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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Ignore the catcallers. It can be tempting to talk back, but the safest option is to give them a wide berth and keep moving.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.