How to Visit Panama City on a Budget

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If you’re a budget-conscious traveler looking to visit Panama City, start with these money-saving tips.

While Panama is more expensive than most of its Central American neighbors – with the exception of Costa Rica – its cosmopolitan capital is still good value, especially compared to cities in the United States. and from Europe.

There are plenty of opportunities to spend your money in the city – stylish boutique hotels, world-class museums, gourmet restaurants and trendy cocktail bars among them – but there are also ways to cut costs, from sharing from a hostel dorm to taking the bus and homestay meals.

You can always use the money you save to treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime experience – perhaps swimming with whale sharks in Parque Nacional Coiba or touring the deserted islands around the Comarca de Guna Yala. Here are our top tips for stretching your budget further.

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Avoid peak season and highest prices

Tropical Panama is a year-round destination, but prices rise during the hot, dry season – which runs from around December to April – and rises further around the multiple Independence-related festivals in November, Christmas, New Year and Easter. If you travel during the hottest rainy season – May through November – you’ll escape the crowds and get great deals on accommodation and organized tours.

Travel overland to Panama City on one of Central America’s long-distance buses

If you are already exploring Central America, consider taking one of the economy bus lines that cross borders and operate in the region. Ticabus has air conditioning, Wi-Fi, restrooms and reclining seats and, if you’re coming from Costa Rica, the 18-hour bus ride from San José to Panama City costs around $45 – much cheaper than the trip 75 minute live. flight which costs about $230.

A homestay can mean saving money and improving your Spanish © L. Toshio Kishiyama / Getty Images

Sleep in a dorm or stay with a family

There’s no shortage of affordable beds around Panama City with something for every budget, from a hostel bunk to family home accommodations. Check out booking sites such as Hostelworld, Homestay, Couchsurfing and Airbnb, and you can enjoy social interactions, insider tips and a cooking area – your Spanish might improve, too.

Cash is always preferred in Panama

Credit cards are widely accepted at the city’s more upscale establishments, but using plastic often means ATM fees and credit card transaction fees at home. It is wise to carry cash for daily transactions and when the ATM is not working. And make sure you have a few small bills for neighborhood restaurants, local shops, and taxis in town, as they rarely have change.

Public transportation is the cheapest way to get around Panama City

Parts of the city are easily walkable (or passable, or bikeable), especially the cobbled streets of Casco Viejo and the waterfront promenades of Cinta Costera and Amador Causeway.

But if you go further afield, the city has an efficient public transit system, including Central America’s first and only metro, which connects downtown to the northern and southern parts of the metropolitan area. You’ll need to buy a $2 rechargeable Metro, MetroBus, or RapiPass card to use it, then all rides are $0.35.

The pass also works on the Metrobus, the sleek replacements for the eye-catching but unregulated red diablo (red devils), with rides costing $0.25.

Aerial view of Panama City with skyscrapers and many yellow taxis on the street below waiting in traffic
Hire a yellow taxi outside a hotel or mall and you’ll pay more for your ride © Gianfranco Vivi / Getty Images

Be careful when taking local taxis or downloading a ride-sharing app

Panama City’s licensed yellow taxis can be an economical way to get around, but they aren’t metered. You must therefore negotiate a price before leaving. Make sure it’s for the ride and not per person. And avoid taking taxis outside a hotel or mall, as this automatically means higher prices. Drivers don’t expect tips, but you can always round up the fare.

Uber is a better option; there is also UberEnglish for non-Spanish speakers and UberAssist for people with reduced mobility. Lyft is also available.

Learn some Spanish to avoid the “gringo tax”

English is widely spoken in Panama City, so you can get by without speaking a word of Spanish, but a little local lingo goes a long way. It’s always worth having a few useful phrases up your sleeve – and the Google Translate app on your phone – to avoid the higher prices, especially when dealing with taxi drivers and market vendors.

Tropical white fish marinated in lemon juice and chopped onions, served in a coconut shell with baskets of green plantain surrounding the plate.
Panama City is full of fresh seafood options © Sergio Amiti / Getty Images

Prepare your own meals

Hostels and homestays usually come with well-equipped kitchens, where you can cook your own meals, prepare your own picnics, and save a handful of bucks shopping at supermarkets, such as Super 99 and Justo & Bueno. There is always an abundance of fresh fruit on offer – the aguacate (Lawyer), sandia (watermelon), pina (pineapple), maracuya (passion fruit), and papaya are particularly delicious.

Eat like a local and stock up on Panama’s favorite dishes

Panama City has a cosmopolitan restaurant scene, from bento boxes to spaghetti bolognese, but some of its best — and cheapest — dishes are traditional Panamanian fare, or comida tipicaserved in underground restaurants, self-service cafeterias and in street carts.

Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) is a lunchtime favorite with locals, and well-stuffed, portable empanadas patacones (fried green plantains) make satisfying snacks.

At city institutions such as Café Coca Cola and El Trapiche, the affordable and hearty (and often fried) fare includes ropa vieja (pulled beef with vegetables and rice) and sancocho (hearty chicken and vegetable soup), or go all out stripes (mixed dishes) to try a bit of everything. Wash it all down with a glass of shishaa refreshing blend of tropical fruit juice and water.

Go wildlife spotting without leaving the city

You don’t have to leave the urban jungle to experience Panama’s incredible biodiversity. For just $5, you can explore the well-maintained trails of the city’s green lung, Parque Natural Metropolitano, a vast protected area where lush rainforest is home to amazing flora and fauna.

Get there early for the most animalistic action – and cooler temperatures – with the chance of spotting sleepy sloths, talkative monkeys and talkative toucans. And don’t miss the stellar views of the city from the park’s vantage point.

A hand holds a can of beer against a body of water with a city skyline in the distance
Save money by choosing local beer instead of imported beer © Inspired By Maps / Shutterstock

Drink the local beer

Thirsty travelers looking for a cold should skip imported beer brands and choose one of the local lagers – Panama, Balboa, and the lighter Atlas – and aim for happy hour at a hostel or hot spot. local water.

The Panamanian craft beer scene is booming, and La Rana Dorada serves a range of award-winning beers, including Belgian-style wheat beer, German-style pilsner and English-style lager, as well as seasonal specials. With a growing number of breweries around town, the Casco Viejo branch is all bare stone, polished wood, and gleaming brass, with a very liberal happy hour that runs from noon to 6 p.m.

Stay hydrated for less with a water filter bottle

With Panama City’s high temperatures and even higher humidity, it pays to stay hydrated. Tap water is generally safe to drink in town, although it’s best to avoid it in rural areas and islands, including Bocas del Toro and the San Blas Archipelago. Save money and reduce plastic pollution by investing in a water filter bottle, like the LifeStraw Go.

Ferry hop to Isla Taboga for a slice of island life on a budget

You don’t need to embark on a trip to Bocas del Toro or the San Blas Archipelago to taste a tropical island paradise. With golden sands and swaying palms, historic Isla Taboga is just a 30-minute, $24 round-trip ferry ride from Amador Causeway Harbor – perfect for a day out. beach, with beaches, cafes and shops within walking distance of the quay. Try going during the week when it’s a much quieter escape.

Check Panama Discount Websites

Bargain hunters should check out the daily deals on Panama discount websites. The most popular is OfertaSimple, where you can find everything from half-price burgers in Casco Viejo to discounted day trips to the San Blas Archipelago. Gustazos is another good option – both websites are in Spanish and English. And try Degusta Panamá for deep restaurant discounts when you book through its website or app.

Daily costs in Panama City

Hostel Dormitory: $10 to $15
Basic hostel room for two: about $30
Airbnb Double Room: about $30
Subway ticket : $0.35
Bus ticket: $0.25
Meal for two at a local restaurant: about $20
Draft beer: $2.50
Coffee: $3.50

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