In all of the guide books and web sites on Panama they all advise the readers not to rent a car at the airport. There’s a very good reason for that…you probably won’t make it to your hotel or hostel alive. Nothing in your driving background has prepared you for the experience of driving in Panama City. New York City? Paris, France? Rome, Italy? Pussies one and all.
I took the following video one afternoon at about 2 o’clock on Via Argentina a couple of blocks away from my hostel. Cars coming in from the right and left have a stop sign, but it’s only a suggestion.
One of the main drags in the city is Via Espana and there is only one safe place to cross the street and that’s a bridge that crosses over the road. During my second visit to Panama a gringo tourist was killed trying to cross Via Espana and the stupid thing was he was only a couple of blocks away from the bridge.
One of the major hazards to traffic in Panama City are the “Diabos Rojos,” Red Devils, old school buses that were deemed unsafe to carry American kiddies to school are exported to Central American countries and either become “chicken buses” or Diablos Rojos. The Diablo Rojos are garishly painted but only cost 25 cents to ride.
Taxis are the way to travel in the city. They’re everywhere and they’re cheap. Cost is determined by how many “zones” you travel through but, in general, most rides are no more than a buck or two. Just make sure you confirm the cost before settling your butt inside. And DON’T TIP! It’s not expected and the natives hate it when gringo tourists tip because it makes it tough for them.
In spite of everything transportation throughout the country is quite good and accessible through an expensive bus system, and they aren’t chicken buses, either. Riding from the huge Albrook Terminal in Panama City to David (da veed) is done on large Mercedes Benz buses that put anything Greyhound offers ti shame. These buses are air-conditioned, super clean, and have t.v. screens where they show movies during the trip. With my Pensionado discount the six hour ride from PC to David costs $8.80. It’s $12 and change if you don’t get the discount, and there’s a half-hour stop for food in Santiago at the half-way point.
The further into the countryside you travel the buses get smaller. When I went from Santiago to Chitre it was on a nice, new, mid-size bus with regular seating for 30. The buses pick up and drop off passengers on the roadside along the route and until the regular seating filled up I didn’t notice there are “jump seats” that fold up into the aisle for the overflow.
When I decided to visit Pedasi the buses became 12 seat Toyota vans. The cost is reasonable. The nearly two hour jaunt from Las Tablas to Pedasi was $1.75 and the driver would leave the main road to drop passengers off in small towns along the way.
In all my bussing around Panama the only chicken I saw was this young man with his fighting cock at the bus station in Santiago.