Solo Travel in Panama

Most people with any kind of zeal for travel have considered venturing out completely on their own once in a while. Some travelers don’t know any other way, preferring the freedom to move around unencumbered over all else. 

Luckily, Panama is an excellent place for traveling solo. With plentiful resources and infrastructure to support its thriving tourism industry, those traversing by themselves can feel secure in the knowledge that especially in comparison to other Latin American countries, this one is relatively safe. However, there are always warnings to share and risks to be aware of, and that’s why we’re here to help. 

Is Panama safe to travel alone? 

Keep these tips in mind when traveling solo through Panama: 

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. It’s always best to keep to more populated areas – Safety in numbers counts for crowds of random people as much as it does for close friends, and those crowds will keep you more protected from muggers, especially when it’s dark out. If you can, make friends at your accommodation (hostels are great for this) so that you can move around together. It’s always easier to make friends with people when you’re traveling by yourself anyway, so take full advantage of this situation!
  2. Be extra aware of your surroundings. When you’re by yourself, you have even fewer defenses when it comes to pick pockets, muggers etc. In general, practice a heightened sense of caution, which means taking extra care of your belongings and being very tuned in to who is around you. Your gut instinct is your first line of defense to get you out of a bad spot before anything turns ugly. 
  3. If you plan on going out into nature, bring a guide. When hiking, trekking, etc, it’s always good to have someone else to assist in keeping the pace and making sure you’re not exceeding your physical limits. This, coupled with the fact that a single person on a hiking trail is more vulnerable to robbery, is an excellent incentive to hire an experienced nature guide to accompany you. 
  4. Research your accommodation thoroughly in advance. Many reviews for hostels will tell you if it’s good for solo travelers, which usually means it’s a friendly place that actively makes an effort to help people meet one another. Beyond that, you’ll want to be sure it’s in a good neighborhood with amenities close by. 
  5. Don’t pack too many bags. Having to carry around a bunch of luggage will not only be an absolute nightmare, but you’ll also stand out like a sore thumb to thieves. Packing light helps you keep a low profile, which is a super defense mechanism. 
  6. Chill out. We get that you’ll probably have a long list of things to do (depending on what kind of traveler you are), but if you’re all alone, it’s easy to override the switch that tells you you’re exhausted, and being tired will make you less vigilant about your surroundings, which makes you less safe. You feel us? 

Also read: Best places to visit in Panama

Is Panama safe for solo female travelers? 

We don’t like it either – women traveling alone need to play by a different set of rules. We don’t necessarily recommend starting with Panama if you’re an inexperienced solo traveler, but for those who already know what they’re doing, here’s some advice to go by: 

  1. Ignore the catcallers. It can be tempting to talk back, but the safest option is to give them a wide berth and keep moving. 
  2. If you’re not comfortable, leave. This counts for everything: bars, conversations, and especially hotels/hostels. It doesn’t matter if the reviews were great and the neighborhood was awesome – if you walk into that place and you get bad vibes, walk right out. Your safety is too important to ignore a gut instinct. That said, be very careful in the hostel you choose, making sure it’s in a safe neighborhood with decent security. 
  3. Don’t walk around alone at night. Not much more to say. It’s always risky, and never worth it. Only travel in the dark as part of a larger group, or get yourself a taxi (Uber preferred). Speaking of which: 
  4. Be careful in your choice of taxis. It’s not uncommon for taxis in Panama to be shared, so the driver allows multiple passengers in the vehicle at once. This isn’t necessarily safe, especially with the high rate of express kidnappings in Central America. Don’t get into taxis with additional passengers already inside, and if you need to, pay extra to the driver so that he doesn’t make more pickups with you in the car. Uber is a generally a much safer alternative to traditional taxis. 
  5. Make friends. This is good advice for all solo travelers, but women especially. Having a few go-to buddies will give you options when you want to go out. 
  6. Be careful in bars. It’s generally best to go to bars with other people anyway, but keep close watch over your drinks, and never accept drinks from strangers. Don’t be afraid to be firm with people who are overly-pushy. 
  7. Be more modest in your dress. You’ll probably see plenty of local women in skimpy outfits, but as a foreigner, you already stand out, and it’s best not to exaggerate that. Blending into the crowd is a big part of staying safe and avoiding unwanted attention. 
  8. If you’re on a bus, try to sit next to another woman, or near a family. This will lead to a more comfortable experience for you, and help you avoid  possible harassment. 

Getting Around in Panama

If you plan to visit Panama, it’s possible that you’re going to stay in Panama City and never leave. Maybe you’d like a more thorough survey of the country and you’ll go to Colon, or Rio Hato. But then – how do people get around in Panama? No matter what your preference, if you plan to move your feet at all, you’ll need a bit of background on how transport works throughout the country before you set those feet on Panamanian soil. 

Luckily, the know-how of getting around isn’t too complicated or different from other Latin American countries. Nevertheless, we’re here to help with a starter guide on what works, what doesn’t, and where to go first. And there are some questions to address, such as: 

Is Panama dangerous for tourists?

In general Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America, with lower crime rates than tourist hotspot Costa Rica. Because it shares a border with Colombia, Panama’s crime mostly revolves around drugs, so for tourists who use common sense and don’t go to dangerous areas like Darien Gap, Colon, or city ghettos, there’s rarely any issues visiting Panama.

Is it safe to walk around Panama City? 

The short answer: yes, in general (but with some disclaimers). Panama is considered generally safer than many of its neighboring countries, and the government does its best to capitalize on the increasing levels of tourism. Because of this, it’s in the economy’s best interest for the Panamanian government to keep crime to a minimum, and they’ve also instituted a tourism police so that visitors have designated officers to help in case they’re needed. 

Thus, the usual warnings apply – stay in touristic areas, being aware of pickpockets. Research the most sketchy neighborhoods in advance and make sure you know where they are on the map so that you can avoid them. And of course, don’t walk alone at night. Simple guidelines to follow, and Panama City will be a lovely experience on foot. 

Read our detailed guide: What to do in Panama City

Panama Public and Local Transport


When in Panama City, you’ll be able to take advantage of the first underground metro system built in Central America – appropriately-named “El Metro,” the system currently has 2 operational lines with additional lines planned. Line 1 runs North-South, between the central Albrook station and San Isidro. Line 2 runs East-West, between the stations San Miguelito and Nuevo Tocumen. It costs approximately $0.35 per ride, and it paid for with the same transit card which you would need to use for….


The MetroBus is part of the expansion of the Panama City internal transit system, and is intended to replace the fascinating, exciting, ubiquitous-yet-dangerous presence of “chicken buses,” or refurbished old USA school buses which are painted crazy colors and haphazardly serve the general populous’ transit needs. That said, you’ll see chicken buses around, but remember that the MetroBus is a nicer, cleaner, air-conditioned vehicle for the same price. We’re just saying. You’ll use the same transit card which you use for the subway, which must be preloaded – cash not accepted. 


Taxis in Panama are complicated. Unlike in most other cities, the likelihood of the taxi driver knowing the location of your address is slim (addresses in Panama aren’t really a thing, anyway). Instead, rely on popular landmarks like famous hotels or monuments, and first, know the name of the neighborhood you need to get to. 

That said, it’s just as important to worry about how the pricing is going to work. Taxis in Panama are unmetered, so you’ll need to settle on a price with the driver before you get in. Ask the owners of your accommodation for advice in knowing approximately what the routes you’ll be needing are charged, so that you can be reasonably confident you’re not being ripped off as an ignorant tourist. 

As usual with taxis, avoid hailing one off the street as you might be flagging down an illegal or unauthorized driver, which poses dangers, both for your wallet and your physical health. Instead, call a taxi in advance from a reputable company. Or, just make things easier for yourself and choose Uber – the price is fixed, and they have GPS. Simple, easy. 

Buses in Panama

Buses are generally the most popular method of travel throughout the country, and you should be able to bus to just about any community that is also accessible by car. While you can still take the aforementioned “chicken buses” to just about anywhere, there are plenty of more modern, reliable options (the chicken buses are mostly just very chaotic, and you can never guarantee whether the driver will follow safe driving practices). The website is fairly reliable for an idea of timetables. 

If you are starting from Panama City, the main bus terminal Gran Terminal de Transportes will take you just about anywhere. Many buses nowadays will be more modern, with reclining seats and A/C. For popular long-distance routes, it may be a good idea to reserve tickets in advance. In many cases, simply arriving at the station a bit early should be enough. 

For a safe, convenient and comfortable option, you can use a private car transfer like Daytrip

Boat transport in Panama

If you are going between coastal cities, or staying in one of the several popular archipelagos off the Panamanian coast line, you may opt for the water-bound option of transport. In some areas, boat services, ferries, and water taxis are well established and run frequently (such as the route from Almirante to Bocas del Toro). Otherwise, if you plan to go between communities which are less-frequented, or which do not have scheduled services, you may need to hire a boat or wait for a cargo/merchant ship going your way. 

If you opt for the latter option, it’s important to a) know the price of gas so that you can negotiate a price effectively, but more importantly b) understand the risks of drug trafficking. Panama is very much in the middle of the channel which transports drugs between South America and the USA, and cargo/merchant ships understandably play a very large role in this trade. If you board a ship which is not part of a licensed transport service, you run the risk that that boat will be transporting illegal contraband, and even being associated with someone carrying drugs in Panama (not the carrier yourself) can be punishable with up to 15 years in prison. Choose your vessels  wisely. 

Trains in Panama

…aren’t really a thing. Except for one – an adorable and historic option called the Panama Canal Railway, which services Panama City to Colon (the only route available). The train is vintage and runs daily, and exists largely for the enjoyment of tourists. So if you’re going between these two major hubs, consider opting for this unique carrier. 

The take-away? 

Panama does its very best to make transport for its tourism industry as simple as possible. When outside the capital, opt for the buses for ease and reliability, and when traversing Panama City, take advantage of the beautiful new transport system!


Scams in Panama

Tourist-oriented schemes are everywhere, all over the globe, and there’s hardly a traveler in the world who doesn’t have a little shame about that spot on their record where they fell for the trick. 

Even though you might fall victim to a scam at some point in your travels, knowing the most common scams is an excellent start to building a sense of keen awareness for the con artists and thieves among us. We’ve compiled a starter list here of scams to watch out for while you traverse your way through Panama, to get those spidey senses tingling: 

  1. Amazing tour at a discount – this common scam is the poster child for why you shouldn’t be paying up-front for a service. It’s not unusual for a very charming someone to approach you, hocking an amazing tour the next day for an unbeatable price. They ask you to pay in advance, and give you the details of where and when to meet. The problem: when you show up the next day, they stand you up and make off with your cash. You can easily avoid this by researching tour operators in advance to ensure you are only using reputable companies, and only pay in advance if the operator is verified to be legitimate. 
  2. Taxi Problems – taxis in Panama are…complicated. You’ll be using them at your own risk. Those risks include: a) stepping into unauthorized or illegal taxis, and b) being overcharged. Taxis in Panama are not metered which means that there is always the possibility that your driver will quote you an inflated price assuming that you don’t know the going rate. Do yourself a favor and do the research in advance for your area to know what a taxi should cost (your accommodation should be able to advise here). In addition, to avoid the illegal taxis and keep yourself safe, do not hail taxis off the street, preferring to call taxis from reputable companies. 
  3. Fake Cigars – If you’re a cigar-lover, you’ll find that the market in Panama for purchasing both Panamanian and Cuban cigars is huge and plentiful. The problem is that the market for cheap, fake cigars is just as large. Don’t be fooled by higher prices, as the fake sellers will actually often mark up the prices of their fakes to trick you. Research reputable cigar sellers before making your purchase. 
  4. Counterfeit Bills – one of the currencies of Panama is the USD, and the frequency of counterfeit $50 and $100 bills is pretty high. Mostly, fake notes will be distributed by money changers on the street. Do yourself a favor and only change money at banks or real exchange bureaus and steer clear of the sketchy street dealers. 

Remember that scammers tend to take advantage of two things – your ignorance as a tourist, or the ability to catch you off guard when you’re most vulnerable. In general, research your routes and destinations thoroughly, and be cautious of anyone who approaches you unsolicited (need I mention the various “sob story” scams out there, of someone in need, victim of special and dire circumstances, who just needs a little cash? Don’t fall for it).

Financial Safety in Panama

Pick pockets are an unfortunate reality for tourists to many nations all over the world. They target you when you are least suspecting, and strike when you’re too distracted to know what hit you. 

The best way to protect yourself from petty thieves is through vigilance. Always know where your valuables are, keeping any bags zipped up and close to you. In the case of bag slashing, try not to keep any valuables in outside pockets, and never put your wallet in your rear pants pocket. When traveling on public transport, keep your bag in your lap or even strapped to your front if you are not sitting. 

We also recommend splitting up whatever money you have into different secure locations on your body. The reason? If they do get you, they won’t get everything. And only take out as much money as you need for the day – however much you have is also the amount you stand to lose if you fall victim to theft. 

One way to help keep yourself safe is with a money belt. This can either be a real-life belt with inside pouches to keep your money inaccessible, or a large flat pouch worn under the clothes in which you can store other important documents such as your passport. Either way, those pick pockets won’t stand a chance. Be sure to do some research before your trip and consider carefully the best ways to keep yourself and your money secure. 


Food and Water Safety in Panama

When thinking about your next vacation, the chances are high that eating fresh, local food will be at the front of your mind. After all, there are few better ways to experience the culture of your destination (and get a break from your hometown fare) than by diving tastebuds-first into a sea of exciting new options. 

But what if you can’t be exactly sure that you really possess the freedom to indulge wherever, whenever you please? Foreigners to Central America often have, ahem, disagreements with the local fare, which can be due to an entirely different bacterial ecosystem, poor food-handling practices, and often a combination. Traveler’s diarrhea is an unfortunate reality for many. 

That said, taking time to understand the risks, as well the steps necessary to reduce those risks, can greatly improve your experience, sense of security, and save you time on vacation that you might otherwise spend attending to your bodily needs. Knowing what those risks are is the first step to a happy and healthy holiday in Panama

Can you drink the water in Panama? 

The answer may surprise you – yes, the tap water in Panama is actually safe to drink in much of the country, especially the larger cities.

So if you were wondering “is tap water safe in Panama?”, you (mostly) needn’t worry. However, there are certainly areas of the country, specifically rural areas, in particular the Carribean coast, where the tap water is not safe to drink (we’re looking at you, Bocas del Toro and Guna Yala). If traveling outside the major cities, you’ll want to follow typical practices for ensuring you are only consuming healthy, treated water. This means: drinking only bottled water, or tap water that has been vigorously boiled for 3 minutes, not consuming beverages made with tap water, and not taking ice in your drinks (which is likely made with tap water). Stick to sealed, bottled beverages which you open yourself. Check out this guide from the CDC on all the ways to disinfect water yourself. 

Even though the water in urban areas is treated and generally fine, if you know that you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to err on the side of caution. Buying bottled water or boiling your water may seem like an inconvenience, but it could make your holiday overall much more enjoyable in the long run. Be honest with yourself and the limitations of your body. 

Food Safety in Panama

The food in Panama is plentiful and delicious, and there are luckily almost no country-specific cautions to abide by. However, if you’re new to traveling, especially  in a country with different food handling regulations or standards than your home country, you’re going to want to develop some common sense and instincts to help you keep you safe. For example, have you ever thought to ask the question, “is it safe to eat fruit in Panama?” The answer: yes, but only the right kind of fruit. In general, follow these tips: 

  1. Only eat fruit that has a peel you can peel yourself, or that has been thoroughly washed in purified water. Contaminants on the outside of many fruits and vegetables are responsible for an alarming number of stomach bugs, so take advantage of nature’s built-in protection – the peel. 
  2. Long lines are your friend. If a restaurant or food stand is popular, that means its food is good, high quality and fresh. You want to find a spot with a lot of food turnover so that you can know you’re not getting something that has been sitting out for who-knows-how-long. 
  3. Spot the tourist traps. Tourist restaurants are only there to get money from tourists who want a hamburger, and they will not have high quality food most of the time (they’re too interested in money to care about hygiene standards). You can learn which restaurants these are pretty easily – they will have English menus, people trying to wave you in, and they will probably be serving standard American fare. Do yourself a favor, and really go for that local food instead!
  4. Don’t eat anything that has been sitting out in the sun, or meat that wasn’t cooked before your eyes (if you’re at a street stand). Fresh is best, heat kills germs – simple. 
  5. Ceviche will be plentiful, but it’s also….raw fish. Only indulge at trusted establishments by the sea, so you know that fish was as fresh as possible. 
  6. WASH. YOUR. HANDS. No, we’re not your mom, but we do know that unwashed hands can harbor a lot of harmful bacteria that can make you sick just as easily as bad restaurant hygiene practices. Do you? 

Knowing what to look out for is most of the battle towards staying safe while you eat your way through Panama – the rest is putting the knowledge to practice. Be vigilant with your personal standards and take care of yourself, and you’re guaranteed a good and delicious time!


Is it safe to travel in Panama?

For the last 100 years or so, Panama has gained worldwide attention for the canal which revolutionized transport between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Started as a purely logistical engineering endeavor, the canal has transformed Panama into a top tourist destination, with just under 2 million tourists visiting each year according to recent statistics. 

In addition, in terms of safety, it is one of the safer options of countries in Central America to visit. The US State Department even lists it as a Level 1 on its Travel Advisory – “Exercise Normal Precautions.” Indeed, among frequent travelers, Panama is considered a generally safe country for foreigners to visit as long as one takes steps to mitigate their risks of harm.  

But what if you’re new to traveling? What even are those steps and precautions? How do you keep yourself safe in a country which is totally new to you? 

When it comes to the most dangerous aspects of Panama, almost all stem from violence related to gangs and drugs. With its proximity to Colombia and its placement within the Central American drug  funnel from South America up North to the USA, Panama tends to get unfortunately  caught in the crossfire. In addition, regular incidents of violent crime and mugging still run rampant in the cities and pose a risk to foreigners and locals alike. 

Complete safety and an incident-free holiday are unfortunately impossible to guarantee in any country, but by knowing in advance the places one should and should not visit, you will already be most of the ways towards keeping yourself in good health, spirits, and safety throughout your trip. 

What is the crime rate in Panama?

This is a more nuanced question as much of the crime in Panama revolves around the illicit drug trade. For example, the homicide rate is 17.2 per 100,000 population (very low for Central America), with the majority of these taking place in areas that no tourist should be visiting. The same goes for muggings and theft – the “dangerous” areas are more dangerous! The crime rate in Panama for tourists who stick to safe areas is quite low.

Is Panama City dangerous?

Panama City is safe compared to other Latin American cities, and smart tourists are unlikely to encounter any problems, or even feel unsafe. It’s better to think about safety in Panama City by neighborhood. The “touristy” areas like Casco Viejo are usually patrolled by police and quite safe. “Bad neighborhoods” like El Chorrillo and Curundu, and sparsely populated places should be avoided. Just use your common sense (and follow our general safety tips).

Read our guide: What to in Panama City

Traveling in Panama: Safety Tips

We’ve put together a brief list of what we consider to be the most vital tips for minimizing your risk of danger in Panama: 

  1. Take extra caution in Colon. We might even say avoid the city altogether, especially if you’re riding solo or new to travel. It’s one of the major cities in the country, but the level of violence in the city exceeds that of Panama City, and you will likely find yourself spending much more time trying to keep yourself safe than actually enjoying any cultural value. 
  2. Do not visit the Darien Gap. And don’t just take our word for it, but the US State Department recommends people do not travel near the border with Colombia whatsoever. This is due entirely to the violence fueled by drug trafficking, coupled with the presence of the Colombian paramilitary rebels FARC, who control much of the drug trade. Some parts are considered okay for tourists, but you should take care to only go with tour groups, stay in places heavily populated with police, and do not go further South than Yaviza. 
  3. Take extra care while swimming. Tourists drown in Panama every year. It makes sense – the country is mostly beaches, beaches, and more beaches. But rip currents are extremely common, even more so on the Pacific side of the country, and can easily cause panic if you don’t know when to do when you get caught in one. Be sure to research the safest way to extricate yourself from a riptide before you get in the water. 
  4. Be discerning about boat travel. Much drug trafficking happens while at sea, and if you use a cargo ship or boat to move from one province to the other, it is entirely possible that the crew is transporting drugs. In addition, if you see unmarked packages floating in the water or lying on remote beaches, these are almost certainly drugs in transit, and do not touch them. Speaking of which-
  5. Stay away from drugs. To be even affiliated with someone carrying drugs (not even the one carrying the drugs yourself) is a criminal offense in Panama and subject to significant jail time. Use your common sense, and steer clear of anyone who sets off your alarms. 
  6. Watch out on the roads. Drivers in Central America are notoriously reckless, and in Panama, pedestrians neither have the right of way nor are stopped for. Do your best not to become roadkill. 
  7. Research where you go swimming. Not all beaches in Panama are created equal, and some (such as beaches on the Bay of Panama) are heavily polluted and very unhealthy for anyone to swim. 
  8. Carry your passport. Unfortunately, a photocopy won’t do it, and travelers have gotten in trouble with the police many times before for skimping on this one. This is where using a full-sized money belt under your clothes can come in handy, to keep it safe! 

General Safety Tips

While the previous list was for Panama-specific advice, we also want to include some knowledge that is good for any traveler to keep on their mind and in their back pocket (or, ideally, their front pocket). 

  1. Keep your awareness for pickpockets. Pickpocketing is one of the most common crimes which tourists are subject to  in Latin America (most countries, actually), and there are a set of principles one can follow to decrease your risk of being a victim. 
    1. Don’t carry too much cash – the most you have, the more you can lose. Only take out what you need for the day.
    2. Split your money into different locations on your person – chances are if they get you, they won’t get everything. 
    3. Use a money belt – this can be a garment that looks like an actual belt, or a flat pouch worn under the clothes. Either way, basically impossible for someone to get at. 
    4. Don’t be flashy. They are targeting those who look like they have something valuable to take. Leave your phone in your pocket while you’re on the street. 
    5. Wallet in your front pocket, and keep your bag zipped up and close to you. 
    6. Vigilance. If you’re always aware, they don’t have an opening in which to take advantage of you. 
  2. Blend into the crowd. Don’t wear classic tourist clothes like shorts and sandals, and don’t speak English loudly so as to not attract attention. 
  3. Don’t hail a taxi off the street, if you can help it. This is most likely going to be an unauthorized taxi, which will either rip you off or use you in an express kidnapping scheme. Use only taxis which have been called in advance from reputable companies – your accommodation should be able to assist you in this regard. 
  4. Avoid card skimming. Only swipe your card from large vendors whom you trust, and only use ATMs inside bank lobbies which won’t have been tampered with. 
  5. Don’t travel alone at night. It’s the easiest way to become a victim of mugging, and if you are mugged-
  6. Give them what they want. Hand over the wallet, phone, whatever they ask for. It is not worth arguing and risking your safety or your life. 

The bottom line – traveling is a skill best learned through practice. Panama is a generally safe place to be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a healthy list of “don’ts” along with the “do’s.” Follow some basic travel advice, do your research, and you’re much more likely to have the wonderful Panama vacation of your dreams!