Panama is one of the most beautiful countries in the Western Hemisphere and a popular choice for travelers and tourists. It is truly the bridge between worlds, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is a significant appeal for anyone looking for fascinating history and to visit one of the world’s most incredible manmade geographic features.
Visitors love the aerial and other canal tours, but it is not the only reason to visit Panama. People travel far and wide to visit both oceans, hike the rainforests, and spend time in the bustling Panamanian cities.
Before you book your visit to the Canal, it’s essential to know how to stay safe throughout your trip. Panama is generally considered a safe place to visit.
However, you should still do your research before visiting any foreign country. Read on to learn more about how safe Panama is and what you can do to ensure a safe vacation in this beautiful country.
Is Panama Safe to Visit?
Panama is considered a safe country to visit. However, that does not mean the country is crime-free or a utopia. You’ll still need to make safe choices and remain alert to ensure you don’t run into any trouble on your Panama vacation.
Crime in Panama
Panama is considered to have a moderate level of crime, with a significant increase in the last three years. Most crime occurs in corruption and bribery, which is not something the average tourist needs to worry about.
Most crime that will impact tourists or other visitors is various forms of property theft and muggings. Panama is known for being a pickpocket hotspot.
The country also has a moderate likelihood of car thefts, home break-ins, and muggings. Panama had a significant spike in unemployment during 2020, which likely contributed to increased crime.
Studies show that unemployment leads to poverty, which then leads to increased crime. As the unemployment rate continues to fall, we will hopefully see a decline in petty crime and property theft in Panama.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
It’s essential to avoid bad neighborhoods when you travel anywhere, especially in foreign countries. Ask a local if it is safe to walk in the area at night before you do so.
Check with your hotel concierge or Airbnb host if you do not know anyone personally. Always remain alert when walking alone. Avoid distractions or appearing distracted, as this can make you a target for criminals
Listen to your instincts. Don’t ignore your gut feeling about a neighborhood or location. If you turn a corner and begin to feel uncomfortable, head back the way you came.
Stay with the crowds. Avoid walking alone in sparsely populated areas. If you see groups of people, especially tourists, stay among them to avoid becoming victims of a serious crime.
It’s also important to do your research before you arrive. Take the time to look into the area you are staying in and the bordering neighborhoods.
Look at the safety and crime rates of any parts of the country you will see during your visit. Google, travel agencies, and others who have spent time in the area are great resources to help you find the information you need.
Areas to Avoid in Panama
Avoid these areas when deciding which parts of Panama you will visit:
- Caribbean Coast of Darien Province: This region has a high level of drug trafficking and related crime, especially along the Colombian Border
- The Mosquito Gulf coastal region: This region also has a high drug trafficking and related crime level. The area is also sparsely populated and remote.
- Colon (Caribbean Port Town): This city has high gang activity and street crime levels. In recent years, there have been violent clashes between police and protestors, allowing gang members to commit crimes and attack officials.
When you visit Panama City, avoid booking lodgings or spending time in the following neighborhoods:
- Cabo Verde
- El Chorrillo
- Juan Diaz
- San Miguel
- San Miguelito
- Santa Ana
- Santa Librada
- Veracruz Beach
The US State Department flagged the areas listed above as high crime areas.
Street gangs are prevalent in many areas throughout Panama, especially Panama City. There are over 200 active gangs throughout Panama. Neighborhoods and the other regions with a high gang activity rate have higher crime rates and are less safe for travelers.
Avoid Colon and neighborhoods in Panama City that have an increased gang presence. Check out our complete list above for the areas to avoid in Panama City.
Panama has many pickpocketers waiting to grab the belongings of unsuspecting tourists. These opportunists are most likely to find their next victims in high-traffic areas, such as buses, tourism hot spots, and public transportation stops.
Avoid getting pickpocketed by keeping any valuables out of sight and in a safe location.
You can purchase special pickpocket-resistant pants or even bands to secure your items under your shirt. These items are well worth the investment if you travel on foot throughout Panama’s cities.
Read Next: The Best Money Belts to Buy in 2022
Taxis and Cab Services
Taxis and car services can be an opportunity for criminals to take advantage of tourists. They can run scams through these companies or even steal your belongings.
Always schedule your taxi or book one through your hotel. It’s best to use Uber, Lyft, or another rideshare app instead of hailing a street taxi.
Additional Safety Advice When Traveling in Panama
Here are a few final tips for staying safe on your trip to Panama:
- Do not use drugs in Panama and avoid any involvement with drug dealers on the streets.
- Keep any evidence of wealth tucked away and indiscreet. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry, expensive clothing, designer handbags, and other expensive attire.
- Never show your cash. Be extremely careful when using an ATM or any cash withdrawal service.
- Never leave your items unattended when you are out and about.
- Only bring what you need with you when you leave your lodgings. Leave everything else locked up safely while you are out.
- Avoid traveling at night and do not leave well-lit streets or areas.
- Try to stay in a group, especially when hiking or exploring more remote areas of Panama.
What to Do if You Are the Victim of a Crime in Panama
Always try to diffuse the situation and get yourself out of danger if you are the victim of a crime. If someone mugs you, give them your money. Do not try to fight back to avoid escalating the situation.
What Should I Do if I Am the Victim of a Crime in Panama?
Report the crime to the police and the US Embassy if you are the victim of a crime in Panama. The Embassy can assist you in dealing with local authorities. While the police might not always be able to help you, you should still report the crime.
The Juez de Paz, or Judge of Peace, are community leaders that can help you if you are the victim of a minor crime. These are often the people who will help resolve the issue because they are more familiar with the local community where the crime occurred.
You can request a written copy of the police report and follow up throughout your trip. You never know if the information will surface that helps you after being victimized.
Who Do I Call for an Emergency in Panama?
If you’re in an emergency situation in Panama, you’ll want to have these phone numbers handy:
- Emergency: 911
- Police: 104
- Tourist Police (Panama City Only): 511-9260
- Ambulance or Fire: 103
- Customer Protection: +507-316-0080
- Red Cross: +507-228-2187
You will also want to know how to contact the US Embassy, located in Clayton, Panama, in case of an emergency.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things to consider when deciding if Panama is a safe location for your next vacation:
- Panama has a close relationship with the United States. They are a democratic country that primarily uses the US Dollar. This makes many American tourists feel more comfortable when visiting Panama.
- There is a low risk of terrorism in Panama. There has not been a major terrorist attack since the 1994 bombing of a Chiricanas Airlines Flight. However, you should remain alert for any suspicious activity while visiting the country.
- There is some risk of natural disasters in Panama due to its geographic location. The most common natural disasters that impact Panama are hurricanes, flooding, strong ocean currents, and earthquakes.
- There are scammers present throughout Panama. To avoid becoming the victim of a scam, always agree on prices in advance and never pay for any service or product before you receive it. Check that you receive the correct change from vendors and that you are being charged a fair amount for what you are purchasing.
- Panama is not considered dangerous for women traveling alone. However, try to find a group for hiking and exploring when you arrive in Panama as a solo female traveler.
- Never leave your drink unattended or accept a free drink from someone in Panama (or any foreign country). This dangerous situation can quickly escalate into a theft, assault, or other crime.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still, have questions about safety in Panama? Let’s review some of the most common questions on the subject.
Is Panama a safe country to retire in?
Most people agree that North Americans can safely and happily retire in Panama. Panama’s close relationship with the United States and its use of the US Dollar makes it easier for Americans to transition to life in Panama.
There is also adequate healthcare in the nation should you need it during your retirement years. If you plan to retire in Panama, research the areas you want to live in and select a safe neighborhood for your new home.
What are the dangers in Panama?
There is a risk of petty theft, natural disasters, and scams when traveling to Panama. Always stay alert and avoid traveling in high crime areas to reduce your risk of being the victim of a crime.
Is it safe to walk alone at night in Panama?
Numbeo rates Panama as highly safe to walk alone during daylight hours and moderately safe to walk alone at night. This is not an official rating but is based on responses from those surveyed by Numbeo.
Despite these ratings, always avoid unsafe areas when you are by yourself. You are generally safer when you travel in pairs, so bring along a travel buddy or join another tourist.
Is Panama full of criminals?
Panama has crime but is not full of criminals. As long as you make smart decisions and avoid high crime areas, you will be safe on your trip to Panama.
Do they speak english in Panama?
Panama has a close relationship with the United States but has a low English proficiency rate. You should brush up on your basic Spanish before you go!
So, Is Panama Safe to Visit?
Panama is considered a safe country to visit. Despite this nation’s relative safety, it is always a good idea to research whatever areas you will see to avoid unsafe neighborhoods or situations.
Always stay alert when you travel and consider investing in pickpocket-proof attire to protect your belongings from petty thieves.