Your Perfect Packing List for Panama City and Panama
- by Alden Wicker
- Oct 3, 2018
Panama, a tiny elbow that connects North to South America, is tropical and warm, plus pretty casual, so that makes packing light super easy and fun.
In fact, you only need one day in Panama City, so don’t get stressed about bringing fancy outfits. Instead, when you’re thinking about what to wear in Panama, focus on all the beaches, surfing, and hiking you’ll do!
(Here are my eco-friendly activities, hotels, and restaurant picks for Panama, plus a packing list specifically for the San Blas/Guna Yala islands.)
This is what you’ll want to pack if you want to look fashionable, but also want to be practical and comfortable. Because it’s easier to travel around Panama if you can fit everything into a carry-on, believe me!
For the Plane
I pick out my travel outfit for an eye to comfort, but also versatility.
- Black Sweatpants – You will love, love, love having sweatpants, for the airplane. But also, if you go the mountainous region, which can get chilly, these are great.
- Black hoodie
- Ably white t-shirt – Has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling!
- Sports bra with zippered pocket – My sports bra makes me feel even more safe from pickpocketing than a safety belt!
- Comfortable undies in natural fabric
- Wool socks – I love merino wool because it wicks away moisture and odor.
- Tennis shoes – by Allbirds
- Mini crossbody purse – I’ve started carrying a mini crossbody purse when I travel, because it gives me quick and secure access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack or exposing them to pickpocketers. O My Bag has a ton to choose from, and Marlow Goods has some great ones as well.
- Passport and Passport case – This passport case makes sure you know exactly where your visa, yellow fever vaccination (Nicaragua requires it if you’re coming from certain countries) and other travel documents are.
- Charging cord
- Mini wallet – There’s lots to choose from at O My Bag.
- Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses
This backpack stylistically can can go from the city to a hike! Plus it’s waterproof – great for downpours.
- Earbuds – traditional jack for laptop/airplane console, and a dongle if you have the newest iPhone
- Portable phone charging battery
- Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
- (Optional, of course) Macbook Pro and charger
- Matador lens bag and camera bag – these are water resistant and cushion your stuff for when you’re bumping around on a backroad.
- Moleskine and pen
- Chico reusable bag with stuff sack – for picking up plastic on the beach
- Wide mouth insulated bottle – Whether you can refill this from the tap with water depends on where you are (well water at a villa in Playa Maderas, sure! In Granada, probably not), but this one is also great for porting hot tea or coffee around, or even taking your pina colada to go!
- SPF chapstick
- Hand sanitizer – You might find yourself in a public bathroom wherever doesn’t have any soap available. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to pet a friendly stray cat or dog!
- Portable spork – so you don’t have to use disposable one. Make sure it’s plastic or wood (not metal) so it doesn’t get confiscated by airport security. Or get a bamboo travel set from Life Without Plastic.
- Reusable straw – Most drinks don’t need straws, but mojitos and coconuts do!
- Pack of tissues – this isn’t for your nose, so don’t think I’m advocating this over a reusable handkerchief. It’s for bathroom emergencies.
- Matador droplet wet bag – Whether it’s rainy season, or you’re on a small boat on your way to an island, this will be handy.
In Your Suitcase
- 1 bathing suit – Check out all of Azura Bay’s ethical and sustainable swimwear.
- 1 rash guard suit – for surfing! Check out Greenlee, Koru Swimwear, or Abysse.
- Reversible washable tie top – Tie it in the back and it’s a lovely top that goes with any bottom, from jeans to a skirt. Tie it in the front and it’s super sexy. It seems to be sold out at Elizabeth Suzanne, but Whimsy & Row has a linen version.
- Par en Par robe/dress – I can wear this as a beach cover up, a dress, or a robe. Having a robe on hand is so helpful!
- Par en Par culottes – modest, fashionable, and comfortable, they’re super versatile, from the beach to a restaurant.
- Kayu clutch — a great clutch to grab and go, no matter what you’re wearing.
- Linen long-sleeved button down – Tradland has some great new versions.
- Long wrap dress that doubles as a beach coverup – You can wear this at a resort or to dinner in Panama City. Pondicherie makes a beautiful one.
- Denim shorts – Urban outfitters has a ton of vintage reworked denim shorts
- Caftan dress – So great for the beach when you don’t feel like sucking in, but want to look easy and breezy. Or at night against mosquitos. I love this one at Accompany.
- MATTER pants – A must for traveling!
- Organic cotton yoga leggings by PACT at Azura Bay – Great for just wearing around, or for the yoga you’ll do in San Juan del Sur.
- 2 tanks in black and white – For layering under your day outfit or for a hot hike. I like PACT at Azura Bay
- 3 bras and 8 pairs of underwear. Here’s my 5 rules for packing undies for travel.
- Cute yoga pants and matching cute yoga top at Azura Bay – Again, you will want to do some yoga!
- Sarong – Great as a cover up, towel, or beach blanket. I got mine in India from Anokhi, but of course you can get these anywhere!
- Lightweight pajamas – You might not consider yourself a hostel person, but you might find yourself in one in the San Blas/Guna Yala islands or at the Kalu Yala eco village, so you can’t always sleep naked! I like these because they’re light and soft and adorable, or these. Or you could go with simple PJ shorts for something smaller and more packable. (Both from Azura Bay)
- Beach-y jewelry – You want to wear something cute, but not too pricey or bling-y! I love the selection at Azura Bay, which is made for the beach!
- Lightweight scarf – For wrapping around your neck, and your beach hair. I love ones from Lokah.
- Pons Avarcas walking sandals in camel brown – These last forever and are super comfortable and versatile.
- Fancier sandals – I always bring my cork and gold Jack Rogers on beach trips. And you can wear them well in Panama City for dinner. They aren’t sustainable or ethical, but I’ve had for at least nine years now and they are still going strong. #30wears, y’all is a sustainable way to go.
- Chila Bag from Noa Trade – You can flat pack this in your suitcase but it holds a lot! I got the camel brown one, which goes with my Pons Avarcas.
- Brimmed hat – Wyldaire makes foldable, packable, eco-friendly hats that are great for the city or the beach.
- Baseball cap – For sunny, athletic days.
- Teva’s or other watershoes that strap on – Not just for hiking or waterfalls, also helpful with it’s raining buckets!
- Travel yoga mat – So you can get a good long stretch in every morning, regardless of where you are. I fold mine up and pack it inside the suitcase
- Casual watch
- PurSteam traveling iron/steamer – this thing is tiny, but crucial!
- Solar lamp by Luci – Perfect for taking a night walk along the beach. It’s more of a lamp than a flashlight, so you can eat by it or read by it without getting light into your companion’s eyes. The new one has a USB charger so you can charge it up or charge your phone.
- Luggage locks – Bring two! When you’re in a glamping situation with no safe in your tent or at a hostel, you can put one on your suitcase and one on the tent zippers when you step out.
If You’re Going to the Mountains
Panama has some mountainous regions that are great for hiking, but also are a bit cooler. Here’s what to add if you’re going there:
- Rain jacket with hood by Marmot – Is light and folds up tiny. I was so glad we had one when it was unseasonably rainy.
- Patagonia athletic shorts – It’s good to have two pairs so you can wash and dry one while you wear the other, if you go hiking two days in a row on Ometepe.
- Trail running shoes – A friend packed her heavy hiking boots and never used them. But these pack up really small and served me well on volcanoes and on a muddy trail in a cloud forest. In black, these aren’t super dork-y looking. Just add wool socks to make them warm in cold weather and dry quickly if you have to tramp through a stream, like we did in Matagalpa.
- Long-sleeved tee – Technically this is a base layer for hiking, but it’s cute enough to wear in the city or at night against mosquitos.
- Uniqlo ultra light down jacket – This comes with a stuff sack, so you can easily pack it in your suitcase or backpack when you’re not using it. When it’s on, however, it’s pretty warm. If you don’t want to buy Uniqlo, Ecoalf makes an alternative, but I can’t vouch for how small it gets for packing purposes.
- Warmer PJs – A young female farmer told us we would want long underwear in Matagalpa. She was right! I love this long-sleeved romper, which you can wear under your sweatpants.
- A yummy sweater
In Your Toiletry Bag
- Bugspray – My absolute favorite
- Sunscreen – Here’s my guide to non-toxic sunscreen
- Dr. Bronner travel sized – Great for if the place you are staying doesn’t provide hand soap, or if you need to wash your clothes in the sink.
- Argan oil – I can’t live without argan oil for making my hair shiny and frizz-free, plus sealing in moisture on my face after a shower.
- Coola Tinted SPF BB cream – This is my absolute favorite tinted SPF moisturizer. It’s not too thick and makes your face glow!
- Micellar water – I love traveling with Micellar water, because you don’t need to use water for it. I like Yes to Cucumbers, which you can find in the travel size in your local CVS or Walgreens.
- Reusable cotton rounds
- Night face cream
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste – I have to admit, mine is plastic, because I wanted a compact toothbrush with a protective cap.
- Deodorant – here’s my roundup of my favorites.
- Mini hair brush
- Shower bag – Having all my shower stuff in a separate bag is crucial to ensure I don’t leave things behind in the shower. I consolidated everything for a side trip to the eco village, and guess what: I left several things behind in the shower.
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Multipurpose soap – This one by Akamai is amazing for shaving as well as cleansing.
- Safety razor and razor blades – I switched to this because it’s easier to find razor blade replacements abroad then the fancy heads that come with whatever fancy razor blade you can get from your drugstore in the U.S. It’s also less wasteful and less expensive, and the replacements take up no room.
- Hair elastics
- Reusable metal nail file – great for both filing and digging crud out from under your nails. I’ve lost mine and I’m desperately searching for another.
- 1 lip tint – Something more subtle and beach appropriate
- Ear plugs – Get them on a string so you don’t lose them when they fall out