Is It Safe In Panama?

By BobbyRica | September 23, 2010

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When a newbie thinks of Panama, they would immediately think that the country is rough and scary. You walk the streets and you would find a bunch of thugs lusting after your wallet. These scenarios are always easy to imagine especially when movies have shown Central America to be a hotbed for violence and crime. Panama seem to have this absurd reputation that it’s a danger zone. Maybe because the country is situated near the more notoriously militant (and insanely dangerous) Columbia that Panama becomes guilty by association. But I assure, this is not true.

Once you’ve step foot here, you realize that Panama is a peaceful and mellow place. It’s probably more safe here than other bigger bustling cities in the States. Law enforcement has a tight grip on crime. Theft, assault, and other crimes are quickly dealt with and are not tolerated. Perpetrators who aren’t citizens are immediately deported and are not allowed to reenter the country.

Since the Panama Canal has been opened and more Americans have settled here, Panama had cleaned up its act and has become a haven for law-abiding people. It had to. Panama needed to recreate itself as a stable and welcoming environment in order to inspire investment confidence to countries who have and will have vested interested in the Panama Canal.

But then it would foolish not to say that there are places you should be cautious with, let alone avoid. I have discovered that Panama’s second biggest city, Colon, is one to stay away from, especially if you’re not used to these kinds of neighborhoods. Unemployment and poverty have made this city unsafe for tourists. I had a friend who visited his former employee there, and was jumped by three guys thirty minutes after he stepped down from the bus. So when he told me about it, I always steer clear of Colon unless it was necessary.

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Besides Colon, Panama is usually a fun and non-threatening place to be. That’s why it’s the perfect vacation destination. When you cruise around the residential area, you would most likely notice most houses have bars on the windows. Don’t be alarmed though. Old habits die hard, as they say. During the time Panama was part of Columbia, this was one among many security measures made by households to keep criminal elements away. Nowadays, there is always tight security and usually gated communities all around. And those bars’ function are more of nostalgia than actual function.

You shouldn’t feel intimidated by the people. Panamanians are generally friendly, warm and always willing to help someone in need, especially if they get to know you. Though, I find that city folk diffident and rude, there are largely tolerable. But when you visit to the provinces, you will love the locals. They best embody the generous spirit of Panama.

As someone who can be paranoid, Panama — especially Panama City — is a great place to wander around with friends. It is extremely safe. One little thing though, just don’t go traipsing around Chorillo and the Casco Viejo area. You’ll thank me later.

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Like visiting any foreign place, do exercise caution. Even if I say that Panama is extremely safe, there will always be bad elements lurking in the background. That being said, always keep your valuables hidden or stashed away in the hotel safe. Keep money, travellers checks, and credit cards on separate pockets. Always place cellphones securely in your clothing. Don’t just give personal information about yourself to someone you don’t know. Don’t parade your jewelry around for everyone to see (and steal). In fact, you’re better off chucking them out — especially jewelry — in your bedroom table before you hit the tarmac.

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