Is Panama Safe For Backpackers?
If you’re like me, then you get all of your worldly information from Van Halen songs. Panama is, of course, no different. I believe this is the only country you would know about based on that rhetoric. I guess the US too, probably. Idk, I got all of my Van Halen knowledge from Superbad. Anyways, based on the song’s upbeat, party-hard, and chaotic feel (Van Halen has a song called ‘Panama’ if you don’t understand this joke yet, which isn’t even about the country.) you’d imagine that the country would be the same way. Well, it is, and it isn’t. That sentence isn’t very useful but hopefully, this one is:
Panama is a safe country and you shouldn’t worry too much about going backpacking there, even if you’re solo.
Now that I’ve negated any and all reason to continue reading this article, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
Want all the information that you would ever need about Panama? Well, good thing we have a Panama Country Page.
For those of you who are wondering what the case is with bringing kids, we focus on partying backpackers so this might not be the right article for you. Unless you want to show your kids how to live a fun and awesome life. Up to you.
How Safe Is Panama For Backpackers
Again, I would say yes, Panama is a safe country to backpack. I was there for around a month and didn’t run into any glaring issues. Except body disabling hangovers but that’s self-inflicted. I bet there were even some locals trying to help me because they’re just so dang nice down there.
As far as Latin American countries go, Panama is quite prosperous and politically sound. Ever heard of the Panama Canal? Guess where it’s located. This trade heavy canal has given the country plenty of helpful $$$ to make it a great place to be. A couple of fun non-safety-related facts I want to share:
- Panama almost solely uses USD as their currency
- Panama City has the third biggest skyline in North America behind New York and Chicago.
Now, with all that said, you may still run into the usual Central American hooligans. In any country you visit, always keep in mind pickpockets and petty theft that can happen around you. Stay in well-reviewed hostels, don’t check out intriguing dark alleys at night, and try not to piss off any locals or law enforcement. Panama City has Uber so try to stick with that when traversing the city. Or use one of their sick E-Scooters because that is the most fun thing when you’re a 12-pack of Balboa deep. Wait, if riding scoot scoots drunk is illegal, don’t tell them I suggested it.
So, if you haven’t guessed based on these words, the overall tone of the article, or my straight-up bolded statement in the beginning section, I’ll reiterate:
In my experience, Panama is a safe country for backpackers.
This is great because Panama is definitely an incredible country to spend some time in. Especially if you like surfing, partying, or being drunk 50 storeys up.
If things have changed and Panama is now some Hell Hole, let us know!
The Safest Places in Panama
Panama is great to explore. Fortunately, and unfortunately, a lot of it is a protected jungle so there’s not much you can do in those areas. Especially The Darien Gap. Only the most hardcore of backpackers dare to traverse that land. Just kidding, no one does that unless you have a death wish.
Anyways, here are our favourite and safest cities:
Bocas Del Toro
A very very long time ago, a party was born called Filthy Friday. This party was so unreal that a community began to emerge around it so that the people could continue to experience this epic party every Friday for the rest of their lives. This group of partygoers kept growing and growing until the city of Bocas del Toro was born.
Obviously, the vast majority of that story is a lie, but the party is real and is incredible. Bocas del Toro is located very far Northeast of Panama, and very close to Costa Rica. This region is comprised of a series of islands. Between these islands? World-renowned surfing. On these islands? World-renowned partying. The people on these islands? World-renowned levels of niceness and island vibes.
Bocas del Toro is the perfect place to let off some steam, relax, and feel safe while doing whatever you want.
Maybe it’s not best to say ‘safest’ but it’s a must visit place, and can be safe if you do it right, and doing it right isn’t very difficult. Being the capital city of Panama, some no-gooders are to be expected. Just avoid certain areas, such as El Chorillo, and you should be fine. Overall, however, I felt completely safe wandering around this city during the day and night. As mentioned before, there are Ubers in this city so use that as your primary mode of transportation, especially at night. I’ve never heard of taxis taking advantage of people here but you never know.
Panama City is very unique in the fact that it has an incredible downtown section, combined with Casco Viejo which is a bunch of old colonial buildings. Seeing them both in action at the same time is quite the view.
San Blas Islands
Now, these islands are probably the most expensive area that we’ll mention. It’s basically an extremely picturesque area with no wifi, electricity, etc. People tend to only spend a couple of days here at most. Since this is basically only for a special type of tourist and the local indigenous people, it is as safe as you can imagine.
The Most Dangerous Place in Panama
If you ever visit this place, be sure to tell us all about it! We would love to know how you survived and how many limbs you still have left. Honestly, it’s almost useless to even mention this cause it shouldn’t even be on your radar. I’m not even sure you could get there if you tried, I’d imagine someone sane would stop you well before. Anyways, The Darien Gap!
The Darien Gap
So you may not know, but there isn’t actually a “border” per se between Panama and Columbia, there’s The Darien Gap. This is a 160 kilometer long (100 mile long) and 50 kilometer wide (30 mile wide) stretch of jungle, filled with robbery, rape, human trafficking as well as wild poisonous animals, insects and a lack of clean water. The Darién Gap is a roadless, lawless stretch of mountainous rainforest.
Sounds fun right? Basically, if you’re in this you’re either a very dangerous cartel member or a migrant risking their life to get to somewhere new.
- El Chorillo (Area in Panama City)
- Mosquito Gulf coast
- Caribbean Port Town of Colon
These areas have a higher crime rate/gang activity. There’s also not really a reason to go there should this shouldn’t be an issue for the vast majority of backpackers.
Is It Safe to Travel Solo?
Do you mean other than the Darien Gap? Yes. Panama is safe to travel alone. There are plenty of great hostels in all the prime destinations, the locals are friendly and helpful, plus transportation between cities is relatively simple. Just keep alert about the usual things, your common sense will take you a long way here. No need to worry about being alone! Plus, Panama is a great place to meet people. It’s filled with travellers who are finishing their Central Ameria journey or just starting. You may even find a new travel companion!
I’d go as far to safe that you don’t even have to be a very experienced backpacker to take on Panama solo. Obviously, if you know Spanish that will go a long way into making your trip as smooth as possible. Here’s an incredible quote from an incredible person about the subject:
Learning some Spanish will definitely benefit you in your travels across the country. I found that most people can speak English to some degree, but knowing Spanish will open a whole new world and will make your trip that much easier and enjoyable. It’s a great language to know too, considering 20 countries have it as their official language plus 4 others have it unofficially.
~ Me, Is Nicaragua Safe For Backpackers
The man who said that just might be the best travel writer to ever live.
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...As A Female?
Now, I’m not female so I’m not going to give you my opinion on this cause, well, that just wouldn’t make sense. Instead, I found an article from a Solo Female Traveller, Becksplore. Here is the gist:
First of all, yes Panama is safe! Back in 2017, I travelled to Panama by myself and I had absolutely no issues. It was also the first country in Latin America I travelled to.
Of course, there are some places to avoid but if you do your proper research and use common sense, you will be completely fine! In fact, Panama is really safe to visit, only Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are considered “safer” in Latin America.
I can highly recommend solo female travel in Panama to everyone. It is a great country to get an introduction to Latin America as well.
You do not necessarily need to speak Spanish but of course, it will make your trip a lot more enjoyable if you are able to speak a bit of Spanish. Some people will be able to speak a little bit of English but like in most Latin American countries that is definitely not guaranteed. Therefore, make sure to know at least some basic Spanish phrases.
I suggest checking out the full article as well to get her full opinion on the country from her perspective. It will be infinitely more valuable than I could be on this specific subject.
Is The Transportation Safe In Panama?
I don’t really have too much to say on this topic. Use Uber when you can, do some E-Scooters for fun, and take buses when going between cities. You could fly from Panama City to Bocas del Toro if you really wanted. The 12-hour bus ride is a bit gruelling.
Overall, transportation in Panama is quite safe. I didn’t experience anything sketchy nor did I hear any horror stories.
More In Panama
You know what, I’m going to make the exact same joke as last time. Like, a literal copy-paste:
Re: Is Nicaragua Safe For Backpackers?
It’s time for a plug! Just kidding, we don’t have any sponsors or affiliates. But when we do it’ll go here…
I’m sure you know who we’d be pumping anyways.
We joke but travel insurance is super important and I highly recommend you get some. Especially if you’re a drunk partier like us, trust me…
Panama Safety In Review & Tips
Now let’s make things easy for all you drunkards out there:
- Panama is safe to party travel
- Be wary of pickpockets and dark alleys
- Party safely
- Surf safely
- Drink really high up safely
- Keep a close eye on your belongings in crowded places such as buses and markets
- Stay at hostels with good reviews and lockers
- Avoid Swimming in the Bay of Panama
- Avoid Rip Tides, duhh
- Don’t look like a crypto king with a Gucci, uhh, whatever Gucci sells. Idk I’m poor lol. Anyways looking poor helps you not get robbed
- Be careful where you exchange money
- Don’t try to fend off a mugger/thief
- Get a SIM card!
- Limit being outside at night by yourself
- Be wary of scams
- Use reputable tour companies
- Solo female? You should just read the whole section for that
Did You Mind The Gap?
I’m being honest, if you or someone you know/met has experienced The Darien Gap in any way, I would love to hear the story. It must be one of the most insane adventure stories you could ever have.