Like anywhere else you’re going to avoid certain things or you’re going to have a preference for certain things. The worst is to put yourself in a situation where you’re surrounded by poverty and there are pockets of Panama that are severely poor. Unless you’re there for some sociological reason, there’s no reason to be there.
One of the worst places that I have been in Panama and you cannot help but be there if you want to go to Bocas del Toro because it is the port Almirante, from which you get the boat to Bocas town and Bocas del Toro. People vacation in Bocas from all over the world, but they all have to wait for their ferries to get there at this hideous town. The bus passes through there and it’s terrible to see how the people are living and of course it looks like the only job that really keeps them going is bringing people to the bus and the ferry in taxis. And that whole area coming over the mountain from the west side of Panama over to the east side to Bocas (which is close to Costa Rica), is disappointing. Once you start going down the mountain toward the coastline, there are so many sad looking towns. These areas have been ignored and I am very happy to hear that the present government is now starting to invest and develop these towns that host so many people from all over the world passing through en route to Bocas del Toro, unless they fly there.
Other than that, there are pockets throughout the country that will be getting more attention as tourism develops and the economy includes local and indigenous people. When foreigners see these areas, they speak of Panama as being Third World, but I don’t think of Panama as Third World. I live in one of many fine communities on the coast. Public transportation is great. The roads are great. The infrastructure is great. Panama City has everything. There are pockets that require much more investment and infrastructure but this is not a Third World country by a long shot. I can point out 3rd world pockets in the USA too, as is well known.
Going down the coast on the Atlantic side of the country is Portobello, which is an historic town that draws busloads of tourists but still very poor. There’s not enough work. If you go into the grocery store it’s dark, damp and full of old canned goods. I know this area of Panama is changing, and really needs to.
These are key tourist spots that bring many foreigners but they really epitomize the inattention paid to certain communities of Panama that are suffering and their suffering is apparent.
(Almirante, Panama, pictured.)