Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Panama Cruise and Hotel Vacation Tips

Isla Colon is the main beach destination at Bocas del Toro. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Isla Colon is the main beach destination at Bocas del Toro. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The Panama Canal dominates all other attractions for cruise and hotel visitors to this Central American country.

The Caribbean coast of Panama is not known for beach vacations. It is mainly known for cruise ships that visit the eastern entrance of the Panama Canal. But this narrow Central American country does have at least one vibrant destination for beach vacations.

Bocas del Toro is a province in Panama consisting of a mainland and nine main islands. Isla Colon has the most hotels clustered on the eastern shore of the island.

Unfortunately, Bocas del Toro is not easy to reach. One common way is a flight into Panama City and from there another flight for about an hour to an hour and a half on a small plane to Bocas del Toro.

Otherwise, the Panama Canal dominates any travel tips for this Central American country because the canal attracts so many cruise visitors from both Pacific and Caribbean cruises.

Panama also is unique because there are three ways of visiting it by cruise. They are a western Caribbean cruise that stops at Colon, a Pacific coast cruise that stops at Panama City and a Panama Canal cruise that goes from one side of the country to the other. Panama Canal cruises may begin from either the western or eastern coasts of the United States.

Our own visit via a Caribbean cruise took us on an excursion to the canal locks and Gatun Lake for some kayaking.


The canal itself of course is the biggest attraction in the country. Anyone taking a Caribbean cruise can see the Gatun Locks, which lead into Lake Gatun. Visitors taking a Pacific cruise can see the Miraflores Locks, which are near Panama City.

Lake Gatun is a major attraction on the Caribbean side because of kayaking, fishing, Monkey Island and other things to do.

Panama City is the major attraction on the Pacific side because of its historical attractions. It is possible for passengers on Caribbean cruises to take a shore excursion from Colon to Panama City because they are only about one hour apart.


Panama monthly rainfall
Average rainfall by month for Panama City. © Scott S. Bateman

Panama’s climate is cooler on the Caribbean side than the Pacific side. Average high temperatures on the Caribbean side hover in the upper 80s to near 90 degrees Fahrenheit most months. On the Pacific side, temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for most months.

Rainfall is much heavier on the Caribbean side than the Pacific side, especially at Bocas del Toro. Rain is heaviest in the fall months and lightest in late winter.

The rainy season runs from May to January.

Tourism / When to Go

The best time to visit Panama is in the spring months of the year, especially for anyone taking a canal cruise. April is an ideal month because of the combination of low rainfall and warm but not hot temperatures.

Anyone taking a Caribbean or Pacific coast cruise that includes stops other than Panama might be lucky enough to avoid rain during their visit.

Currency / Tipping

The economy is dollar-based and U.S. dollars are widely accepted.

Plan to tip 10 percent in restaurants if the service is acceptable. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.

Culture / Geography

The largest ethnic group is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white). Spanish is the official language, but English speakers are common.

The interior is rugged and mountainous. The country is slightly smaller than South Carolina.

Passports / Embassy

Anyone returning to the United States will require proof of citizenship. It is highly recommended by the U.S. State Department that U.S. citizens visiting Panama have a passport in case of problems while in the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Panama is located at Edificio 783, Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas, Clayton, Panama City (tel: 507-317-5000).

More Information


Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
March 11, 2024

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