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American Express -- American Express Travel Services has an office on Calle 50 and Calle 59, (tel. 269-2971 or 800/528-4800 for 24-hr service in the United States). This office provides traveler's checks and replacement cards, along with other standard services. To report lost or stolen traveler's checks within Panama, call the numbers above, or try 1/336-393-1111, American Express's international collect-call service.

Bookstores -- Exedra Books, on the corner of Vía Brasil and Vía España (tel. 264-4252; www.exedrabooks.com; Mon-Fri 10am-8pm and Sat 10am-7pm) is the top resource for English-language books, with dozens of titles, a cafe, a reading area, a children's corner, and Internet access. If you're spending extended time in Panama, you may order books on Exedra's website and have them delivered for free for orders over $25 (£13). The Smithsonian's small but excellent Corotu Bookstore, at the Earl S. Tupper Research and Conference Center on Roosevelt Avenue in Ancón (tel. 212-8000; www.stri.org; Mon-Fri 10am-4:30pm) offers a comprehensive collection of books about Panama's flora, fauna, history, and culture, including large-format photo books, maps, and gifts. El Hombre de la Mancha (www.bookshombredelamancha.com) is a bookstore cafe with a small selection of English-language fiction and the best Panama City map in town. They have locations in the Multiplaza, Multicentro, Albrook Mall, and the Centro Comercial Camino de Crucez Boulevar El Dorado; or try Calle 52 at Avenida Federico Boyd (tel. 263-6218). The Gran Morrison chain (Vía España at Calle 51 Este: tel. 269-2211; Punta Paitilla: tel. 264-5266), has a limited English-language book section and a variety of U.S. magazines such as People and Time.

Camera Repair -- Electric Caribe, located at Vía España in front of the Bon Bini cafe (tel. 223-0205 or 264-7451; www.electricaribe.com), can help with all your camera needs.

Dentists & Doctors -- Panama City has no shortage of English-speaking dentists or doctors, most of whom trained in the U.S. For a list of dentists or doctors, contact your embassy.

Drugstores -- Called farmacias in Spanish, drugstores are plentiful in Panama City. For 24-hour service, visit a branch of El Rey supermarket, the most central of which is on Vía España (tel. 223-1243). Another reliable pharmacy is Farmacias Arrocha (tel. 360-4000), with locations at Vía España in front of El Panama Hotel, Vía Argentina, and Punta Paitilla.

Emergencies -- For fire, dial tel. 103; for police dial 104; for an ambulance, dial Seguro Social at tel. 502-2532, or Cruz Roja at tel. 228-2187.

Express Mail Services -- Many international courier and express-mail services have offices in Panama City, including UPS (tel. 269-9222) in Obarrio (near El Cangrejo) at Calle 53 E in the Edificio Torre Swiss Bank; Fed Ex (tel. 800-1122) on Calle 3 in Costa del Oeste; Mail Boxes Etc, a one-stop service with locations on Avenida Balboa in Paitilla in the Marisol Building, no. 1, next to McDonald's (tel. 264-7038), on Vía España, next to Niko's Café in the Financial District (tel. 214-4620), and in the Multiplaza Mall (tel. 302-4162).

Eyeglasses -- Eyeglass shops are referred to as ópticas. Optica López, in Plaza Paitilla (tel. 269-0358), and Natural Vision, in the Multicentro Mall (tel. 208-2648), are dependable chains with other locations throughout the city. Both eyeglass shops offer repairs, exams, and name-brand eyewear.

Hospitals -- Many Panamanian doctors receive their medical degrees in the U.S.; therefore, many speak English. The best hospitals in Panama City are: Centro Médico Paitilla, at Calle 53 and Avenida Balboa (tel. 265-8800); Clínica Hospital San Fernando, at Avenida Central España (tel. 305-6300); Hospital Nacional, at Avenida Cuba between Calle 38 and Calle 39 (tel. 207-8100 or 207-8102); and Hospital Punta Pacífica, at Calle 53 in Bella Vista (tel. 204-8000). Punta Pacífica is the newest and most advanced hospital in the country and is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University.

Internet Access -- All hotels recommended in this guide have at least one computer with an Internet connection; some have wireless service in their lobby. Service in guest rooms is usually at an additional, and often expensive, price. Or try the best Internet cafe in town, ClaroCOM, at Avenida Eusebio A. Morales and Avenida Vía Veneto (tel. 200-0015; Mon-Sat 8am-10:30pm and Sun 9am-8:30pm), with free wireless service if you have a laptop, no matter how long you need to be connected, as well as plentiful computers. Or try Esc@pate Internet cafe, on Vía Argentina close to Avenida España (tel. 263-0616). There are Internet cafes throughout El Cangrejo and the Area Bancaria as well as the el Dorado neighborhood northwest of downtown Panama, all charging about $1 to $1.50 (50p-75p) per hour.

Laundry & Dry Cleaning -- Lavandería Diamond Dry Cleaners Plus (tel. 213-2216) is at Calle J in El Cangrejo. Lavandería Flash (tel. 213-8092) is at Vía Argentina. SU-PERC-KLIN is in Bella Vista next to Supermercado Riba-Smith (tel. 225-7869), and in El Cangrejo in front of the Einstein statue at Calle F and Calle L -1 (tel. 223-5666).

Maps -- ATP's information desk at the Tocumen Airport offers a general map of Panama City, but the best available is Mapi, produced by bookstore El Hombre de la Mancha and available at their stores or at the Gran Morrison stores. This map is also available at gift shops in major hotels. The tourism publication Focus has a fold-out map that is accurate but does not show all street names; this publication can be found at hotels and other tourism-oriented shops and restaurants.

Newspapers & Magazines -- You'll find the international English version of the Miami Herald at drugstores such as Gran Morrison and at supermarkets such as El Rey. Also, many hotels carry copies. Most sell English-language publications like People, Time, and Newsweek.

For magazines about Panama tourism and real estate, the quarterly magazine Panama 980 provides decent information. The Panama Planner also provides basic country and tourism information, as does the quarterly publication Focus, which also has quite a bit of real estate information. Most of these publications can be obtained at the airport or your hotel.

Photographic Needs -- Few photo shops develop slides -- really, you'd do better waiting until you return home to do this. Kodak can be found inside El Rey supermarkets or at Calle San Francisco between Calles 74 and 75 (tel. 270-3333). You can also try FotoDigital at Calle 50 (tel. 263-3000), or in the Multiplaza Mall (tel. 302-1100).

Police -- Dial tel. 104 or 316-0080.

Post Office -- Postal service is scarce in Panama City; your best bet is to ask your hotel to mail something for you, or try Mail Boxes Etc. The central post office (Correos y Telégrafos) is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturday 8am to 1pm, and is located on Avenida Central in front of the Mercado de Mariscos (tel. 212-7680).

Restrooms -- Restrooms, called baños, are marked hombres or caballeros for men, and damas or mujeres for women. There are few public restrooms in Panama City; your best bet is a hotel lobby or fast-food restaurant.

Safety -- Panama law requires that foreigners carry their passport with them at all times, but play it safe and carry a photocopy of only the opening pages and entrance stamp or tourist card. Leave all valuables and extra cash in your hotel. As Latin American cities go, Panama City is very safe for foreign travelers who stay out of bad neighborhoods such as Calidonia, Curundú, El Chorrillo, and Santa Ana. Chinatown is dangerous day and night as well. As in any major urban area, use common sense when it comes to safekeeping valuables -- for example, don't put your wallet in your back pocket. Money and other valuables are best carried in hard-to-reach places, like deep pockets or a money belt, but purses are fine for women. Keep an eye out for suspicious characters who linger too close or follow too closely. Also, consider taking money out of ATMs during the day to avoid stepping out from a brightly lit cashpoint into darkness. Scams are not common here; muggings and purse-snatchings happen, but not frequently. If you park a car on the street, do not leave any valuables inside that could attract a thief, even if you park in a guarded parking lot.

Taxes -- All hotels charge a 10% accommodations tax, which may or may not already be included in the published rate. Restaurants charge 5% tax on all consumption, and they often sneak in a 10% service charge for a tip -- check your bill carefully before paying. A tourist card costs $5 (£2.50) and is purchased when checking in for your flight or when crossing the border.

Telephones -- There are no city or area codes to dial from within Panama; use the country code, 507, only when dialing a Panama City number from outside Panama. Cellphone numbers begin with 6. All cellphone numbers listed in this guide already include the 6 prefix.

Time Zone -- Panama is on Eastern Standard Time (the same as New York or Montreal), and 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Panama does not change the hour for daylight saving time, during which the time in Panama coincides with that of the Central Time Zone in the States. Note: Panama is 1 hour ahead of Costa Rica and the rest of Central America.

Useful Telephone Numbers -- For national directory assistance, dial tel. 102; to reach an international operator, dial tel. 106; for the time, dial tel. 105.

Water -- The water in Panama City is perfectly safe to drink. Nonetheless, travelers with highly sensitive digestive tracts might want to stick to bottled water.

Weather -- The year-round temperature in Panama City is a humid 85°F to 90°F (29°C-32°C) during the day, and around 70°F (21°C) at night. The rainy season is from April to December, with torrential rain showers -- however, rain occurs during the afternoon, and mornings are generally clear and sunny.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.