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Ultimate Panama Safety Guide for Travelers

Panama is a lovely Central American country with diverse landscapes, rich culture, and lively nightlife. The Panama Canal is one of the world’s greatest engineering marvels. Panama draws millions of tourists to its tropical beaches, rainforests, ancient monuments, and modern cities. But is Panama safe to visit?

As with any destination, Panama has hazards and problems that travelers should be aware of.

This Panama safety guide covers crime, health, natural disasters, and environmental risks. We will also offer safety and fun recommendations for your Panama vacation.

view of panama city buildings
Panama is not dangerous for travelers but like most countries around the world you can face some challenges when traveling

Is Panama Safe?

Panama is safe for tourists and has little violent crime and terrorism. However, like any destination, practicing common sense is advised, especially in cities and at night.

Watch your stuff for pickpocketing, which is common in big cities and tourist places, urban life includes street muggings and other crimes. Be careful, especially around crowds.

But Panama is an amazing country to visit, and the chances of getting involved in sketchy stuff are minimal, also the kind residents, especially in rural places, are always willing to help.

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What are the main safety concerns in Panama?

Panama is safe to visit, but travelers should be mindful of petty crime, health concerns, natural disasters, and environmental problems.

Let’s take a deeper look at the main safety concerns in the country.

Crime and Violence in Panama

Crime is a significant safety issue for travelers in Panama, particularly in urban areas and popular tourist destinations. Although serious crime is uncommon, minor crimes like theft, robbery, and pickpocketing happen frequently.

Here are some statistics and information about crime in Panama:

  • As per the U.S. Department of State, Panama has a medium crime rating, so travelers should be more cautious when visiting the country.
  • As per the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), theft of personal belongings like wallets, phones, cameras, and passports is a common issue for tourists in Panama.
  • These incidents typically happen in busy locations like markets, buses, taxis, and airports, as well as in more secluded spots like beaches, trails, and parks.

Health and Medical Risks in Panama

Health is a significant safety concern for travelers in Panama due to various health issues and medical risks present in the country.

Here are some interesting details and statistics about health in Panama:

  • Make sure to have all your routine vaccinations up to date before traveling to Panama, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • It’s a good idea to think about getting extra vaccinations based on where you’re going and how healthy you are.
  • As per the CDC, Panama faces various health concerns like foodborne and waterborne illnesses, vector-borne diseases, and animal bites transmitting rabies or other infections.
  • If you are heading to Panama you should keep in mind certain health precautions. These include sticking to bottled or boiled water, consuming only cooked or peeled food, using insect repellent and mosquito nets, wearing long-sleeved clothing and pants, steering clear of animals, and seeking medical help if any symptoms arise.

Natural Disasters and Environmental Hazards in Panama

Panama faces a range of natural disasters and environmental hazards because of where it’s situated, its climate, and its topography.

  • These events can put at risk your safety and well-being, but that doesn’t mean they happen often. Check out these interesting details about natural disasters and environmental risks in Panama:
  • In Panama, floods, storms, landslides, and earthquakes are the most common and expensive natural disasters.
  • As per the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Panama is situated in a region prone to seismic activity, this leads to regular earthquakes, with some being noticeable throughout the entire country.
  • Panama is susceptible to hurricanes that develop in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, impacting both coasts of the country. The hurricane season lasts from June to November.
panama city casco viejo
Casco Viejo in Panama City is a stunning place to visit, but make sure to follow the Panama City Travel Advisory to have a smooth experience.

How to Stay Safe in Panama

Avoid dangerous neighborhoods and times

Panama is safe but you can encounter some sketchy stuff in urban areas, especially in Panama City. It has various districts and neighborhoods, with varying levels of safety.

It’s best to steer clear of areas with high crime rates, poverty, gangs, and drugs like El Chorrillo, Curundu, San Miguelito, and parts of Calidonia and Santa Ana.

At night, these areas can be quite risky due to the dark and deserted streets. Be cautious when exploring Casco Viejo, certain areas are welcoming to tourists and are secure, but other parts remain dilapidated and risky.

It’s best to stay on the main streets and plazas and avoid venturing into the back alleys and slums. Also, avoid walking alone at night in any area of the city and opt for a taxi or Uber instead.

Use public transportation wisely

Transportation in Panama City is quite affordable and convenient, with options like buses, metro, and taxis available, but it’s important to consider the possible risks and drawbacks of using them.

Take buses, for instance, they can get pretty packed, crazy, and not always on time. Plus, some routes might go through sketchy neighborhoods.

It’s a good idea to verify the bus’s destination and fare before getting on and make sure to keep your valuables nearby.

The Metro is a more recent and cozy choice, but it tends to get packed and hot at busy times. It’s a good idea to purchase your metro card ahead of time to avoid any issues with the machines at the stations.

There are plenty of taxis available at affordable rates, but some may operate without regulation, it’s important to agree on the fare before hopping in and opt for the official yellow taxis or app-based services like Uber or Cabify.

Metrobus arriving to a terminal in Panamá
Panama has a good public transportation system, but local buses can get crowded, and may be easier for pickpockets to target tourists.

Beware of scams and petty crimes

While Panama City is generally safe, you should be aware of scams and petty crimes that can occur.

Here are a few that people often use:

Watch out for pickpocketing and bag-snatching in crowded areas like markets, buses, metro stations, and tourist spots. It’s a good idea to keep your valuables in a safe spot like a money belt, or lockable backpack.

It’s important to stay vigilant and pay attention to your surroundings while steering clear of any distractions or solicitations from unfamiliar individuals.

Watch out for ATM skimming and card cloning, which occurs when you use a compromised ATM or card reader. Someone could use your card details to withdraw cash or buy things.

It’s a good idea to stick to ATMs in safe locations like banks, hotels, or malls. Remember to shield the keypad when entering your PIN and make sure to review your statements frequently for any unusual transactions.

Beware of imposters posing as police officers or taxi drivers who may attempt to scam or steal from you. You might be requested to provide your documents, accused of a crime, or offered a ride.

Always remember to request their identification and avoid giving away your passport or money. Avoid taking unmarked or unofficial taxis; opt for those with a license plate and a meter.

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How to Stay Safe in Rural Areas and National Parks

Panama is more than just a city, it’s a country filled with natural beauty and diversity. There are numerous rural areas and national parks that provide great chances for hiking, camping, wildlife watching, and adventure sports.

It’s important to show respect and be responsible when visiting these locations, and make sure to follow some simple safety rules and guidelines.

Follow the local regulations and advice

Panama boasts a solid system of national parks and protected areas, encompassing approximately 25% of the country’s land.

These parks come with their own set of rules and regulations that should be followed and respected. For instance, you might have to pay an entrance fee, sign in for your visit, book a guide, or get a permit to access specific areas or activities.

It’s good practice to listen to the advice and instructions of park rangers, guides, and locals who are more familiar with the area.

aerial view of Province of Chiriqui in Panama
While Panama safety is good for travelers you should be aware of other challenges, like visiting remote areas, making sure to dress appropriately, and considering the weather.

Prepare for the weather and wildlife

Panama has a tropical climate, resulting in consistent heat and humidity throughout the year, along with distinct rainy and dry seasons.

Make sure you’re ready for the weather and pack appropriately, consider packing sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and water for sunny days, as well as a raincoat, umbrella, and waterproof shoes for wet weather, and warm clothes, a sleeping bag, and a tent for chilly nights.

It’s important to keep an eye out for wildlife and take steps to prevent any unexpected run-ins. For example, it’s best to steer clear of feeding, or bothering any animals, particularly monkeys, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and crocodiles.

Make sure to check out your shoes, clothes, and bags for any insects or spiders, and give them a good shake before using them. Make sure to store your food and trash in sealed containers and dispose of them correctly.

Respect the indigenous communities and their culture

The country has various indigenous communities residing in different areas with unique cultures and traditions. Some communities are open to tourists and travelers, giving them a chance to explore their history, way of life, and traditions.

It’s important to show respect and be polite when visiting these communities, and remember to follow some basic etiquette guidelines.

For example, it’s important to request permission before capturing photos or videos, opt for appropriate clothing, and avoid giving money or gifts to children.

It’s a good idea to pay attention to the wisdom of older people and join in on their events and rituals if they ask you to.

How to Stay Safe on the Beaches and Islands

Panama boasts an extensive and diverse coastline, featuring two oceans and numerous beaches and islands. This country offers a variety of landscapes including white sand, black sand, coral reefs, and mangroves.

Feel free to try various water activities like swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and diving, as well as fishing, and boating.

But it’s important to stay alert and aware, since the beaches and islands may present certain risks and obstacles.

Choose the right beach for your activity

Panama has different types of beaches, each with its characteristics and conditions. You should choose the right beach for your activity, and avoid the ones that are not suitable or safe.

For example, some beaches are good for surfing, but not for swimming, due to the strong waves and currents and some other beaches are good for snorkeling, but not for diving, due to the shallow water.

Protect yourself from the sun and the sea

Panama has a tropical sun that can be quite strong and intense, particularly in the dry season. Make sure to shield yourself from the sun and its reflection from the ocean, and steer clear of sunburns, heat strokes, and dehydration.

It’s a good idea to use sunscreen with a high SPF, put on a hat and sunglasses, and drink loads of water. Also, make sure to reduce your time in the sun and find shade or shelter when it’s hottest outside.

It’s important to watch out for potential hazards in the ocean, like jellyfish, sea urchins, or coral, when swimming or surfing and wear the right protective clothing or footwear

beach and boats in coiba national park panama
Beaches and tourist spots are among the safest places to visit in Panama, but make sure to stay alert for other issues like the weather, the sun, and issues while doing activities.

Watch out for rip currents and sharks

There are beaches and islands in Panama with rip currents and sharks, posing a serious threat to visitors. Be cautious of these dangers and steer clear of swimming or surfing in those locations.

For example, a few beaches with rip currents include Playa Venao, Playa Malibu, and Playa Santa Catalina. There are sharks on islands like Coiba, Bocas del Toro, and San Blas but those aren’t that common.

Make sure to always pay attention to the signs and flags, and listen to the advice of the lifeguards and people who know the area

How to Stay Healthy in Panama

Panama is a country with good health and hygiene standards, but there are still some health risks and challenges to keep in mind and prepare for.

Make sure to prioritize your health and well-being to stay safe and healthy throughout your journey.

Get the recommended vaccinations and medications

Before your trip to Panama, make sure to get the necessary vaccinations and medications to prevent diseases and infections. It’s a good idea to see your doctor or a clinic to discuss the shots and pills you may need based on your travel plans and activities.

Don’t forget to bring along your medical records and a letter from your doctor detailing your condition and treatment.

Drink bottled water and eat safely

Panama offers a pretty good and dependable water supply, although it might not be safe or appropriate for drinking, particularly in rural areas and islands.

So, opt for bottled water over tap water, unless you can confirm it’s purified or boiled. Avoid ice unless you are certain it is made from bottled water and make sure to eat safely and steer clear of food poisoning, as it can put a damper on your trip.

Avoid mosquito bites and other diseases

In Panama, there are various diseases and infections spread by mosquitoes and other insects, including dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.

It’s best to stay away from mosquito bites and other illnesses by using long-sleeved shirts and pants and applying insect repellent.

Also, consider sleeping under a mosquito net and using air conditioning or fans.

People at the street in El Valle de Anton Panama
Safety in Panama depends on the place you visit and how alert of your surroundings you are, but the country feels safe for most of the visitors.

Is Panama safe for solo travelers, especially women?

Traveling solo in Panama, including for women, is safe as long as you are careful. Avoid walking alone at night, particularly in poorly lit or isolated places.

Dress modestly and steer clear of drawing any unnecessary attention.

It’s important to stay alert and listen to your gut feelings and stay connected with your family and friends, keep them informed about your plans and location.

Is Panama safe for driving and renting a car?

Driving and renting a car in Panama is safe as long as you have experience and confidence. Make sure to have a valid driver’s license, an international driving permit, and a credit card.

Don’t forget to get insurance and a GPS as well. Follow traffic rules and signs, and drive defensively and cautiously.

Avoid driving at night, in poor weather conditions, or unfamiliar locations. Make sure to park your car in a safe and monitored area, and avoid leaving any valuables inside.

Is Panama safe for a family vacation?

Visiting Panama with your family is safe and enjoyable. Panamanians are generally friendly and willing to assist, and the majority of locations are kept in good condition and safe.

Just like any other place, Panama has its fair share of risks and challenges and it’s important to be mindful of the possible issues you might face and make sure you’re prepared to prevent and handle them.

What are the most dangerous areas in Panama?

While Panama is safe for tourists, crime can occur in various parts of the country, with certain areas being more susceptible to criminal activity.

Here are some of the areas:

  • Panama City: The capital and largest city of Panama is also the most crime-ridden, especially in certain neighborhoods, like El Chorrillo, Curundu, San Miguelito, and Tocumen. These areas should be avoided by travelers.
  • Colon: The second-largest city of Panama, located on the Caribbean coast, is also one of the most dangerous, it is the main port of entry and exit for the Panama Canal and is often visited by cruise ship passengers, whom criminals may target.
  • Darien: The easternmost province of Panama, bordering Colombia, is one of the most remote and undeveloped regions of the country, and is considered a high-risk area by the U.S. Department of State. Darien is home to the Darien Gap, a dense jungle that separates Central and South America, and is a hotspot for illegal activities.

Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission for any purchases made through the links. Your trust is important to us, and we ensure that all products or services we recommend meet or exceed our editorial standards.

Last Updated on February 19, 2024

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