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Complete Panama Backpacking Guide: Routes, Hostels, And What To Do


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Clerissa Hoffman



Welcome to the heart of Central America, where pristine beaches, lush rainforests, vibrant cities, and a rich cultural heritage await you. Panama, a bridge between the Americas, is a tropical paradise that offers a myriad of experiences for backpackers seeking adventure and exploration. From its bustling capital city to its remote indigenous communities and breathtaking natural wonders, Panama has something to offer every type of traveler.


Whether you are a first-time backpacker or a seasoned adventurer, this comprehensive guide will provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your backpacking journey in Panama. From essential tips and recommended routes to budget accommodation options and must-visit attractions, we’ll help you plan an unforgettable trip in this captivating country.


During your backpacking adventure in Panama, you’ll have the opportunity to traverse ancient hiking trails, surf world-class waves, explore untouched islands, marvel at diverse wildlife, immerse yourself in vibrant local cultures, and indulge in mouthwatering local cuisine. This is a destination that truly offers something for everyone, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or a social butterfly.


With its strategic location and a strong focus on sustainable tourism, Panama has emerged as a popular backpacking destination in recent years. Backpackers are drawn to its affordable prices, well-established backpacker infrastructure, and the chance to experience off-the-beaten-path adventures that few other destinations can offer. From the cosmopolitan charm of Panama City to the rustic tranquility of the countryside, Panama is a country that seamlessly blends the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.


In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about backpacking in Panama, from the best routes and the most budget-friendly accommodation options to the top attractions and activities that shouldn’t be missed. We’ll also provide you with safety tips to ensure a stress-free journey and highlight the unique cultural experiences Panama has to offer.


So, pack your bags, put on your hiking boots, and get ready for an unforgettable backpacking adventure in Panama. Let’s dive into the wild beauty and rich cultural tapestry of this incredible country.


Essential Tips for Backpacking in Panama

Before embarking on your backpacking journey in Panama, it’s essential to be well-prepared and informed. Here are some essential tips to help you make the most of your adventure:

  • Visa Requirements: Check the visa requirements for your country of residence before traveling to Panama. Many nationalities are granted a tourist visa upon arrival for up to 180 days.
  • Language: The official language in Panama is Spanish, so it’s helpful to have some basic knowledge of the language. However, English is widely spoken in tourist areas and major cities.
  • Currency and Money: Panama uses the US Dollar as its official currency. Make sure to have cash on hand, as credit cards are not accepted everywhere. ATMs are easily available in cities and major tourist areas.
  • Transportation: Panama has a reliable and affordable bus system that connects major cities and towns. Taxis and ride-sharing apps like Uber are popular in urban areas. Domestic flights are also available for longer distances.
  • Health and Safety: It’s recommended to have travel insurance before visiting Panama. Take necessary precautions by staying hydrated, using mosquito repellent, and practicing safe food and water consumption.
  • Climate: Panama has a tropical climate with a wet and dry season. The dry season, from December to April, is the most popular time to visit. However, be prepared for occasional rain showers even during the dry season.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Respect the local customs and traditions of Panama. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites and be mindful of cultural practices, especially in indigenous communities.
  • Internet and Communication: Wi-Fi is widely available in hotels, hostels, cafes, and restaurants in urban areas. Consider purchasing a local SIM card for reliable internet access throughout your trip.
  • Electrical Outlets: Panama uses North American-style electrical outlets with a voltage of 110-120V. Bring a universal adapter if necessary.
  • Pack Accordingly: Pack light and pack smart. Include essentials like comfortable walking shoes, lightweight clothing, a rain jacket, sunscreen, insect repellent, a travel first aid kit, and a reusable water bottle.

By keeping these essential tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the challenges and embrace the wonders that await you on your backpacking adventure in Panama.


Best Routes for Backpacking in Panama

With its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage, Panama offers a wide range of routes for backpackers to explore. Here are some of the best routes that will take you to the most iconic destinations in the country:

  • Panama City to Bocas del Toro: Start your journey in the vibrant capital city of Panama City. Explore the historic Casco Viejo district and marvel at the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. From there, make your way to the Caribbean paradise of Bocas del Toro, where you can relax on white-sand beaches, snorkel in crystal-clear waters, and immerse yourself in a laid-back island lifestyle.
  • Boquete to Santa Catalina: Begin in the charming mountain town of Boquete, known for its coffee plantations and opportunities for hiking and birdwatching. Head south to Santa Catalina, a surfer’s paradise with world-class waves and a relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss the chance to visit the nearby Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its diverse marine life.
  • San Blas Islands to El Valle de Anton: Start your adventure in the stunning San Blas Islands, inhabited by the indigenous Guna people. Spend your days snorkeling in turquoise waters and relaxing on pristine white-sand beaches. From there, head to El Valle de Anton, a picturesque town nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano. Explore hiking trails, soak in natural hot springs, and visit the lively local market.
  • Portobelo to Isla Grande: Begin in the historic town of Portobelo, known for its colonial forts and rich Afro-Caribbean culture. Take a boat to the nearby Isla Grande and enjoy its beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the underwater wonders of the nearby Portobelo National Park through snorkeling or diving.
  • Darien Gap Adventure: For the adventurous backpackers looking for a unique and challenging experience, the Darien Gap is an untamed and remote region waiting to be explored. Trek through dense jungles, encounter indigenous communities, and immerse yourself in an untouched wilderness that few travelers have witnessed.

These are just a few examples of the best backpacking routes in Panama. Customize your itinerary based on your preferences, time constraints, and interests. Whether you choose to explore cityscapes, relax on pristine beaches, indulge in outdoor adventures, or immerse yourself in cultural experiences, Panama has something for every type of backpacker.


Hostels and Budget Accommodation in Panama

One of the perks of backpacking in Panama is the abundance of affordable and comfortable hostels and budget accommodation options available throughout the country. Whether you prefer to stay in bustling cities or remote natural settings, there is a range of accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs and budget.


Panama City, the capital and largest city of Panama, offers a wide selection of hostels catering to the backpacker crowd. Casco Viejo is a popular neighborhood to stay in, with its colonial charm, vibrant nightlife, and proximity to major attractions. In this area, you will find hostels with comfortable dormitories and communal spaces where you can socialize and meet fellow travelers.


Bocas del Toro, a renowned backpacker destination, is home to diverse and lively hostels scattered across the main islands. Here, you can choose from beachfront hostels with dorm rooms or private rooms, all within walking distance from the pristine beaches and exciting water activities.


If you are looking for a mountain escape, Boquete offers budget-friendly accommodations surrounded by lush greenery and stunning landscapes. These hostels often provide a cozy atmosphere and organize outdoor activities like hiking, coffee plantation tours, and birdwatching trips.


For those venturing to the San Blas Islands, there are basic accommodations available within the indigenous Guna communities. These rustic huts or cabins provide a unique cultural experience and allow you to appreciate the simplicity of island life.


When it comes to budget accommodation in Panama, it’s not just about hostels. You can also find guesthouses, eco-lodges, and budget hotels throughout the country. These options provide a bit more privacy and comfort while still being affordable.


When searching for budget accommodations in Panama, it’s helpful to utilize online booking platforms and read reviews from fellow travelers to make informed decisions. Keep in mind that the popularity of certain destinations may mean that booking in advance is advisable, especially during peak travel seasons.


Overall, Panama offers a variety of budget accommodation options that cater to the needs of backpackers. From vibrant cities to remote coastal areas and mountain retreats, you’ll find a diverse range of affordable accommodations that allow you to make the most of your backpacking adventure in Panama.


What to Pack for Backpacking in Panama

When preparing for your backpacking adventure in Panama, it’s important to pack wisely to ensure you have everything you need for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. Here are some essential items to pack:

  • Lightweight Clothing: Panama’s tropical climate means you’ll want to pack lightweight, breathable clothes. Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics that dry quickly and consider packing a mix of short-sleeved shirts, shorts, and lightweight pants.
  • Swimwear: Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit! From the stunning beaches of Bocas del Toro to the natural pools in El Valle de Anton, Panama offers plenty of opportunities for swimming and water activities.
  • Rain Jacket or Poncho: Panama experiences occasional rain showers, even during the dry season. Be prepared by packing a lightweight rain jacket or poncho to keep you dry during unexpected rainstorms.
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes: Whether you plan on exploring the vibrant streets of Panama City or hiking through the cloud forests of Boquete, comfortable walking shoes are essential. Look for shoes that provide support and traction for various terrains.
  • Insect Repellent: Protect yourself against mosquitoes and other insects by packing a reliable insect repellent. Look for one that contains DEET or a natural alternative like citronella oil.
  • Sun Protection: The Panamanian sun can be intense, so it’s crucial to pack sun protection. Bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a high SPF sunscreen to shield yourself from harmful UV rays.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Stay hydrated during your backpacking adventures by carrying a reusable water bottle. Panama has clean drinking water, so you can save money and reduce plastic waste by refilling your bottle throughout the trip.
  • Travel Adapter: Panama uses North American-style electrical outlets, so a travel adapter is necessary if your devices have a different plug type.
  • First Aid Kit: Pack a basic travel first aid kit containing items such as bandages, antiseptic ointment, pain relievers, and any necessary medications.
  • Quick-Dry Towel: A compact, quick-dry towel is a useful item to have on hand, especially for beach outings and hostel stays that may not provide towels.

Remember to pack light as you’ll be carrying your backpack with you throughout your journey. Laundry facilities are available in most hostels and guesthouses, allowing you to wash your clothing and rewear items to minimize the amount of luggage you need to bring.


By packing these essential items, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your backpacking adventure in Panama. Happy travels!


Top Attractions and Activities in Panama

Panama is a country brimming with natural wonders, cultural heritage, and exciting adventures. Here are some of the top attractions and activities that should be on every backpacker’s itinerary:

  • Panama Canal: No visit to Panama is complete without witnessing the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. Visit the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, where you can learn about the history and importance of the canal and watch ships pass through the locks.
  • San Blas Islands: A paradise in the Caribbean, the San Blas Islands are home to white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant coral reefs. Sail among the islands, snorkel with colorful tropical fish, and immerse yourself in the unique culture of the indigenous Guna communities.
  • Bocas del Toro: Located on Panama’s northern Caribbean coast, Bocas del Toro offers a laid-back island atmosphere. Explore the archipelago’s stunning beaches, go surfing or diving, or take a boat tour to spot marine life, including dolphins and sea turtles.
  • Boquete: Situated in the highlands of Panama, Boquete is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hike the scenic trails of Baru Volcano, go white-water rafting on the Chiriqui River, or take a coffee plantation tour to learn about Panama’s world-renowned coffee production.
  • Coiba National Park: Located in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Coiba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best spots for diving and snorkeling in Panama. Immerse yourself in the rich marine biodiversity, swim with sharks and rays, and explore beautiful coral reefs.
  • Gamboa Rainforest Reserve: Just outside Panama City, the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve provides a glimpse into the country’s lush biodiversity. Take a boat tour along the Panama Canal, embark on a guided jungle hike, or visit the rainforest canopy tower for incredible birdwatching opportunities.
  • Emberá Indigenous Community: For a cultural immersion, visit the Emberá indigenous community in the Darien Province. Learn about their traditional customs, listen to traditional music, and purchase beautiful handcrafted souvenirs.
  • Panama City’s Old Town: Explore the historic Casco Viejo district in Panama City, with its narrow streets, colonial architecture, and vibrant atmosphere. Visit historical landmarks, browse local markets, and sample delicious Panamanian cuisine in one of the many charming cafes and restaurants.

These are just a few of the many attractions and activities that Panama has to offer. Whether you’re seeking adventure in the great outdoors, cultural experiences, or city exploration, Panama provides a wealth of opportunities for backpackers to create unforgettable memories.


Panama’s Natural Wonders: National Parks and Conservation Areas

Panama is a country blessed with an incredible array of natural wonders, from pristine beaches and tropical islands to lush rainforests and diverse wildlife. Here are some of the must-visit national parks and conservation areas that showcase the country’s stunning natural beauty:

  • Darien National Park: Located in the remote and untamed Darien Province, Darien National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Panama’s most biodiverse regions. Trek through dense rainforests, spot exotic wildlife such as jaguars and tapirs, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the indigenous Emberá and Wounaan communities.
  • Coiba National Park: Situated in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Coiba National Park is a paradise for nature lovers and divers. The park encompasses Coiba Island and its surrounding waters, offering pristine beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and abundant marine life including whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, and humpback whales. Don’t miss the chance to explore the park’s underwater wonders through snorkeling or diving.
  • Soberania National Park: Just a short drive from Panama City, Soberania National Park is a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts. Take a leisurely hike along the park’s trails to spot a variety of bird species, including toucans, hummingbirds, and scarlet macaws. Keep an eye out for other wildlife such as sloths, monkeys, and colorful frogs.
  • Volcan Baru National Park: Nestled in the highlands of Chiriqui Province, Volcan Baru National Park is home to Panama’s highest peak, the Baru Volcano. Embark on a challenging hike to the summit for panoramic views of both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. On clear days, you may even catch a glimpse of both oceans at once.
  • Pearl Islands: Located in the Gulf of Panama, the Pearl Islands are a tranquil archipelago known for their pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. Explore the islands’ nature reserves, go snorkeling or diving to discover vibrant coral reefs, or simply relax on the tranquil beaches surrounded by lush tropical vegetation.
  • Amistad International Park: Bordering Costa Rica, Amistad International Park is one of Central America’s largest protected areas. Spanning across both countries, the park offers diverse ecosystems, including cloud forests, rivers, and waterfalls. Hike through the park’s trails, and you may encounter unique wildlife such as quetzals, howler monkeys, and even the elusive jaguar.

These national parks and conservation areas are just a glimpse into the incredible natural wonders that Panama has to offer. With its rich biodiversity and commitment to conservation, the country provides endless opportunities for backpackers to connect with nature and experience the true beauty of Central America.


Exploring Panama City: Must-Visit Sights and Neighborhoods

Panama City, the vibrant capital of Panama, is a bustling metropolis that seamlessly blends history, culture, and modernity. Here are some of the must-visit sights and neighborhoods to explore during your time in Panama City:

  • Casco Viejo: Begin your exploration in the charming neighborhood of Casco Viejo, the historic heart of Panama City. Walk along its narrow streets lined with colonial buildings, visit the iconic Plaza de la Independencia, and admire the beautiful churches and architectural landmarks. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in the local cuisine at one of the area’s many restaurants and cafes.
  • Panama Canal: A visit to Panama City is incomplete without witnessing the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. Head to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, where you can learn about the history and importance of the canal and watch ships pass through the locks. You can also take a boat tour along the canal to gain a deeper understanding of its significance.
  • Panama Viejo: Explore the ruins of the original Panama City, known as Panama Viejo. Wander through the archaeological site to see the remains of the original Spanish settlement and learn about its rich history. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the Cathedral Tower for panoramic views of the city.
  • Amador Causeway: Take a stroll or rent a bike along the Amador Causeway, a scenic road that connects Panama City to four small islands in the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy stunning views of the city skyline, visit the Biomuseo, a museum designed by Frank Gehry, and indulge in delicious seafood at one of the waterfront restaurants.
  • Punta Paitilla and Punta Pacifica: These upscale neighborhoods are known for their luxurious high-rise buildings and stunning ocean views. Take a leisurely walk along the coastal promenade, visit high-end shopping malls, and dine at trendy restaurants offering a mix of international and local cuisines.
  • Metropolitan Park: Escape the urban hustle and get closer to nature at the Metropolitan Nature Park. Explore the park’s trails, which are home to a variety of bird species and other wildlife. Hike up the park’s highest point, Cerro Cedro, for breathtaking views of the city and surrounding rainforest.

Panama City offers a blend of history, modernity, and natural beauty, making it a captivating destination for backpackers. Its diverse neighborhoods and iconic landmarks provide a wealth of experiences that showcase the unique character and charm of this dynamic city.


Cultural Immersion: Indigenous Communities and Festivals in Panama

One of the most enriching aspects of backpacking in Panama is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the diverse cultures of its indigenous communities. Here are some ways to experience the vibrant traditions and festivals of Panama’s indigenous cultures:

  • Emberá and Guna Communities: Visit the Emberá and Guna indigenous communities to learn about their traditional customs, artistry, and way of life. These communities are known for their intricate handicrafts, such as woven baskets, masks, and colorful textiles. Engage with community members, listen to traditional music, and witness traditional dances that have been passed down through generations.
  • Ngäbe-Buglé Highlands: Head to the remote Ngäbe-Buglé Highlands to discover the rich culture of the Ngäbe indigenous people. Attend a traditional healing ceremony led by a shaman, sample traditional cuisine, and explore their unique agricultural practices in the stunning mountainous landscape.
  • Diablo Rojo Parade: Experience the exuberant Diablo Rojo Parade held during the annual Carnival celebrations in Panama City. The parade showcases traditional Panamanian folklore and dance, with participants donning colorful costumes and masks. Join in the festivities, dance to the pulsating rhythms of traditional music, and immerse yourself in the energy of this vibrant cultural event.
  • Inti Raymi Festival: Witness the Inti Raymi Festival celebrated by the indigenous communities of the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca. This harvest festival honors the sun god and features traditional rituals, music, dance, and delectable traditional food. Participate in the joyous celebrations and gain an understanding of the deep spiritual connection these communities have with nature.
  • Pollera Festival: If you visit during the month of November, don’t miss the Pollera Festival, which showcases Panama’s national dress, the pollera. This intricate and beautifully embroidered dress is showcased through parades, dances, and competitions in various towns and cities throughout the country. Immerse yourself in the vibrant colors and rhythms of the festival and appreciate the craftsmanship behind this iconic costume.

By engaging with indigenous communities and participating in cultural festivals, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for Panama’s rich cultural heritage and the preservation of traditions that have shaped the country’s identity. It is important to approach these experiences with respect, open-mindedness, and a desire to learn and share in the cultural exchange.


Outdoor Adventures: Hiking, Surfing, and Diving in Panama

For adrenaline-seeking backpackers, Panama offers a plethora of outdoor adventures that will satisfy your thirst for excitement. Here are some top outdoor activities to try during your backpacking adventure:

  • Hiking: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the stunning trails that wind through Panama’s diverse landscapes. From the challenging ascent of Baru Volcano in Boquete to the lush rainforests of Soberania National Park, there are hikes for all skill levels. Don’t miss the opportunity to trek through the untouched beauty of the Darien Gap, a remote and wild region that will test your trekking skills.
  • Surfing: Panama’s coastlines offer prime surfing spots for beginners and experienced surfers alike. Head to Santa Catalina on the Pacific coast, known for its powerful waves and international surfing competitions. Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side also offers a variety of breaks, perfect for both beginners and advanced riders.
  • Diving and Snorkeling: Dive into the crystal-clear waters of Panama and discover an underwater world teeming with marine life. Coiba National Park is a diver’s paradise, with its vibrant coral reefs and the chance to encounter sharks, dolphins, and rays. Bocas del Toro and the San Blas Islands also offer excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities with colorful reefs and tropical fish.
  • White-Water Rafting: Experience the thrill of white-water rafting on the Chiriqui and Chagres Rivers. Navigate through exhilarating rapids, surrounded by lush rainforest, and take in the breathtaking scenery as you conquer the river’s twists and turns.
  • Zip-lining: Soar through the treetops and get a bird’s-eye view of the lush rainforest canopy. Several locations, such as Boquete and Gamboa Rainforest Reserve, offer zip-lining adventures that allow you to glide through the jungle and experience an adrenaline rush like no other.
  • Rock Climbing: Challenge yourself with rock climbing adventures in Panama’s mountainous regions. Boquete and Volcan offer excellent climbing spots for both beginners and experienced climbers.

These outdoor adventures not only provide excitement and an adrenaline rush but also allow you to fully appreciate the natural beauty and diversity of Panama. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a beginner looking for new experiences, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Panama’s great outdoors.


Wildlife Encounters: Spotting Animals and Birds in Panama

Panama is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, with its rich biodiversity and diverse ecosystems. From exotic birds to elusive mammals, here are some of the incredible wildlife encounters you can experience during your backpacking adventure:

  • Birdwatching: Panama is a renowned destination for birdwatching, with over 970 bird species recorded in the country. Visit Soberania National Park and Metropolitan Nature Park near Panama City for opportunities to spot toucans, hummingbirds, and colorful macaws. Take a boat tour on the Panama Canal or visit the cloud forests of Boquete for a chance to witness the elusive resplendent quetzal.
  • Sloth Spotting: Panama is home to two-toed and three-toed sloths, which can be seen hanging from trees in many national parks and nature reserves. Head to Gamboa Rainforest Reserve or the wildlife rescue centers of Bocas del Toro to get an up-close look at these adorable creatures.
  • Whale Watching: During the winter months (June to October), humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of the Pacific coast of Panama. Take a boat tour from the Pearl Islands or Coiba National Park for a chance to witness these majestic creatures breaching and tail-slapping.
  • Sea Turtle Nesting: Panama’s coastlines are nesting grounds for several species of sea turtles, including the critically endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtles. Visit Isla Cañas or the Gulf of Chiriqui to witness these magnificent creatures during nesting season (June to November).
  • Monkey Encounters: Panama’s rainforests are home to various monkey species, including white-faced capuchin, howler, and squirrel monkeys. Head to national parks such as Soberania or Chagres to spot these playful primates swinging through the trees.
  • Jaguar Tracking: For a truly memorable wildlife encounter, embark on a guided tour in the Darien Province to track the elusive jaguar. These majestic big cats inhabit the dense rainforests of Darien National Park and spotting one is a rare and thrilling experience.

As you explore Panama’s national parks, rainforests, and coastal areas, keep in mind the importance of responsible wildlife viewing. Respect the natural habitats of the animals and maintain a safe distance to ensure their well-being.


From colorful birds and playful monkeys to majestic marine creatures, Panama offers endless opportunities to witness a diverse range of wildlife. Pack your binoculars, keep your camera ready, and get ready to embark on unforgettable wildlife encounters during your backpacking journey in Panama.


Delicious Panamanian Cuisine: Food and Drinks to Try

Exploring Panama wouldn’t be complete without indulging in the country’s delicious and diverse culinary offerings. From hearty street food to traditional dishes, here are some must-try Panamanian foods and drinks:

  • Ceviche: A refreshing and popular dish, ceviche is made with marinated raw fish or seafood, lime juice, onions, and cilantro. It’s a perfect appetizer or light meal, especially when enjoyed with crispy plantain chips.
  • Panama’s National Dish – Sancocho: Sancocho is a hearty and flavorful chicken soup made with root vegetables, corn, and herbs. This traditional dish is often enjoyed with rice and accompanied by a squeeze of lime.
  • Arroz con Pollo: A classic chicken and rice dish, Arroz con Pollo is prepared with saffron-infused rice, tender chicken, vegetables, and spices. It’s a comforting and satisfying meal that packs a punch of flavor.
  • Hojaldras: These fried dough treats are a popular breakfast choice in Panama. They are similar to a flatbread or fried doughnut and often enjoyed with cheese, eggs, or a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Patacones: Patacones are a beloved Panamanian snack made from green plantains. The plantains are sliced, fried, smashed, and then fried again until crispy. They are often served as a side dish or as a base for various toppings like shredded meat, beans, or a tangy ceviche.
  • Raspados: Beat the heat with a refreshing raspado, a shaved ice treat topped with flavored syrups. Popular flavors include tamarind, passion fruit, mango, and cherry. It’s the perfect way to cool down and satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Seco con Patacones: This popular Panamanian dish consists of tender, slow-cooked meat (usually chicken or beef) served with patacones and a flavorful sauce made with onions, peppers, garlic, and various spices. It’s a hearty and comforting meal, often enjoyed with a cold beer or sugarcane juice.
  • Ron Abuelo: As for drinks, don’t miss the opportunity to try Ron Abuelo, a premium Panamanian rum known for its smoothness and quality. Whether sipped on its own or used as the base for a tropical cocktail, it’s a drink that embodies Panama’s rich rum-making tradition.
  • Chicheme: This traditional Panamanian cornmeal drink is made with sweet corn, milk, cinnamon, and sugar. It’s a creamy and sweet beverage often enjoyed as a refreshing treat on hot days.

Panamanian cuisine is a fusion of flavors influenced by indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Be sure to explore local markets, food stalls, and restaurants to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant food scene. From savory dishes to sweet treats and flavorful drinks, Panama offers a delightful culinary experience that will tantalize your taste buds.


Safety Tips for Backpacking in Panama

While Panama is generally a safe country for backpackers, it’s important to take necessary precautions to ensure a smooth and secure journey. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind during your backpacking adventure:

  • Stay alert in crowded areas: Like any other bustling city, it’s important to stay vigilant in crowded areas, especially in Panama City. Keep an eye on your belongings and be cautious of your surroundings to avoid any potential pickpocketing or theft.
  • Use reliable transportation: Stick to reputable taxi services or ride-sharing apps like Uber, especially at night. Avoid hailing taxis from the street, and if possible, use licensed and registered taxis.
  • Avoid isolated areas at night: It’s best to stay in well-lit and populated areas at night. Avoid walking alone in isolated or unfamiliar neighborhoods and opt for safe transportation options instead.
  • Be cautious with your valuables: Keep your passport, cash, and other valuables securely locked in a hotel safe or hidden in a discreet travel pouch. Avoid displaying expensive items or flashy jewelry that may attract attention.
  • Take precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses: Panama is a tropical country, so it’s important to protect yourself against mosquito bites. Use mosquito repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and consider staying in accommodations with screened windows or air conditioning.
  • Drink bottled or filtered water: To avoid waterborne illnesses, it’s recommended to drink bottled water or filter tap water before consuming. Carry a reusable water bottle that you can refill from trusted sources.
  • Research and follow local customs: Familiarize yourself with local customs and traditions to show respect to the local communities. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, follow local etiquette, and be mindful of cultural sensitivities, especially in indigenous communities.
  • Stay updated on travel advisories: Prior to your trip, check for any travel advisories or warnings issued by your country’s embassy or consulate. Register with your embassy to receive updates and emergency assistance if needed.
  • Trust your intuition: If something doesn’t feel right or someone makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.
  • Travel insurance: Consider purchasing comprehensive travel insurance to cover any unforeseen emergencies, medical expenses, or trip cancellations. Ensure that your insurance policy covers adventure activities, such as hiking or water sports.

By following these safety guidelines and exercising common sense, you can minimize the risks and enjoy a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience in Panama. Remember, preparation and awareness are key to ensuring a successful and worry-free journey.


Resources and Further Reading

For more information and resources to help you plan your backpacking adventure in Panama, here are some recommended sources and publications:

  • Panama Tourism Authority: The official website of the Panama Tourism Authority provides comprehensive information about the country’s attractions, activities, and travel tips. Visit their website at www.visitpanama.com.
  • Panama City Guidebooks: Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet Panama and Rough Guides Panama offer detailed information on the best sights, accommodations, and dining options in Panama City and beyond.
  • Online Travel Forums: Websites such as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum are excellent resources for connecting with fellow travelers and getting firsthand advice and recommendations about backpacking in Panama.
  • Travel Blogs and Websites: Many experienced travelers and bloggers have documented their adventures in Panama. Websites like Go Backpacking, The Broke Backpacker, and Nomadic Matt offer informative articles, personal stories, and valuable tips for budget travelers.
  • Local Tourist Offices: When you arrive in Panama, make sure to stop by local tourist offices or visitor centers. They can provide you with maps, brochures, and up-to-date information about events, festivals, and local attractions.
  • Social Media: Follow Panama travel accounts on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. They often share stunning photos, travel tips, and recommendations for hidden gems off the beaten path.

Additionally, it’s always helpful to connect with fellow backpackers and locals to gain insider knowledge and up-to-date information. Joining online travel communities and social media groups focused on Panama can provide valuable insights and networking opportunities.


Remember to cross-reference information from multiple sources, as everyone’s experiences and opinions may vary. Flexibility and adaptability are key when backpacking, as conditions and circumstances can change.


With the right resources and information at hand, you’ll be well-equipped to plan an adventurous and memorable backpacking journey in beautiful Panama.



Congratulations! You are now well-informed and ready to embark on an incredible backpacking adventure in Panama. This tropical paradise offers a diverse range of experiences, from exploring ancient ruins and vibrant cities to immersing yourself in lush rainforests and pristine island paradises.


By following the essential tips for backpacking in Panama, you can ensure a smooth and memorable journey. From obtaining the necessary visas and learning basic Spanish phrases to packing the right gear and staying safe, these tips will help you navigate the country with confidence.


As you explore Panama’s best routes, make sure to include the must-visit sights and neighborhoods along the way. Marvel at the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal, wander through the historic streets of Casco Viejo in Panama City, and immerse yourself in the indigenous cultures and traditions that make this country so unique.


Indulge in the delicious Panamanian cuisine, experience thrilling outdoor adventures like hiking, surfing, and diving, and spot incredible wildlife in the country’s national parks. Panama offers a wealth of opportunities for cultural immersion, outdoor exploration, and wildlife encounters that will leave you with cherished memories.


Remember to utilize the resources and further reading materials provided to ensure you have access to reliable information and insider tips. Connect with fellow travelers, stay open-minded, and embrace the unexpected adventures that unfold along your journey.


So, pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty, history, and culture of Panama. Your backpacking adventure awaits!