people are warm, open and very friendly much like Dominicans and Mexicans.
- There is very little language barrier – all the hotel/restaurant employees, as well as the average Panamanian, speak English. Communication is not an issue.
- Overall, Panama is one of the safest destinations in all of Latin America. Panama City is considered very safe with a very low incident of crime. I felt very comfortable walking around the city on my own.
- Much like Puerto Vallarta, Panama is known for its restaurants and dining. The food is wonderful and because of the mix of cultures, fusion restaurants abound. There are excellent seafood, Panamanian, Japanese, Italian, and steakhouse restaurants, as well as familiar chains for Americans that have to have their KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut to feel comfortable! Native Panamanian food is much like Puerto Rican (they haven’t met a fryer they didn’t like) but not at all spicy. The hotel food at the all inclusive resorts on average was very good. Also, many US brands of food and liquor that are familiar to Americans are a daily staple here as well.
- Panama is a shoppers mecca with options that include malls (Albrook, Multiplaza and Multicentro – which are every bit as big as our malls), upscale stores as well as the usual local artisan stalls and flea markets selling local goods. Things are relatively inexpensive to purchase in comparison to similar items in the United States.
- Panama has large, full service casinos on par with those found in Nassau and Aruba.
- Panama is a world class fishing destination specializing in marlin, tuna, wahoo and swordfish.
- Panama has golf – 3 championship courses including the Summit Golf and Resort, an 18 hole course located on the east bank of the Panama Canal designed by Jeffery Myers. They also have the Coronado Golf and Beach Resort which is an 18-hole course designed by Tom Fazio and located about 1 hour outside the city and lastly the Costa Blanca Golf & Villas located at the Decameron on Playa Blanca. It is lit allowing you to play both day and night.