Rana Dorada in Casco Viejo – New & Improved!

After three years of restoration, the Rana Dorada of Casco Viejo has finally opened the doors of its new location.Image by Rana Dorada

Situated on Calle 9 Este with Calle Boquete, located just behind Magnolia Inn, the Rana Dorada features inside seating, upscale furnishing and decor, and an expanded menu, as well as valet parking.

The Rana is a perfect place to meet up with friends and have a drink (or two). Read more about their artisan beer here, which include Blanche, IPA, Pils, Pale Ale, Porter, Grand Cru, Coffee Porter and Coco Porter.

Rana Dorada Casco Viejo Restoration

Restoration Efforts. Image by Rana Dorada.

Rana Dorada Casco Viejo

Rana Dorada, Casco Viejo. Image by Rana Dorada.

Panama: The Perfect Choice for Your Next Holiday Vacation

Looking for a vacation destination in the months of December and January? Look no further: Let Panama be your vacation destination!

But why visit Panama when there are so many other amazing places to visit in the world? The answer is easy. Panama is a vibrant country, filled with a passion, spirit, and comfort that is almost palpable.Panama Canal Panama 2017

Although Panama is known mainly for the Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (which is one of the seven wonders of the modern world) there is so much more to Panama waiting to be explored by the adventurous traveler! However, a visit to see such a wonder is worth the trip alone!

A nice alternative to cold and snowy winters, Panama is warm and tropical during the December and January months. When visiting during December and January, just make sure to pack light. The average temperature in December is 79°F (26°C) and in January the average temperature is 81°F (27°C).  Although, it would be prudent to bring an umbrella, seeing as how Panama is a tropical climate and you’re likely to get caught in a few rain showers (albeit warm ones!)Panama Highlands 2017

Panama is great for people who want to fill their trips with activities. For example, if you’re an avid hiker then visiting Panama during the dry season would be your best bet. The dry season lasts from mid-December until May. Enjoy the experience of hiking in gorgeous rainforests teaming with wildlife in places such as Boquete, El Valle or Cerro Punta. Due to the altitude, however, slightly warmer clothes are recommended.

Or, if you’re a bit more of an adrenaline junkie, December is also a good time to go whitewater rafting in the Chiriquí Province due to the fact that it will be the tail end of the off-season, when rivers are high.Panama-Carribean-2017

Perhaps you’re more of an ocean person? Once you get tired of reading on the beach, you can try your hand at scuba diving or snorkeling. Perhaps you’re keen for a bit of surfing? For the best results and most fun, it is advisable to participate in these activities in the dry season (between December and April) when visibility in the water isn’t interrupted by rain.

Specific Places to Visit in Panama:[1]

The eclectic nature of Panama enables travelers to have experiences that are truly once in a lifetime and provides numerous “can’t miss” opportunities to create unforgettable memPanama Canal Railroad 2017ories.  Here is a list of some amazing activities and trips that would be sure to pique any traveler’s interest:

  1. Panama Canal Railway Ride: The Panama Canal Railway is comprised of an old-fashioned locomotive and runs from Panama City, on the Pacific Ocean, to Colón, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is historically significant due to the fact that it is the original and world’s first trans-continental railway! During the approximately 90 minute ride, visitors are able to enjoy views of the Panama Canal, Gatun Lake, and surrounding tropical rainforest from numerous vantage points along the railway cars.
  1. Monkey Island: Monkey Island is located in Soberania National Park. Soberania is not just home to monkeys, however, it is also known for its plethora of various bird species. In fact, the Audubon Society’s annual bird count once spotted over 500 species in 24 hours! Soberania National Park is full of wildlife and is a wonderful place to watch for a menagerie of animals including monkeys, sloths, eagles, and plenty more. But let’s not forget what caught your eye. The monkeys! You will take a boat to Monkey Island – where you will (most likely) view a variety of different species of monkey. There are reviews of monkeys being extra comfortable cozying up to people,  beautiful landscapes, and even crocodile sightings!
  1. Embera Indian Village Tour: The Embera tribe is comprised of incredibly friendly people who love to show visitors their way of life. They will make you feel welcome in their village and introduce you to their traditional food, music, and dance. You can even hang out for a bit and go for a swim…under a waterfall! And no need to worry about souvenirs, you will also have the opportunity to buy handmade gifts from the townspeople. Reaching the Embera Village is an adventure in and of itself. This   involves traveling up the Chagres River in a canoe and then trekking through    the rainforest. The benefit of such a trek is that you will be up close and   personal with all of the gorgeous splendors that the rainforest of Panama has to offer.
  1. Portobelo: This unassuming little town has a pretty awesome origin story! It was first given the name “Puerto Bello” aka “Beautiful Port” by Christopher Columbus in 1502. As some things do over the course of time, the name Puerto Bello morphed into Portobelo. This fort has had quite the history with pirates! Rumor has it that Francis Drake was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo Bay after dying of dysentery in 1596. The two most famous pirates to have captured Portobelo were privateer William Parker, who attacked and captured the city in 1601, and Captain Henry Morgan, who captured the fort in 1668. Unsurprisingly, the 18th-century fortifications one sees today were built by the Spanish to protect their gold from pirates. Along with Fort San Lorenzo, the fortifications have achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
  1. Barro Colorado Island: Barro Colorado Island is a unique wonder that no one should miss out on if given the chance to see! The island is run by the Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research and is a living tropical research laboratory! Now is your chance to see 381 bird species, 102 mammal species and 1,316 plant species, some of which you will not see elsewhere, in a protected habitat, by tour operators with knowledge that far surpasses anything you can imagine. Previously only research scientists were allowed on the island, but now tour operators can take tourists on day trips along its nature trails. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity!

Casco ViejoCasco Viejo Panama City Panam

One particular jewel in Panama is Casco Viejo, which was founded in 1671, after the Governor at the time, Juan Perez de Guzman, ordered much of the original city to be burned to the ground upon hearing of the imminent arrival of the famous pirate Sir Henry Morgan, who was intent on pillaging and looting the city.

Casco Viejo is a traveler’s paradise.  Not only does it hold great cultural and historical significance, but it is also a thriving hot spot of ingenuity and rebirth in Panama City. One could consider it the heart of Panama. In fact, UNESCO officially recognized it as a World Heritage site in 1997 due to its historical value, significance, and tenacity. While there, one can witness an unusual mixture of Spanish, French, and early American architectural styles that one need not be an architectural buff to find captivating.

Magnolia Inn[2]

One can immerse themselves in the rich history of Panama by staying in one of the hotels in Casco Viejo. One hotel that is particularly impressive is the Magnolia Inn. The Magnolia Inn is a repurposed French Colonial mansion in the heart of Casco Viejo, its foundations dating back to the 18th century and owned by one Señora Rosa Icaza de Briceño, with the final structure being completed in the early 1900s. Feel free to let your imagination run wild with fantasies of what could have been. Panama Viejo, Casco Viejo’s predecessor, was left a raging inferno, compliments of Sir Henry Morgan, a pirate given free rein to pillage and plunder Spanish holdings due to a “letter of marque” from the King of England.

The history of the Magnolia Inn is not the only breathtaking characteristic about the hotel. Despite being located in the historical district, it has all of the modern amenities one could desire. But the real selling point of Magnolia Inn is the remarkable view. The Magnolia Inn is located on a street corner with a balcony that gives one an amazing view of art and architecture which comprise Casco Viejo. It’s truly a sight to see!

A famous saying with regards to Panama is, “The only thing Panamanians take seriously are their holidays.”

Luckily for those traveling to Panama during the month of January, several festivals make the experience worth it!

The Flower and Coffee Festival takes place in Boquete every year in mid-January. This festival is one of the most robust celebrations of flowers in the world!  It draws thousands of people to Boquete for 10 extravagant days of lush flower displays, tasty food stands, live music, amusement rides, and booths filled with handmade crafts. It would be wise to book hotel rooms in advance.

Located in Panama City, Jazz Festival takes place in late January, extending over one 3-day weekend. During this time, Panama City is alive with vibrant jazz performances by renowned international musicians. Tickets to see all of the performances cost a fee; but there are some events which are held outdoors that are open to the public. In order to receive more information about this event, please log on to www.panamajazzfestival.com.

For more information about specific events throughout Panama, please call the ATP tourism board at tel. 800-962-1526, or check out their website at www.visitpanama.com, for more information.

Conclusion:

Panama is a country which contains an adventure for everyone! You simply can’t go wrong with choosing to visit Panama for your next vacation during the December and January months; whether you want to relax on the beach and read a book, hike in the rainforest, go whitewater rafting, have the pleasure of meeting indigenous people and experiencing a culture different from your own, make friends with monkeys, or explore ruins once pillaged by pirates. To make your experience more memorable, you can even stay in one of the historical sites that give Panama its rich and flavorful culture people know and love the world over!

[1] http://panamainfo.com/en/listings-businesses-and-services/tours-&-tour-operators

[2] https://www.magnoliapanama.com/

Panama Black Weekend, September 2017

Panama’s Black Friday 2017, a commercial event organized by Panama’s Tourism Authority (ATP), will take place in September, called Panama Black Weekend 2017, as opposed to the traditional month of November.

Why?

Gustavo Him, head of Panama’s Tourism Authority (ATP), explained that, “The change of Panama’s Black Friday date to September is because September is a historically slow month for trade and tourism, during which purchase behavior needs to be stimulated via offers, in an effort to avoid saturating December, which is traditionally busy due to holiday shopping.”

The measure was agreed on by the stores that make up the 11 shopping centers affiliated with the Panamanian Association of Shopping Centers.

Panama’s Best Beaches

From the tried and true to the unexplored, here’s Magnolia’s list of our favorite Panamanian beaches.

Panama is an isthmus squeezed between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and has 1,786 miles (2,857 kilometers) of coastline. Between the mangroves and the mud flats, there are some gems of beaches out there. This list gives a sampling of the beaches across Panama, from Bocas del Toro in the west to the Darien in the east; from the Caribbean coast in the north to the southern Pacific beaches in the Azuero; the beaches close to Panama City and out on the Pearl Islands.

Panama’s Northern Coast Beaches

To clear up any confusion from the start, Panama City is located on the southern coast of Panama on the Pacific Ocean. Sixty miles north of the city sits Colón, Panama’s second largest city and the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. There are three main destinations along the Caribbean coast to enjoy great beaches – in Colón province around the town of Portobelo; dotted all over the San Blas Islands in the semiautonomous indigenous province of Guna Yala; and in Bocas del Toro province located near Panama’s western boarder with Costa Rica.

The Caribbean coast is much different than Panama’s southern coast in landscape, vegetation and culture – from the Afro-Antillean roots of Colón and Bocas del Toro to the semi-autonomous indigenous province of Guna Yala, you’ll find the white sand and salty water of the Caribbean with most beaches on small islands located relatively close to the mainland.

Panama’s Southern Coast Beaches

Beaches located on Panama’s southern shores are as varied as they are beautiful. Close to the city the beaches are not spectacular, but they are great beaches, nonetheless, and their convenience can’t be beat. These beaches in the provinces of Panama and Coclé are easily accessible from the city and can be enjoyed even if you have only one day to spare.

If you have more than a couple days, the spectacular Pearl Islands are just a short flight or ferry ride away from Panama City. The most popular and easily accessible island is Contadora, which boasts 11 gorgeous beaches and is small enough to cover on foot (or scooters and golf carts). Farther afield in the west are the surf beaches of the Azuero peninsula. Towns like Pedasí, Playa Venao and Playa Cambutal are perfect spots for catching some waves or blissing out at a yoga retreat. The vibe is chill and the people are friendly.

If you really want to get off the beaten path and explore a wild and remote beach, head to Jaqué in the Darién province. Close to world renowned deep sea fishing outfits like Tropic Star Lodge, the town of Jaqué has been cut off from the rest of Panama’s tourists boom due to the FARC rebels, but as the Colombian crisis ends and the rebels put down their guns, expect more travel into the awesome rugged beauty of the Darien. For now, travel with a reputable tour guide and don’t forget to pack your sense of adventure.

Helpful Info

Similar to beach towns everywhere, you can often expect a quick afternoon shower daily. The driest months run mid-December through May, and the rainy season lasts from June to mid-December. During the wettest months, expect daily afternoon showers that last an hour or two. Rarely does it rain all day.

Panama is renowned for its riptides. No matter how refreshing the water looks, analyze conditions, stay out of choppy water, or head to a beach known for calm water.

Without further adieu, here are our picks for the best beaches in Panama:

Beaches in Panama Province

Punta Chame Beach
Central Panama

Punta Chame Beach, Panama

Punta Chame is a long, stretched out, semi-deserted beach with soft sand and a beautiful mountain backdrop across the Bahía de Chame in central Panama. Because of the nearly constant wind, it is a first rate beach for kite surfing, though more relaxing activities can surely be had like bird watching and walking the expansive beach checking out the views of Panama City’s skyscrapers and the islands of Otoque and Taboga in the distance.  If you do want to try your hand at kite surfing, there is a school on the beach that caters to both beginners and more advanced students. The windsurfing/kite surfing season runs from mid-November to the end of April.

To arrive at the punta (point) you exit the Inter-American Highway and drive 25 km down a long, thin peninsula passing shrimp farms and mangroves. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Panama City (70 km west). While it is a popular spot for adrenaline-junkies who visit the Nitro City adventure sports hotel, there are few amenities (only a few hotels and residences) so it’s not overcrowded or obnoxious. It’s simply a great spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Be advised, however, that the waves are great for kite surfing but can sometimes be rough for swimming, and there are times when there are stingrays in the water, so watch out for the signs and shuffle your feet!

There are only a few services in Punta Chame. Along the beach there are a couple hotels with restaurants. The nicest restaurant in town is the lovely Casa Amarilla. It’s a charming French restaurant that you definitely shouldn’t miss (it has great vegetarian options, too!). You can pick up ice and beer and other convenience store items at the chino in Punta Chame, but for a bank, ATM, and basic grocery stores you have to stop in the town of Chame, located along the Inter-American Highway.

Just west of the turnoff for Punta Chame along the Inter-American Highway are located a string of other lovely beaches: Playa Coronado and Playa Farallón, both beach resort destinations, Playa El Palmar, a surfing beach, and the laid back white-sand beach of Playa Santa Clara.

Santa Clara Beach
Central Panama

Santa Clara Beach Panama

Santa Clara is located along the Pacific coast in Central Panama, just off the Inter-American Highway 108 km east of Panama City and only 13 km past Coronado. Santa Clara’s calm waters make it great for swimming, and it has soft sand that is nice for lounging. The beach is nice and long, perfect for running or walking. Though it’s not very crowded during the week, it’s a popular local spot on the weekends and holidays.

There are a few hotels and restaurants located right on the beach. For a more rustic experience you can rent out a hammock or rancho for a few bucks a night, or pitch your own tent along the shore. If you want to go the other way and really splurge, you’ll find popular all-inclusive resorts nearby, which boast water sports, beach activities, fine dining and nightly entertainment.

Las Veraneras Restaurant is on the beach at the western end where you’ll also find the crowds on the weekends. Keep in mind that this can turn into a party beach on some days, but because the shore is plenty, everyone can usually coexist peacefully. Also, be aware that there are rip currents all along Panama’s central coast, so you shouldn’t go deeper than your waist to be on the safe side.

If you’re taking a bus, take any of the buses heading west and they can drop you off at the turnoff (Río Hato, Anton, or Penonomé buses will all get you there). The nearest larger town is Penonomé located 36 km west. Santa Clara also makes for a great stop off when heading from El Valle back to Panama City.

Isla Contadora Beaches

Gulf and Canal Zone – Pearl Islands

Isla Contadora Beaches, Pearl Islands, Panama

The Pearl Islands are a group of some 200 islands about 30 miles off the Pacific coast of Panama in the Gulf of Panama. The islands have been made famous as a popular location for reality TV shows like Survivor and other programs like The Real Swiss Family Robinson, The Island with Bear Grylls and the Dutch show Adam Looking for Eve. Vasco Nunez de Balboa named the islands because of the many pearls that were found there and legend has it that Spanish conquistadors used the Contadora Island to take account of their inventory before returning to Spain (contadora means counter or bookkeeper in Spanish).

Today you’ll find impressive mansions, quaint accommodations, luscious vegetation, and some of the most spectacular beaches in Panama. The island is small, only half a mile square (1.2 square kilometers), but there are eleven stunning beaches to enjoy. Rent a golf-cart, scooter or bike for the day and visit all of these lovely beaches. For snorkeling, try Playa Galeón and Playa Larga. For peaceful isolation, try the marvelous Playa Cacique. And to forget about tan lines, try the tide pools at Playa de las Sueces, Panama’s only nude beach. If you wanted to hire a boat, you can check out the neighboring islands of Pacheca, Isla de los Párajos, Saboga, Casaya and Mogo Mogo.

There are a few restaurants on the island, as well as a dive shop and other convenience stores. There are no ATMs or banks so bring what you will need. You can arrive to the island by air or sea. Flights from Panama City are 25 minutes or you can take a fast ferry that will get you there in 2 hours. A wonderful time to visit is during the whale migration between July and October. Every year Humpback whales migrate north from the southern hemisphere to mate, give birth, nurse and prepare the young whales for the long journey back south.

Colon Province Beaches

Isla Grande
Central Caribbean Coast

 

Isla Grande Beach Panama

Isla Grande is a small island in the Caribbean just 15 km past the historic town of Portobelo. The island is a great spot with nice beaches and a very chill vibe. You won’t find any roads, but you will enjoy lots of coconuts, fresh fish and reggae music. There is good swimming and snorkeling, as well as a decent surf spot over a shallow reef. If you do plan on surfing, wear booties and don’t get in the water alone if you’ve never surfed here before.

For a breathtaking panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea, follow a forested trial to the El Faro Lighthouse. The lighthouse was designed and constructed by the French during their Canal building campaign in the late 1800s. The original light that sat on top of the lighthouse is now in the Panama Canal Museum in Panama City, and was designed by Gustav Eiffel. Today the lighthouse still serves as a landfall light for ship arriving at the Panama Canal from the northeast. The hike is about 30 minutes and is accessible from town and the nearby resorts.

Isla Grande is a two-hour drive by car from Panama City. To get there from Panama City drive towards Colón. Take a right turn at the El Rey grocery store and McDonalds in Colón, heading towards Portobelo. After passing Portobelo, La Guaira is the end of the road. You can park your car in the secured areas, which cost a few dollars a day. You can catch a boat taxi on the dock that will take you about 300 meters to the island and cost a couple bucks. Buses leave from the main street in Portobelo to La Guira

Isla Mamey
Central Caribbean Coast

Isla Mamey Beach Panama

Near Isla Grande is the small island of Isla Mamey. If you’ve been looking for a great camp spot in Panama, you’ve found it. Located along Panama’s Caribbean coast, Isla Mamey is small — only about one acre in total — but has a good beach, crystal clear water, nice trees and a beautiful landscape.

There are concrete camping pads where you can pitch your tent or you can choose to set up on the grass behind them. Bring all of your water and provisions for your stay, as there is nowhere to buy anything on the island. With your friends and a barbeque you’re all set for a glorious couple days enjoying the ocean breezes in the sand and surf. At night you’ll enjoy the peaceful lull of the ocean waves while gazing up at the stars.

Try not to visit on a weekend, it will be packed with local families, but if you can make it on a weekday you might have the whole island to yourself. Admission to the island costs a dollar and boat taxis from the town of Puerto Lindo run about six dollars round-trip. Pack smart. If you camp be sure to bring a tarp in (the likely) case of rain.

Comarca Guna Yala Beaches

Isla Aguja
San Blas Islands

Isla Aguja Beach Panama

There are a number of destinations in the Panama’s Guna Yala archipelago where you can enjoy great beaches. Accommodations range from rustic to above average (keep in mind that you’re there for the area’s idyllic island beauty, not any swanky accommodations). You can fly into Achutupo, Mulatupo or El Porvenir and travel to islands close to those nearby airports, or you can drive or fly into the small town of Cartí, a short distance from the beautiful little Aguja Island.

The island, which means Needle Island in the native Guna language, has a white-sand beach and swaying palm trees. The clear water is great for swimming, snorkeling, or just cooling off. The island is fairly accessible—it takes about ten minutes to get here by boat from the coast.

Isla Perros
San Blas Islands

Isla Perros Beach Panama

Isla Perros is one of the biggest and most popular islands in San Blas. A small island surrounded by crystal-clear, warm water, it’s a little paradise. There is a nearby shipwreck that is a great place to snorkel and see the colorful fish and corals. And there are plenty of palm trees to hang out in the shade.

It’s usually not crowded and the island is clean and beautiful. There are cabañas with great views or you can opt to camp out on the beach.

There is a bathroom and rustic restaurant on the island, but do bring water, snacks and towels with you when you go.

From Cartí, take a 45-minute boat ride to arrive at the island.

Los Santos Province Beaches

Playa Cambutal
Azuero Peninsula

Want to chase down tuna, roosterfish, wahoo, marlin, and grouper? Playa Cambutal is located on the Azuero Peninsula’s “Tuna Coast” – so named because the seafloor dives steeply just beyond the coastline, creating an area that’s ideal for large fish. Deep-sea anglers will have a great time at this laid-back beach town on the southern Azuero Peninsula.

If fishing isn’t your thing, Playa Cambutal also boasts nice waves with no crowds. Just a couple years ago, only a few surf fanatics and the locals knew of lovely this off-the-beaten path destination. Today there is the impetus of development to welcome more travelers to this beautiful part of the country. There are nice hotels located along the beach that serve great food and drinks and offer activities and equipment, like surf boards and kayaks.

The black sand beaches, great surf waves, mountain backdrops, and magnificent sunsets make for an excellent getaway and well worth the effort to get there. You can enjoy a morning horseback ride, explore the Cerro Hoya National Park and look for the endangered scarlet macaw in the beautiful costal forests, take an afternoon surf lesson, and sit and sip cold drinks by the pool at sunset. Driving from Panama City will take you between five and six hours, but you won’t mind once you’re on the beach sipping a cool cocktail watching a spectacular sunset.

Darien Province Beaches

Jaqué
Eastern Panama

Jaque Beach Panama

The vast and unexplored beaches of Jaqué in the Darién

Never hear of Jaqué? Most people haven’t. It’s located in Panama’s Darién province. The Darién is a vast undeveloped area that connects Central and South America and in the very recent past has been notorious for FARC rebel activity. Still, the Darién National Park contains an extremely rich biodiversity with varieties of habitats, like beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, swamps, and lowland and upland tropical forests containing remarkable wildlife. On top of that, the province is home to a number of indigenous tribes.

Jaqué sits on a beautiful coast with powerful waves. There is no road access in this sleepy fishing village, so you must arrive by boat or by plane. There’s a diverse population of Afro-Darienitas, Emberá and Wounaan, which make the town a uniquely cultural experience. Adding to Jaqué’s wild and untamed beauty are the huge and majestic marine turtles who come to nest here seasonally. Not for the novice traveler, this is admittedly a difficult spot to travel to, but it just goes to show Panama’s wild and unexplored treasures in the Darien.

Although much of the Darién is impassable and dangerous, there are some parts that can be visited, although travelling by yourself limits your opportunities and can be dangerous. To visit Jaqué contact a reputable tour operator who could arrange accommodations and the flight from Panama City for you. Another way to get there (or close) is by booking an epic fishing trip at the exclusive Tropic Star Lodge in neighboring Bahia Piña. At this world-renowned fishing resort, you’ll get up close and personal with black marlin, blue marlin and sailfish.

Panama will increase its wind power production by 2018

Panama will increase its wind power production by 2018

Source: laestrella.com.pa

Next year, three new wind energy projects will be added to the National Interconnected System (SIN), which will provide approximately 170 MW, making Panama one of the region’s most productive countries.

The new projects, located in the province of Coclé, will add an additional 63% of wind energy to existing capacity, which reaches 270 MW in the dry season of the year, according to the National Public Services Authority (ASEP).

According to statistics from the National Drought Center (CND), wind power in Panama reached high levels of production during the 2017 dry season, supplying 14% of the market’s energy.

he new projects, which will operate in the communities of El Coco, Toabré and Tolú, in the district of Penonomé, will give a significant contribution to the energy matrix, mainly those of the renewable category.

24 Hours in Panama City

Panama is a gateway city

If you’re flying from North America to the Caribbean, Central, or South America, you’re most likely making a connection in Panama City. Panama’s Tocumen International Airport serves as a regional hub serving millions of passengers a year traveling from the U.S., Canada and a handful of European cities to destinations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Copa Airlines, a Star Alliance member, is headquartered in Panama and has partnered with the Panamanian Tourism Authority to encourage travelers to choose an extended layover with no extra fees so that you can take advantage of Panama’s fantastic capital city. Plus, you get more bang for your buck, visiting two destinations for the price of one!

If you do find yourself making a connection in Panama, definitely stay for an extended layover. The city’s historic district, Casco Viejo, is a perfect and charming stopover location. Located just 15 miles (25 km) from the airport, the Casco Viejo neighborhood (also called Casco Antiguo or San Felipe) is walkable and compact with lots to see, eat and drink. With just 24 hours, you can experience Panama City’s historic gem. At just 30 square blocks, Casco Viejo has everything you could hope for to see and do in a day. You can take a food tour, experience great nightlife, wake up in a beautiful hotel, and wander around the cobblestone streets taking in the beautiful architecture, historic landmarks, colorful scenery, stunning vistas, delectable street food, sophisticated restaurants and even a cool brewery. You can even fit in a jungle hike! Do yourself a favor and give Panama a little bit of your time, and she might convince you to come back on your next trip.

Arriving to Panama City, Panama

Panama’s Tocumen airport is easy and modern. Once you pass through customs and immigration downstairs, walk outside and grab a taxi. No need to exchange money, Panama uses US Dollars (Panamanians call them Balboas). Tell the driver “San Felipe” and agree on the price, it should be $30. You’ll cruise along the Corridor Sur, a wide modern toll road that zips you through Panama’s flashy downtown and delivers you to the old town in about 20 minutes (traffic at rush hour can be horrendous, so beware and plan accordingly!). To make it super easy on yourself, contact Magnolia Inn’s concierge service who will make arrangements to have you picked up and dropped off at the airport hassle free!

24 Hours in Panama City

Image Credit

Take advantage of Magnolia Inn’s perfect location and stay in the center of Panama’s old town. Arrive at the hotel and drop off your bags. Walk around the corner to Cafe UNIDO Coffee Roasters on Calle 9a and Avenida Central. Here you can perk up with a world-renowned, exquisite cup of Geisha coffee in the retro-glamorous interior lobby of the American Trade Hotel and meet up with Joey for a Panama Detour walking tour.

Joey can personalize the tours to cater to visitors’ time and interests, but a food tour can be a great idea to pass the evening! Sample Panama’s variety of local flavors – dark, rich chocolate made from locally grown cacao, smooth Panamanian rum cocktails, fresh ceviche at the Fish Market, and even locally brewed craft beer – while walking around Casco Viejo’s charming cobbled stone streets in the beautiful evening light with someone who knows (and appreciates) the lay of the land. After the tour, you can keep the party going and head to the rooftop deck of Tantalo for a drink and spectacular view, or head in for the evening and enjoy a good night’s rest.

Morning in Panama

Wake early and grab a coffee and breakfast sandwich from Super Gourmet located on Avenida A, between Calle 6a & 7a.  Take a taxi or Uber to Ancon Hill to enjoy a 2 km (1 ¼ mi) morning walk up the hill. The tree canopy offers shade and there are benches along the way to relax and enjoy to views. If you’re lucky you’ll see sloths, white-nosed coati, nine-banded armadillos, Geoffroy’s tamarins, or deer on Ancon Hill. At the top, enjoy the excellent view of Panama City and Casco Viejo to the southeast, and spectacular views of the Panama Canal with the new expanded locks and the Centennial Bridge can be seen to the west.

24 Hours in Panam City Panama

Head back to Casco Viejo for a quick shower to cool down and head over to Rene Cafe in the Plaza de la Independencia to take advantage of their lunch special – a salad, entree, main and dessert – for $10. The food is nice, the atmosphere is relaxed and the staff is hospitable. Located in Casco Viejo’s main square, the cafe is a great starting spot for a self-guided sightseeing tour around the old city. (If you prefer to use a personal audio guided walking tour app check out our recent blog post: 10 Unique Things to Do in Casco Viejo.)

Take in the Panama sights

Panama declared its independence from Colombia on November 3, 1903 in the Plaza de la Independencia, and it’s in this main square that you can see several important landmarks. From Rene Café, the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) is on your right. On the opposite (south side) of the plaza is the Museo del Canal Interoceánico. The neoclassical building was built in 1875 as the Gran Hotel, and converted into Canal Headquarters by the French in 1881; later it was used as offices for the U.S. canal commission, today it houses the Canal Museum.

From the cafe, head east (away from the Cathedral) to Calle 6a Este. Take a left and Calle 6a Este leads to the Palacio Presidencial (Presidential Palace). Bring your passport (or a copy) to show to the security guards on the street in order to pass. The Spanish mansion houses the offices of Panama’s President, and two African herons — whose Spanish name, garza, is the reason the palace is also called the Palacio de las Garzas. Here you can also enjoy the views of the city skyline.

After posing for a few pictures, turn right on Calle 5a Este, and head south one block, then turn left on Avenida B. Walk one block until you reach Plaza Bolívar. One of Casco Viejo’s prettiest spots, Plaza Bolívar was named in 1883 in honor of Simon Bolívar, widely considered in Latin America to be the hero of independence from Spain and whose monument adorns the center of the plaza. The Ministry of Foreign Relations on the northeast edge next to the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asís (Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi), one of the original structures from Casco Viejo but nearly totally destroyed by fires in 1737 and 1756. Across the plaza is the Iglesia San Felipe de Neri, one of the first churches built in Casco Viejo (1684-88).

On the corner of Calle 3a and Avenida B you can see the Teatro Nacional (National Theater). Built between 1905 and 1908, on the grounds of the old Concepción Monastery, the Teatro Nacional opened in 1908 with a presentation of Verdi’s Aida, and it is perhaps best known for the frescoes rendered by Panama’s most famous painter, Roberto Lewis and its baroque decor (unfortunately you won’t be able to view the scarlet and gilded tiered balconies and a grand chandelier inside, since the theater is closed for renovations at this time).

Continue along Avenida B (the street bends and changes names for one block to Calle 2a) until it ends at Avenida Central. Turn left on Avenida Central (Calle 1a) and follow it to the stairs. When you head up the stairs, the walkway turns into the lovely and inviting Paseo Esteban Huertas, which is partially covered by pretty bougainvillea. As you soak in the surroundings, keep in mind that you’re walking on top of las bóvedas, or “the vaults,” which originally functioned as a Spanish dungeon and later as a jail, storehouse, and offices. This walkway also runs along the old defensive wall that once protected the city. Walk all the way around to see the amazing views. From this vantage point you can see the Bridge of the Americas and ships lining up for their turn to enter the canal. Continue along the walkway and down the stairs to the Plaza de Francia (French Plaza). Built originally as the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) of Panama City, it is now a commemorative monument to the failed French canal effort.

From the Plaza de Francia take either road back to Av. A and walk west (left) until reaching Calle 3a. Here you’ll find the ruins of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, built in 1678 but victim of several fires including one in 1781, from which time it was never rebuilt. The church is worth a visit, however, because still standing is the building’s unusual supporting arch made of stone, which survived the fire. The arch, called Arco Chato was unusual in that it was long and not very arching, seemingly defying gravity. When U.S. senators debated whether to build a canal in Panama or Nicaragua, they took the arch’s longevity to mean that little earthquake activity made Panama a safer place to build. Next to the ruin site is the Museo de Arte Religioso Colonial.

Walk up Avenida A one more block to Calle 4a, turn right and walk one block to Avenida Central. Casa Góngora is on the east corner. This structure is the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial home in Casco Viejo. The house, built in 1760 by a wealthy merchant, was renovated with city funds, and much of its original woodwork, including ceiling beams, has been maintained.

Across from Casa Góngora, take a pit stop at Granclement ice cream shop. They make all of their ice cream from scratch and by hand. You’ll want to taste some of the exotic flavors before you make your choice from about twenty flavors.

Continue the tour by taking a left out of Granclement, heading west on Avenida Central to Calle 9a. At the corner is Iglesia de la Merced. Built in 1680, this church was moved, stone by stone, from its Panama Viejo site. The facade is still an excellent example of one of Casco Viejo’s oldest buildings. Walk south down Calle 9a until you come to Plaza Herrera. Here you can take a seat in the park benches for some great people watching.

When you’re ready, walk one block east on Avenida A to Calle 8a. You’ll come to Casco Viejo’s most famous church, Iglesia de San José with its baroque golden altar. The story goes that when pirate Henry Morgan raided Panama Viejo, a priest had the altar painted black to hide it from looters, later moving the altar to Casco Viejo. Studies of the altar’s stylistic details cast doubt on the story, nonetheless it’s worth a stop to view a beautiful piece of art.

From here you’re just around the corner from the hotel. When you’re ready you can grab your bags and have a prearranged taxi pick you up and take you to the airport.

Moving to Panama 2017

In these wacky and uncertain times, many around the globe are contemplating leaving their home countries for a new and better place to call home. This post gives you some great reasons to move to Panama, what you should know before you go, and helpful tips on what to know after you’ve moved.

Reasons to Move to Panama in 2017

Panama is affordable. Of course, your cost of living greatly depends on how large you live, but day-to-day life on a budget is generally less expensive than in the U.S., Canada, or Western Europe. Food costs are low, especially local produce, as are public transportation and taxi prices. Labor costs are cheaper allowing many to be able to afford housekeepers, gardeners, and other hired help. Affordable housing and real estate “deals” can still be found in the city, coastal areas, and other rural parts of Panama. Additionally, property taxes are lower than the U.S. and Canada, ranging from low to non-existent depending on government incentives.

Panama is sunny and warm. The tropical climate provides sun and warmth year-round with temperatures at sea level between mid-70s and high-80s. In the higher elevations, the temperatures can cool down a bit, but rest assured you will never again have to shovel snow off your drive! Also, because of Panama’s location, hurricanes are not an issue either.

Panama has great health care. In Panama City you have access to medical and dental care equal to U.S. standards, at a fraction of the U.S. cost. There are three high quality hospitals in Panama City, and one, Hospital Punta Pacifica, is affiliated with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. Although certain specialists can be harder to find (Panama has a population of fewer than 4 million people, or roughly the same population as Oklahoma), most medical conditions are treated by qualified doctors who are well equipped to treat you and your loved ones with a high level of quality and care. Many doctors have been schooled in the U.S. as well.

Panama is accessible. Panama City’s airport is a world class multinational transportation hub. You can easily travel to the U.S., Canada, and other destinations on a wide variety of airlines. Flights between Miami and Panama are under three hours, only five hours to New York, and a seven-hour flight to Los Angeles. Flights to Mexico, Colombia, and the Caribbean are under two hours. Plus, because Panama splits the year between the Eastern and Central US time zones, jet lag is never a serious problem. So, you are never more than half a days travel from most places in the continental U.S. or Latin America. In addition to Panama’s convenient proximity to the States, the exchange rate is easy. The U.S. dollar is the official currency in Panama!

Panama is full of adventure. Despite being a small country, Panama is full of a diverse mix of people, places and activities. From islands and beaches to mountains and rainforests, Panama offers a variety of beautiful places, ranging from modern and cosmopolitan to simple and rural. If learning Spanish is something you’ve always wanted to do, you can easily immerse yourself in the language with locals who are (for the most part) kind hearted, patient and hospitable.

Things to know before you move to Panama

Before you move you should take time to meet with an immigration lawyer about different visas available and other residency requirements. Also try to find a competent accountant who understands international tax implications. Below is some (hopefully) helpful general information about different visa options and tax information.

Panama Tourist Visa 2017

Panama is not as strict as other countries when it comes to immigration policies. Many expats live in Panama without obtaining permanent residency, though new enforcement of immigration policy is putting an end to this practice.  If your plan is to move to Panama with minimal commitment and see how things will shake out, the tourist visa will allow you to stay in the country for 180 days (six months) with only a passport and a stamp upon entry. Essentially, the entry stamp on your passport is your tourist visa. If you really want to get technical, by law, tourist visas are only valid for 90 days but by executive order they are automatically extended to 180 days.

*Update: As of March 6, 2017, Panamanian authorities have starting to crack down on permanent tourists. According to guidance from the US and Canadian embassies, immigration officials have been instructed to be stricter about the enforcement of the regulation that foreigners entering Panama with tourist status prove that they are in fact entering Panama as tourists and not residing in Panama. In some cases officials are requiring that tourists with expired visas need to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before reentering as a tourist. To comply with immigration rules make sure you have proof of a return ticket to your host country and that you are financially viable by showing a bank (or ATM) statement that shows you have more than $500. This situation is still fluid and we will update this post when more concrete information is available. IF you’re looking to reside in Panama for longer than six months, you can skip to the other visa options.

For a tourist visa, passports from the US, Canada, and most Western European countries need to be valid for at least three months beyond your intended stay. Additionally, you must present a departure ticket from Panama. The departure ticket needs to be within the 180 days covered by your tourist visa. Your departure ticket can be for a plane, bus or boat. If you’re flying one way to Panama, most likely the airline check-in representative will ask you to show your departure ticket. If you’re traveling by land across the Panama-Costa Rica border, a customs official will ask.

Tourist visa holders can rent and own property in Panama, but cannot work. With this type of visa you can drive with your international driver’s licence but only for the first 90 days. Be aware of this fact if you plan on driving a car. The authorities set up checkpoints on the roads all over Panama, and if you’re caught you could face a big fine.

Panama Pensionado Visa 2017

One reason Panama tops lists for the best place to retire is the Pensionado visa. It provides fantastic benefits to retirees and grants immediate permanent residence. If you qualify for the Pensioner Visa, you are entitled to a one-time tax free exemption to import up to US$10,000 of household goods, and will receive a tax exemption every 2 years on the import of a car. The visa also provides discounts on many things including airline tickets, restaurants, energy bills, entertainment, doctor bills, and much more. (Note: any Panamanian citizen or permanent resident who is eligible for Jubilado status (age 55 for women and 60 for men) are entitled to the same discounts as those with a Pensionado visa (except for the import benefits). If you receive permanent residency through another visa, and meet the age requirements, you will still receive most of the benefits.)

To qualify, you must draw a pension of at least US$1,000 per month, and an additional US$250 for each dependent. The annuity or pension can be paid by a private company, military, government agencies, corporation, bank, insurance company, or a trust. If your monthly lifetime income for a pension is less than US$1,000, but greater than US$750, you may be able to qualify by purchasing a property of at least US$100,000, which reduces the monthly lifetime requirement to a minimum of US$750.

The minimum age is 18 and there is no maximum age to qualify, so if you receive a lifetime pension early (through Social Security Disability, for example), you can apply for a Pensionado Visa. Pensionados are granted permanent residency for as long as they call Panama their home and are protected from any future changes in the law. Like a tourist visa, someone with a Pensionado visa cannot work in Panama but can rent and own property.

Friendly Nations Visa 2017

The fastest path to permanent residency in Panama is the Friendly Nations Visa. If you are a citizen of any of the 50 countries that Panama considers “Friends of Panama”, you and your direct relatives can apply for immediate permanent residency. Direct relatives include a spouse and children up to 18 years of age or 25 if they are full time students.

The 50 Friendly Nations

There are now 50 countries listed as friendly in the ever expanding list of countries Panama considers as qualifying for this visa. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Marino, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States of America, Uruguay, United Kingdom (Great Britain & Northern Ireland).

To qualify, you must open a Panamanian bank account with a minimum balance of US$5,000 (and US$2,000 for every dependent), and either open a new company or buy an existing business in Panama. You can also find employment in “any professional services company in Panama”, but you will need proof of employment when you apply. Talk to an attorney about the specifics of starting a company in Panama or what requirements you would need to meet to work for a Panamanian company.

Panama Professional Employment Visa 2017

As a foreigner, you need a work permit to be employed in Panama, and you cannot be hired for a job without legal status. Panamanian companies can hire a limited number of foreign workers (maximum of 10% of their workforce), and if you receive a job offer, you will be eligible to apply for a work permit. The company will need to be able to prove that the work you provide cannot be done by a qualified Panamanian and certain professions are restricted for only Panamanian citizens like; architects, attorneys, engineers, and medical & veterinary doctors.

To apply for a Professional Employment Visa you must have a university education and proof of any professional license needed from your home country. After two years as a temporary resident, permanent residency is usually granted, but, unlike other visas, you must make two applications two years apart to qualify. When filing the final application, applicants must show that they have been employed in Panama for the last nine months and have been paying local social security.

Self Economic Solvency Visa
Panama’s Self Economic Solvency Visa requires a US$300,000 investment. This visa has 3 options in order to qualify. The first option is to invest a minimum of US$300,000 in a Panama bank CD for a minimum of 3 years. For dependents, you must invest an additional US$2,000 for each.

The 2nd option is to invest at least US$300,000 into titled Panama real estate. This must be cash equity, as the loan amount from a mortgage does not qualify. An additional US$2,000 must be invested for each dependent. Keep in mind that you will still need to provide proof that you will be able to support yourself and your family.

The 3rd option is a combination of the other two options. A minimum total of US$300,000 can be invested in Panama real estate and a Panama bank CD. Again, an additional US$2,000 must be invested for every dependent.

Panama Investor Visas 2017

Three types of visas allow you to invest in different types of businesses in Panama:

  • Reforestation Investor Visa: As the name implies, to qualify for this visa you must invest in a government certified teak or mahogany reforestation project. Various reforestation companies offer a turn-key package that includes the land purchase contract of at least 5 hectares of timbered land, a management contract, and legal fees required to process the visa. By investing US$80,000 or more in a reforestation project, you will be able to apply for a Permanent Residency Visa for you and your family (again, an additional US$2,000 for each dependent). After 5 years as permanent residents, investors can apply for Panamanian citizenship.
  • Business Investor Visa: A minimum US$160,000 investment in capital stock of a Panamanian corporation will qualify you for this visa. The investor can be a shareholder and/or an officer, and the business must employ at least 5 local employees. An additional US$2,000 must be invested for each dependent.
  • Agriculture Investor Visa: Foreigners can become temporary Panama residents by investing in Panama aquaculture, farms, or agriculture with a minimum investment of US$60,000. The aquaculture or agriculture business must be deemed by the Department of Farm Development to be in the national interest of Panama. The maximum period for temporary residency under the Panama Agriculture Investor Visa is six years with the temporary residency permits being extended every two years. This investment program does not provide Panama permanent residency or Panama citizenship. Each dependent requires an additional US$500 investment.

If none of these options sound good to you, your only other options are to marry a Panamanian citizen and/or have your baby in Panama. If you go this route, your marriage must be legal and can’t be a sham, of course. And if you do have a child in Panama, as parents you can apply for a permanent visa when the child is over five years old.

Panama Tax Implications 2017

In addition to residency and visa requirements you should make yourself aware of your home country’s tax implications before you move to Panama. For example, you may leave the United States, but the US won’t necessarily leave you. Even if you reside overseas, the IRS will still insist that you keep filing tax returns. It doesn’t matter that you don’t live in the U.S. any more, don’t have any income or assets there, or don’t visit. If you’re still a citizen, the U.S. will tax you on your worldwide income.

The IRS does offer a Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. This allows U.S. citizens who live abroad for more than 330 days a year to exclude a certain amount of earned income (not passive income) paid outside the U.S. (somewhere around US$100,000).

Just as you should consult with an immigration lawyer about visas and residency requirements, you should also talk to a qualified accountant to understand what your financial tax consequences might be.

Things to know once in Panama

Carrying ID in Panama

If you’ve come to Panama on a Tourist Visa, the first thing you should do is make a copy of your passport and entry stamp and carry it with you always. You probably won’t need to show it, but it will save you enormous amounts of time, energy, and hassle from the police if you do.

Opening a Panama Bank Account 2017

To open a bank account in Panama you will need a copy of your passport photo and information page, as well as a copy of your Panama immigration entry stamp page. You will also need at least one letter of reference from a bank and a reference letter from a professional (lawyer, accountant). These letters must be on the company or bank’s letterhead addressed to the Panama bank and signed by a manager or high authority. All documents must be recently dated (usually within three months). You will also need a second ID, such as a driver’s license.

Different banks may require more information; such as the source of funds you intend to deposit. Every bank has its own application forms. If you are in Panama on an immigration visa, you will need to provide copies of the immigration visa and immigration identity card (carnet). If a business account is being opened, most banks will require copies of your income tax returns from the previous two years. Plus, all documents must be translated into Spanish.

Getting a Panama Driver’s License 2017

Your driver’s license from your home country is valid for driving in Panama for 90 days. If you are stopped during that time just show your valid license from another country, your passport, and your entry stamp that is less than 90 days old. If you’re a Panamanian resident or a tourist who is past your initial 90 days, you must obtain a Panamanian driver’s license.

Getting a license is a bit of a hassle, but not hard to do. First, you’ll have to go to your embassy and have them certify that yours is a true and valid copy of your driver’s license. Your embassy should have the paperwork required to apply for a driver’s license. Next you will go to a certified clinic to take a blood test (unless your license has your blood type on it), then you go to SERTRACEN (the private company that issues the driver’s license) where you’ll take a vision and hearing test. If you have presented your original license from your home country, a driving test is not required. If you have all the proper paperwork and pass the test, it should take about an hour to process your driver’s license and cost $40.

Choosing a Panama Cell Phone

If you have your own phone and it is not locked to a specific network, you just need to buy a SIM card. If it is locked, a local electronic store can unlock it for about $15. You can then buy the SIM card in any part of the country from a mobile service provider for less than $5.

The three main providers in Panama are + Movil / Cable & Wireless, Movistar and Digicel. Once you have chosen your provider (each provider’s coverage differs around the county), you will have to choose between a prepaid service or a postpaid contract. If you choose prepaid, you will simply buy a card (usually from $5 to $40), enter the code into your phone, and receive your minutes. The more you pay for the card, the less you pay per minute on your calls.
Contract plans vary between $10 to $200 depending on your personal use, and some come with options such as free calls to some phone numbers and Internet access. As many people do, you can also opt to purchase a contract plan just for unlimited Internet access, especially if you have a BlackBerry or iPhone, and use a prepaid service for your calls. To give you an idea, local calls can be as low as 10 cents per minute, and incoming calls are free.

WHATSAPP is also a great app to have. It’s free to download and you will be able to call, text and send voice messages locally and internationally for free using wifi. Just make sure your friends and family also have WhatsApp on their phone, too. Nearly all Panamanians use WhatApp.

Connecting Panama Utilities and Water

To connect your utilities and water you must be able to present a lease or title to a home or apartment (condo) along with your passport. You must appear in person at Union Fenosa (electric company) and IDAAN (water department) to make an appointment to have the services installed and turned on.

Receiving Mail and Packages in Panama

Panama does not have traditional street addresses so there is no door to door mail delivery. Most neighborhoods in Panama City don’t even have numbers on houses or apartment buildings and there is no Zip Code system, which confuses U.S. shippers. Most people residing in Panama rent a box at the local Panama Post Office, but this system is not always reliable and mail can occasionally get lost or misplaced.

If you order online from out of the country and want something more reliable than the Panama Post Office, there are many private companies that offer mail forwarding services. These companies will set up a mailing address for you in Miami where you can send your packages. From there, the company will ship it to their offices in Panama where you can receive the packages. You pay by the weight of the package, usually between $3-$5 per pound. Some companies also charge a monthly fee to maintain your box, while others only charge by weight. Packages usually take about 3 business days to arrive in Panama, after departing Miami.