Skip to main content

Level 4 travel advisory

The US Department of State Travel Advisory bulletin for US Citizens, has indicated that there are two areas within the country of Panama that have been evaluated as increased risk (Level 4):  Parts of the Mosquito Gulf and Parts of the Darién Region.  Criminal elements and drug and human trafficking networks operate in these areas. Police presence and emergency response are extremely limited.

The instruction associated to a Level 4 area is: Do Not Travel.

Areas within Level 4 for are as follows:

Parts of Darien:

  1. All areas south of Jaque to Manene to Yaviza to Lajas Blancas cities to the Colombian border
  2. The city of Lajas Blancas
  3. The city of El Salto

Darien Level 4

Parts of the Mosquito Gulf:

The “Mosquito Gulf” is an extremely remote and inaccessible area along part of the north (Caribbean) coast.

Do not travel within 10 miles of the coastline, from Boca de Rio, Chiriqui to Cocle del Norte. Drug trafficking and other illicit activities occur in this area.

Golfo Level 4

No STRI scientist, visiting scientist, intern, fellow or STRI personnel should travel to these areas without a written authorization from STRI Security Office and the STRI Director, which will be issued based on the criticality of your investigation in regards of STRI Mission. Please contact STRI Office of Protection Services, OPS if you have any question or want to initiate a request to do research at those areas.

Carry appropriate identification

Anyone not bearing identification at all times, including visitors, can be penalized by the Panamanian authorities. While in Panama, carry either your original passport or a copy of your passport, including the page with the Panama Immigration entry stamp and/or the valid stamped visa, your STRI ID, and a valid photo I.D. such as a driver’s license.

Cellphones

Carrying a cell phone is an excellent way to have access to assistance in case of an emergency (except in Fortuna and other remote areas). Inexpensive cell phones are readily available in Panama. A number of companies provide pre-paid packages. Check which companies provide service in the areas you are likely to visit, before making a purchase.

Embassies and Consulates

Check if your country has a registration process for visitors to Panama. Often embassies or consulates have programs to help keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. US Citizens may enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Field Trips away from STRI facilities

Security conditions for prospective field trips should be verified through the Security Office at STRI-SECURITY@si.edu. The Security Office can help you develop options and strategies for the trip.

Driving in Panama

Driving in Panama is often dangerous and difficult due to heavy traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained roads and a shortage of effective signs and traffic signals. On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult and should be approached with caution.

Travelers should carry identification with them at all times and be prepared to stop for unannounced checkpoints throughout the country, especially at night. Current Panamanian law allows foreigners to drive in Panama using their foreign driver’s license for a period of only 90 days. Visitors staying for longer periods should contact the Office of External Affairs at the Tupper 6th floor. Using a cell phone or drinking an alcoholic beverage while driving, and driving while intoxicated are illegal and carry hefty penalties. Panamanian law also requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.

Bikes

Riding your bicycle in the streets in Panama City is not recommended.

Buses

In Panama City, the modern Metrobus system began operation in 2011. Nonetheless, some of the older school-bus type buses called Diablos Rojos or “Red Devils” are still in operation. These are privately owned and may not comply with modern safety standards. Traveling by bus to areas outside of Panama City is efficient and affordable, making accessibel many locations around the country. All buses in Panama City depart from the Albrook Bus Terminal.

Taxis

Whenever possible, you should call a taxi in advance and arrange a pick-up rather that hailing one on the street. There have been incidents of serious assault, some involving taxi drivers. It is advisable to travel accompanied by someone you know and not to sit on the front seat. It is common for taxis to pick up multiple unrelated passengers. However, you can negotiate to have a private ride, at an increased price. The city is divided into zones to determine taxi fares, and drivers are required to have such a map (though many do not).

Air Travel

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Panama’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/iasa/