14 Reasons to Study Spanish in Panama

by Mary Beth Strawn

Numerous people think, “I want to learn Spanish, but where should I go?” This throughout leads them on a long, complicated journey filled with comparisons of many different Spanish schools and language programs in dozens of countries all over the world.

I’m here to make this decision easy for you; COME TO PANAMA!

You can find great Spanish schools scattered all over the world, but what sets apart the best Spanish schools from the average ones? It isn’t just Cervantes Institute accreditation and it isn’t necessarily their teachers nor programs either (although IC-accredited schools will most definitely be top notch), instead it is the setting in which you will be learning.

Gámez Island in the Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park

Gámez Island in the Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park

Language programs in Panama provide students with the ideal setting for learning the Spanish language, and here’s why:

1. Everyone is talking about Panama! 

Be that person who travels to the NEW best destination before everyone else! 

Who hasn’t been to Costa Rica or Mexico? The list is much longer when it comes to Panama, because it is clearly off the beaten path. Don’t join the same club as everyone else, instead be the first of the new AWESOME group of people traveling to Panama!

There are good reasons behind all the remarkable press Panama has been getting in the past few years. Here are just a few of the major news sources that can’t stop talking about Panama:

2. Panama is easy to get to.

As Panama City receives more and more international investment and attention, airlines are starting to pick up on the trend. Currently, there are direct flights from many major U.S. cities to Panama City, such as Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Las Vegas, and Orlando. Some airlines even have direct flights to Panama from the U.S., including American Airlines, Copa Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Delta Airlines. 

For Canadians, there are also plenty of direct flights from Toronto and Montreal, and for Europeans, there are direct flights from London, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt to Panama. Even Emirates will begin direct service from Dubai to Panama in February 2016, which will be the longest non-stop flight in the world (17 hours and 35 minutes)!

Air travel to Panama City is clearly on the rise, and it is not difficult to understand why with Panama’s recent economic boom. Panama’s government even invested millions of dollars in local airports in 2013 to support the growing tourism in the country and the increase in air transportation of goods and products.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but the truth is, Panama still receives WAY less tourists than most other countries in the region, so come and check it out before it gets too crowded!

3. Panama has a first-world infrastructure.

Many people considering language programs in Central America are primarily concerned with the infrastructure and stability of the region. Luckily, you don’t have to worry too much about your comfort or safety during language programs in Panama.

Panama City joined the modern age of transportation with the completion of their very first metro line in 2014, and construction of the second started in October 2015. The metro in Panama City is super safe and a very reliable way to get around the main downtown neighborhoods, not to mention it's super cheap at only $0.35 per ride! The bus and taxi system is also very modernized and regulated, and is only improving year after year as the Panamanian government focuses more attention on ground transportation.

The transportation system in Panama outside of Panama City is very impressive as well. There are long-distance buses that are both comfortable and clean. Bus travel is an excellent way for language students to see Panama and experience how typical Panamanians get around! As an added plus, buses tend to be very inexpensive. 

To top off the country’s transportation options’ ease and affordability, Panama City is quite similar to any U.S. capital city in many ways; those who choose to study Spanish in Panama City will have access to high speed internet, a developed banking sector, first-rate hotels and restaurants, and the best shopping in Latin America (it happens to be the second-largest Free Trade Zone in the world!). Additionally, highway infrastructure, telecommunications, and business services are excellent and comparable to the U.S. throughout most the country. 

Los Cangilones de Gualaca

Los Cangilones de Gualaca

4. Panama is foreigner-friendly.

Traveling internationally is already a bit stressful, so it doesn’t help when you are traveling to a place that doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t welcome you with open arms, and doesn’t share your currency. Luckily for you, Panama LOVES foreigners and is extremely welcoming! Panama is a dollarized economy, the people are open, comfortable, and friendly toward foreigners, and many people speak English (especially in Panama City).

Due to Panama’s position as a world business and transportation crossroads, there is a long history of living and working with foreigners; there's even a saying that Panama was "born globalized." Historically a crossroads of cultures and people, Panama is home to immigrants from all over the world, and everyone gets along rather seamlessly! The majority of Panamanians are "mestizos," or persons who are a combination of Spanish and native Indian, and “mulatos,” persons who are a combination of Spanish and African. There are also sizable European, American, Chinese, Jewish, Indian, and Arabic communities throughout Panama, so foreigners are hardly ever the lone international in any one place. 

Last, but not least, Panama is very affordable across many areas of society, from transportation to accommodation to food and more. Language students will be able to find typical chain grocery stores in all major cities in Panama, adding comfort and convenience of daily life (though we recommend asking where the local market is to get your fresh, local fruits and vegetables!).

5. Panama is safe.

Another common concern among individuals contemplating language study abroad is safety. Speaking from my own experience, Panamanians are good people and have very good values, and as mentioned above, they are extremely respectful to foreigners. However, this is NOT to say that there is NO crime in Panama; of course, there is crime in Panama as is in any country in the world. BUT, if you follow typical safety guidelines as all tourists should when traveling anywhere in the world, you should have no major safety issues while studying Spanish in Panama.

Above day-to-day safety, there is no threat of a political revolution, no hurricanes nor major earthquakes, safe drinking water in urban areas (though you should drink bottled water if you attend a language program in Bocas del Toro), and a safe and reliable transportation system available in all popular areas of the country.

As a backup, if you were to get hurt doing an adventure sport or feel sick during your language program in Panama, you will have access to modern treatment and quality doctors at extremely low costs (relative to Western healthcare)! Many doctors even speak English and are American, Mexican, or Cuban-trained, and most major hospitals in Panama have the same medical services that you would receive in the U.S.

6. Panama offers world-class adventure.

Panama is amazingly diverse and is a treasure chest for adventure-lovers! No matter which town you choose to study Spanish in Panama, you will never be far from exciting outdoor activities. Spanish language schools in Panama tend to work with local trusted tour operators, and they are likely to be happy to help you schedule some adventure activities outside of the classroom.

If you enjoy the water, Panama has world-class diving, snorkeling, surfing, and sailing. You will be blown away by the abundance of Panama's marine life in Coiba National Marine Park, the Pearl Islands, Bocas del Toro archipelago, Portobello, and the Chiriqui Coast. If you prefer rivers, Panama offers superb rafting and kayaking opportunities too; during the rainy season, you will find rivers with 20 sets of rapids in one go! 

On the other hand, if the mountains are your thing, it is easy to take advantage of canopy tours, hiking from coast to coast, camping on Volcan Baru, rock climbing, and even rappelling opportunities.

If all of those activities don’t convince you of Panama’s niche for daring adventures, I don’t know what will.

7. Panama is the best place for nature tours.

Panama is seriously blessed by Mother Nature. Its position as a narrow land bridge connecting two continents has endowed it with some of the world's most pristine and biodiverse rainforests, which has led to the development of national parks covering over 5 million acres (close to 30 percent of the entire country).

There is a local saying: "In other countries you have 20 tourists looking at one bird, while in Panama you have one tourist looking at 20 birds."; this is just one indicator of its bio-diversity. Panama has over 900 recorded bird species, more than the U.S. and Canada combined. Naturally, if you are a bird lover intent to spend time birdwatching, Panama will be your paradise.

If nature as a whole interests you, you’ll be pleased to know there are over 10,000 varieties of plants, over 200 mammal species, and more than 350 different types of reptiles and amphibians reside in Panama.

Summit of the Volcan Baru

Summit of the Volcan Baru

8. Panama has a unique cultural history.

Most people only know Panama for what it is today, an up-and-coming international capital city with a hugely popular canal running through it. But, Panama didn’t achieve this status quite so easily! By learning the history of the country, you will develop a better understanding of and connection with the local people and culture. There are numerous historical and cultural influences that make Panama what it is today, here are just a few ways you can take your cultural learning outside the classroom:

Set up a tour or visit to a local Indian reservation to learn more about the Indian traditions and way of life. Panama is one of the few countries in the world where the traditional Indian culture has not disappeared. 

Explore one of the numerous museums in Casco Viejo (a restored historical section of Panama City) and examine Panama’s history as well as the development and impact of the infamous Panama Canal.

Visit one of the handful of archeological sites dating back to A.D. 900, when the Mayan civilization in Mexico was just beginning to unravel.

9. Panama is HAPPY.

Panama is often ranked among the top countries in the world on scales of well-being and happiness. By learning Spanish amongst happy locals in a positive place, your entire experience of language study abroad will be more fulfilling, and the language will come to you easier too.

Panamanians are some of the nicest, kindest, most warm-hearted people on the planet, especially those who live in the “interior” (meaning the countryside, anywhere outside of Panama City). They are accepting of all people and all cultures, and won’t judge you or meddle in your personal business. Passing the time talking about the weather, sports, growing season, politics, family, and children are more typical conversations in the interior. Simplicity at its finest!

Most locals say they are happy once they have had their morning coffee, and that is likely true because Panama is well-known as a haven for delicious coffee!

10. Panama is one of the top destinations for relocation in Central America.

Panama attracts a large number of international expats annually. Many international companies and universities have offices or campuses in Panama City, so there are foreigners of all ages that come to the city to live, work, study, and retire. Your language program in Panama could be the start of something much more than language learning for you, whether that be a stepping stone to a future career or an introduction to a new favorite vacation spot.

Called the "hub of the Americas" and the "Dubai of Latin America" (without the economic problems), Panama City offers all foreigner visitors the chance to enjoy white sand Caribbean beaches in the morning and seafood restaurants overlooking the Pacific at night. Its geographic location is literally one of a kind.

11. Panamanian Spanish fluency will give you a leg up in other Spanish speaking countries.

Although Spanish speakers can always understand each other no matter where they are from, for those learning Spanish as a second language, location can make a big difference. There are some clear benefits of studying Spanish in Panama over other Spanish speaking nations. For example, Panamanian Spanish doesn't carry any heavy accents making it easier to learn, and yet it remains phonetically similar to the Spanish spoken in the coastal areas of the Caribbean and the Atlantic oceans. Additionally, Panamanians tend to speak very fast, so if you learn Spanish in Panama, then understanding Spanish speakers from other countries will be a piece of cake!

12. Panama makes cultural immersion easy.

Total immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, and home stay accommodations are the best way to do that. Most language schools in Panama offer students the opportunity to live with a local family, providing students with a real immersion experience; homestay living won’t feel like you are just "renting a room."

Even if you chose to not live with a Panamanian family during your language program in Panama, Panamanians are very welcoming to foreigners and will likely strike up a conversation with you in public spaces. Who knows, maybe you'll be invited to pasear (visit) to their house and have a traditional meal!

Outside of Panama City, it's pretty rare to come across English-speaking Panamanians, which means choosing a language program outside the capital may be a great way to force yourself to communicate in Spanish (aka. the goal of language study abroad!).

Bird Island in Bocas del Toro

Bird Island in Bocas del Toro

13. Panama has quality teachers who provide quality education.

Having a teacher who is passionate about teaching his or her native language makes all the difference during language study abroad. Luckily, Panama has multiple language schools and academic institutions all over the country that are staffed with enthusiastic, highly educated teachers. Many language schools in Panama even require their teachers to have college degrees and advanced training in E.L.E. (Español como Lenguaje Extraño).

14. Panama has multiple Cervantes Institute-accredited schools.

Panama boasts four Cervantes-accredited schools located in three different regions; whether you want to study Spanish in the city, the mountains, or on a beach beach, you will have your bases covered! In Panama City, you can choose from the Universidad de Panamá or EPA! Español en Panamá, or Habla Ya Spanish Schools' campuses in Boquete and Bocas del Toro (and their third campus in Panama City is soon to be accredited too).

What is Cervantes Institute accrediation? The Cervantes Institute in Spain is the international authority for Spanish language learning worldwide. Their accredited schools offer the best Spanish language programs in the world, with the most rigorous curriculum, highest standards, and most qualified teachers.

What are you waiting for!?

Begin your search for a Spanish language program in Panama now.

This article was contributed by Habla Ya Spanish Schools in Panama City, Panama. Founded in 2005, Habla Ya is Instituto Cervantes accredited.