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Downtown Panama City, home to many global corporate offices (CNW Group/North American Travellers Association) Charity worker distributes food to people in Panama City (CNW Group/North American Travellers Association) Casco Viejo, a Panama City neighborhood recently made famous by Instagrammers and content creators (CNW Group/North American Travellers Association) Downtown Panama City, home to many global corporate offices (CNW Group/North American Travellers Association) Charity worker distributes food to people in Panama City (CNW Group/North American Travellers Association) Casco Viejo, a Panama City neighborhood recently made famous by Instagrammers and content creators (CNW Group/North American Travellers Association)
BLUE SPRINGS, Mo., Sept. 14, 2021 /PRNewswire/ - Panama is a popular tourist spot amongst Americans, and with some good reason. Instagram photos and travel blogs show off the best of its picturesque Pacific and Caribbean beaches, but there's an untold story lurking just behind that beauty.

History buffs enjoy its Spanish heritage, and its lush rainforests attract throngs of visitors every year. However, its crowd-pulling natural beauty features has recently led to a rather notorious reputation, and one that international authorities are starting to warn travelers against.

The Colombian rebel gangs and drug trafficking groups have used Panamanian rainforests as their hideouts for decades, but in recent years their strongholds have extended to the local governments. Reports of human rights violations, corrupt officials and violence against women and LGBTQ+ people have led US State department to assign Panama a Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory (source: travel.state.gov).

Some areas to particularly avoid when traveling to Panama are listed below:
  • Madden Dam and Colon for their drug activity and street crime
  • Darien Gap, close to the Columbian border, for its guerrilla groups, drug traffickers, and limited police force
  • The Mosquito Gulf for its inaccessibility by American authorities to provide support to American citizens on visit
  • Panama City: El Chorrillo, Curundú, and San Miguelito, which have strict curfews due to its high crime rates
  • The nearby water bodies, especially if you find floating packages while on a boat trip, which are likely to be drugs or other illicit materials

Poor Political Scene and Human Rights Regulations

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Inefficient law enforcement and poor regulations, an under-educated workforce, labor issues, and corruption have created socioeconomic issues in this Presidential Republic.

Political demonstrations around the University and Parliament in Panama City are common and are known to get violent. Bribes, and inadequate property titling prove the judicial system to be lacking. Panama has a history of violations of basic human rights, especially against vulnerable members of society like women and the LGBTQ community.

Same-sex marriages are not generally accepted in society and displays of same sex affection can attract unwanted attention and, in some cases, police intervention. In recent times, people who are transgender have reported various forms of harassment by security forces and the government, and many have been forced to shelter at home for several months due to fear of public humiliation and ridicule.

10 things to consider before traveling to Panama
  1. Panama is rife with muggers who lurk around busy public areas like tourist hot spots and shopping hubs like Avenida Central and Casco Viejo in Panama City, looking for gullible tourists.
  2. Pickpockets are also commonly found at public transportation stops. Ensure you keep your wallets in your front pockets and hold your bags in front of your chest to have it in view at all times.
  3. It pays to be vigilant with your cash and credit cards. Use your hotel's safe, money belts and dummy wallets for safety. If you need to withdraw cash, use an ATM preferably within a bank in a populated area and during the day. Avoid looking and acting like a tourist.
  4. Lock your vehicle's doors when you're driving. Never leave cash or other expensive items in your vehicle when you're not in it.
  5. Account for heavy traffic when in Panama City. Very few people follow rules, infrastructure is poor and construction work is commonplace.
  6. Always opt for registered companies when hiring cabs and dissuade the drivers from helping hitchhikers.
  7. Travel in big groups when possible and always carry your passport as you'll never know when you need it and could be jailed for not having it on your person.
  8. Be very cautious of who you talk to or move with. Getting caught with even a tiny amount of drugs or with someone who has drugs in their possession can get you jailed for up to 15 years.
  9. The Panama Bay is polluted with industrial waste and sewage. It is best to avoid swimming there. Besides the pollution, dangerous tides and a lack of warning signposts make swimming a risky affair.
  10. Do not leave your home without the necessary documents. When traveling to Panama, all Americans need to have a three-month valid passport from the date of arrival into the country and a two-way ticket back home. An American traveler will also need to show cash of $500, a clean record of zero criminal activity, and a negative HIV result.

Additional resources:
SOURCE North American Travellers Association

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