Panama travel advisory


There are many interesting places to go and things to do in Panama.  These are well covered in many online blogs and promos, so instead, we will focus on the realities of the downsides in Panama to balance the story from our trip last week.

We have been living or traveling to Panama since 2004. After 6 years we had enough of living there… but it took another 3 years to wind everything up and move out. By that time most everything had more than doubled in price… from food to drinks to cost of real estate. The cost of living has arguably risen to the same level as North America. Unfortunately, the service levels have not increased at all.

This past week’s visiting friends has not convinced us otherwise. We now list the standards and circumstances that point to Panama being a third world country living on the coattails of the USA, China, and other alliances their oligarchs have arranged for trade, protecting the canal, and maintaining their status quo as an “offshore haven”.

Airport arrival
All construction on the new terminal and all other construction in the country has stopped for 6 weeks because the workers union is on strike. Millions per day of lost wages and progress.

Long immigration lines for foreigners. None for locals. Panamanians first… but you are welcome to spend your money here.

Occidental Hotel…
New but the halls smell 100 yrs old because of the humidity and lack of ventilation design.
Keys for elevator keep failing every day.
No smiles or personality of service personnel.
No pool… Instead, a loud disco full of 21-year-olds on the roof that you can hear in your room 10 floors down
Manager wanted to charge for coffee after we missed free breakfast by 5 minutes
Modern bathroom with hot water, but the shower sprays all over the place and water leaks from the tiles to rest of the room. Sad workmanship.
Water went out for short times most every day

$30 for the 15-20 minute ride to the city from the airport. Compared that to Medellin where a 45 min airport taxi is $25

City taxis are often junkers with rude drivers. They will honk to hustle a ride…then drive away if they don’t want to go your direction. If you are a foreigner they will usually charge you 2-3 times the legal rate set by the syndicates.

While the COPA airline staff are usually courteous…that’s where it stops at this airport. Decided to try the upstairs airport restaurant before going through security to the gate. Plenty of time before our flight. Upon entering we asked if they are serving breakfast (1030AM) to which they replied yes… then they proceeded to give us a lunch menu. When they came back 5 min later and we asked for a breakfast menu… I swear she rolled her eyes!  We then waited 10 more minutes of being ignored until we got up and headed for the gate.

As you approach the security they have immigration officials who usually shuffle through every page of your passport. This often builds a needless large cue leading to another slow cue at security. Then at the security. they have no special line for flight crews or staff…and allow them to cut in front of the passengers. In this case, when we were 3 back of the machines, more than 9 crew members cut in front in three different groups. No “excuse me”, “sorry”, or “thank you”. Are all these crew people Panamanians also?

There is no TSA or other preferred security programs to get through…so everyone must take off shoes, belts, and all electronics out of your carry-on. Then, if you are flying to the USA…you must go through a repeat security clearance at the gate. Panama must have a lot of bad people trying to get out.

OK… So we are still hungry and head upstairs to a food court. There used to be bars conveniently located in the various wings of the airport gates. Now the only one we find is upstairs, a long walk from most any gate in the airport. Two female bartenders were some of the worse we have seen in Panama service-wise.

It’s now 1045am and we still would like breakfast. Quiznos sub place has a breakfast menu until 11am. When we reach the lackadaisical girl at the register she advises they are no longer offering breakfast… contrary to the sign. When we ask why and point at the sign, she simply says “no more!”. No reason, no sorry…just rude. We walk away and find a Carl’s Jr four spots down the row of fast food which is one of our favorite USA burgers chains. Unfortunately, just one of their normal burgers at this location is $8.60 without the combo… 12.35 with! Ouch! Is this New York city? Not only that…we wait almost 15 minutes for the burger only order, and it is not that busy.

We now can’t wait to get the hell out of Panama. We get to our gate an hour before flight time and there are only 30 or so seats in the waiting area for 60-70 passengers!  WTF? We sit at the next gate over hoping to hear flight announcements. When group 1 is called…we are all blocked out of the entry point by group 2 and 3 people who apparently fear being left behind.

Meanwhile throughout the airport tons of people generally shuffle around clueless and aimless. They stop in the middle of walkways blocking passage to look at their tickets or chat with traveling companions.

Now we board with a sigh of relief that we are finally out of here…only to find a number of passengers who cannot match up their tickets to the seats. People are sitting in others seats or simply can’t see the numbers above each aisle, and the flight is full. Are we on a plane full of handicapped or retards? No…just the status quo of people who travel in and out of Panama apparently.

This place makes Colombia and Mexico look like “heaven”.

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