The isthmus of Panama is compact sufficient to be crossed in an hour however diversified 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, in fact, the Panama Canal.
Bear in mind that some components of Panama are so distant that your solely choice could also be to journey down a crocodile-infested river in a rickety canoe or hack by the undergrowth with a machete. Whether or not you select to play it secure or go wild, right here’s our information to getting round Panama.
Use buses to journey lengthy distances in Panama
Panama has an reasonably priced 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 most effective in Central America.
You will additionally discover chivas – transformed cattle or pickup vehicles with exhausting benches and tarpaulin coverings to maintain off the rain. Chivas are usually solely seen on essentially the most distant rural routes. Then there are diablo rojos (pink devils) – outdated US college buses, often known as ‘rooster buses’ – pimped-out with neon lights and gaudy paintings.
Hen buses have been almost phased out in Panama City however proceed to function in a couple of areas, together with alongside the central Caribbean Coast.
Most cities and cities have a downtown terminal. Elsewhere, buses choose 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’) whenever you need to get off.
Ideas 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 hooked up.
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 by the turnstiles to the departure gates, it’s essential 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.
Ideas for taking worldwide buses throughout Panama’s borders
Ticabus is the primary worldwide service working worldwide bus providers 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 usually take 1-2 hours to finish customs and immigration formalities on the Paso Canoas border crossing.
When you’re touring mild, 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. Observe that the coastal freeway by Costa Rica is 4 to five hours faster than the (beautiful) mountain route on the outdated Panamerican Freeway, so select your bus route correctly.
Discover Panama’s rainforest rivers by piragua
The place roads are missing, dug-out riverboats referred to as piraguas (or cayucos) are used. Typically 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 whole boat with a driver is pricey, and the value will depend upon the space coated, the load of the cargo, the variety of passengers, the engine sort and the gas 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 virtually in every single 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 every day car ferry, however solely Isla Colón has paved roads. Typical ferries join Panama Metropolis with Taboga island and the Pearl Islands.
Yachts incessantly 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 usually promote their providers. Full and partial transits of the canal are additionally doable with Panama Marine Adventures.
Rent a automotive to discover Panama at your leisure
Driving in Panama Metropolis is a logistical horror present, however there are a lot of high-quality 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 observe, particularly in the course of 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 obvious. In western Panama, a winding transisthmian freeway connects Chiriquí Province with Bocas del Toro Province, passing by 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 Gap are a no-go space for vacationers and you may be detained by the police in the event you try and cross into Colombia.
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 among 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 a long time. The glass-domed prepare takes round an hour to cross the isthmus and there is one service in every path each weekday.
Keep away from flying in Panama until 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.
Why the Panama Canal Railway is my favourite technique to journey in Panama
The trip lasts simply an hour, however the journey on the Panama Canal Railway is among the most memorable prepare journeys ever. The chief vehicles are fitted with refined wooden panels and plush seats whereas the vacationer vehicles have expansive home windows for observing canal infrastructure.
After speeding by dense tracts of tangled foliage, the road emerges to bracing views of Lake Gatún steeped in early morning mist. Between the vehicles, there are open home windows in the event you want to breathe within the rainforest air.
Accessible transportation in Panama
Not like neighboring Costa Rica, Panama will not be 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 motels and resorts are outfitted with ramps and seize rails, and lots of points of interest are wheelchair-friendly, however long-distance buses don’t have a lot area. Hiring a automobile will be the best choice. For extra info on accessible journey, see Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Resources.