Panama operates on the Eastern Time Zone (+5 hours). Daylight Saving time does not apply in Panama.
The telephone country code is 507.
Panama’s electric voltage is 120, 60 cycle. Adapters are available in local shops. Panama utilizes the metric system, with some of the old Imperial system tossed in; although the country continues its’ slow move into full metric.
Temperatures and distance signs are in metric. Weights and volumes (gasoline) remain in pounds and gallons.
C° to F° add 15 and multiply by 2; liters to imperial gallons multiply by .22 ; liters to U.S. gallons multiply by .26; kilometers to miles multiply by .62 ; kilograms to pounds multiply by .45
Public phones start at 10 cents a minute to regular lines… 35 cents a minute to cellular phones. Pre-paid cards for public phones are widely available, and in many denominations, and save money. Supermarkets and most large stores, have them. Follow instructions in English on the back of your card for international calls. More than one company offers pre-paid cards, so you need to use the right phone card code number. In an emergency (in Panama City) dial 911. Call police at 104, Fire 103.
PASSPORTS AND VISAS, CUSTOMS, HEALTH, ANIMALS
A valid passport, one that is not expiring within 6 months, is required to enter Panama by air, sea, or land. A visa is not required of residents of most developed countries.
You can bring $2,000 worth of merchandise into Panama, free of duty and tax, on every visit to Panama. Be sure to declare if you are bringing more than $10,000 U.S. in cash or negotiable instruments. Panama’s jails are grotesque.
Vaccinations are generally not required, except it is probably prudent to have had those for Hepatitus A, B, C and yellow fever. Unless you are heading into the Darien jungle area, there is no need for malaria precautions.
Your pet is welcome, with proof of vaccinations. Continental Airlines has a pet plan. Entry into Panama is subject to a $120 fee. Domestic quarantine, (where you take your pet home with you) is normal, with the name of a local veterinarian used as reference as the quarantine ‘supervisor.’ Boquete River Inn is ‘pet-friendly.’
GENERAL HEALTH CONDITIONS
Panama City, Chitre, Santiago, David, Boquete, like most parts of Panama, present no real health risks for foreign visitors. Mind that you have to ignore the considerable piles of garbage tossed about.Tap water is good; restaurants and eating-places are required by law to maintain a high standard of food preparation, and to be clean. Smog, on rare occasions, is a problem in Panama City. But the most obvious form of contamination is noise. Exposure to the sun can be a problem for those who are fair-skinned. Panama’s public medical system is mediocre at best, with superior service offered at private hospitals, where you pay. In Chiriqui province, Hospital Chiriqui and Hospital Mae Lewis are the private hospitals. Dental service is first class and, compared to first world countries, much less expensive. Travelers may wish to buy complementary health insurance before leaving home.
The American (U.S.) dollar is the currency in Panama; locally referred to as the ‘Balboa.’ Forget travelers’ checks. Cash is still the way of many businesses in Panama, although credit cards are widely accepted in the larger hotels and stores. ATM machines are everywhere.
Coins, used interchangeably, are both Panamanian and American. Panama’s coins are stamped with national heroes/symbols.
There are two seasons in Panama… summer and ‘winter,’ or wet and dry. Being so close to the equator (8.5 degrees north), daylight varies just an hour over the year. Light appears at 6 a.m. in the winter, 7 a.m. in the summer. No daylight savings time here. ‘Summer’ season generally runs from December till April… ‘winter’ is May till November. In Boquete, the daytime temperature averages around 27 Celsius (80F); 18 Celsius (65F) overnight. Higher temperatures and humidity are more prevalent along both coasts.
Spanish is the language most spoken, although in Panama City, you won’t be far away from a competent English speaker. The government has made learning English a priority… and many Panamanians are ready to practice their English with you. Traditional languages are the first spoken in the various Comarcas (reservations), but many have some knowledge of Spanish as well.
PARKS AND GARDENS
In Boquete, visit ‘Mi Jardin es Tu Jardin… The generous owners of ‘My Garden is Your Garden’ invite the public to come enjoy and view the beauty of their private garden.
Unfortunately, no museum currently existent in Chiriqui province. In David a $250,000 renovation is currently underway on the former Museo José de Obaldia.
LOCATION AND POLITICAL SET-UP
Chiriqui is the western-most province of Panama, and its capital, David is a busy place… the main distribution center for the some 200,000 that live here. Governors of each province are not elected, but appointed by the President, and generally charged with ensuring that the Presidents’ will and wishes are carried out. Elections are held every five years. By constitution, Presidents hold office for one term only. Elected provincial governments are non-existent in Panama. It’s a small country of 3.32 million, and most operations (ie. road construction and maintenance, water supplies) are mandated, and handled at a national level. Municipalities have some autonomy with their mayors having much more authority and power than those in more developed countries. Municipalities tend to garbage collection. But vehicle plating is operated by the municipalities. The real opposition in this country is the newspapers. Both majors, La Prensa (prensa.com) and El Panama America (epasa.com) continue to embarrass the government, and call them to account.
Stores are open generally from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. and 7 days a week. Some supermarkets operate on a 24-hour basis. A few stores continue to close on Wednesday afternoon, although this tradition is disappearing. A 7% retail sales tax is charged on most purchases. With the standard work week at 48 hours, a number of stores and many businesses are closed on Sunday.
Boquete features one local newspaper, the Bajareque Times, a ‘puff’ piece with just good news. happy-talk and nothing controversial or provocative covered or offered. “To not offend,’ appears to be the motto. www.boquete.org, owned by the same paper, offers ‘good’ news and a place to promote. Emanating from David is chiriquichatter.org, chatty items and one reasonable man’s point-of-view.
Current news in Panama in English is available at www.thepanamanews.com
HISTORY - GEOGRAPHY
Boquete was founded April 11th, 1911. We´re now 100 years old! In Spanish, the word ‘Boquete’ means a gap or opening. It was precisely this gap in the Continental Divide that provided travelers, in the 1850’s, a more northerly short cut through the mountains to the Pacific, en route to the goldfields around San Francisco.
Many of those first explorers returned to settle here. They included the Swiss, Yugoslavs, Swedish, Germans and North Americans who predominated.
More are moving in, with Boquete’s population, spread over some 500 sq. km., now pushing 20,000.
Volcanic soil predominates the area, having once emanated from the now dormant, Volcan Baru. Otherwise, the highlands around Boquete comprise colluvial and sedimentary soil.
Our indigenous people, the Ngäbe-Buglé, or Guaymies, live in their nearby Comarca and in the hills around Boquete. To this point, largely uneducated, they supply the low-cost labor required by local coffee farms and plantations.
Two rivers run through Boquete; the Rio Cochea, and the Rio Caldera, which flows through the town center. Their waters provide sustenance for an abundance of oranges, grapefruit and other local fruits and flowers, including the ubiquitous novia (impatiens), lily, hibiscus, orchids, carnations and sunflowers, among others.
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