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Safety concerns about Panama

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Thunder Bay
2 posts
1 review
Safety concerns about Panama

If you are travelling to Panama be warned that the Pan American Highway is very dangerous. There have been on-going protests in Panama regarding the hwy, especially around the town of Chorrera where there have been dozens of fatal accidents in the past 3 years, most involving multiple fatalities. This highway is unavoidable as it is the main route through the country to resorts and attactions. There is almost no enforcement of driving laws, many people drive without a license or insurance and drunk driving is common. Also the road design and maintenance is terrible. My daughter and 6 others where killed near Chorrera, while on their vacation, just one of 23 fatal accidents in 2 years in this short stretch of the highway near Chorrera. There have been several more accidents there since their death in August 2004 and 3 more young men were killed in the same location on the anniversary date of our daughter's death. Avoid day tours as you will travel the hwy to get there. Our family has done alot of research on this and have visited the accident site. If you must go to Panama stay at the resort. you will have to pass by Chorrera from the airport to the beach resort areas. It is not safe! Foreign Affairs Canada website warns of the dangers but the warnings are understated as they are based on Canadian deaths. My advice is don't go to Panama. No travel company or day tour company or resort will accept any responsibility or liability for anything that goes wrong and Panama authorities will not lay cause for accidents occuring around Chorrera as the non-existent maintenance of the highway is an issue in the country. Resorts look great in the pictures but the infrastructure of the country is more dangerous than any travel agent or tour company will admit. Just because you book at trip with a Canadian tour company at a reputable travel agent does not make the location safe. Also be advised that the DeCameron resort is owned by Columbian businessmen. The resort will not accept responsibility if anything happens to you on a day tour, nor will the travel companies or the day tour provider. Our girls were not warned of the very real dangers of travel in Panama. You are.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Level Contributor
619 posts
17 reviews
1. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

I am terribly sorry for your loss. I'm a trauma surgeon in the U.S., grew up in Panama and visit often. Roads in Panama are not up to U.S. standards, I agree. Having said that, highway related fatalities in Panama are 0.13/1000 pop. vs 0.16/1000 pop. in the U.S. per year (significantly higher in the U.S.). This statistics include pedestrians, which are an important portion of traffic related fatalities in Panama. I also see trauma victims everyday in the U.S., almost all of them intoxicated, many of them teenagers. 15, 16 and 17 year-olds can drive LEGALLY in the U.S. and are responsible for an important part of traffic related injuries and fatalities. Legal driving age in Panama is 18. We also have to share the highways in the U.S. with a much higher number of trucks/18 wheelers, and there is no way of protecting any regular size car from a collision with a vehicle of that size and weight.

Are roads in Panama dangerous? Definitively. But not more so than in the U.S. Infrastructure can and should be improved, but it is much better than surrounding countries in that region.

1 post
2. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

Dear Mrs. or Mr.

My name is Guillermo Ameglio, I am a Panamanian, age 35, resident of Panama, married to an American-Panamanian. I read your post, and I am forced as a Panamanian to respond to your words. First of all, I am very sorry about your loss. I know, I understand and I share with you the frustration of such an incident. I lost my father in an airplane crash in 1993, flying to Medellin, Colombia (SAM Airlines). Second, due to my business and studies (I went to College in the US, did a masters in the US and in the UK), I've lived in many "developed" countries, such as the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Austria, and even, other latin american countries, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina and Brasil. With this information, I DO HAVE a sound base to compare and judge objectively above all. Third, I think it is not just to use deficiencies in infrastructure as an excuse to say "Don't come to Panama". In this sense, there is no doubt that your recommendation is biased. It is as if because my father died in a SAM Airline going towards Colombia (not Columbia, by the way), "Don't go to Colombia". Fourth, the fact that Panama is an underdeveloped country, with highway deficiencies, doesn't deterred tourists that come "aware" of this condition. Don't forget, Panama has the highest growth of tourism in the area. Have you wonder why? Well because we still have green beauty, nature, true liberty, and not a "perfect" Wanna' be bubble world, full of concrete, where your life is run by the government; and HERE you still can really choose to do whatever you want without anybody complaining. This is the dream of most Canadians, Americans, Europeans, and Asians, and they find it here. Fifth, ��what about the deficiencies of your country? Is it fair to say that because you have the highest rate of homicides, rapists, maniacs, wacos' per capita, I should not go to Canada or the US? ��What about your racial and religious frictions among your own population? Do Blacks really share with whites and jews with arabs in your country? NO. We don't have that problem here at the level it happens in yours. Thus, because of this, I should not visit your country? Again, your argument is not only biased, but has an ethnocentric discriminative touch. Sixth, for your information, my family has a house in Costa Esmeralda Beach, and also in El Valle de Anton. We have been going there for the last 25 years, pasing by Chorrera, through the Panamericana highway, as most panamanians also enjoy. The secret, drive carefully. Now, can an accident happen? yes. Like it can happen in a Miami highway. Also, if you check your accident/mortality rate per capita in such cities, are higher than ours. Why? Here you must drive with your 5 senses, whereas, there you are an automaton' trusting the system. But this is the uniqueness of life: probabilities. Trust me, the very powerful force and entity we call God, decided to take your daughter and my father. What can we do? Accept it. These are the tests of daily living and the purpose of comming to this experience we call life. We don't get to choose. Conclusion: Panama is not perfect, like there is no perfection in any country. It is beautiful and colorful. Like any other country, avoid risky neighbourhoods, just like you would do in Canada and the US. Use your prudence and common sense, which are the best tools to protect you, specially when you may be used to count on the protection of the establishment. WELCOME TO PANAMA! For the person who wrote the message, I invite you to stay at our beach house any time, and I'll drive you there so you feel "safer". You'll change your mind and fall in love with Panama. My best wishes for you.

Level Contributor
65 posts
2 reviews
3. Re: Safety concerns about Panama


I am a Panamanian Lawyer that lives in Panama. I am 30 years old and I´ve studied in the United States and I´ve also had the opportunity to visit and drive through many countries in Central America and Europe.

Accidents do occur and everyone is expossed, any time, anywhere.

I´ve seen many fatal accidents in the highways of Miami and New Orleans (during Mardi Gras), and I´ve lost friends in car accidents in Panama and in the United States.

The Pan American Highway that crosses Panama from east to west, is as dangerous as ANY ROAD OR HIGHWAY anywhere in the world. Panama does not have the highways or the infraestructure that most places in the United States and Europe have, but compared to those in the Central American region, our highways are upstanding. They do need maintenance but overall is very safe to drive in the Republic of Panama. We do have a beautiful, modern City, and a beautiful and diverse country side.

My family also has a beach house in Gorgona and in Costa Esmeralda, (Pacific Side of Panama), and we travel a lot to Isla Grande in Colon (Atlantic side of Panama). My family drives back and forth from the City almost every weekend, even before I was born. As you can read from the other messages, it´s very usual to Panamanians to drive on weekends to visit their beach houses or their relatives in the interior of the Republic. You do have to be very careful, drive wisely, at a reasonable speed, and ask for directions, as you would ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Just stay out of dangerous neighborhoods, and visit the great places that we have to offer. If it were for the Probability Law, we wouldn´t even leave our house. Not all terrorism acts in the world, and the weather changes and casualties (tsunami, freezing temperatures, etc.) have stopped tourist to travel.

In Panama you will find people from around the world and from many races, so we are used to foreign visitors, and we try to give the best of country, so visitors will feel welcome. The Colombians, the Germans, the Americans, the Jews, the Arabs, etc... have come to Panama, and have fallen in love with our country, so they are investing in hotels, restaurants, department stores, and now they are choosing our country to retire, due to excellent hospitals, professionals, great food, reasonable cost of living, security, etc.

Panama is a small country and everyone "knows" everyone, so do ask for references.

Clayton Panama
13 posts
4. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

I regret your loss and understand your need to vent your frustration but lets put things into perspective. The driving habits of the average Panamanian are pretty terrible, the signage is not what you may be used to at home but if you keep your eyes open, drive defensively and your car is in good shape, Panama's roads are just fine. I've lived in Costa Rica for many years and I can say from experience the roads in Panama are a lot safer because there are almost no potholes. In Costa Rica you needed a serious motorbike so your front wheel would not disappear suddenly in a pot hole. Now I can drive a scooter again (small wheels) because I've identified all the potholes in the city on one hand.

Panama is a gorgeous country. Don't stay in a resort all day, go out, explore, visit San Blas, see the awesome Canal at Miraflores, enjoy the breeze at Amador Causeway, party at night, enjoy great food at low prices.

Bad things can happen anywhere. One bad experience should not taint all of Panama.

Syracuse, New York
Level Contributor
370 posts
75 reviews
5. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

I too am sorry for your loss.

Gosh, how many times should I have died in transit in all the Latin American countries I've visited? Maybe I was a cat in a former life?

And how many times do I hear about people in this small town (especially my high school students) here in upstate New York getting into accidents?

Panama was great! I just spent this past New Year's eve there and recommend the country to anyone wanting to go. Just (like anywhere) be very careful/aware of where you are and get out of any situation in which you don't feel comfortable. (Like once in Ecuador where the swervy/drowsy driver convinced me to get off an 8-hour overnight bus ride during the rest stop and then I just waited hours till the next one came by. Definitely worth the extra 8 bucks!)

Costa Rica
4 posts
1 review
6. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

VEry respectfully, I will say that, as a person living in Costa Rica, the highways here are much more dangerous than in Panama. When we go to Panama, by comparison, Panama's roads feel luxurious and so much safer. There are some bad spots I noticed, where it seemed like near chorrera the road wasn't really designed for the speed at that point.

But, on average in Costa Rica we see 2 of 3 accidents a day, many caused by faulty roads, and every couple of months we hear of someone killed in traffic that we know directly or indirectly. It is truly a public health problem. Panama has invested a great deal in its roads and bridges, but nowhere matches the standards of North America and europe, to be sure.

Although Panama still appears 3rd world in some respects, it is far, far ahead of its neighbor Costa Rica in looking after the welfare of its citizens with road-building and maintenance.

As the person starting this post pointed out, it is true that in Central America, if you get hurt you are basically on your own. Judges, at least in CR, look with scorn at a liability plaintiff. Panama appears much better on safety design overall, actually. Whatever one's view on liability lawsuits, as a result of them the US is MUCH safer. There are tradeoffs...the US packs much more danger of interpersonal violence - especially confrontations based on road rage, bar encounters, etc.

Bottom line: when you are in Central America, you are your own safety net, your own backup. If your children are injured at a hotel, nobody will accept responsibility. IF the ambulance doesn't come to an accident scene for a long time, there is no recourse.

12 posts
7. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

Dear panamadontgo,

I'm sorry for your lost. It is not an echo of what others have said. I can't imagine how sad and frustrated you are.

I think you say "Don't go to Panama!" because you need to blame someone for what happened, and that is OK. That's the way you manage the deep pain you are feeling.

The sad truth is accidents can happen anytime, anywhere, no matter where you are.

I think Panama is one of the safer contries in Latin America, though.

las vegas
Level Contributor
24 posts
9 reviews
8. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

To Any Panama Visitors,

I have traveled to Panama and find it a wonderful place. The roads are much better than other Latin American countries, much better than Costa Rica. I think that you are safer driving in Panama than in many European countries that I have been ie. Sicily, Spain for two examples. If you want to avoid traffic, stay home. The traffic here in Las Vegas is more dangerous and has more fatalities than Panama. The stats on Blue Diamond Road in Vegas are higher than what was quoted for Chorrera in Panama.

I thought the comment made about Decameron being owned by Columbian businessman was pathetic and idiotic. They are a top notch company. They also run Decapolis Hotel in downtown Panama City, it is a really terrific hotel.

Sorry about your loss. Dont try to get revenge on a whole country for it.

Level Contributor
207 posts
12 reviews
9. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

What is so dangerous about the road conditions at Chorrera? We drove from Panama City to Penonome and I don't recall any area of the highway being the least bit dangerous - I felt was more safe on that highway than I do on the 401 here in Ontario, likely because of the speed and lack of transports.

I have to agree, the highways are sooo much better in Panama than Costa Rica. We couldn't get over the difference. And while I am sorry for your loss as well, the comment about the Decameron being owned by Columbia businessman was ridiculous - are you implying that because it's columbian owned than it must be shady? If so that is an extremely prejudiced attitude.

Of the countries we have visited, Panama is the safest.

Level Contributor
20 posts
2 reviews
10. Re: Safety concerns about Panama

Wow, that was very troubling reading your post, my sympathies to you and your loved ones. I just wanted to add that my wife and I traveled to Panama on the highway you speak of, and altho it was not great, we found the highways no worse then what we find in many parts of the world, including many parts of the USA. Had I known this at the time, I may have looked at it with a different light, but it certainly would not have changed our opinion about visiting Panama. The whole country doesn't deserve to suffer for bad roads. In our travels in Costa Rica, we have found some of the roads to be quite uncomfortable with some quite erratic drivers, but again, we do not let that taint the idea of a going to a country that we have grown to love in many other ways. I hope you will find the grief counseling it will surely take to get through such a tragic loss. Our hearts and prayers go out to you.

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