How cheap is it? Very. Its largest city -- helpfully named Panama City -- is the world's third-cheapest major city. And it is major! Panama has the fastest growing economy in Latin America, with abundant new restaurants and luxury hotels; it's pretty much the most (and arguably only) truly global/metropolitan city in the region. And still a bunk in a cheap but well-reviewed and centrally located hostel will set you back only $14 per night, while those seeking luxury accommodations can stay at the damn Waldorf Astoria for $149 per. Which is stupid cheap, all things being relative. A public bus ride in the city is just 25 cents. You can eat on the cheap for under $20/day for all three squares if you hit up cafés for breakfast, the beach fish markets for lunch, and restaurants without English menus for dinner. Beers will cost you anywhere from $1.25 to $3 a pop. All in all, you're getting huge bang for your buck -- oh also literally your buck, as US currency is interchangeable with the Panamanian balboa.
Why: Zanzibar may sound like an expensive, bougie honeymoon island, but take it from this solo affordable adventure traveler; it's more budget friendly than you think. Not to mention, absolutely beautiful. You can take the ferry from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar for only $35 ($50 if you want a VIP seat), but flights to and from there are usually less than $100. Yes, there are many luxury resorts like Tulia Zanzibar and Melia Zanzibar that you should definitely splurge on if you can. (Tulia has a jungle waterslide and pool floaties. Enough said.) But there are also budget options. In fact, I found an Airbnb called the Surf Escape that was only about $40 per night, right on the beach, and had on-site surf, paddleboard and wind-surfing lessons.