Getting Around Panama

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Getting Around Panama

By Bus

There are two kinds of buses in Panama. The ones you find on the highway, and "city buses". The highway buses are constantly making journeys from terminals in Panama city to different destinations along the Pan American Highway, and back to the terminal. They're pretty frequent, and the buses will pick you up or drop you off at any point along their route, and most of them are air conditioned. The roughly linear shape of the country makes it ideal for a bus system, so ideal in fact that you don't really need to rent a car to get around most areas. Take a bus to the intersection on the Pan American highway that you want. You can get on a bus any place on the Pan American highway going towards Panama City, but all trips originating from within the city require a ticket. The Grand Terminal in the city is large and modern, and will remind you of an American shopping mall or airport (it actually is a shopping mall, Albrook Mall, too). Schedules for all Panama are listed here.

If you want to get on a bus, stand by the side of the road, hold you out your arm and make obvious pointing motions toward the ground. If you're on the bus and want to get off, yell "parada!" or tell the driver in advance. You'll get the hang of it pretty quick. The locals are very helpful with tourists on buses, and may offer help.

The highway buses are very cheap, count on a fare of about US$1 per hour traveled, sometimes less. One exception is fares from Tocumen airport, which both buses and taxis charge through the roof for (by Panamanian standards), simply because they can.

City buses are different. in which is call "Diablos Rojos" or "Red Devils" They are crowded, decoratively painted school buses, often without air conditioning, with a flat rate of 25 cents to any location in Panama City. They can be fun, but have a reputation for being dangerous, both in driving and the likelihood of encountering criminals. They can be fun to take a couple of times, but once you've done it, best to take a taxi, which won't be that much more expensive anyway. They definitely have a particular style apart from other Central American countries. They look as if a bunch of 60's hippies decided to drive as far south as they could go in school buses, and when they could go no further, they stopped and started a bus company. If you like Salsa Music, you'll be happy as a clam on these buses. Most locals aren't.

However, beginning in December of 2010, a new government regulated public bus system utilizing modern air-conditioned buses will go into effect called MetroBus. The old and dangerous "Diablos Rojos" will be outlawed and slowly replaced by the new Volvo buses. from February 15, 2012; the panamanians and foreigner people will have to buy the "Metrobus Card" to get on the bus and pay the flat rate that costs $2.00 (the metrobus card) and then it can be recharged from $0.50 until $50.00 with a flat rate of $0.25 cents until all the "Diablos Rojos" dissappeared and then the new flat rate will be $0.45 cents from that moment.

By Taxi

If your destination actually happens to lie far off the bus route, or if you just want to be lazy, taxis are also a decent way to get around in Panama. Taxi rates within Panama City are set by a zone system. However, the zone rates are complicated and fares are typically negotiated, depending on location, time of day and how well you know the city and can speak Spanish. Most short taxi rides range from $1.25 to $2.50. Going across town should be about $5, but it is often more if you fail to negotiate a price before getting into the taxi. Unlike the urban taxis you may be used to, they can take you way out into the country. A taxi fare, including tolls, from Tocumen airport to central Panama City, should be US$28. It can easily exceed your taxi fares for the rest of your trip combined. If you share a taxi ride with other passengers going from the airport to the city, your fare per person can be cheaper, at around US$12. You can save quite a bit of money by taking the bus to the Gran Terminal, but even the bus fares will be higher than normal.

By Car

Panama is in the south of Central America and can easily be discovered independently. The road system of Panama is in very good condition (for Central and South American standards). You can rent a car and drive it around the country if you are an excellent defensive driver. While traveling by car you can discover attractions which are hardly or even not to reach by public transportation.

Panama City is more difficult to navigate than any big city in the United States, with terrible traffic jams at rush hours, few signs for names of streets, poor street design, and a lack of traffic lights at busy intersections. You must be aggressive about positioning your car to get anywhere, yet highly alert to erratic and irrational behavior by others. Drivers have little respect for or even knowledge of traffic laws, and drivers from North America or Western Europe will be stunned by their recklessness. In the rest of the country, driving is mostly stress-free.

The Pan American Highway is paved for the entire length of the country, and has many roads which branch off to towns off the highway, most of which are paved, and most of the rest are still easily navigable in a sedan. However, road engineering standards are low, so be on the lookout for off camber turns, deep potholes, and sharp turns with no warning. It is highly recommended to drive well informed about your route. Use the detailed information which cochera andina provides on its site when planning your trip and check out road conditions, distances and travel times. On the road, don’t forget to take also a good road map with you.

For driving in Panama you need the driver’s license of your country but to avoid trouble at police controls it is better to have an international driver's license with you as well. The traffic rules are almost the same as in Europe or the U.S. Road signs are frequent. The speed limits are 40 km/h within cities, 80 km/h outside and 100 km/h on the highways. You will find gas stations all over Panama. A lot of stations are open around the clock. You get gas of three types: unleaded, super and diesel.

By Plane

Local airlines serve many airports in Panama. Aeroperlas and AirPanama being the two local companies. Flights leave Panama City from Marcos Gelabert Airport in Albrook.

Booking private aircraft charters are available through online and local companies.

It is advisable to check the tail number of any aircraft chartered in Panama. All registered aircraft authorized for public charter work (air taxi) will have a letters after their numeric tail number (e.g. HP-0000TD). This signifies the aircraft is insured for charter work and is subjected to more inspections and increased maintenance requirements.

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