Panama is one of the world's emerging travel hotspots, and with its twin coastlines and enviable location bridging two continents, the 'Crossroads of the Americas' is best experienced on a cruise holiday.
Panama City combines historic and contemporary architecture and is the gateway to beaches, islands, mountains, rainforests and the monumental Panama Canal, that allows travel between the Atlantic and the Pacific in as little as 8 hours. The variety of experiences on offer in Panama is the country's greatest asset, where a wealth of climates, landscapes and cultures are just a short distance apart.
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- Currency - Panama uses the US Dollar, known locally as the balboa. While bank notes are identical to their US counterparts, Panama produces its own coins for smaller values that can be used interchangeably with American coins, with 100 centavos equalling 1 balboa/dollar.
- Population - Panama is home to 3.8 million people and has one of the most diverse populations in the region. Around 65 per cent of the population shares indigenous and European heritage, with smaller populations of indigenous communities and other ethnicities, including a significant number of expats.
- Language - Spanish is the official language of Panama, but English is widely spoken and is the primary language for 14 per cent of the population. Visitors crossing the border from neighbouring countries in Central and South America will notice the distinct sound of the Panamanian dialect.
- Time Zone - time is Panama is 5 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC-5). The time is constant throughout the year, as Panama does not apply Daylight Saving Time.
- Weather - Panama's climate is primarily subtropical, with colder temperatures in the highlands and higher humidity in the rainforests. The rainy season lasts from May to November, with rainfall typically occurring in the late afternoon and evenings.
Did you know..?
Due to its narrow width and orientation, Panama is the only place in the world where the sun can be seen rising over the Pacific and setting over the Atlantic.
Who goes there?
The journey across the Panama Canal is included in many cruise itineraries of North, South and Central America, including Holland America Line cruises from Vancouver to South America.
Carnival Cruise Lines offers cruises of the canal from Florida in the east, while Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean make the journey from Los Angeles, San Diego and Mexico in the west. Local cruise lines offer shorter tours around the canal lasting just a few hours.
Best time to go?
The dry summer from December to March is high cruise season in Panama, when there is almost no chance of rain and lower humidity. Regardless of rain, comfortable temperatures make Panama a suitable cruise destination all year round.
Things to See and Do
- Coiba National Marine Park - Panama's answer to the Galapagos Islands, the 38 islands of Coiba National Marine Park are a haven for nature lovers, both above and below sea level. Formerly a penal colony before opening to tourism in 2004, the park is home to more than 800 marine species.
- Casco Viejo - one of several UNESCO World Heritage sites in Panama City, the range of architectural styles on display in the Old Quarter is a testament to the city's history. Today the region attracts artists and musicians and hosts festivals throughout the year.
- Quetzal Trail - the Quetzal Trail is one of the few places where the appropriately named Resplendent Quetzal can be seen. Take a guided tour for the best chance of spotting these colourful birds and other species including the glass-winged butterfly, as well as admiring the scenery of the Chiriquí cloud forest.
- Panama Canal - this remarkable feat of engineering is more than just a means of crossing from east to west. There are several options for traversing this historic waterway, with some cruise ships making the 77-kilometre trip in 8 to 10 hours, while others take their time to explore the surrounding rainforests and learn more about the canal's history at the Canal Museum in Casco Antiguo.