U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers do not need to obtain visas, report to customs, or pay any fees. U.S. citizens piloting private craft through the canal should contact the U.S. Embassy in Panama City for details on required procedures.
Travel beyond Yaviza towards the Colombian border is possible only by foot and is risky for individual travelers or small groups. This information also pertains to the Ancon Nature Preserve at Cana in the Darien National Park, due to its proximity to the Colombian border and possible cross-border activity by Colombian rebels.
From time to time, there may be demonstrations or other manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While there is no evidence that U.S. citizens might be targeted (most demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues) and while such protests are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. For updated Security information, contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section.
On the Pacific coast, boaters should steer clear of Coiba Island, which houses a penal colony, and be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics northward from Colombia. Similarly, boaters should avoid the southeastern coast of Comarca de San Blas, south of Punta Carreto.
With the 1999 departure of the U.S. military from Panama, local maritime search and rescue capabilities are greatly diminished.
A curfew for minors under 18 years of age has been in effect throughout Panama City since October 1996. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a carnet, or permit, issued by the school or, if employed, a Certificate of Employment. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents or legal guardians can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to U.S. $50.00 for the violation.
The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips For Travelers to Central and South America, are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair
Flooding during the rainy season, which lasts from April to December, washes out some roads in the interior and renders others impassable by car. In addition, roads in the interior are often poorly maintained and lack illumination at night. Road travel is more dangerous during the rainy season, and in the interior from Carnival through Good Friday (Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days; from Ash Wednesday there are 40 days to Good Friday). On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult, and should be approached with caution. Buses and taxis are not always maintained in safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack of effective signs and traffic signals. Auto insurance is not mandatory and many drivers are uninsured. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate.
The Pan American Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama, and the final portion from Chepo to Yaviza is reasonably passable only during the dry season (January-April). If destined for South America, automobile travelers may wish to ship their cars on a freighter. (The auto/ passenger ferry service "Crucero Express" ceased operations in early 1997.)
Only Tocumen International Airport, serving Panama City, maintains airport security measures known to meet international standards. Security measures at domestic commuter fields serving popular travel destinations such as Colon, Contadora Island, Bocas Del Toro and the San Blas Islands are lax.
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