How To Travel Across Panama On A Student Budget: A Guide For Adventurers

*Feature photo from Leygh.com

Yes, indeed, college without a doubt is one of the sweetest for better or worse memorable time in our life. Normally as a student, the library or classroom will be where most of our time is spent, which doesn’t leave you too much time for fun. (Of course, party guys or clubs have a different point of view, and thousands of Hollywood movies have been produced, have you heard of American Pie?).

It is very common that students who have a part-time job or save their long time allowance (unless Uncle Mat, Aunt May or Granny/Grandpa help us here) decide it is about time to empty their savings account and start an adventure of their own by flying somewhere tropical or cold for the famous “Spring Break”. Let’s say you would love to travel to Panama and are on a tight student budget. Keep reading as I will give you some tips and tricks.

Plan before relaxing

Before visiting any country and enjoying the beautiful beaches and eating tropical food, it is imperative we take a plan into action. Most of us will remember our mom confirming if we have a tooth brush, paste, clean underwear, enough cell phone minutes (admit it guys even when you hate that mom is always right you are happy she reminded you).  Here is a list of things you need to have for any trip in any country.

Checklist for your Panama vacation (or any other country):

✓ Make sure to have the local money and check if they accept your currency as well. In Panama, the currency is called Balboa, but it is just U.S. Dollars.

✓ Always travel with a dictionary, this is a life saver.

✓ A city and country map is always important (Google map to find your Panama backpacking route works too).

✓ Before taking food/beverages or anything else, see if it is allowed, avoid issues with customs.

✓ Never carry a lot of money with you, it could be bad if you are lost or robbed.

✓ Check online advisory boards for the best hotel prices and compare.

✓ Always know about the places and tourist spots you want to visit or ask at the reception.

✓ Ask friends or check online travel pages for advises and safety awareness.

✓ Learn the most necessary words just in case.

Those should be your commitments as this is the golden rule to any country, there is a need to take into consideration that you are visiting a new country with their culture. We need to be safe maybe things we are used to doing on a daily basis could be seen as wrong or not welcome. Watch your language, always ask before doing something, keep in mind there are some sensitive laws in different countries even if we think it is absurd, we must respect them.

Panama here I go!

Panama is located in the southeast of Central America in between Costa Rica and Colombia. The official language is Spanish, and you will find that not many locals speak English unless you are in a touristic area like Bocas del Toro. The national currency is the Panamanian Balboa (not Rocky Balboa lol) however this is just U.S. Dollars and a few different Panamanian coins.

Regarding hotels, you can typically stay in a hostel for $12 – $18 a night in a dorm or $30 a night in a private room. Here’s a link to all available hostels in Panama.

If you eat at a local cafeteria known as a Fonda, lunch will usually only cost around $3. But expect this to be heavy on the rice, with chicken or beef, beans, and a small salad.

Transportation within Panama can be cheap depending on where exactly you want to go. Buses within Panama City cost .25 cents, a metro ride is .35 cents, and you can use Uber for $2 – $5 for anywhere within the city. Here’s a guide to saving money for going to and from the Tocumen Airport. You can also take buses to other parts of the country for $2 – $30. I don’t recommend using a taxis unless you have to because they are not metered, and the drivers love to rip tourists off. Always ask for a map in the reception or consult about safe places you can visit alone or with someone, we all know expensive hotels will try to suck all your money (taxi, additional services, travel excursions, etc.).

Budget accommodation in Panama City

Luna’s Castle


Average Rating: 8.3  BOOK NOW

Hospedaje Casco Viejo


Average Rating: 8.3  BOOK NOW

Magnolia Inn


Average Rating: 9.1  BOOK NOW

Panama Hat Hostel


Average Rating: 8.5  BOOK NOW

Los Mostros Hostel


Average Rating: 8.7  BOOK NOW

Hostel Siriri


Average Rating: 8.5  BOOK NOW

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  1. Giuseppe Macario

    Panamanian taxi drivers tend to rip off all foreigners: tourists and students, but also businessmen — who have more money so are even a better prey. However, if you speak great Spanish and they don’t get the impression you are a fish out of water, you can negotiate a price right before the ride and get a bargain, for example less than $5 from Tocumen to Ciudad de Panamá (which is a fraction of Uber’s price). On the other hand, just like you, I wouldn’t recommend taxis to those who are not fluent in Spanish.

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