Getting round in Panama is a breeze, whether or not you journey by bus, boat or the Panama Canal

The isthmus of Panama is compact sufficient to be crossed in an hour however various sufficient to maintain you touring for weeks. It’s one of the crucial biologically various locations on earth, but sufficiently small to suit inside South Carolina. This fascinating Central American nation is each tame and fierce, settled and distant, modest and unashamedly grand. 

Regardless of the tropical setting, getting round Panama is simple sufficient. The nation boasts 1000’s of kilometers of paved roads, a contemporary bus community, water taxis, an progressive new Metro prepare within the capital – and, after all, the Panama Canal. 

Bear in mind that some elements of Panama are so distant that your solely possibility could also be to journey down a crocodile-infested river in a rickety canoe or hack via the undergrowth with a machete. Whether or not you select to play it protected or go wild, right here’s our information to getting round Panama. 

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Use buses to journey lengthy distances in Panama

Panama has an inexpensive and in depth bus community connecting all main mainland locations. Most intercity buses are 28-seat Toyota Coasters with icy air-conditioning and raucous salsa music. Cumbersome baggage is strapped to the roof, and there’s an assistant known as a pavo (actually, ‘turkey’) to gather fares and assist out. The long-distance buses connecting Panama Metropolis and David are the very best in Central America.

You may additionally discover chivas – transformed cattle or pickup vans with arduous benches and tarpaulin coverings to maintain off the rain. Chivas are sometimes solely seen on probably the most distant rural routes. Then there are diablo rojos (pink devils) – previous US faculty buses, also referred to as ‘rooster buses’ – pimped-out with neon lights and gaudy paintings.

Hen buses have been practically phased out in Panama Metropolis however proceed to function in a number of areas, together with alongside the central Caribbean Coast. 

Most cities and cities have a downtown terminal. Elsewhere, buses decide up and drop off passengers at concrete shelters on the roadside. Stick out your thumb to flag down a passing bus, and yell “parada” (‘cease’) once you wish to get off.

Panama’s vividly colourful ‘rooster buses’ are slowly being phased out, however you will nonetheless discover them on the central Caribbean Coast © Milosz Maslanka / Shutterstock

Suggestions for touring out of Panama Metropolis by bus

In Panama Metropolis, intercity buses depart from the big La Gran Terminal Nacional de Transporte de Panamá in Albrook – a contemporary, well-designed terminal with a shopping center and a Metro station connected. 

Each bus route has its personal devoted ticket window. Seek the advice of the terminal web site for the route operator’s identify, phone quantity and ticket workplace quantity. To move via the turnstiles to the departure gates, you have to pay a US$0.10 tax utilizing the “3-in-1” Rapi-Pass card (no money).

Buy the cardboard on arrival at Tocumen Airport or from a Metro station, and may also use it to pay for journey on Metrobuses and trains.

One of the best time to go to Panama for turtle watching and dance festivals

Suggestions for taking worldwide buses throughout Panama’s borders

Ticabus is the principle worldwide provider working worldwide bus companies to San José in Costa Rica and past. It takes 16 to 18 hours by bus to journey from Panama Metropolis to San José; worldwide buses sometimes take 1-2 hours to finish customs and immigration formalities on the Paso Canoas border crossing.

If you happen to’re touring gentle, it’s faster to hop between native buses for the journey to San José. Take an area service from the bus terminal in David to Paso Canoas/Frontera (or Puerto Armuelles) – from right here (or from close by Ciudad Neily), long-distance Costa Rican buses connect with San José. Notice that the coastal freeway via Costa Rica is 4 to five hours faster than the (beautiful) mountain route on the previous Panamerican Freeway, so select your bus route properly.

Tourists arrive at Embera village by piragua, Panama
Motorized and pole-steered piraguas are the spine of transport on Panama’s rivers © P A Thompson / Getty Pictures

Discover Panama’s rainforest rivers by piragua

The place roads are missing, dug-out riverboats referred to as piraguas (or cayucos) are used. Usually carved from the trunk of an enormous ceiba tree, piraguas are generally discovered on the jungle-shrouded waterways of mainland Bocas del Toro and Darién Province. 

The boats are historically punted with lengthy sticks, however outboard motors have gotten more and more in style. Hiring a complete boat with a driver is dear, and the worth will rely on the space coated, the burden of the cargo, the variety of passengers, the engine kind and the gasoline used. As a tough information, anticipate to pay USD$100 to US$250 per day.   

Zip to Bocas del Toro and different islands on pangas and ferries

Motor-powered canoes are extensively used to get between offshore islands in Guna Yala. For sea journey nearly all over the place else, take a panga – a protracted, sturdy, open-hulled skiff with area for a dozen or extra passengers and baggage. 

The Bocas del Toro archipelago is served by a fleet of high-powered pangas that whizz between the islands and shuttle vacationers to and from the mainland port of Almirante. There’s additionally a day by day car ferry, however solely Isla Colón has paved roads. Standard ferries join Panama Metropolis with Taboga island and the Pearl Islands. 

Yachts steadily journey to Colombia by way of the Caribbean Sea; many have area for passengers and crew however at all times correctly vet the captain and vessel earlier than committing to a visit. Hostel noticeboards typically promote their companies. Full and partial transits of the canal are additionally doable with Panama Marine Adventures.

Traffic heading towards the modern skyline of Panama City, Panama
Driving the busy roads of Panama Metropolis is usually a daunting expertise © Gualberto Becerra / Shutterstock

Rent a automobile to discover Panama at your leisure

Driving in Panama Metropolis is a logistical horror present, however there are various wonderful highway journeys all through the remainder of the nation. Most main roads are paved however not essentially well-maintained.

You’ll want 4WD to get off the overwhelmed monitor, particularly throughout the moist season (April to December), when there’s a heightened threat of landslides and floods. Automobile rental companies are widespread in Panama Metropolis and David; you’ll pay upwards of US$35 per day for a small automobile.

Multi-lane highways join Panama Metropolis with Colón, and you’ll cross from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea in about an hour when the visitors is evident. In western Panama, a winding transisthmian freeway connects Chiriquí Province with Bocas del Toro Province, passing via spectacular surroundings because it crosses over the continental divide. 

The Panamerican Freeway is the nation’s principal highway artery but it surely’s solely paved so far as Yaviza within the east. The lawless forests of the Darién Hole are a no-go space for vacationers and you can be detained by the police if you happen to try to cross into Colombia.

18 issues to know earlier than touring to Panama

Let the prepare take the pressure alongside the Panama Canal Railway

Connecting Panama Metropolis with the Caribbean Coast terminus of Colón, the Panama Canal Railway is without doubt one of the final remaining overland passenger trains in Central America. Inaugurated in 1855, the railway was a significant engineering accomplishment that predated the canal by a number of many years. The glass-domed prepare takes round an hour to cross the isthmus and there is one service in every route each weekday.

Keep away from flying in Panama except you actually need to – the planet will thanks!

Home flights are comparatively costly and so they carry a hefty carbon footprint too. Panama is compact sufficient to get round by bus, and there are only a few distant areas that may solely be accessed by aircraft. Air Panama operates flights to each nook of Panama together with Darién, Guna Yala, the Pearl Islands, the Azuero Peninsula, Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro. Home flights depart from Albrook “Marcos A Gelabert” Worldwide Airport, 3.5km (2.2 miles) from Albrook bus terminal; take a taxi to get right here.   

Tourists taking photos from the observation car on the Panama Canal Railway
The Panama Canal Railway provides grand views of the Panama Canal because it crosses the isthmus © Barna Tanko / Shutterstock

Why the Panama Canal Railway is my favourite approach to journey in Panama

The journey lasts simply an hour, however the journey on the Panama Canal Railway is without doubt one of the most memorable prepare journeys ever. The chief automobiles are fitted with refined wooden panels and plush seats whereas the vacationer automobiles have expansive home windows for observing canal infrastructure. 

After dashing via dense tracts of tangled foliage, the road emerges to bracing views of Lake Gatún steeped in early morning mist. Between the automobiles, there are open home windows if you happen to want to breathe within the rainforest air.

Accessible transportation in Panama

Not like neighboring Costa Rica, Panama is just not an enormous vacation spot for companies specializing in excursions for individuals with disabilities. Past Panama Metropolis, there’s little infrastructure for wheelchair customers, and even within the capital, the horrible situation of the sidewalks makes getting round a problem. 

Many massive resorts and resorts are geared up with ramps and seize rails, and lots of sights are wheelchair-friendly, however long-distance buses don’t have a lot area. Hiring a automobile would be the best possibility. For extra data on accessible journey, see Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Resources.