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Everything Vancouver travellers need to know about visiting Panama

Find out everything you need to know about cheap flights, accommodation, fun activities, and places to visit.
Find out everything you need to know about travel from Vancouver to Panama, including how to get the cheapest flights out of YVR Airport.

Is Mexico your go-to travel destination for a tropical vacation? Are you looking to broaden your holiday horizons? 

Panama has lush jungles teeming with wildlife, sparkling white-sand shores, vibrant city centres, and islands boasting a wide array of marine life. 

The tropical destination is also the only country in the world where you can see the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and set in the Atlantic, offering spellbinding vistas at the start and end of each day.

Panama City, the country's capital, offers a striking juxtaposition of some of Latin America's tallest skyscrapers along the waters of the Bay of Panama. The Sarigua desert is home to the oldest fishing village in the country, dating back 11,000 years. 

And while Mexico has an elevated security risk, Panama is considered one of the safest countries in Central America. 

From booking flights and securing travel documents to things to do for fun while you're there, find out everything you need to know about planning your trip to Panama from Vancouver.

What airlines should I fly to Panama?

From Vancouver International Airport (YVR), travellers can fly to Tocumen International Airport Panama (PTY) via several connecting routes.

Airlines that fly to or partially to Panama via one of their airline partners include:

  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Avianca
  • COPA Airlines
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Korean Air
  • United Airlines

When should I book my ticket to Panama?

Tickets to Panama should be booked around six weeks before the outbound travel date to get the best bang for your book. Prices for round-trip flights from YVR start for as little as $699 with one short stopover.

While Panama is wet during the first couple of summer months -- June through July -- prices are elevated by a couple of hundred dollars. They drop down again in late August.

When is the best time of year to visit Panama? 

Travellers can catch bright sunshine and hot temperatures in the tropical country between January and mid-April. However, it is the busiest tourist season given the ideal weather. If you don't mind some showers, visit in December or May. 

Keep in mind that the hurricane season lasts between roughly June and November. 

Is it safe to visit Panama? 

The Government of Canada gives tourists the green light to visit Panama, advising them to take "normal security precautions" in the country. But there are several things to keep in mind. 

  • Some areas of Colon and Panama City have an elevated crime risk. Travellers should exercise a high degree of caution in these areas. 
  • Travellers should completely avoid travelling to the areas "beyond the town of Yaviza in Darién Province to the Colombian border, due to the extremely high level of violent crime."
  • Similarly, all travel to the Mosquito Gulf, from Boca de Río Chiriquí to Coclé del Norte, should be avoided due to the "high level of illegal activity such as drug smuggling and human trafficking."

Petty crime, such as purse snatching, occurs. Keep your belongings secure and don't flaunt your valuables. Use ATMs located in public areas or inside a bank or business. 

Avoid walking alone at night and "remain vigilant in all public places," states the advisory.

In Panama City, high-crime areas include "bus stations and shopping areas on Avenida Central" as well as the following neighbourhoods:

  • Ancón
  • Calidonia
  • Curundú
  • El Chorillo
  • San Miguelito
  • Juan Díaz
  • Parque Soberania
  • Río Abajo
  • Tocumen
  • Veracruz Beach

Theft from hotel rooms occurs in both urban and resort areas.

A special consideration for adventure tourism 

Panama is known for a range of adrenaline-fuelled activities in the water and on land. But these fun pastimes have risks.

Travel insurance providers won't cover many extreme sports. Check the details before purchasing an insurance policy and consider the risks before doing any activity. 

Some activities may not seem extreme but may not be covered. For example, many resorts offer on-site scuba certification for free or at a bargain. However, these activities aren't covered by most providers. 

If you intend to practice adventure tourism, the Canadian government advises the following:

  • never do so alone, and don’t part with your expedition companions
  • obtain detailed information on your activity and on the environment in which you will be before setting out
  • buy travel insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation
  • ensure that your physical condition is good enough to meet the challenges of your activity
  • avoid venturing off marked trails
  • don’t camp or sleep overnight on beaches
  • ensure that you’re adequately equipped and bring sufficient water
  • stay informed of weather and other conditions that may pose a hazard
  • know the symptoms of acute altitude sickness, which can be fatal
  • inform a family member or friend of your itinerary
  • refrain from using facilities or equipment if you have doubts about their safety

Do I need to get any special travel vaccines ahead of visiting Panama?

Visit a travel medical clinic before you book a ticket. The healthcare professionals will inform you about what vaccinations you require and what you can expect on your trip. There are risks of contracting several viruses spread by mosquitoes including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.

Pregnant women, or women planning to get pregnant soon, may want to rethink their travel plans to Cancun. The Canadian government recommends that you wait for two months after visiting Cancun, Mexico or after the onset of illness due to Zika virus (whichever is longer) before trying to get pregnant. If your male partner travelled with you, wait three months after travel or after the onset of illness.

There is also a risk of American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) in Panama, which is "caused by a parasite spread by infected triatomine bugs." While the infection can be inactive for decades, humans can develop complications causing disability and even death. There is no vaccine but the risk of transmission is low. Travellers can prevent insect bites by using mosquito nets. 

What kind of activities can I enjoy in Panama?

Panama has over 1,000 beautiful islands that you can visit, including Taboga, Coiba, and the Pearl Islands. These islands are scattered in the Pacific and the Caribbean and most are uninhabited. On these, travellers will find expansive beaches and miles of protected coral reefs, while others are home to picturesque coastal towns.

Guna Yala, an indigenous territory, is a narrow strip of land on the country's Caribbean coast and an archipelago of 365 islands, which are also known as the San Blas Islands. Tourists can learn about the local culture and food but they will also enjoy an experience like few others on earth. There is no internet access and credit cards aren't expected. Most people typically stay in thatched huts without hot water or they can go camping, "renting tents or hammocks." The Guna craft a textile from "layers of coloured fabric crafted to form patterns and pictures inspired by their cosmogenic beliefs" called Molas that make popular souvenirs, according to Tourism Panama. 

Several heart-pumping activities in Panama, include white-water rafting, zip-lining, scuba diving, jet skiing, and more. It is also considered a surfer's paradise, offering 1,800 miles of coastline to enjoy the water sport. In some places, such as Santa Catalina, at la Punta, waves can reach an impressive 20 to 30 feet. 

Do I need a visa to visit Panama?

Tourists are not required to get a visa for stays of up to 180 days in Panama. 

Canadian passports must be valid for the entire time a traveller is in the country. You should ensure your passport is valid for six months after you return home from travel. If you become ill or injured while in your destination, you may not be able to travel home. Having a buffer for your travel document before it expires ensures you won't have trouble coming home. 

How much money will I spend on accommodation?

Accommodation in Panama ranges from modestly-priced beach bungalows to lavish resorts with high-end amenities and butler service. For example, the Hotel Pension Corona costs just $28, while the Hotel Ciel y Miel Eco Lodge and Restaurant costs roughly $500 per night. The latter comes with a hefty price tag but has panoramic views of the Caribbean Ocean and the iungle of the UNESCO World Heritage Portobelo National Park.

Several options range between these prices, including plenty of accommodations costing between $100 to $200 per night. 

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