How to Charter a Yacht in Panama?
Until recently, chartering a crewed yacht or catamaran charter in Panama was a thing of difficulty with mixed results on whether or not what you rented was what was advertised. Ask anyone living in the Republic of Panama (not Panama City Beach, Florida) about e-commerce and they will tell you about how so few companies in Panama have websites and those that do have sites do not tend to publish updated material.
The market for yacht charters in Panama was dominated by small time middlemen and personal connections, but more recently official brokers are emerging on the scene to create transparency and provide updated info. It’s still hard to determine which is a true broker and which ones are just “juega vivo” – a Panamanian term that refers to the Panamanian mentality of taking advantage of the situation aka rip you off. To avoid getting ripped off in Panama there are a few questions that you need to answer yourself first.
1. First, why are you chartering a yacht?
Different panama yacht charter brokers specialize in different services whether fishing, yacht parties, or multi-day sailing. If you are looking to catch that prize Marlin then you’re going to want to know that Marlin fishing is best in deep waters and the most prominent place in Panama is down in the Darien. For this I would recommend Tropical Star fishing lodge. Panama, though a small country is nearly an island with only ¼ of its borders being land. With more islands than you can count it is easy to get confused about where you want to charter a boat.
For Yacht Parties, Panama City is the location for you with all the luxury and mega yachts docked there. There is a small island just off the coast called Taboga which is perfect for day trips and pulling up alongside other yachts all in party mode.
Multi-day sailing is great for bouncing around one of the many archipelagos in Panama. The top two are San Blas Islands and the Pearl Islands. The San Blas islands, 365 islands, located on the Caribbean side is an indigenous comarca which is a beyond beautiful and pristine piece of heaven on Earth. Well, if you’re into tropical crystalline waters then it is a piece of heaven. Hurry up though if you want to visit the San Blas islands because every year they disappear a little more due to rising sea levels thanks to global warming. On the other ocean, you’ll find the equally gorgeous Pearl Islands situated in the middle of the Panama Bay in the Pacific.
2. What’s your real budget?
Everybody wants the mega yacht, but can you really afford it. The thing about boats is that though you’re in Central America and maybe you’re expecting everything to be really cheap, these boats are not made here. The cost of the boats is just as expensive in Europe or the US as it is in Panama, if not more. So, don’t expect to rent that mega yacht for pennies.
Note that certain boats are good for particular activities. One of the biggest misnomers is the catamaran, which is the perfect yacht party vessel if you want to soak up sun and get wet. If it’s a bit more formal event then you’ll want a larger trawler like those built by Alexander or Broward boatyards.
Deep sea fishing in Panama is probably the more expensive activity because for the best fishing you’ll want to go out and stay at one of the fishing lodges. Real deep sea fishing from Panama City requires you to head out about 2.5 hours or more to the continental shelf so its not as practical for a single day journey. For this, you’re looking at hundreds per person for a day of fishing.
For yacht parties, expect to pay $125- $200 per person for the good experience. If you’re springing for the mega yacht, expect this to double.
3. How many people are you bringing?
The majority of yacht charter fees are fixed costs, so maybe you’re trying to make it as economical as possible, but when it comes to boats, it is always better to spend that extra bit of cash for the larger boat so you’re not packed in like sardines. Don’t forfeit the experience. Few boats for charter in Panama can handle over 30 people, so if you’re looking to throw a large event there are probably only about 5 options currently available via Panama Bay and Canal Company or the RedCat catamaran.
The Real Situation about Boat Brokers in Panama
Let’s be blunt, if you’re renting a boat, you’re not talking to the owner, you’re talking to a broker. In some cases one owner will have several boats and uses intermediaries to rent the boats out. This means that several brokers may be selling the same boats. For these boats, the brokers tend to be less transparent because they don’t want to give away too much info in case you are talking with their competitor. This non-transparency mixed with the “juega vivo” mentality leads brokers to feel out the client before giving a near arbitrary quote for the boat. The brokers that are not transparent in pricing are trying to take advantage of you for as much as they can get. Another thing to note that brokers tend to leave out are the hidden fees with chartering a yacht which are marina fees, loading fees, and fuel costs. Just to bring the boat into the dock costs a fixed amount and then there is typically a per person charge for loading and additionally the fuel costs. Keep these in mind when getting quotes because it just sucks to have a charter fully sorted out just to show up to the marina and realize that you owe an additional $400 in fees. That’s right, marina fees tend to average around $250 and loading fees are around $5 - $7 per person. It adds up if these fees aren’t explicit and included in the quote.
When is it a good time to charter a yacht in Panama?
Short answer- always. Weather systems are mic