Panama, like much of the rest of Latin America, is socially conservative, with a vast majority of the population reported to be Roman Catholic. Thanks to the country’s history, more religions are present than in other parts of the region, but the combination of a largely Catholic cultural identity, marked economic stratification and other ingrained colonial legacies has produced a country and people who appreciate rules and accept established social castes. This is not to say, however, that Panamanian society is stagnant. The history of a US presence, widespread access to global media and entertainment, and relatively diverse demographics as well as recent economic expansion, have all contributed to making Panama a country familiar with change.

Macho attitudes, however, do prevail. For women travelling in Panama, unsolicited attention in the form of whistles and catcalls is almost inevitable, though easily ignored. Overall, the Caribbean and indigenous areas of Panama hold less macho and more relaxed attitudes, though revealing clothing is not tolerated (except on the beach). Though attitudes toward homosexuality are gradually softening – it was decriminalized in 2008 – by and large same-sex relationships are kept under wraps.

Tipping is only expected in more expensive places, where a tip is sometimes included in the final bill, or where service has been particularly good. It’s not usual to haggle in shops, but prices are more negotiable in markets, especially if you’re buying a lot, and you’ll often need to bargain when organizing transport by boat or pick-up truck.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Panama features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

16 pictures that show the colours of Panama

16 pictures that show the colours of Panama

After a recent trip to Central America, travel photographer Nori Jemil shares some of her best pictures of Panama.  The geographically strategic isthmus of …

30 Dec 2015 • Nori Jemil insert_drive_file Article
10 things you didn't know you could do in Panama

10 things you didn't know you could do in Panama

There’s a whole lot more to Panama than its famous canal. Hiking, rafting, surfing and diving are just a few of the excellent adventure activities on offer, a…

08 Sep 2015 • Megan Eileen McDonough insert_drive_file Article
A little piece of paradise: visiting Panama’s San Blas Islands

A little piece of paradise: visiting Panama’s San Blas Islands

Let’s clear one thing up straight away: getting to the San Blas islands is not easy, whichever way you’re coming from. And that’s quite deliberate. The…

23 Oct 2014 • James Rice insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month