Is Panama safe?
Panama is a very safe country. The people here are friendly and the medical services, especially in Panama City, are great. Crime isn’t a problem in most places, but there are a few areas that tourists should avoid, including the city of Colón, poorer parts of Panama City, and some regions of the Darién. Be sure to wear sunscreen while you’re visiting and exercise caution while hiking in the forest or swimming in the ocean. There are hospitals in larger cities and clinics in smaller towns. If any emergency arises, call 911 for an ambulance or 104 for the police.
Frequently asked questions
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- What should I do in case of an emergency in Panama?
In case of a medical emergency, dial 911—this will call the ambulance service. If the ambulance does not arrive promptly, however, try to grab a taxi and get to the nearest hospital. There are hospitals in most cities, and smaller towns will have clinics where you can receive medical care. Prescription and non-prescription drugs can be purchased at a pharmacy.
For other emergencies, you can reach the police by calling 104 or the fire department by calling 103. If you still have questions or are uncertain about whom to call, you can call directory assistance for help – they can be reached by calling 102. The embassies of most countries – including the U.S., Canada, and the UK – are located in Panama City, should you require any additional legal help.
- What are the medical facilities like in Panama?
Panama has great medical facilities and doctors, particularly in Panama City and other large cities. Many doctors speak English and provide high-quality care for their patients. Outside of larger cities there are regional hospitals and clinics. Doctors are on-site and at most places an appointment is not necessary. There are also pharmacies scattered across Panama where travelers can purchase both prescription and non-prescription drugs. The cost of medical care or medicine is usually pretty cheap. Travelers who are considering visiting more adventurous, remote places may want to consider buying travel insurance.
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- Are there many insects in Panama?
Panama is a tropical country and does have its fair share of bugs. It is, however, not as bad as you might think, and with the proper amount of protection you will be fine.Sand flies (known locally as chitras), who tend to bite ankles and feet, can be a nuisance on some beaches and are worse during the rainy season. To protect yourself against them, use insect repellent and keep your feet covered with socks and shoes. Chiggers – a type of mite that live in fields and grassy areas – can sometimes climb onto you and burrow into your skin. To avoid them, use insect repellent on your clothes when hiking, especially around the legs. Panama has large spiders (including tarantulas) and some scorpions. Shake out your clothes (especially your shoes) before putting them on and if you see anything, leave it alone. There are also some ferocious ants and bees in Panama. Again, be on the lookout for these while hiking in the forest, and you should be fine.
- Is the water safe to drink in Panama?
In most places, the water in Panama is safe to drink. The Panama Canal Company had a high standard for hygiene, and as a result the water is clean in Panama City and much of the rest of the country. Bocas del Toro is one of the few places in Panama that does not have reliably safe water. Water also remains questionable on the developing islands. If there is any question about the purity of the water, err on the side of caution and drink bottled water.
- Is it safe to eat the local fruits and vegetables in Panama?
Panama’s local fruits and vegetables are safe to eat. Panama is a tropical country with farms scattered across it, and many small farmers sell their produce at markets or alongside the road. Fruit includes mangoes, papaya, pineapple, passion fruit, bananas and plantains. Domestic vegetables include corn, yucca, squash, and a few types of beans.
- Is crime a problem in Panama?
In most places, crime is not a problem in Panama. Most Panamanians are warm and welcoming and do not engage in violent acts. There are, however, a few areas of Panama where crime is an issue, mostly in impoverished urban areas with high unemployment rates. By exercising the right amount of caution and common sense, visitors to Panama should be fine.Avoid the city of Colón, where crime and thefts are unfortunately common. It’s also best to avoid some of the poorest neighborhoods in Panama City, including El Chorrillo and Curundu, and be alert while visiting Casco Viejo.
Don’t bring valuable items into public; don’t leave them in locked cars while going for a hike or in a backpack while going for a swim. If your hotel room has an in-room safe, use it. Petty theft can occur, but if you’re smart and sensible you can easily avoid it.
It’s best to avoid walking alone at night and getting intoxicated with strangers. Also, leave your passport at your hotel when you go out and bring a copy instead.
- Do I need to take malaria pills or get certain vaccinations for my trip to Panama?
There are no immunizations or vaccinations required for travelers from North America or Europe. Travelers from places where yellow fever is endemic may be required to show proof of vaccination, including tropical South America and sub-Sahara Africa. Health conditions and vaccination recommendations do change, however, so it’s best to check with your doctor for current requirements before traveling.The kinds of precautions you will need to take depend on where you plan to go. If you plan to stay in urban areas, you won’t need malaria pills. However, if you want to spend time in remote, outdoor areas, you may want to consider taking antimalarial medication. As always, it’s best to discuss your options with a physician.
- If I need medicine, can I easily get it in Panama?
Yes. There are pharmacies throughout the country where you can find most prescription and non-prescription drugs. Some pharmacies are a part of larger chains, while others are small, local operations. Most medicine is cheap and widely available. If you are unable to find the brand you are looking for, chances are there is a generic option. Some drugs – including antibiotics, sleeping pills, and strong pain medications – are not available over the counter in Panama.
- Is it safe to swim in the ocean in Panama?
The safety of swimming largely depends on where you are. There are beaches scattered along both coasts of the country, which either may or may not be safe to swim in. By and large, most tourist-friendly areas will have safe swimming areas. However, it is best to check first, as the beaches do not have lifeguards and you will be swimming at your own risk. Panama is also known for its riptides, so exercise caution. The San Blas Islands (Guna Yala), Contadora Island, and most parts of Bocas del Toro are safe for swimming.
- Are there many snakes in Panama?
Panama does have snakes, but it’s very rare to come across one while hiking. By taking a few basic precautions, you can usually avoid being bothered by snakes. Be careful around piles of dried leaves or fallen trees, as snakes can sometimes be found beneath these. If you are bitten, remain calm and get to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Keep the wound below the heart and do not try to suck out the poison, as this can actually make the situation worse.
- Are there many mosquitoes in Panama?
Panama has mosquitos, but they are not overwhelming. There aren’t many mosquitos near urban areas, but they can become more of a nuisance in rural parts, especially along the Caribbean coast, which is rainier than the rest of Panama. Mosquitos are most active during dawn and dusk, so it’s best to stay indoors around these times if you’re worried about getting bit. Using insect repellent (with 30-50 percent DEET) and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants will help you avoid exposure. Sleeping in rooms with screened windows and/or mosquito netting is also a good idea.