Located at the bottom of Central America, Panama is a small country sandwiched between Costa Rica and Columbia. Panama has everything you could want from a destination: mountains, cloud forests, beaches, wildlife, cities and even some awesome little islands.
Believe it or not, we never actually planned to go to Panama on our trip! This meant we were somewhat unprepared packing-wise for Panama. Ultimately, we forgot a few things and brought some stuff we didn’t need and actually ended up posting a lot back to England.
Luckily, we made those mistakes so you don’t have to! Here is our Ultimate Panama packing list, including useful gadgets, some travel essentials and everything else you will need to have the best time possible on your trip to Panama!
Things to think about when packing for Panama
Climate in Panama
Panama is located just above the equator and has a tropical climate meaning it is hot and humid pretty much all year around. The temperature tends to not vary too much throughout the year and sits around 25-30C/77-86F.
Rainy season in Panama
April to December is what’s known as winter or wet season in Panama. This period is when there is the most rainfall and it will rain almost daily.
Don’t let the rain put you off visiting in the wet season though, showers typically only last for half an hour and are then usually followed by bright sunshine.
If you’re trying to avoid showers, November is the worst month to visit Panama as it has the highest amount of rainfall.
The wet season is actually an ideal time to visit Panama if you are looking to get more for your money. For example, hotels and tours tend to be heavily discounted and the crowds will be a lot more manageable.
Backpacking, holiday, or cruise?
Panama attracts a huge range of tourists all for different reasons. In our experience, there were a lot of people from the US on vacation due to its close proximity and it being a great location for a holiday.
The Panama Canal is extremely popular for its Panama Canal Cruise, which is very high on our bucket list! The Panama Canal Cruise looks absolutely stunning but you might not need to opt for a backpack and hiking boots.
We personally backpacked some of Panama and met a lot of like-minded people. Many were also travelling around not just Panama but also around the rest of Central America and down to South America.
If you are planning a trip to Panama soon, why not check out our 16 things to know before backpacking Panama!
Documents you need for Panama
- Visa – check here for visa requirements
- International driving licence – Officially as long as your home driver’s license is written in roman letters, you can use it to drive in Panama. However, we always recommend having an international driver’s license with you when you travel.
- Vaccine certification – definitely needed and look into yellow fever requirements
- Copies of passport – needed to cross borders and visa extension
- Passport photos
- Travel Insurance
- Bank statement – needed for crossing borders
Choosing the right bag for Panama
If you are just visiting one area in Panama or going on a cruise, you might opt for just a suitcase. Alternatively, if you are planning on doing a few stops in Panama, you are going to need a sturdy backpack.
Roads and pathways in Panama are not always the smoothest and you will really really struggle to wheel a suitcase around. Trust us, we tried!
We’d recommend picking a lightweight backpack that opens like a suitcase. This makes it easy to pack, unpack and to see exactly what you have in there without turfing everything out.
Panama can be a bit unpredictable with its weather so we would recommend also buying a waterproof cover for your backpack to be extra safe!
We are huge Osprey fans so would definitely recommend picking one of the backpacks linked below but any backpack should do the job. Be sure not to take too big of a rucksack though as you will have to lug it around.
If you are on vacation or on a cruise, a large suitcase will likely be ideal for carrying your belongings as you won’t need to move them as much.
We found that taxi drivers and buses tended to fling our backpacks around (much to our horror) whereas you’ll find with a suitcase, people are more careful.
We recommend these hard-shelled lockable cases for the most amount of protection. Try to not overpack as it is likely there will still be times when you have to lift your case.
A day bag is very important for your trip to Panama so do not forget one! They are so useful for day trips, hiking and even going to the beach.
There are a few things to consider when picking your day bag and these are size, security and personal style.
Alex tends to carry all the important stuff and is a bit stronger than me so he opts for the Osprey backpack attachment as his day bag. This bag is lockable and has a laptop sleeve, making it ideal to carry our valuables and some of our heavier day items.
I prefer to carry a tote bag around with me as I find backpacks quite bulky and annoying for day-to-day use. Tote bags aren’t very secure so definitely don’t put anything valuable in but for heading to the beach or into town, it was ideal for carrying some water, a towel and a book.
I’m not sure how I ever used to pack my bags before I discovered packing cubes! Whether you are taking a suitcase or a backpack to Panama, we definitely recommend taking some packing cubes.
Packing comes in all shapes and sizes so definitely have a shop around and pick the amount and the sizes that will suit you! We personally have used these Amazon packing cubes and highly recommend them.
What to Pack for Panama
- 3-4 T-shirts
- 2 vest tops
- 1 light fleece (it gets cold in the evening)
- Rain jacket
- Cycling shorts
- Denim shorts
- 2 summer dress
- 1 week of underwear
- 1 week of socks including some thick ones
- 1 pair of trainers
- 1 pair of sandals
- 4-5 T-shirts
- 1 shirt
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 pairs of swim shorts
- 1 hoodie
- 1 waterproof jacket
- 1 hat
We actually bought a dry bag during our travels but wish we had bought one before. If you are planning on doing any water activities during your trip, a dry bag is ideal!
We also used our dry bag to take to the beach with us as it’s great at keeping the sand off of your belongings. It was super handy when we visited Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro as we could take it snorkelling with us and didn’t have to leave our valuables unattended.
Filtered water bottle
You might be wondering whether you can drink tap water in Panama. Apparently, Panama actually has a great water treatment system and tap water is safe to drink in most of the country.
We travelled around a lot of the world in one trip so decided to not drink tap water in some places, just to be safe!
Take a filtered water bottle with you and it will take all the worry away. You will be safe to drink water straight from the source, without contributing to the amount of plastic waste in the country.
Even though we visited Panama in the dry season, we got caught in quite a few showers! Having either a lightweight rain jacket or a rain poncho is a great item to pack with you.
If you are coming from the US you won’t need any adapters for Panama. However, we have UK appliances and found these adapters perfect for our trip!
We actually didn’t take hiking shoes to Panama and at the time we probably wished we did, but looking back we are glad we didn’t. If you’re an avid hiker, and are used to wearing hiking boots on hikes, then definitely bring some along.
Whether you do also depends on your future travel plans as if you’re city-hopping for the majority, it may be more of a hindrance.In addition, hiking boots are quite bulky to carry around and if you haven’t broken them in, they are likely to be quite uncomfortable for your hike.
We personally both took comfortable trainers and wore them for hikes and long walks and they worked for us perfectly.
Unfortunately, petty theft is prevalent in some areas of Panama so it is vital you protect your belongings. We would recommend having an underclothes money belt on you when exploring to protect your valuables.
This money pouch that clips to your bra strap also looks ideal and I will definitely be purchasing it for my next trip!
A lightweight fast-drying towel is ideally what you would want for your trip to Panama. While your items will dry quickly in the sun, normal towels are heavy and take up a lot of space.
These microfibre towels fold up really small, dry quickly and make a great make-shift curtain in hostels.
Waterproof phone case
Absolutely vital for taking photos at Starfish beach! We loved having our waterproof phone case in Panama. We were a bit wary at first but once we trusted them it was great being able to take photos while snorkelling and on boats, especially in Bocas del Toro.
Toiletries needed for Panama
We found certain toiletries quite tricky to find or insanely expensive in Panama. Locals don’t use sunscreen so definitely get enough to last you before you go or you’ll be paying around $30 a bottle!
- Suncream, SPF and SPF lip balm
- Aloe Vera
- Dental products
- All the makeup you are going to need
- A spare hairbrush – mine got stolen and it took me ages to find a new one!
- tampons / sanitary towels / menstrual cup if you can
- Face tan – I love this one!
- Bite cream
- Insect repellent
First aid kit
- Anti diarrhoea tablets
- Aloe vera
- Antiseptic wipes
These are some items we found that we needed during our travel but we also would recommend buying a lightweight medical kit. It won’t take up too much space and you never know when you will need it!
Laundry in Panama
We found that most of the hostels we stayed in had laundry facilities which was very handy when attempting to do washing.
On the rare occasions we stayed in hotels, we actually found nearby laundromats to do our washing which often worked out cheaper.
Cash or Card in Panama?
Getting cash out in Panama
It is possible to get cash out in Panama and often better as it means you don’t have to carry around large amounts of cash with you.
It is always best to go to the larger banks to withdraw cash rather than the ATMs on the street. The larger banks usually have an air-con room with a few ATMs in and that is likely to be your best bet.
Getting cash out wasn’t always smooth sailing for us and sometimes it just simply didn’t work and we had to try a different bank or go speak to customer services.
What cards we used in Panama
We primarily use Monzo when we are travelling and 90% of the time our Monzo cards worked fine in the ATMs in Panama. If you are planning on using Monzo just make sure you switch on your MAG strip in the Monzo app settings.
We also used our Lloyds credit card in Panama and it worked fine but did have a lot more fees than the Monzo account.
Gadgets we took to Panama
We take a few power banks with us whenever we travel. Getting caught out with no phone battery isn’t ideal, especially if, like us, you use google maps to get around.
We love our Anker power banks and we have a couple of different-sized ones. All of them hold their charge really well and are pretty quick!
Pre travelling, we were both Beats solo fans but we realised quite quickly that in-ear headphones were definitely the way forward for travel.
We had a few long bus rides in Panama and music kept us going through a lot of them.
Airpods are now are go-to but we have heard that these Bluetooth earphones are another great alternative.
We didn’t have a Go Pro when we went to Panama but we really wish we did! As you can imagine, its great for water-sports, mountain climbing and documenting your adventures. This Go Pro is great for beginners and won’t break the bank.
Apple Air Tag
With airports currently being as they are, we were so worried we were going to lose our backpacks during our travels and during our flight from New York. We both bought an Apple Air Tag each and it really helped to put our minds at ease.
Simple connect up with your phone and keep the air tag in your main bag and you will be able to track your luggage wherever it goes.
Miscellaneous things to pack
- Mosquito repellent
- Mosquito net
- blanket/pillow combo
- Clip things
- A pen
- A sarong! – I swear by a sarong, it’s the perfect cover-up, picnic blanket and curtain.
- Snorkel – you can buy them out there but if you have a favourite, definitely take it.
- Sleeping bag liner – trust me
What you don’t need to pack for Panama
We stayed in some quite remote places and never actually needed a sleeping bag. Unless you are high in the mountains, it doesn’t get too cold at night and they take up quite a lot of room in your bag.
We took sleeping bag liners which are perfect to sleep in if you aren’t a fan of your accommodation’s bedding and take up a lot less room!
We saw a lot of people struggling with their bags because they either packed too much or too many heavy items.
Set out what you want to take with you and then half it, and then half it again! You really won’t need as much as you think and anything you take, you will have to carry.
We recommend taking an Amazon Kindle if you have one as carrying books will really add to your bag weight. Some of the hostels we went to had a few books you could take for free so if you do want to take a book, just take one and swap it along the way.
Unless you are cruising or staying in fancy hotels, we really recommend leaving your expensive watches and jewellery at home. Flashing expensive items tends to attract the wrong attention and it really just isn’t necessary during your trip.
On buses, we had a lot of locals looking really impressed at just our iPhones and we were a lot more careful with where we even used our phones after that so definitely just be extra careful.
Panama packing tips
Dress like the locals
Unfortunately, it is likely that you will stand out as a gringo (yes they will call you that even if you are English)! However, not standing out as a foreigner will help you blend in a bit more during your trip to Panama.
Panamanians tend to dress pretty casually and a dead giveaway for a foreigner is wearing shorts! If you are hanging on a beach in Bocas you can definitely wear shorts and flip-flops, you might stand out a bit in Panama City.
Don’t bring a hat
Panama hats are pretty famous and you will find them absolutely everywhere! Definitely don’t bother trying to bring one from home and treat yourself to one in Panama.
What to pack for Panama in the rainy season
- Lightweight raincoat
- Waterproof shoes – or just flip flops
- Quick dry clothes
- Waterproof bag covers
If you are planning a trip to Panama or the rest of Central America, here are some other posts you might find useful:
- The Best Restaurants in Boquete, Panama
- The Ultimate Gude to Backpacking Costa Rica
- A Visitors Guide to Manuel Antonio
- Why Costa Rica Should be Your Next Travel Destination
There you have it; what to pack for Panama in one post, outlining what you need to bring, why you need to bring it and what you definitely shouldn’t bring. If you’re visiting South America and want a great starting location, look no further than Panama. It has great transatlantic links to European, as well as from the USA, and Columbia is very easy to access.
No matter when you visit Panama, you will have an amazing time and hopefully, this packing list will go some way to helping you enjoy your trip even more.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Panama as well as our suggested packing list. We’d also love to hear about your own experiences and what other products you’d recommend!
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