I thought now a good time to make my initial comparisons between Costa Rica and Panama. I have split them up into categories with my opinions on each:
To me, Panama has lost its wilderness and has the feeling of being back in the States. It doesn’t feel like another country, just another State of the US. Were it not for the indigenous people wandering around with their traditional clothing, I seriously would think I was in the US again.
Now, this is not to say that there aren’t areas of Panama that are wild or untouched and not built up and all, but just the infrastructure in general of Panama is so American that I couldn’t help but feel this way. Roads are nicely paved, the buses are air-conditioned, their currency the Balboa is the same. Let me explain: I have yet to see any Balboa bills. All the bills are US dollars. The coins are stamped differently from our coins to say they are Balboa, but they have pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters and dollar coins that are the same size, shape, and same characteristics as our US coins. If once wasn’t looking specifically at what was stamped on each side, they would mistake them completely for US coins.
Panama has stores, grocery stores the size of Wal-Marts back in the States. Proper grocery stores that I had yet to see in Costa Rica. The largest grocery store in Costa Rica was the size of a fast food place in the States. Of course, you can find a Wal-Mart in San Jose (or rather Alajuela) as well as American fast food joints in Costa Rica as well (so sad, I know!) but I was just surprised to find such large stores so easily in Panama. Perhaps it was just that I had been away from a city in so long that it was partially culture shock to come back to civilization as I’ve known it before, but Panama again just felt like it’s lost its wilderness and individuality as it’s very similar to the States.
Again, all the above is just my opinion. I have met many a traveler who much prefer Panama to Costa Rica. I am just not one of them though.
Price of Costa Rica vs. Panama:
Panama also has a reputation for being cheaper than Costa Rica. Honestly, aside from food prices I have yet to notice this. Food is definitely cheaper in Panama, but accommodations are priced about the same. Costa Rica food prices are cheaper on the Pacific (Manuel Antonio and South as I have not been to the Northern Pacific coast as I hear it’s very touristy, so food prices there may also be expensive) than they are on the Caribbean as well.
Drivers and horns:
Both countries have without a doubt some of the craziest drivers!! I would personally NEVER get behind the wheel of a car in either country, just because I lack the aggression needed to bully your way around the roads as drivers here do. I will say however that I feel much safer in Costa Rica when walking along roads than I do in Panama. I have never felt unsafe crossing roads in CR because I had full confidence that the drivers would actually slow down. In Panama, not so much… Honestly I can’t say exactly why that is, but I just don’t. I have found myself searching out old people and children in Panama to cross roads with them instead of on my own because I’m convinced they may not slow down for me, but for sure will for the elderly and youth. People in CR use roads as their personal walkways. And perhaps this is what makes the difference. It is quite common for people to literally be walking down the middle of the road as if they own it and people in cars simply weave around them without a fuss.
The use of horns is quite different too. Costa Ricans have somehow figured out how to rig their car alarms so they can play certain parts of the alarm while driving. This action has resulted in a car alarm that when started sounds like a wolf whistle… So if they are trying to get the attention of a lady on the street, they simply play their car alarm bits to sound like wolf whistles. They also use horns to warn other drivers of their approach around blind curves. In other words, they use horns for specific purposes that are easy to recognize and always about communicating in some way, and that communication is easy to determine what is meant by the horn. Panama on the other hand… Well, certainly there are horn uses that it’s easy to tell what they are communicating, such as bus drivers saying hi to another bus driver going the opposite direction. But at least in the case of walking around and being in David, I can’t tell what is being communicated by horns. They literally are being used every 5 seconds! The sound of horns and honks is the most prevalent sound! They seem to use it just for sport, lol!!
Mannerisms of speech:
Costa Ricans say “Buenas” in greeting, Panamanians say “Hola”. Both countries say “Ciao” when leaving instead of “Adios” as we are taught in Spanish classes.
Speaking of spanish… I feel as if the Spanish I’ve acquired in Costa Rica isn’t the same spanish I should be using in Panama. Just goes to show you how different even the speech mannerisms and words are from one Spanish-speaking country to the next!