Traveling between Colombia and Panama might seem as similar to other locations in this area, but it is definitely not. Kidnappings? Armed forces? Indigenous ‘tribes’? Swastika flag? You can see here all of that and more.
Overall prices are important for travelers and future expats. We want to be sure that we can afford the vacations, or that the quality of our life styles won’t be lower. Knowing prices of groceries, accommodation, transportation, cars and average salaries before we will relocate can be very helpful for many people.
In different cultures we can observe behaviours that sometimes do not fit to our believes or things we have been taught. When I heard about the National Orchestra of Panama I’ve been very happy I will experience it in Central America, and curious what will be odd for me. It was definitely a unique experience!
Each story and adventure has its beginning and its end. After many perturbations in the job, while living in a jungle without possibility for any other better option than being a receptionist or a bartender, we decided to leave. So why is Playa Venao and probably most of the other ‘paradises’ a good place to rest, but not to live?
Remote village is like one organism
It’s like going to a big restaurant, or visiting any medium size company. Playa Venao has 150-200 locals, and everybody knows everybody. People talk, gossip and spread rumors about everything. It’s like having this annoying old lady from the house in front that tells your mom what time you came back home. This lady is everywhere!
- Your boss rebuking employees for what they said/did on the party in another restaurant.
- Old ‘kissing-ass’ employees inciting new ones to report later what they said to the boss.
Living in a place like this is a struggle:
- You can go shopping once per week on Saturday morning, almost 5h in buses both ways to spend in the ‘city’ up to 4h.
- Yes you can surf after work, you can also spend a lot of money in one of the 8 restaurants, but that is all.
- You better don’t get bitten by anything, because you won’t make it in less than 1-2h to any hospital for an antidote.
- t is hard to relax as you have to check your bed/chair/hammock before using it for any type of spider/scorpion/snake. Same with using anything, like a kitchen, it looks like this. Come closer, check under the table, chair, oven, dishes and any space you cannot see from the standing point, than proceed with whatever you want to do. It sounds silly but this is what locals told me to do. If snake hides next to the wall, he will feel attacked if you will stand next to him and won’t give him a way to run. Then if you are lucky and you have a helicopter, you will be transported to a hospital for a 1000$.
- Running from European/US racism? Choose wisely, some places may shock you.. This is what I have seen in a couple of places:
- Israeli people
- Europeans/North Americans
- Latino Americans (without Panamanians)
- Thick layer of shit
- Panamanians together with dogs as their living conditions are often similar
I won’t point here companies that have been doing it like this, and not all of them are so bad, however I have never seen such a racism before. Some investors are coming to Panama not because of its growing economy, but because they can treat people as they want. You can make a business in Panama without being smart, it is enough to pay people much less than they want or need, and charge customers for using Panamanian earth while destroying it to make more profit.
Those are the reasons I wouldn’t recommend Playa Venao to anybody.
I won’t describe more as I’d feel disgust blacken this place in Internet just because I didn’t like it. You have to know that customers like this beach- most of those things you cannot see from the outside and some of them you don’t want to. I know that it is not like this everywhere because people who have been quitting jobs every week (literally every week somebody was leaving) have been talking about good places in Columbia, Peru or Costa Rica.
Maybe it’s a good habit to read about a place before going to vacations? Who and what do we support with our money?
It is all about people
It always was. Paradise can be a hell, if wrong people treat others in a wrong way. Best regards and good luck to every nice person I met there, to everybody that decided to run as we did, and to everyone that decided to stay. Best regards to people from Selina Hostel – Brandy and Antonio who make this place awesome. The most positive bar on the beach that saved my life and my memories from there. Good luck to Dean – The Lost Alaskan! and many others, see you in a better place, where people value what is really important: not money or their inventory, but other people.
Good luck, see you around the world, and meanwhile I’m going to Panama City!
Before I came to Panama I was sure that surfing is easy, that it’s something that tourists learn during their 1 week vacations, and locals master within 2-3 years. God I was so wrong.
Probably your first board will be rented, I knew I will stay in Panama longer so I decided to buy one as soon as I could. I was surprised already on the beginning by prices. In the shop they asked me for 1000$ and more! I still don’t know were those for professionals or intermediate level surfers, but in many countries I could buy an old car for this price.
First board should be big; or maybe more like H U G E.
Do you remember those small, slim boards from movies? I guess there is a reason why in Spanish it’s called ‘Tabla de surf’ – eng. Surfing Table*
Bigger – better. You won’t have to fight so much with waves just to be on the board.
Did you ever try to ride a bull, even this mechanical one? First steps in surfing are quite similar, however you have no idea what should you do to keep your balance and everybody is giving you a great advices like “keep you legs together”.
Keep your legs together? Is it easier to walk on a sidewalk or balancing on a rope? Oh wait, let me also shake this rope!
Those are often expensive, and there is a reason for it. You can take one or two hours of classes and later there will not be a need for next. They will show you basic moves, tell you when to take the wave and push you few times on the beginning. I haven’t been so smart to take a lesson as it was 40$, however many people learned alone.
How to start
Watch one or two videos on youtube, would be the best if you’ll ask somebody who is going to surf for few tips, and try to surf in the foam. Don’t try to catch a wave like I did, because it’s impossible.
My best advice: go to the swimming pool and try to get on the board until you will succeed, than try to repeat it with a foam, later small waves etc.
How long will it take to learn how to surf
Some says they got it after first hour (if they were alone, they probably lie). Most of autodidacts if they will try everyday, it should take between 3 and 10 days, depends from your experience with skateboards and general talent.
Just stay positive and don’t quit! I heard once you learn it it’s even fun! 😉
*Of course ‘tabla‘ means also board, however table would fit better =)
My first visit which lasted only one day scared me. It was my first time when I’ve been outside of EU (besides a guarded hotel in Africa which doesn’t really count).
First impression: I cannot breath, I am gonna be mugged and murdered – only if I wouldn’t die in some hole before. There are plenty of them in sidewalks around the city. I wrote it before that the reception in my hotel scared me, as well as some shop assistants which recommended to don’t leave hotel after 20:00!
As often, second visit or experience with something completely new is better, more pleasant and allows us to look through the foreground, allows to see more details and real character – so it was this time.
The capitol of Panama is a colorful place, full of contrasts, events, music, emotions and smells. But lets start with the most important:
People of Panama City
Friendly and monolingual. If you give them any sign that you know even one word in Spanish, they will speak fast as you’d be native. If you will show that you don’t know Spanish at all, taxis will charge you double (they will try nevertheless, but saying simple ‘dos, no más’ [two, not more] will save you many $).
Very helpful, some come to ask can they help because you look lost. One person (thanks Richard!) walked with me for 10min to show me the best restaurant in the area!
They love football, atmosphere while watching any match with them is awesome, even if you don’t really care who will win 🙂
Looking for money. I tried to buy a car and so I could see a difference between rural regions in Panama and the capitol. People from the big city are more money oriented, which is not a surprise considering what a ‘gringo’ I am.
It’s a good idea to find people from your country or talking your language, they will tell you stories about Panama and direct you to the best places which probably will fir you. We met with Romanians (my gf is from there, thanks Janos and Cristian!) and it helped me understand many things and Panamanians’ behaviors. You can also try couch surfing or any facebook groups with internationals.
Places in Panama City
Casco Viejo, Via Argentina or Cathedral of Old Panama are only few places worth to see. I haven’t seen the Canal yet, however walking around the city (a specially next to the ocean) is very interesting. I found some nice restaurants on my way, which of the best one was Fisca Del Mar, because of it’s view.
You can find list of places worth it to see on many websites, but my advise is: use taxi and metro. Panama doesn’t have a typical downtown where pubs, clubs, cafeterias and restaurants are placed together. If you are not sure are you going to find something because there is nothing on google maps or in your guide, you probably won’t. Take a cab for 2$ and move few streets or a district farther and enjoy again. I’ve been walking at 13:00 through some long street looking for something to eat, when I finally found a Chinese restaurant I jumped inside and start drinking water – sun made me so dizzy.
Unfortunately nobody cares about the cleaning. Dirty sidewalks, streets, shops, buildings and goods in stores. This one has nothing to do with money, it’s simply taking a brush every few days and cleaning around, here it doesn’t happen besides shops of some big brands. Only those, skyscrapers and metro stations are tidy. In my opinion it’s the biggest problem of this city which cannot be simply changed without changing a mindset of a whole society.
Don’t be in some districts after 20:00. It happened that I’ve been walking back from Casco Viejo in the evening, and some people start following me and my girlfriend, fortunately a taxi appeared on time.
Read reviews in internet before you will pick up a hotel, some may have bugs, be laud and dirty. I stayed a second time in Hotel Bella Vista for 35$/room with AC. Clean and quiet, 3min of walk from a metro station.
Albrook Mall is a trap, unless you really need something, don’t go there. One place with a map for a 1000 shops, it’s so big that some shops are doubled, you cannot simply go inside and spend 30min, it’s a sea of shops and it’s quite expensive.
Enjoy small things in Panama City
I found joy in some small events, people dancing in a random place, crazy buses and many small details that I have never seen before. The city is alive and it’s easy to become a part of it, you just have to be in the right place at the right time, which apparently happens often by a coincidence.
“When I was fifteen, all I wanted was to go off to some other world, a place beyond anybody’s reach. A place beyond the flow of time.”
Like in every good place where we have fun, here in Panama time runs very fast. It’s been already a week since last post and it seems to be 2-3 days.
Now I have a surfboard! The only one in the area was broken and glued (35$!) however I broke it yesterday 😛 Still worth it to buy. I found a carpenter that may fix it. Fortunately this monkey bought another one so I can keep surfing sometimes!
We also had an amazing night when turtles tries to leave the sea, we found them between people in the bar and everybody tried to help them by carrying them back to the water 🙂
Apparently this event was very rare as locals were asking us for the photo and where did we see it.
Turtles in Playa Venao – Selina – Panama
I found out that it is very important to have a hobby in a place with such a small population, far away from the city. It might sound like a paradise, but after some time we miss diversity in our everyday life – at least I do. Maybe it is easier for people who grew in rural areas, for such a townsman like me it was a shock. So I also started playing guitar again, hopefully it will show some effects pretty soon.
Many people ask themselves what is the risk of going to tropic countries; is everywhere so bad like in the Amazon rainforest; will I die in tropics?!
Here you can see what I have found today within 2 hours – snake (boa) and a spider which hided 4 cm under my hand (under the laptop which was warm).
Reality is not so bad
Yes there are spiders and snakes, Yes some of them are venomous and you can die. However you risk everyday being hit by a car but you still leave your safe home to work, shop and school. You let your children play in a forest where a falling tree can kill it.
Due to statistics there is 10% mortality in Panama from venomous snakes. Due to Norman W. Elton, M.D. Chief of Gorgas Hospital in Panama which article we can read here, there is a small chance we will meet a snake like this and even smaller it will bite us. There are many reasons for that, but the most convincing is that we – humans – are much more dangerous for them that they are for us. Animals are scared of us and will not kill us for fun and entertained how our spice is doing often.
Animals defend themselves
Probably you don’t consider yourself as an aggressive person, now think about a giant that crosses your road and you have no way to hide, but you have a gun. Of course you will try your chance to survive, so it is with animals. Here you have few advices from an expert Norman W. Elton which can help you to avoid unpleasant situation with a snake and many other spices.
a. Do not travel alone in the bush; a companion may see the snake that you do not notice
b. Be well shod. At least do not wear low shoes. Tuck trousers into boots and have trousers loose and baggy.
c. Be watchful when using your hands in climbing or in clearing brush. The native who knows how to use a machete, has a bent stick in his left hand to hold branches and small vegetation prior to clipping it with his machete.
d. When you see a snake, freeze in your tracks until you can estimate the situation. The snake will not attack you, since he will be as much surprised and disturbed as you are, and the chances will be 4 to 1 that he is a nonpoisonous type.
e. If alone and proceeding through snake country, make a lot of noise to give the snakes a chance to get out of your way.
f. Carry in your equipment a rubber sheet (thin late) and a piece of rubber tubing for use as a tourniquet.
g. Be especially watchful at night. This is when the hungry snakes are hunting rodents. They will not be hunting you, but there might be a misunderstanding.
I have got bitten, what to do?!
First of all do not panic. I don’t have to explain how stupid it is, but your heart will start pumping blood faster and kill you quicker – we’d like to avoid it.
Make a picture
Is might sound odd but it will help identify was it toxic and which antidote you should get. It might save your life.
Check the food ball
Is the snake is after hunting and has a ball of food within him, his poison was less dangerous and you have more time.
Do mouth suction
Suck the poison out of the place you have been bitten, or let somebody else do it if you can’t reach the point on your own. Remember to don’t swallow the poison! 😉
Go to the hospital, doctor or anybody who can call them
If you are not sure should you be concern, just go. In the end it’s your health we that might be in danger.
Traveling in Panama can be tricky, a specially if we want to change between buses or any other type of transportation which has a schedule. I Europe where I’m from everything is more or less on time. Few months ago I had a chance to visit Budapest – Hungarian capitol. Metro was coming every 3 min with no delay. So how does it look in Panama?
Panamanian Transportation – Traveling
Panama is a small country and so the infrastructure should be easy to make. Everything is in theory connected with the Panama City, however often we have to change for other bus to arrive somewhere. We have a variety of ways to travel from place to place. We can rent a car, travel by public buses, ferries or private transfers including hitchhiking. It’s important to consider the length of your travel to don’t waste too much time, and eventual stops.
Buses between cities leave often every hour between a morning and afternoon. Prices are small, for over 300 km I have paid 9.70$, it was with an air condition and TV. If you think like I did that 300 km in a bus with an average of 80km/h would take around 3.5 – 4 hours.. you are wrong. Prepare yourself for rather 50km/h or less. It took me 6.5h to travel from Panama City to Playa Venao.
Tip: Take with you some warm clothes, temperature in my bus was lower than in the fridge.
Locals told me that there is only one domestic airline: Air Panama. As you can imagine, prices without having any competition are very high. There aren’t also too many domestic airports around, Air Panama flies to Bocas del Toro, David, the Darién, and some islands in the Guna Yala and Pearl Island archipelagos. I would suggest this type of transportation only if your time in Panama is very limited.
This is a good option, many companies can offer quite low prices starting with 9-10$/ day for a small car, ending on 60-80$ for a big van. Fuel is also very cheap in Panama, so count your money and think won’t it be easier to pay 70-100$ for own car for few days, instead of spending hours in buses or each time 2-10$ on a taxi. Only for traveling from Tocumen Airport to the city and back we’ll spend 60-80$ if we won’t take a public bus.
Rent a bus
We can rent a small bus for us, which will take us in any destination, which will of course cost but we won’t take any risk of being late: just enter and relax.
Tip:Every bus has included 1h of stop during the travel, so you can take some pictures or eat something in a restaurant on your way.
Take a local bus
I’ll write about those in another posts, but remember that if you are not on the starting station be sure to be there before time and be ready to wait even 30min. Cheap and always late, but with a great local atmosphere.
Most of people will stop and take you, a specially in the rural areas. Sometimes there might be no car during 30min of waiting, but unless its full it will stop for sure. It’s also a great opportunity to learn some Spanish and meet locals. I wouldn’t recommend it if we have any schedule for our trip. No risk no fun 🙂
If you want to see one of the Panamanian islands and you didn’t or couldn’t choose Airlines, you should consider a boat. Here you can find one of the companies and its schedule: Sea Las Perlas.
Be ready to stay in a small city during a night or take a taxi for sometimes even 50km. Local buses are often going once or twice per day, so if you will be late for the last one like I did, you’ll have to pay. I took a bus at 11 from Panama City, arrived in Las Tablas at 17 and last local bus was going at 13.. Adventure! 😉
Panama City – Playa Venao
Take a bus from the bus station (Albrook Bus Station) to Las Tablas (to save money take a bus at 8!). Than in Las Tablas you will catch a direct private bus to Playa Venao. If you will be late, you can take one to Pedasi and change there for Playa Venao or take a cab. Taxi from Las Tablas to Playa Venao should cost between 35$ and 40$.
It isn’t easy to find a hotel in Panama City which we will be sure about and won’t spend a lot of money. My Panamanian colleague asked about something where we won’t be for sure robbed, pointed a 120$/night one. It is too expensive in a country with such a low salaries so I tried few methods.
How to find accommodation in Panama City.
Apparently this method isn’t popular in Panama, and from what I heard in South and Central America in general. out of ~1000 people that were matching my search for 2 people and 1 night, only ~20 were logged in within last month! In the end we got few rejections and mostly no answer. Worth it to try but don’t expect too much.
It’s always my second choice if there is nothing on Couchsurfing. Of course I still try to find some people to meet by CS.
I found out that it’s possible to find a room for 35$, and according to the search there were 23 places on the list, which most of them looked very nice!
However this time my choice was a hotel. AirBnB is in general some effort, talking with hosts, not being sure about the conditions.
Hotels and motels
With a help came Trip Advisor which I haven’t use before, and which is apparently quite popular in Panama. Most of small places had reviews in different languages which was a great help. After a long journey it is very convenient to arrive in the hotel, close the door and rest without wondering about anything.
My choice was Hotel Bella Vista which you can book on booking.com or other similar portal.
A little bit dirty, old, window almost doesn’t work – but the bed is comfortable and air condition works great. In the end it’s a cheap hotel – 35$/room. I would come back there for this price.
Some locals scared me that the district is dangerous and after 20 I should stay inside. Other Panamanians told me later it’s a lie, however I wouldn’t take a risk. Perfect place to stay for one night with a low cost if we are very tired.
So it happened, 28th of June 2015 we left Europe and flew to Panama – first of the Central America countries.
We have spent a long time searching for the best connection. Flight time and price were crucial for us. It ended up that we have taken the best connection due to many people’s opinion: Amsterdam – Panama with KLM airlines.
Few things we had to keep in mind:
Bags could be quite big (158 cm together) however the main one had to be up to 23 kg and the hand baggage 12 kg.
Be early on the airport
Remember to be on the airport two hours before – just in case. A specially if you fly directly from Amsterdam which is very big. We had 25min of walking between gates 🙂
Prepare your passport, ID and yellow passport, which I hope you have. It’s a document you get after being vaccinated for the yellow fever. They may ask for it but not necessary.
Cash or credit card
As a tourist visa which you probably have, control in Panama can ask you for the prove you can remain yourself in the country. We don’t know what are the conditions for a credit card, however for cash it’s 500 USD.
We didn’t fly before so far, so we have been surprised how big is the plane and how little space we have in the economy class. On the beginning 11 hours seemed impossible to survive, however with time stewardess start bringing us some drinks, food, dinner and many snacks together with hot towels to refresh ourselves. In the front of everyone is a screen with many good movies, games, TV and music. If you forgot your headphones – it’s not a problem! KLM will give a pair to everyone.
In general you have nothing to worry about. Many clean toilets, places around them to stand for a while and regain feeling in your legs, quite comfortable chairs. Of course it’s not a pleasure, but nobody forbids you to buy 1st class 😉