Panama is one of the safest countries in Central America. In 1990, following the example of Costa Rica, its neighbor to the north, Panama abolished its army and amended the constitution to prohibit the creation of a 'standing military force'
Crime rates are low, even in the urban centers, and a stable political climate and friendly population make this a welcoming hearth for visitors and settlers alike. Tourists are well regarded; if you are ever in need of directions, Panamanians are always happy to point the way.
The pace of life is relaxed, comfortable, and a few pleasant words with the people who cross your path are not only considered good manners, but recommended --- there is no better way to get to know a place, than some idle conversation with the locals.
As in Canada and the US, traffic moves to the right, and seat belts are required by law. The country's road infrastructure is in good condition and some of the best in Central America. Roads in and around Panama City are excellent, with several highways, including the Pan-American highway stretching across the country.
Traffic can be heavy in the city, and one-way streets can make navigation difficult. Auto insurance is not mandatory in Panama, and in case of an accident, vehicles involved should remain at the scene until police arrive. In rural areas you will encounter unpaved roads and some potholes; heavy rains can make some roads impassable, particularly in the rainy season.
Public transportation is cheap and generally reliable, with excellent discounts for seniors and retirees.
Panama is largely out of the hurricane path, although it receives its fair share of the ensuing rain. Flooding can occur during the rainy season ( May to November), particularly on the Caribbean coast. The climate is tropical, generally warm and humid, although it can get cooler in the mountains.
Panama Health Care
Panama offers first-rate health care through private clinics in the capital city; with North American and European trained doctors, modern facilities and excellent prices. Recently, there has been a surge in 'medical tourism' to Panama by those looking for affordable, rapid and quality medical procedures. In particular, the new John Hopkins affiliate Punta Pacifica hospital boasts state-of-the-art facilities and services in the heart of Panama City.
As with any major city, normal precautions are recommended. Do not leave belongings unattended, as petty theft can occur, particularly in bus stations, open-air markets, and tourist areas. Do not walk alone after dark, and stay within well-known areas in the downtown core. Parts of the 'Old Town', or Casco Viejo, are best avoided, and it's recommended to keep signs of affluence to a minimum when travelling on foot.
There is a curfew in effect for minors; anyone under 18 years of age should not travel unaccompanied by an adult late at night, as they may be detained by police and face a fine of $50.
Panama Food and Water
Tap water in Panama City and other cities is chlorinated and safe to drink; bottled water is recommended in rural areas. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are generally considered safe to eat.
Immunization and Vaccination
Wearing mosquito repellent is recommended to prevent the transmission of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus with severe flu-like symptoms.
The World Health Organization recommends yellow fever vaccination for travelers going to Darién, Chepo and San Blas, with a low to negligible risk of malaria along some areas of the Caribbean coast.
Panama has endless expanses of white, sandy beaches, coral reefs and islands to lure water-lovers to a number of activities including; swimming, boating, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing.
Normal precautions should be taken when swimming in the ocean. Avoid swimming near rocky areas and in heavy swells, and don't swim alone. Swimmers should be extremely cautious when venturing to unknown beaches; strong currents and tides can exist, and signs are rarely posted.
Those on boats should ensure that all emergency equipment, including life vests and radio, are in place before setting sail.
Panama Travel Advisory
The Darién province near the border with Colombia is generally marked as off-limits to tourists for reasons of safety; however, Darién can safely be explored to the end of the Pan-American highway.
Darien National Park is considered relatively safe to the west, however visitors should be warned that trails can be ill-defined, and travelers in the park should be accompanied by a guide. Though Panama has excellent telephone, satellite and international cable services, this area lacks reliable communications and medical infrastructure.
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