1. My girlfriend does not surf. Will my girlfriend like it in Panama?
Your girlfriend will love it. As long as she likes fishing, snorkeling, sun bathing, and hanging out at the beach, she will be fine. Certain spots are more girl friendly as there are more things to do like fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, horseback riding, and long beaches she can run/walk on with lots of pretty shells she can collect. Plus certain places like Bocas del Toro have unique European & Caribbean style restaurants, bars, etc. with many tourists so she can hang out at those places while you are surfing the outside reef breaks. The places she will like the most if she likes being near civilization are Bocas del Toro and Isla Grande. If she is the adventurous type and does not mind being out in the country, then Catalina, Venado, and Cambutal would be the places to go.
2. What are the accommodations like?
That depends on where you are going and what your style is like. Take a look at the Surf Tour of your choice and see the Accommodations section for descriptions.
3. When is the best season?
Please note, we can not guarantee waves that are either too big or too small for your preference. The surf in Panama is non-stop with swells hitting the Pacific and Atlantic (Caribbean) Coasts year round. The peninsula area of the Pacific coast (Cambutal, Venado, and Catalina) receives south, and south-west swells making this a very good option year round. However, the best chance for double overhead plus waves on the Pacific side is from March to October. November to March is more likely to be in the head high to 5-6 feet to overhead range for the Pacific. The Caribbean coast (Bocas del Toro and Isla Grande) receives strong swell from November through April, plus June and July, due to wind and cold fronts to the north. August is generally smaller, but there is still some surf in Bocas. September and October are normally flat on the Caribbean (Atlantic) coast, but sometimes they get some swell during those months with the hurricanes in the Caribbean pushing swells in. Winds blow predominantly from the north during the dry season months of November through April creating perfect offshore conditions on the Pacific coast. The remainder of the year winds are light and variable with glassy mornings and evenings. The heaviest rainfall is from May through October, during our rainy season.
Check out our Panama Tide Charts and Panama Surf Report for more details.
4. Do I need any special immunizations?
Yes, be sure to get the “Kook” vaccination before coming to Panama. Just joking! Tetanus would be good, just in case, if you haven’t had one in the last ten years. There are no problems with Malaria, Yellow Fever or Hepatitis, but it’s always good to be safe. The only problems we have in some very rare cases is Dengue, which there is no vaccination for.
5. How safe is it in Panama?
Panama is probably safer than where you live now. Recently, a government study on crime in Latin America found Panama with a lower crime rate than Costa Rica, which is typically thought as the safest Latin American country to travel to.
6. Do I need a passport or visa and is there any airport tax?
You do not need a visa unless you enter the country on a passport from India, China, Pakistan or Colombia. Just a valid passport and tourist card are needed. The tourist card can be obtained through your airline for US$5.00 or you can buy the tourist card when you arrive in Panama at the customs desk of the airport.
Check out our Air Fares-Tickets section for quotes on air travel to Panama.
For those of you who plan on staying longer than one month, the tourist card is valid for only 30 days, but renewable in Panama City.
7. Can I bring alcohol or tobacco into Panama with my luggage?
Travelers can bring up to three bottles of liquor and one carton of cigarettes (or 10 packs) or one pound of tobacco. No drugs!
8. Can your surf tours accommodate vegetarian diets?
Yes. Panama has a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. However, if you are a vegetarian, you might want to bring along some packaged snacks for the road. Check out our Hotel/Restaurant Info for more details.
9. How consistent are your waves?
That depends on the place you choose to go to. Generally, Catalina, Cambutal, and Pedasi beaches, are as consistent as any other good surf destination in the world. Bocas del Toro and Isla Grande (Caribbean spots) are less consistent during August, September and October, but very consistent from November through May, June and July. We have waves most all the time, but we can’t guarantee waves 100% of the time. No tour operator can.
10. What languages do they speak in Panama?
Spanish is the official language in Panama; however, English is widely spoken and understood in major cities.
11. What currency do they use in Panama?
The US Dollar is the circulating currency. Panama’s official currency is the Balboa, which only has coins ($.50, $.25, $.10, $.05, and $.01) and all of the coins are identical in shape, form and value to that of the US coins, except with different faces on them. During trips to the US as kids we would take the Panamanian coins and use them in the vending machines…, that had to be a surprise for the vending machine owners!
12. How is the drinking water in Panama?
In Panama City, we have some of the purest potable drinking water in the world. You can drink it directly from the tap. Sanitation standards are very high in most areas of Panama City. Outside of Panama City, the water is generally clean enough to drink and won’t make you sick. However, do not drink the tap water in town on the Island at Bocas del Toro – it won’t necessarily make you sick, but it is not filtered very well, so it is quite tasty!
13. Are credit cards or travelers checks accepted in Panama?
In Panama City travelers checks and credit cards are widely accepted (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Dinners Club, etc.), however in the interior where many of our surf tours take you, they are not widely accepted. The surf tour locations where some merchants will accept travelers checks and credit cards are Bocas del Toro. All the rest of the surf tour locations will not accept credit cards or travelers checks so be sure to bring cash.
14. What time zone is Panama in?
Panama is on Eastern Standard Time (Central Standard during the US daylight savings time months) . Eastern Standard Time is the same as NY or the East Coast of the USA. Central Standard is the same as Houston, Texas.
15. What do I take to Panama?
Be sure to bring comfortable walking or hiking shoes, a pair of sandals, maybe some reef booties, a hat, sunglasses, waterproof sunscreen, digital camera, a pair or two of surf trunks, warm water surf wax (tropical), surfboard or body board, comfortable shorts, short sleeve t-shirts, two towels, a compact rolled up blanket, and a small backpack or fanny pack. If your girlfriend wants to go snorkeling, make sure she brings her own mask, snorkel and fins. Also, don’t forget to bring some spending money for food and drinks. If you forget something, there are Surf Shops in Panama City that have everything you need.
16. What size boards should I bring and how many?
That depends on where you are going and what size you are. You know what works for you in various surf sizes. Check out the surf sizes for your surf tour and determine what will work for you for that range of surf sizes. Usually one small board for 4-7 ft. face waves, plus one additional board for 8-12 ft. face waves is perfect. Don’t bring more than 3 boards because it gets to be too much luggage. Bring your own (small) ding repair kit too, just in case. Be sure to pack your boards well and we recommend removable fin systems (bring one extra set of fins). It’s best to bring a board bag that fits all of your boards in one. We generally wrap our boards with cardboard and tape on the rails, tip and tail for extra protection when we travel by airplane. That usually does it. There is nothing worse than showing up excited to surf and finding your boards all dinged up or broken by the airlines. If (God forbid) the airlines happen to mangle your boards up too much to surf them, there are Surf Shops in Panama City that have a wide selection of boards & they offer ding repair services.
17. Are there any bars, night clubs, or places to hang out at night?
That depends on where you go. Panama City is packed with bars, night clubs, and tons of great restaurants. Bocas del Toro is probably the only place where you will find a lot of night activity in regards to bars and restaurants. Isla Grande also has its night activity, but generally just drinking beers at one of the restaurants along the ocean, or watching the locals dancing their congo rituals. All the rest of the surf tour locations are pretty much secluded from much night life other than drinking beers at the surf lodge, hotel or camp, watching surf videos or Direct TV, playing board games and talking about the waves you surfed that day.