Panama Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Panama

(Map of Panama from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Panama on a Shoestring Budget

US$35 | 35 Panamanian Balboa

As one of the richest countries in Central America, costs are generally a bit higher than most parts of the region. Our Panama backpacking budget of $35/day reflects that and it’s comparable to the cost of travel in Costa Rica, another of the more expensive countries in the region. If you’re coming to Panama directly from North America or Europe though, you’ll still most likely find it very cheap.

It’s not that difficult to stick to this kind of budget with tasty and cheap street food available all over the country, while tap water is safe here and you can save a few bucks by just filling up a bottle as you will need to drink lots of water given Panama is a very hot place.  The cost of accommodation is a bit higher than its Northern neighbours and the temptation to indulge in Panama’s nightlife, some of which is geared towards its wealthy visitors, can push your expenses up if you’re not careful but maintaining this budget and still having a good time is not impossible by any means.

See where Panama ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in Central America.


More Comfortable Panama Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 45 Panamanian Balboa

Panama is not like somewhere like Nicaragua or Guatemala, where the travel industry is almost entirely geared towards more budget-minded travellers. In Panama, there is the potential to indulge in a bit of luxury every now and then and by allowing for $45 per day you can do that. The extra $10 could go towards a nice meal at night in one of the many fancier restaurants or possibly a short stay in one of the nicer hotels or resorts. You will still have to be a bit savvy though, particularly in the capital which is a popular shopping destination so it’d be wise to set aside a separate budget for shopping.

The cost of some of the sites of interest and attractions is also relatively high for the region so if you’re the sort who likes to visit museums and cultural sites on a daily basis that can also push your costs up and $45/day may be a more realistic budget.


Sample Prices in Panama

Bus from Panama City to David (6-7 hours) – around $20

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $6

0.5 litre local beer in a bar or restaurant – $1.50

Dorm bed in Bocas del Toro – from $10

Private double or twin room in Panama City – from $25

Entrance to Miraflores Visitor Centre (Panama Canal) – $15

These prices are as of December 2016.

Compare Panama prices to the cost of travel in Mexico.


Money

Currency – Panamanian Balboa/US Dollar

£1 = 1.26 PAB

€1 = 1.06 PAB

US$1 = 1 PAB

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

The US Dollar has been tied to the Panamanian Balboa since 1904. You can use either in Panama and essentially they are the same currency.


MFT Recommends

The Casa Monalisa is perfect for solo travellers in Panama City. Sociable place with budget beds.


Street art in Panama

street art in Panama City (via BORIS GCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Panama recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉


This article was published in December 2016.


Backpacking Budget for Central America

Central America Backpacking Budget

This page suggests typical shoestring travel costs and recommends a possible backpacking budget for Central America.

backpackers map of central america

(Map of Central America from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in Central America

$20/day : Nicaragua

$25/day : Guatemala, El Salvador

$30/day : Honduras

$35/day : Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba*, Mexico*

$45/day : Belize

*Not technically part of Central America but popular stops with travellers in the region.

This is based on travelling on the cheap by staying in hostel dorms or basic rooms where it’s cheaper to do so and by using local chicken buses which are a fun if slow way to get around the region. It allows for the odd activity each day but nothing like expensive diving courses or multi-day treks which will add to the cost of your trip. If you have travelled in the region recently and have a different idea of what typical expenses might be then please use the comments section below to let us and more importantly other travellers know. The budget allows for a bit of partying and but you will struggle to stick to this if you are looking to drink and go out every night.

Some travellers combine Central America with a few days or weeks in the United States, which is considerably more expensive. Read our USA backpacking budget for more.

Monthly Backpacking budget for Central America

Based on these costs, a typical total backpacking budget for a trip around Central America might be something like this:

1 month – £740, €850, $900

2 months – £1480, €1700, $1800

3 months – £2220, €2550, $2700

All figures are based on exchange rates correct as of January 2017. If you’re unsure, use dollars as a base and convert it to your currency at current exchange rates.

Touristy areas of Mexico or places such as the Bay Islands in Honduras are more expensive so avoid them if you are worried about funds running out. If you decide to visit Cuba, then the cost of getting there can also add quite a bit to your overall expenses so this budget is primarily based on travel in mainland Central America only.

Please note this does NOT include the cost of flights to/from the region, any visas/vaccinations or travel insurance. These things are impossible factor in as they are dependent on your nationality and where you are coming from but can quite easily double your total budget for the trip.

Read our Central America budget travel overview.


The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

South America | Southeast Asia | Europe


How much did travel in Central America cost you?

If you have travelled recently in the region then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in Central America. Everyone travels differently so there will never be a definitive right budget for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!


 This page was last updated in January 2017.


Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

darien gap

NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old. Some of the info may be out-of-date.

The Darien gap is an 80km stretch of jungle between Panama and Colombia. It will be of interest to anyone looking to combine our South America backpacking route with our Central America routeA quick look on google maps would suggest that America is one huge continent and it should be possible to travel overland from Alaska right down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina.

However this narrow strip of land connecting North and South America has no roads and the jungle is tough to cross even if you are fit and have an excellent knowledge of the local area (guessing you don’t)…oh and there’s Colombian rebel fighters in the area who are at war with the government and have been known to kidnap foreigners. If you do decide to chance it on foot and make it across the dangerous Darien Gap then it’s fair to say you have well and truly graduated into a hardcore traveller! (you’re also probably a bit of a nutter).

Trekking Through the Jungle

Some people do indeed cross the Darien Gap by foot every year, numbers are unknown but we’ve met people who’ve done it and are planning to do it again. Although Colombia is now pretty much a safe place, certainly much more so than 5 years ago, many of the FARC rebels (those who haven’t been killed by the government forces) are believed to have retreated back to the jungles of Darien Province thus making the trip even more dangerous.

You will probably have to use local guides if you do try and do this trip and you will have to pay for them, so the costs could well make this the most expensive option as well as the most dangerous. Other things to consider include the risk of malaria which is high and you will be trekking 80km through jungle so prepare to be eaten alive by all sorts of insects.

You can get more information on attempting the crossing in local towns on either side of the border and if you are lucky you may find other mildly insane travellers who are planning to cross the Darien Gap on foot. If you do go for it attempt the crossing in the dry season and take lots of food, water, a machete and hope for the best.

myfunkytravel.com is not responsible if your head gets decapitated by a Colombian guerilla 🙂

The Safer Options

1. Boats

As if the situation wasn’t bad enough there are no public ferries between Panama and Colombia and there haven’t been for many years. It is possible with improved security in the area that ferries may start up again one day but don’t hold your breath.

San Blas IslandsLuckily there is no shortage of sailing boats that do the trip and this is probably the most popular option and definitely the most scenic. Most people who have done the trip rave about. It is typically 4 to 5 days and includes a couple of days stop in the beautifully quiet San Blas Islands (left). From Colombia to Panama, it’s best to head to Cartagena and even if you don’t stay there head to Casa Viena hostel which has a whiteboard with a list of boats doing the trip and remaining spaces on each. Try and talk to the captain of the ship before deciding on one. Going the other way then Panama City is the best place to arrange the trip (ask in your hostel) and there is normally plenty of boats doing the route every week. It’s worth considering whether food/drinks are included in the price, what extras are included such as diving/snorkeling etc, maybe try and meet your fellow passengers/crew (make sure they’re not going to drive you insane) and also consider whether you suffer from seasickness because you will be spending several days on a fairly small boat.

The Darien Gapster (no idea if they are good or bad) is a company that does the trip for $200 which is about as cheap you are going to find. There route is quicker than the others taking just 3 nights and still stopping in the San Blas Islands.

2. Fly

One solution to crossing the Darien Gap has cropped up recently with Spirit Airlines who offer budget flights from it’s Fort Lauderdale base to Colombia and cities across Central America. Flights to Cartagena are as cheap as $1+taxes+baggege fee (about $65) as of October 2010. Flights to Central America are slightly more but it’s possible to fly to San Jose for around $130. This brings the total to around $200 for the trip (eg San Jose to Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena), possibly more or less depending on the promotions they have on. Therefore the cost is similar to the sailboat option and you won’t have to worry about seasickness plus you have the option of spending a few days in Miami (there are worse places to get stuck waiting for a flight).

Otherwise there are direct flights from most of the major cities in Central America to Colombia. Flights from Panama City are normally the cheapest but still $200 or more so for a relatively short distance. It’s the quickest but least exciting way to cross the Darien Gap.

3. A Combo of Boats & Flights

Capurgana hammock backpacker lifestyleThe cheapest option when everything is running properly but the situation is regularly changing and it’s hard to say with any certainty what is currently possible. Firstly head to Turbo in Colombia, get a boat to Capurgana (2 hours 30). Capurgana (right) and nearby Sapzurro are great chilled out backpacker friendly beach villages and well worth hanging around a few days. Get your exit stamp at the DAS in Capurgana the day before you leave. Catch a motorboat from Capurgana to Puerto Obaldia in Panama (45 mins COP25,000). From here Aeroperlas had direct flights to Panama City for $80ish but at some point in 2010 they stopped running. Instead you can catch another motorboat from here to Mulatupo which has an airstrip (1 hour) or to Miramar which is a longer potentially choppy trip but will take you further north to Colon Province from where it isn’t far to Panama City. Reverse steps for the trip to Colombia and again it’s probably best to head to Panama City and gather current information there.

You should treat this trip as something as an adventure because it is unpredictable and frustrating but one way or another should be possible, you may have to spend a couple of days hanging around in towns waiting for a boat with space for you so don’t do it if you’re on a strict time schedule or at least do some major research beforehand into the current situation.


pic of San Blas Islands courtesy of frischifresh on flickr and Capurgana courtesy of kontour-travel.com on flickr.

 


This article was published in November 2011.


August 2015 Update

Read this detailed post for more on the land crossing and it includes the sad story of Jan Philip Braunisch, a backpacker killed in Colombia´s Darien Gap.

The author reports that the land crossing is now more dangerous than ever but a small airline called ADA fly direct Medellin – Acandi then boat trip (20 minutes) to Capurgana etc. (No more direct flights to Capurgana).


 

Popular Backpacking Route in Central America

latin america routes

south america | brazil | patagonia | central america


Backpacking Route in Central America

Mexico aside, the countries in this part of the world are really small but there’s loads to see and do. Backpacking around Central America on this route will see you pack in 6 countries, Mayan ruins, fiery active volcanoes, stunning lakes, colonial towns, and chilled out Caribbean beaches while trying to avoid the hellhole capital cities in the region (Panama City is the exception). You may well need to change buses in Managua or Tegioculpa for example but even if you’re a city lover you seriously won’t want to hang around long. As well as plenty to see, it’s a cheap region to learn Spanish, which is handy especially if you are heading onto South America.


Palenque Mayan ruins

Mayan ruins in Palenque, Mexico


TIME NEEDED – 2 MONTHS

On average we’d suggest spending about 10 days in each country although you could squeeze it all into 6 weeks at a push. With lots of volunteering and learning opportunities you could stick around for longer.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £1500 €1700 $1800

This doesn’t include flights in/out of the region or other pre-trip expenses. It is based on prices and exchange rates as of January 2017.

See our Central America backpacking costs for more.


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR CENTRAL AMERICA

Mostly not required for stays of up to 90 days. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have a mutual agreement in place enabling you to travel freely around the 4 countries for 90 days without passport checks.

Use our visa check tool to see which countries you will need a visa for.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend World Nomads who provide excellent cover for backpackers.


Central America Backpacking Route



Mexico

Fly into Cancun – Leave Cancun ASAP!! the beach is ok but it’s seedy, expensive and doesn’t cater for backpackers.

Playa del Carmen- Nice beaches and party till dawn in one the many bars and clubs (girls drink free on some nights).


MFT RECOMMENDS – Hostel Rio Playa, Playa del Carmen 

Cool hostel with fun rooftop bar and pool that is great for meeting other travellers and pre-drinks prior to a night out.


Tulum – Great beach plus a few small Mayan ruins.

(Night bus to Palenque)

Palenque – Impressive ruins in the jungle (pic above), magic mushrooms.

San Cristobal – Colonial town at altitude hence a pleasant break from the heat, lots of hippy/bohemian types here.


Guatemala

Xela – Loads of volunteering options, salsa classes and clubs, local markets in surrounding villages.

Lake Atitlan – Stunning scenery with a huge lake surrounded by volcanoes and dirt cheap backpacker towns. See Destination: Lake Atitlan.

Antigua– Colonial town surrounded by volcanoes that can be explored on foot (one of our top 10 latin america experiences). It is also a hugely popular and cheap place to take some Spanish lessons which will certainly be handy as your progress further along this backpacking route for Central America.


Honduras

Copan – More ancient ruins.

San Pedro – City with decent nightlife but a bit dangerous! It’s on the way towards Bay Islands so could be worth a stop just to get a feel for city life in this part of the world but don’t hang around long.

La Ceiba – Nice beaches and place to catch the ferry to Utila.

Utila (Bay Islands) – Scuba diving hot-spot and one of the real highlights of the region. Caribbean beach paradise on a budget! The Bay Islands also feature in our article on 5 budget-friendly Caribbean destinations.

(Long day of travelling between Utila and Leon)


Nicaragua

Leon – Birthplace of the Sandinista revolution and still a staunchly pro-revolution town, cool street art. Read more about funky Leon!

Granada – Colonial town, perhaps the most beautiful in the region, lots of churches.

Isla de Ometepe – Island in middle of the giant lake with two volcanoes, excellent place for mountain biking.

San Juan del Sur – Good place to surf with some mental waves, OK nightlife, average beach.

Check out the cost of travel in Nicaragua.


Costa Rica

Monteverde (for Volcan Arenal) – 3rd most active volcano in the world and awesome cloud forests nearby.

Montezuma – Waterfalls, nature reserves and nude beaches!

San Jose – Capital city, bit rough but better than capitals further north (Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel, San Jose isn’t great but there are now other budget options).

Puerto Viejo – Surfing, beaches, marijuana.


Panama

Bocas del Toro – Chilled Caribbean islands covered in thick jungle.

David – Pleasant town on Pan-American Highway with good hostels.

Panama City – Vibrant modern city, the Panama Canal and lots of ways to spend any money you have left.

Read more on the cost of travel in Panama.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Casa Monalisa, Panama City 

Colourful hostel that is perfect for solo travellers. Sociable place and easy to meet people.


(Fly home, or see more of Latin America by crossing the Darien Gap)

revolutionary street art in Leon, Nicaraguachicken bus central america
Revolutionary street Art in Leon, Nicaragua & a Central American chicken bus


More Info on Budget Travel in Central America

Our Central America backpacking itinerary aims to give you an idea of popular travel spots but if the hostel scene is getting a bit repetitive then it’s well worth heading off to some of the less touristy parts (although mainstream tourism only really exists in small parts of Mexico and Costa Rica).

Outside the capitals, the people are generally very friendly and it’s really not that dangerous. While you could do this route in 2 months there are many places that you will find hard to leave and adding a few other destinations you could do as much as 6 months in Central America, particularly if you get involved with some volunteering projects.

Border crossings are relatively pain free. You can normally do direct buses between destinations in different countries but it is much cheaper and more of an adventure to get a local bus to the border and cross on foot. There will always be buses to the nearest town at border posts.

It can easily be combined with our Backpacking Route for South America.


 Budget Accommodation in Central America

Central America is one of the most enjoyable regions to travel in and it has a really good hostel scene. Typically each of the destinations on our Central America backpacking route will have a few hostels (in the European sense of the word), one of which might be generally considered the main party hostel. A bit of research online or just from talking to other travellers and it should be quite easy to work out which one it is.

In addition to the hostels, there are lots more very small budget hotels or ‘hostals’ which are little more than homes converted so some rooms are available for daily rent. They may be better value if you are travelling as a couple or with friends but single travellers may prefer to opt for a dorm in one of the bigger hostels. Expect to be paying anything from $3-10/night for budget accommodation in these parts.

For more on prices in the region read about the cost of travel in Mexico and cost of travel in Costa Rica.


 This page was last updated in January 2017.