Getting Around Panama
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
In Panama City it’s typical to pay less than $5 for a taxi ride to just about any reasonable distance from your hotel, including the regional airport. In the small communities of Boquete and Bocas taxi fares drop to $2 or less. Although the town of Bocas is small and most of the Inn’s, Hostels and Hotels are within 15 minutes walk of the airport, dragging your luggage down Main Street (Calle 3) in the heat and humidity can be quite uncomfortable. But the taxis will typically charge 50 cents to a dollar to take you to your hotel. Even though it’s a 2 minute ride – its worth it!
For getting around Panama you can go back-packer-frugal and get from one end of the country to the other for under $20 by bus but if your time is limited and you have the funds getting to the different areas of the country by air is the preferred way to go. By flying you can cover the three major regions of the country – the Azuero Peninsula, Bocas del Toro and Boquete in just a week with a few days in each locale.
Panama has two regional airlines – Aeroperlas which is part of the Taca Group and Air Panama.. They flit around the country to dozens of locations each day. Before the crash of 2008 airfares we’re remarkably cheap allowing you to fly from one end of the country to the other for under $50. Unfortunately high oil prices have taken their toll in Panama too so that same trip will now cost you over $100. To put it in perspective, a while ago I took a taxi from the Atlanta Airport to a hotel in Suwannee, about a 30 minute ride. The one way fare was over $100 so when you compare your cost of transportation it’s still not outrageous. In Panama I can fly all the way from Panama City to David, the gateway to the Chiriqui Highlands or to Bocas del Toro, about a 1 hour flight, for just $110.
On our first visit we were focused solely on Bocas del Toro. While perusing the EscapeArtist website I discovered some really exciting articles about getting rich growing Teak & Noni while living the good life in the Caribbean. If you read my letter about Bocas del Toro you now know it was a scam. However, the scam artist himself did give us one good piece of advice. He suggested that if we were coming to see Bocas we might as well check out another interesting and quite different part of Panama. He recommended a town called Boquete in the highland region of Chiriqui. He said is was lovely and very different from everything else we would see in Panama. If that suggestion had not been made we would never have discovered our piece of Panama Paradise. That advice also led us to create our Panama Travel Triangle. Whenever friends comes to visit we always take them on this route – we meet them in Panama City for a few days and then fly to Bocas for a few days and then we fly across the Isthmus to David and some time up in our neck of the woulds in Boquete. At the end of their visit we pop them back down to David for their return to Panama City from David. It really is a very convenient way to explore most of the country in a short period of time.
Quick Tips – The airlines in Panama are notorious for changing their schedules and cancelling routes altogether. They will also oversell flights. So, like most things in Panama you need to be flexible and patient. You may plan your trip only to find the airlines have temporarily stopped offering that route or maybe they have changed the days they offer it. It is not uncommon for the David to Bocas route to be cancelled duriing the quieter (Green Season) times of the year. This does not mean your route has to change but it may mean you need to allow for additional time because you are taking a bus and water taxi instead of the plane.
Another adventure worth including in your Panama visit is taking the train from Panama City to the Port of Colon – the second largest tax free zone in the world. The train leaves Panama from the Corozal terminal around 7AM. It takes about 45-60 minutes to get to Colon. The return leaves Colon at 5:30. The last time I checked it was about $35 round trip and $20 one way. It’s a good idea to buy your tickets in advance as the train is often booked full by Cruise Ship passengers. This railroad was originally built to connect the city of Colon on the Atlantic (Caribbean) to Panama city on the Pacific. This was the very first transcontinental railroad in the Americas. A cautionary note – an entire day is a long time to spend in Colon. Although you can get some great deals in the Free Zone this is one of the worst parts of Panama for crime. I suggest you plan ahead to get out of Colon City as quickly as you can. You might want to explore the beautiful Caribbean communities and islands on the coast. Look to Portobello or even a day on the beach at Isla Grande.
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. 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. Be sure to read my directions in my Panama City Special Report. 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.
Buen Viaje! Happy Travels!
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