Panama may only be a 4 hour flight from Houston. However, the trip is altogether different from life in America. To make your surf trip easy and impactful I put together 10 travel tips that you should know before you hop on that plane. This article will save you a lot of research time.
1. Speedy Gonzales
You will likely get pulled over more than once for speeding on the Pan- American Highway by Policia. Sometimes they even flag you over from the other side of the highway. Not to worry, they accept money and let you go. But, let the payment be their idea so you do not get into further trouble. One cop told us that if you slow down from 100 to 82-84 km/h, they are less likely to pull you over. Make sure you have your passport and driver’s license with you.
2. Spanglish with a Smile
Don’t be afraid to stop and ask people for directions. They are really helpful and hospitable. Even the policia are friendly. They told my pal Shane to slow down because he had a lady in the car. When surfing in a foreign country, remember to let the locals drop in first. You do not want a turf war outside your turf. Then, show them what you have got.
3. Easy Money
You do not have to exchange money because they use the US dollar. But, be prepared that smaller increments of the Balboa are used in rural areas and gas stations. This can get confusing. So, know your increments. Take cash or get money out of ATMs. No one uses credit. Put a little bit of money everywhere instead of keeping it all in one place.
4. Just in case
Make copies of your passport. Leave one at home with a family member and keep one with you. Keep the US Embassy information with you. Look up surf forecasts before you go. If you have a smart phone, you can get wifi at many places throughout your trip to stay up to date on surf forecasts. Maps in Panama are terrible. I recommend one from National Geographic. You will want to do research on the roads before you go.
5. High Flying
Fly Copa via Continental. It is usually cheaper and you get a board bag discount.
For rental cars, shop around but keep in mind you will be paying for mandatory insurance and a collision damage waiver which boosts the price. Also, the roads can be hectic so make sure you get the best car for your destinations. Go down that crazy road, because chances are there may be surf at the end of it. If you have a lot of time, you can take a shuttle or a bus. While you are there, check out the horses. They are the most stubborn horses I have ever ridden.
7. Sticky Fingers
People in Panama will not steal unless you give them an excuse to do so. Don’t leave your valuables out in the open in your car. Tuck your ipod in the glove box.
8. Mile High Club
Be friendly to the airlines. Talk to members of the opposite sex with a smile and they are likely to overlook that extra board or 3. When they ask you what is in your board bag say “surfboard.” The workers will likely show up late, maybe 2 hours before your flight, but you should be early to fill out forms and make sure your board bag gets on the plane.
9. Bare essentials
Pack light but make sure you have some swimwear and clothes in your carry on in case your board bag gets lost. If you break a board, there are plenty of places to rent. Bring a quick ding fix for rocky point breaks like duct tape! Make sure you bring booties, bug spray, and Neosporin, too!
10. Comida y Agua
You have probably heard not to drink the water. It really is not that bad in Panama except in towns where livestock are plentiful. When in doubt, lime in a beer kills bacteria. In Panama, beer is everywhere. But, you should be prepared for cold showers. Most accommodations and surf hostels do not have warm water. I found that out the hard way. As far as food goes, do get patacones, empanadas, and juice while you are there. They are excellent! One of my favorite things to do is to stop at McDonalds to see what weird foods you can get there. The one in Panama City serves a queso sweet corn pie with breakfast. If you are on a tight budget, I would not stop to eat in expat towns like Coronado which can be pricey (aside from Cholo’s because it is just that good and the owner is a surfer from North Carolina).
- For Coronado area: Rio Mar Surf Camp
- For Playa Venao area: Eco Venao
- Panama surf forecast and info.
- US Embassy in Panama