A true melting pot, Panama is home to many ethnic groups because of its historical
reliance on commerce. For example, a significant number of people from mainland
China and the West Indies came to help with the monumental project of building of
the Panama Canal. Other ethnic groups include indigenous tribes and Europeans. There
is also a small community of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Rastafarians.
Usually overlooked by tourists who swing the ‘gringo trail’ in the direction of
Costa Rica or Guatemala, Panama has unadulterated beach towns and a tropical beauty
all its own. Many Latin American countries have fallen to careless coastal development,
which draws tourists into Panama in order to experience an unadulterated version
of Latin American culture. Panama is also home to one of Latin America’s most autonomous
indigenous groups: the Kuna. So, if you are into an ‘off the beaten path’ experience,
then you will not be disappointed with what Panama has to offer.
Panama is home to hospitals that are accredited by world class American medical
institutions such as Johns Hopkins International. One hospital even sits along the
Pacific Ocean and boasts a one to two nurse to patient ratio in the general procedural
ward, and a 1.5 to 1 ratio in the ICU. Another plus is that a significant number
of doctors were trained in the U.S., are bilingual, and work with the same equipment
and use the same techniques as western doctors. Also, the facilities rival the U.S.
in terms of infrastructure. Another key factor that makes Panama attractive for
medical tourists is that it is only 2.5 hours by plane from Miami and 4 hours by
plane from Houston.
Popular procedures sought by medical tourists are dental, cosmetic, bariatric, assisted
reproduction, cardiology, orthopedics, and ophthalmology.
The official language of Panama is Spanish, however many people in urban areas and
the Caribbean coast speak and understand English (especially among businessmen and
The climate of Panama is tropical, with the Caribbean coast getting rain throughout
the year while Panama City and the Pacific coast are rainy from mid April to mid
December. The temperature is pretty much stable year round with daytime temperatures
reaching up to 90oF (32oC) and nighttime temperatures going
as low as 70oF (21oC). It is slightly cooler at high
elevations, with temperatures ranging from 50oF to 66oF (10oC-19oC). Humidity
is always high at about 80%.
Visa / Entrance Requirements
U.S. and Canadian citizens must have a valid passport in order to enter Panama and
travelers must either purchase a tourist card at the airport in Panama before clearing
customs, or obtain a multi-entry visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before
traveling to Panama. Tourists are allowed to stay for up to 90 days (you must ask
for an extension to 90 days, otherwise you will be given a visa for 30 days. Visa
extensions are at the discretion of immigration authorities and you must request
this prior to the 30 day expiration). You may also extend your stay past the 90
day period for $10 USD by going to an office of Migración y Naturalización in Panama
City, David, or Chitré. You must bring your passport and photocopies of the page
with your personal information and of the stamp of your most recent entry to Panama.
You must also bring two passport-size photos, an onward air or bus ticket and a
letter to the director stating your reasons for wishing to extend your visit.
If you have extended your time, you will also need to get a permiso de salida to
leave the country. For this, bring your passport and a paz y salvo (a certificate
stating you don’t owe any back taxes) to the immigration office. Paz y salvos are
issued at Ministerios de Economia y Finanzas, found in towns with immigration offices,
which simply require that you bring in your passport, fill out a form and pay US$1
Airlines Servicing this Destination
The airport most pertinent to medical tourists is Tocumen International Airport
(PTY) in Panama City.
The following airlines have flights to Panama City:
- Air Transat (seasonal)
- American Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Sunwing Airlines (seasonal)
A room in a hostel or a guesthouse ranges from $12.50 to $25 USD per person per
night, while a room in a 3 star hotel in Panama City costs between $47 and $102
per night for a double occupancy room. Panama city has a range of 5 star options
for those seeking the finer things in life. There are luxury hotels (including resorts
and spas) right in the middle of the financial district, in the rainforest, or adjacent
to the ocean, and such rooms range from $170 to $1,430 depending on the caliber
of the room.
The currency of Panama is the Balboa (PAB), but the U.S. dollar is the official
The exchange rate of U.S. dollars to Panamanian balboas is $1 USD to 1 PAB (exchange
rate subject to change).
The international access code for Panama is 507.
Area codes in Panama include:
- Panama City: 2
- Colon: 4
- Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui: 7
- Cocle, Herrera, Los Santos, Veraguas: 9
In order to call Panama from the U.S. or Canada you must dial 011 (exit code), then
507 (country code for Panama), then the area code, and then the phone number (seven
To call a cell phone in Panama from the U.S. or Canada you must dial 011 + 507 +
phone number (8 digits, begins with the number 5 or 6).
In order to call the U.S. or Canada from Panama you must dial 00 + 1 + area code
+ phone number
Cyber-cafes are widely available in major cities and towns. Many hotels and private
hospitals throughout the country offer Broadband Internet connection.
Emergency Telephone Numbers
U.S. Embassy in Panama City: (507)207-7000 or (507)207-7030
Panama City is popularly known among tourists as the gateway to the country’s natural
attractions, however the capital city is definitely worth seeing. In terms of energy,
diversity, and cosmopolitanism, Panama city is described as being on par with the
likes of Hong Kong and Singapore. But, if you are more interested in taking a trip
through time, check out Panama Viejo, which is the oldest European settlement on
the Pacific coast of the Americas. The area’s original plan and many of its buildings
(built in a mixture of American, French, and Spanish styles) have been preserved.
Panama is a popular destination for ecotourism. One popular site is Darien National
Park, which contains many varieties of habitats such as rocky coasts, mangroves,
swamps, tropical forests, and sandy beaches. Isla Taboga is located 12 miles (20
km) off the coast and is known as the “Island of Flowers.” For bird watching and
hot springs, check out the Anton Valley (2 hours west of Panama City), and for climbing
and botanical and wildlife observation, Baru Volcano (the highest elevation in the
country), located near the Costa Rican border, is a must see. La Amistad International
Park and Iguana Island National Park are both good places for camping. If you don’t
want to stray too far from the capital city, Parque Nacional Metropolitano is the
only virginal tropical rainforest within the city limits.
It doesn’t matter whether you have extravagant or frugal taste, you will find what
you are looking for in Panama. On the high end of the spectrum, the MultiPlaza located
near the business district is home to designer boutiques and high end name brand
stores including Mont Blanc, Polo, Anne Klein, and Perry Ellis. Los Pueblos is mostly
an outlet mall and the Albrook Mall is full of discount stores. Note that if you
show your passport at Los Pueblos many stores will waive the sales tax. On the even
lower end of the shopping spectrum, Avenida Central is a 6 block long pedestrian
mall that is generally frequented by Panama’s poorest (and tourists). Here you can
find anything from produce and easteries to electronics and fabric stores.
Nightlife and the Arts
It seems like everywhere you go in Panama, Panamanians are partying. The Gallery
plays reggaeton on some nights and also hosts popular DJ’s who spin trance and house
music. For a more local crowd, check out Moods, which plays electronic and reggaeton.
Club Kraze has a balcony and two rooms, and ladies always get in for free at Creme,
which has a more relaxed atmosphere and is a good place to grab an early drink before
braving it on the streets of Amador or Uruguay.
Panama has an impressive and varied selection of musuems. One of Panama’s most popular
tourist attractions is the Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panama, which was built
in 1997. The museum is housed in a 19th century building that is considered a landmark
in and of itself. On display are authentic Panama Canal Treaties and historical
and cultural exhibits. Other museums include the Museo Antropológico Reina Torres
de Araúz (anthropology), the Museo de la Biodiversidad, the Museo de Ciencias Naturales
(Museum of Natural Science), and the Museo Afroantillano, which pays tribute to
the West Indians who made up 85% of all foreigners who built the Panama Canal.
Panama is home to some amazing artistic expressions. The Canal Administration Building,
which was built in 1914, contains the offices of the Panama Canal Authority, and
inside of its lobby there are lovely murals on display that provide a narration
of the struggle to build the canal. The murals were painted by William B. Van Ingen
who also painted murals at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the U.S.
Mint in Philadelphia. Panama is also home to the Contemporary Art Museum and the
Religious Art Museum, but if you would rather buy art instead of look at it, the
Karavan Gallery has an impressive selection of Panamanian folk art including wooden
sculptors and jewelry.
The bookworm and the researcher will enjoy the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
in Balboa, which has 44,000 volumes of books and the The National Library of Panama,
which has over 200,000 volumes. Other libraries include the Biblioteca Publica Morales
and the Simon Bolivar Library at the University of Panama. The National Archives
also has extensive collections of books as well as maps, court records, and historical
Panama has a few English language newspapers including:
Hide this content.
- Panama News
- Bulletin Panama
- Panama Guide