Maps and Tourist Information
Tourist maps of Panama and Panama City are getting better, but even the best ones are instantly out of date. New roads, bridges, and buildings just go up too fast. The maps recommended here are widely available online, especially through online bookstores such as Amazon.com.
National Geographic’s Panama Adventure Map, (http://shop.nationalgeographic.com), part of its “adventureMAP” series, is the best map of the entire country. It’s especially useful for outdoorsy types, as it shows elevations clearly and marks all the protected areas.
A map entitled Panamá: Mapa Guía, put out by Distribudora Lewis in Panama, has easy-to-read street maps of Panama City, with insets of the areas of most interest to visitors, including Panamá la Vieja. There are also inset maps of David, Santiago, Chitré, and the Panama Canal. There’s a decent country map that highlights beaches, main roads, protected areas, and major towns. It’s quite useful and will meet the needs of most travelers.
International Travel Maps and Books (ITMB) has made good Panama maps in the past, but they are not updated frequently.
Every issue of the freebie tourist magazine Focus Panama contains fold-out maps of the country, Panama City, Colón, and David. The city maps aren’t terribly detailed, but they can be useful. The magazine is widely distributed to hotels, restaurants, and shops frequented by tourists.
Other maps of various quality are available in Panama, especially Panama City. Best bets in Panama City include Exedra Books, Librería Argosy, and El Hombre de la Mancha bookstores, Farmacia Arrocha drugstores, or Gran Morrison department-store outlets.
The Instituto Geográfico Nacional Tommy Guardia (Vía Simon Bolívar/Transístmica, tel. 236-2444 or 236-1844, fax 235-1841, www.mop.gob.pa, 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) in Panama City sells a wide variety of physical, political, and topographical maps of the country, including a nine-sheet 1:12,500 scale map just of Panama City. The prices are low, but most of its maps are too large and detailed to be of use to most visitors. Many of the more popular maps, including ones of central Panama City, are frequently unavailable. The place is affectionately known as “Tommy Guardia” and most taxi drivers should know it. It’s on the north side of the Transístmica directly across the street from the Universidad de Panamá. The Islamorada Internacional (Bldg. 808, Avenida Arnulfo Arias Madrid/Balboa Road, tel. 228-4348 or 228-6069, www.islamorada.com, 8 A.M.–5 P.M. Mon.–Fri.) store in Balboa is an excellent resource for those who need nautical charts.
Large-scale tourism is still a new concept for Panama, and getting good, accurate, and current tourist information in the country is not always easy. Take everything you read and hear with a grain of salt, as much of the material out there is more interested in promoting tourism and selling real estate than giving balanced information.
The best way to get current information on Panama before a trip is through the Internet. A good place to start is www.panamainfo.com, an enthusiastically pro-Panama-tourism site that consistently has the most up-to-date information of any of the overview sites. It’s written in both English and Spanish. Panama’s government tourism sites are www.visitpanama.com and www.atp.gob.pa. They contain some useful information, such as an updated schedule of festivals and holidays. For other websites, including umbrella sites for particular regions, see Internet Resources.
The Panamanian newspaper with the best and most extensive coverage of tourist destinations and promotional deals is La Prensa, a daily widely available throughout the country. It has a good website that gives free access to most of its content, including its archives: www.prensa.com.
Panama’s government tourism agency, the Instituto Panameño de Turismo (Panamanian Tourism Institute, international toll-free numbers listed on website, www.visitpanama.com), widely known as IPAT (EE-pat), provides little actual information to tourists. Each change of government brings new optimism that IPAT will be galvanized into action, usually with mixed results at best.
IPAT has both small information booths and massive tourist-information complexes known as CEFATIs (Centros de Facilidades Turísticas e Interpretación, which roughly translates to tourist and interpretative centers) dotted around the country. These sometimes have minimally informative printed information, but the attendants often know surprisingly little about the area’s attractions and rarely speak anything other than Spanish. CEFATIs are sometimes worth a visit for their displays on the history and culture of the given area.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition