Driving in Panama

A Learn About Panama Special Report

Driving in Panama

If you have never been to Panama you may have an image of bumping around dirt roads in an old bus with chickens and pigs in the back seat! Remember that Michael Douglas movie, Romancing the Stone? Although it’s true in most Latin American countries it’s not so in Panama. Just one of the many pleasant surprises is the ease with which you can get around. You have the option of traveling around Panama by plane, train, automobile or boat depending on where you are and where you want to go. Here are some tips and tricks which will save you time and aggravation.

The Pan-American Highway (Carretera Panamericana), commonly known as the Inter-Americana, stretches from the Costa Rican border in the west across the country into the heart of the Darien province. There it stops about 50 miles from the Columbian border. The Darien Gap is this area along the border between Colombia and Panama. It is a lush rain forest with one of the highest degrees of bio-diversity in the entire world. This region, its wildlife, and its indigenous inhabitants are protected by the national reserve status in both countries.

The Pan-Am Highway is a real treat by Central American standards, and in some cases even North American standards! It is well maintained and there are plenty of food and gas stops all the way across the Isthmus. The trickiest part of driving in Panama is in the cities and getting out of Panama City itself. Many vehicles, including buses and taxis, are not well maintained so city driving can be an adventure. Taxis are so cheap I recommend getting about by cab within the city and then picking up your rental car when you are just ready to leave.

The Pan-American Highway

Getting out of the cities in Panama can be an adventure! In reality it can be scary and frustrating.  The first time we drove into Panama City from Boquete it was a lovely drive and a breeze to make our way right to the Miramar Hotel on Avenida Balboa overlooking the Bay of Panama. Getting out was another story! We found ourselves circling in and out of Casco Viejo for over an hour before a helpful Panamanian motioned for us to follow her and led us to the Bridge of the Americas. Later we were told the easy, but unmarked route directly out of the city. Now, things have improved a great deal in the City. The addition of the Cinta Costera along the Bay of Panama has made the journey to the Puente de las Americas – Bridge of the Americas much, much easier.

Of course you want to make sure you have your trusty Panama road map handy. Although you likely won’t find one in Panama until it’s too late! I’m going to harp on you once again, if you haven’t already done so order your Panama Map now! And have it delivered to your home before you leave on your trip. You can get a good one right here – see the description below. Another great technological inovation which can be a God Send when traveling in Panama is a Travel GPS If you love technology and high-tech travel toys this one is a must!

The Panama Travel Map

Tear-resistant and waterproof this will be an indispensable resource for your visit to Panama. This is an excellent map for really getting into the details of Panama. I will be referring to smaller Panama communities which you can easily locate on this Map of Panama.

A Quick Tips – Pack this in your carry-on luagge so it’s handy as soon as you hit the ground.

Panama Travel Map

Panama Travel MapThe Panama Travel Reference Map by ITMB is the most detailed map of Panama published to date. This Panama map is double-sided, fully indexed, and printed on tear-resistant, waterproof paper.
The Panama Travel Map includes: 
Inset map of Panama City
All roads, highways and railways
International & Provincial borders
National Parks & Indian Reserves
Archaeological and Recreational sites
Points of interest
Hot Springs, View points, ruins, and oil pipelines

Now your Map of Panama will be handy once you are on the Pan-American Highway outside of the city but it’s pretty much useless for helping you find your way out. Make note of these directions and you will be on your way across the Bridge of the Americas in no time!

Here you go– Take CINTA COSTERA (formerly AVENIDA BALBOA) southwest along the Bay of Panama (BAHIA DE PANAMA). As you approach CASCO VIEJO watch for a Shell Gas Station on your right. Just past and beside the station keep to your right (N/NW) to continue onto the PAN AMERICAN HIGHWAY (CARRETERE PANAMERICANA) . Turn left onto AVENIDA DE LOS MARTIRES. Continue onto Carretera Panamá-Arraiján which will take you to PUENTE DE LAS AMERICAS (The Bridge of the Americas). This highway, Carretera Panamá-Arraiján, eventually turns into the Pan-American highway and if you stay on it you will end up in Costa Rica!

For North – South driving from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean side, across the continental divide there are only two routes. The Trans-Isthmian Highway will take you from Panama City to Colón and Portobelo. Closer to the west end of the Isthmus there is a wonderful highway which runs from the town of Chiriqui, just east of David, across the divide to Chiriqui Grande, Almirante and Changuinola on the Caribbean. I’m not sure what the name is but it is fairly well marked. As you are approaching the city of David from the east you will see a sign for “Chiriqui”.  As you enter the small community, actually you’re just kind of passing through it, on your right watch for a nice paved road and a sign for “Chiriqui Grande”. Turn right and you’re on your way to the Caribbean.

A Quick Tips – Although the Pan-Am Highway is excellent, as you can see in the video above, you may want to do some exploring off the main highway. I recommend renting a small SUV. For my last road trip I rented the new Toyota Rav4. It was perfect and quite reasonable too. Click Here to Find the Best Car Rental Rates in Panama. I know I mentioned this in my last letter but I really can’t say enough about this website for Cheap Airfares. It will save you a bundle! Find the best prices for your Panama travel Click Here!

Buen Viaje! Happy Travels!

Hasta Luego!


P.S. Please tell me what you thought of this letter in the comments area below. What did you like? What could you have done without? What else can I tell you about Panama? Leave your comments, questions, suggestions – join the conversation and watch what happens!

The information expressed here is solely the opinion of the author. Nothing on this web site or in subsequent communications is to be considered personalized investment advice. Although we may answer your general questions, we are not licensed under securities laws to address your particular investment situation. No communication by any associate or representative of Learn About Panama is to be deemed as personalized investment advice.

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