US dollar (balboa; $)
Budget: Less than US$70
- Dorm bed: US$18
- Dine on comida corriente (set meals US$7), visit markets and street stalls
- Plan sightseeing via bus, DIY visits to beaches and waterfall hikes
- Double room at a midrange hotel: US$60–130
- Some fine dining, activities (snorkel rental or surf lessons) and regional flights
- Car rental: per day US$50
Top end: More than US$150
- Double room at a high-end hotel, resort or lodge: from US$130
- Meal at a fine-dining restaurant: US$50
- Guided trips with bilingual naturalist guides
- Internal flights and 4WD rental
It's OK but not all that common to bargain at markets and street stalls, but educate yourself first by asking around to get an idea of the pricing of different items, particularly handmade goods, and the specific factors that contribute to the quality. Rather than intensive negotiations, just ask for a descuento (discount).
ATMs are readily available except in the most isolated places. Credit cards are widely accepted at restaurants and upscale hotels but may be problematic elsewhere.
Throughout Panama, ATMs are readily available, except in the Darién, on Islas Contadora and Tobago and in the Archipiélago de San Blas. Look for the red ‘Sistema Clave’ sign. Generally speaking, ATMs accept cards on most networks (Plus, Cirrus, MasterCard, Visa, Amex), though a charge is usually levied depending on your issuing bank. The amount that can be withdrawn at one time varies from bank to bank, though it is usually US$500 maximum.
There are several places where it’s essential to show up with cash. Among tourist destinations, the following places have no banks, and it’s a long way to the nearest ATM: Santa Catalina, Santa Fé and Isla de Coiba in Veraguas; Isla Contadora and Isla Tobago in Panamá Province; Isla Grande and Portobelo in Colón; and most of the Darién.
Panama uses the US dollar as its currency. The official name for it is the balboa, but it’s exactly the same bill. People use the terms dólar and balboa interchangeably.
Panamanian coins are of the same value, size and metal as US ones, though both are used interchangeably. Coins include one, five, 10, 25 and 50 centavos – 100 centavos equal one balboa (dollar). Most businesses won’t break US$50 and US$100 bills, and those that do may require you to present your passport.
Although they are widely accepted at travel agencies, upscale hotels and many restaurants, credit cards can present difficulties elsewhere. It is always advisable to carry enough cash to get you to the next bank or ATM.
Always find out if your hotel or restaurant accepts credit in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises.
If charging a big-ticket item, it's best to check in with your bank in advance. Most cards charge a fee (between 3% and 10%) for international use.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
The only bank that exchanges foreign currency is the Banco Nacional de Panamá counter at Tocumen International Airport. Outside the airport, only a casa de cambio (exchange house) can change foreign currency for dollars. They are rare outside Panama City.
- Restaurants Tipping should be 10%, but check to see if it's included in the bill.
- Taxis Tipping is optional, but you can round up a dollar or two, especially at night.
- Guides It is customary to tip US$7 to US$10 per person for day tours; tip on the high end for naturalist guides.