Panama Trip Budget: Costs and Tips
After coming from budget-friendly Colombia, pricey Panama came as a bit of a shock! But there are ways to keep costs down here, and a trip here is worth every penny. Costa Rica is even pricier still, and probably would have stretched our budget too far. So we opted for a bit longer in Panama, and a quick stopover in Costa Rica (thankfully, we had already visited Costa Rica on a previous trip). Read on for my Panama trip budget, and my budget tips.
The currency in Panama is the US dollar (with their own unique coins). US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, and the country also has its own currency, the Costa Rican Colon. The exchange rate is roughly CRC500 to US$1.
Accommodation is more expensive in Panama City than in the rest of the country. Expect to pay around $14 for a dorm in the capital, and $10 elsewhere. A private room in Panama City cost us each $15, while a private room in Boquete cost us each $10.
We arrived in Panama via a tour of the San Blas islands. Transport to the mainland is not included in the price of most tours. We had to pay $20 for a boat trip, then $25 for a shared taxi to Panama City. There is also a $2 tax that everyone must pay on arrival on the mainland.
Buses throughout Panama cost roughly $2 per hour of travel. Our most expensive trip was crossing the border to Costa Rica, which cost $10 for a minibus to the border (one and a half hours), and $13 for a bus onwards to San Jose (five hours).
Panama Food and Drink
Supermarkets in Panama are very cheap, and most hostels have self-catering facilities, so Adam and I cooked for ourselves most days. When we did splurge on a meal in a restaurant, these cost around $6-10 each.
A bottle of local beer costs $2. Most bars and hostels have happy hours (some of which last most of the evening!), where beers cost just $1.
Panama Activities & Entrance Fees
Panama is filled with great options for independent activities. Though many parks and protected areas charge entrance fees, you can usually explore without the need for a guide or a tour.
In Boquete, we did the Three Waterfalls hike, which costs $7 to enter, plus $2.50 each way for the bus from Boquete town.
We also hiked independently in Soberanía National Park, just outside of Panama City, for just a $5 entrance fee.
My favourite area of Panama was the beautiful Bocas del Toro. There are many tours available to explore the islands, from around $25. But we opted to explore independently instead. (For a tour vs independent trip comparison, click here).
We spent just two nights in Costa Rica, on a stopover in San Jose. But even in this brief time we spent more than we planned. Picking up supplies in the supermarket was far more expensive than Panama, and a simple menú del día in a restaurant cost US$8.
We found a place to stay through Couchsurfing. Though San Jose was a very uninteresting city, our wonderful host made our stay a very enjoyable one.
Total Spent in Panama & Costa Rica
In total, we each spent $400 in 14 days (including our one day in Costa Rica). Unbelievably, this means were were under our $30 per day Panama trip budget, at just $28 per day. We managed this through sticking to independent activities, couch surfing in Costa Rica, and cooking for ourselves. Though of course, if you include our expensive San Blas tour this bumps our real cost up!
Panama Trip Budget Tips
Cook for yourself. Restaurants in Panama are fairly expensive, but many hostels have decent self catering facilities.
Avoid taking taxis, and use local transport where you can.
If you’re coming to or from Colombia, try to squeeze a San Blas tour into your Panama trip budget. They’re expensive, but totally worth it.
Stick to independent activities. There’s lots to do in Panama, and you can explore most places independently.
Seek out the happy hours! Most bars and hostels offer a 2 for 1 or half price happy hour every evening.
Got any budget travel tips? Be sure to share them in the comments!