TV Journey Destination Guidance to Travel Panama

Guidance to Travel PanamaGuidance to Travel Panama

The Isthmus of Panama is compact enough to cross it in an hour, but diverse enough to allow you to travel for weeks. It is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, but small enough to fit within the boundaries of South Carolina. This charming country of Central America is at once manual and cruel, sedentary and remote, humble and shamelessly grandiose.

Despite the tropical environment, getting around Panama is quite easy. The country has thousands of kilometers of paved roads, a Moderna network of buses, water taxis, a new and innovative branch of metro Metropolitano and, of course, the Panama Canal.

Keep in mind that some areas of Panama are so remote that your only option might be to descend a crocodile-infested river in a wobbly canoe or cut through the undergrowth with a machete. Whether you decide not to risk it or go crazy, here is our Panama guide.

Use buses to travel long distances in Panama

Panama has an accessible and branched bus network that connects all the main destinations on the continent. Most of the intercity buses are air-conditioned 28-seat Toyota Coaster buses with ice and hoarse salsa music. Bulky luggage is attached to the roof, and there is an assistant named pavo (literally “Turkey”) who collects fares and helps. The intercity buses that connect Panama City and David are the best in Central America.

You will also find cattle sheds or vans converted into chivas, with rigid benches and tarps to protect from the rain. Chivas can usually only be seen on the most remote rural roads. Then there are the diablos rojos (red devils), the old American school buses, also known as “chicken buses”, with neon lights and eye-catching artwork.

Chicken buses to Panama City have been almost discontinued, but they continue to operate in several regions, including along the central Caribbean coast.

Most cities have a terminal in the city center. Elsewhere, buses pick up and drop off passengers in concrete shelters on the side of the road. Extend your thumb to signal the passing bus and shout “parada” (“stop”) when you want to get off.

Tips for getting out of Panama City by bus

In Panama City, intercity buses depart from the gran terminal nacional de transporte de Panamá to Albrook, a Moderna and well-designed terminal with a shopping center and an adjacent metro station.

Each bus line has a separate Reception. Visit the terminal’s website to get the name, phone number and ticket office number of the route operator. To go through the turnstiles to the boarding gates, you need to pay a tax of using a Rapi-Pass 3-in-1 card (bank transfer).

Buy the card upon arrival at Tocumen airport or at the metro station, and you can also use it to pay your metro and train fare.

The best time to travel to Panama to watch turtles and attend dance festivals

Tips for transshipment on international buses across the borders of Panama
Ticabus is the main international airline that operates international bus services to San José in Costa Rica and beyond. The bus trip from Panama City to San Jose takes 16 to 18 hours; international buses usually take 1 to 2 hours to complete customs and immigration formalities at the paso Canoas border crossing.

If you are traveling light, it is faster to take the local buses for a trip to San Jose. Take advantage of the local connection from the David a paso Canoas/frontera bus station (or Puerto Armuelles); from here (or from the neighboring town neily), Costa Rican intercity buses depart to San José. Keep in mind that the coastal road through Costa rica is 4-5 hours faster than the (magnificent) mountain road on the old Pan-American highway, so choose the bus route wisely.

Explore the rivers of the Panama rainforest by Canoe

Where roads are lacking, river boats with depressions, called pirogues (or cayuco), are used. Usually carved from the trunk of a giant Ceiba tree, canoes are commonly found in the jungle-surrounded waterways of the mainland of Bocas del Toro and the province of Darien.

Boats traditionally hit long sticks, but outboard motors are becoming more and more popular. Renting a full boat with a driver is expensive, and the price will depend on the distance traveled, the weight of the cargo, the number of passengers, the type of engine and the fuel used. Tentatively, expect to pay per day.

Get to Bocas del Toro and other islands by pangas and ferries

Motor canoes are widely used to move between the islands off the coast of guna Yala. For sea trips almost anywhere else, take the panga, a long, sturdy open-hulled boat capable of accommodating a dozen or more passengers and luggage.

The Bocas del Toro archipelago is served by a fleet of powerful pangas that roam the islands and sail between the islands and the mainland port of Almirante. There is also a daily ferry, but only on Isla Colon there are paved roads. Conventional ferries connect Panama City with Taboga Island and the Pearl Islands.

Yachts often go to Colombia via the Caribbean; many have space for passengers and crew, but always check the captain and the boat properly before embarking. Hostel billboards often advertise their services. Full and partial transit through the canal is also possible with Panama Marine Adventures.

Rent a car to explore Panama at your leisure

A trip to Panama City is a logistical horror show, but the rest of the country has many excellent trips. Most of the main roads are paved, but not necessarily in good condition.

You will need four-wheel drive to get off the overcome track, especially during the rainy season (from April to December), when the risk of landslides and overflow increases. Car rental agencies are widespread in Panama City and David – you will pay more than per day for a small car.

Multi-lane highways connect Panama City and Colon, and you can cross the Pacific and the Caribbean in about an hour with free traffic. In the west of Panama, a winding Brahmán highway connects the province of Chiriquí with the province of Bocas del Toro, passing through a spectacular landscape, crossing the continental divide.

The Pan-American Highway is the main road artery of the country, but it is paved only as far as Yaviza, in the east. The lawless forests of the Darien Gap are a no-go zone for travelers, and the police will seize you if you try to enter Colombia.

18 things you should know before traveling to Panama

Let the train gain momentum on the Panama Canal railway
The Panama Canal Railway, which connects Panama City with the Colon terminal on the Caribbean coast, is one of the last land passenger trains in Central America. Opened in 1855, the railway was a great technical achievement, surpassing the construction of the canal for several decades. A glass-domed train crosses the isthmus in about an hour and runs in each direction every day of the week.

Avoid flying to Panama if you really don’t need them – the planet will thank you for it!

Domestic flights are relatively expensive and also have a significant carbon footprint. Panama is compact enough to get around by bus, and there are only a few remote areas that can only be reached by plane. Air Panama operates flights to all corners of Panama, including Darien, guna Yala, the Pearl Islands, the Azuero Peninsula, Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro. Domestic flights depart from Albrook Marcos a Gelabert International Airport, 3.5 km (2.2 miles) from Albrook bus station; get there by taxi.

Why the Panama Canal Railway is my favorite way to travel in Panama

The journey takes only an hour, but the Panama Canal train ride is one of the most memorable train trips in history. Functional cars feature exquisite wooden panels and padded seats, while tourist cars have large windows for viewing the canal infrastructure.

Passing through dense thickets of matted foliage, the line overlooks the street, with stunning views of Gatun Lake, shrouded in the morning haze. There are open windows between the cars if you want to breathe the rainforest air.

Affordable transportation in Panama

Unlike neighboring Costa Rica, Panama is not a great destination for travel agencies that specialize in tours for people with disabilities. Outside Panama City, there is little infrastructure for wheelchair users, and even in the capital, the terrible state of the sidewalks makes it difficult to move.

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