Tip 1: They Use American Dollars
Technically, Panama does have its own currency called the Balboa, but it’s not super widely used. At most, you will get some Panamanian coins back when you pay with your American dollars. You can just reuse it when you’re buying souvenirs or drinks from the supermarket. Most places we went to had contactless payment options, but the smaller souvenir shops in Casco and in small towns do prefer cash.
Tip 2: Go Early or Wait Until Late
If you’re planning on going to any of the national parks, go either right when they open or wait until around 3pm. Early morning or late afternoon are when the wildlife are most active. You can still see some animals out and about around noon, but it won’t be as abundant as if you start early.
Tip 3: Bring a Rain Jacket!
Our tour guide told us that it rains for about 8 out of 12 months in the year, so be prepared for midday rain showers. We had no idea it would rain, but we definitely got caught in a thunderstorm during one our hikes. They do pass by relatively quickly, but you don’t want to get soaked like we did!
Tip 4: Visiting the Panama Canal
There are a few ways to see ships passing through the locks at the Panama Canal. The Miraflores Visitor Center is the most popular, but at the time of this post, the museum and cafe there are still closed. There is also the San Pedro Locks, where you can stop off the side of the road to see a ship pass through. I would recommend the Agua Clara Visitor Center, where you can get a panoramic view of Gatun Lake, the Panama Canal, and the 3 sections of the Agua Clara Locks. If there’s fog, then passages are usually delayed. There are apps that you can download to check when ships will be passing through so you can time your visits.
Tip 5: Definitely Try Geisha Coffee
Gesha Coffee, also called Geisha coffee, is a variety of coffee tree that originated in the Gori Gesha forest, Ethiopia. It is also grown in a variety of Latin American countries, but Panamanian Geisha coffee is considered one of the best and most expensive in the world. Geisha coffee has a distinctive, flowery, and almost fruit-like flavor. I had it at a few cafes around Panama City, but my favorite was from Café Unido. Even Maito, one of Panama’s best restaurants, uses beans from Café Unido for their tasting menu.