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Traveling Around Panama

Two Expats Enjoy Exploring Panama
by Elaine Hayes

In Panama, the COVID pandemic situation is improving greatly. Gone are the gender shopping days, the quarantines, the curfews for most of Panama has been lifted, no more temperature checks when you go into a restaurant or a store.

The restaurants are open; the malls are open and full again, you can sit inside a restaurant now, stay in a hotel, even go to a movie!

Panama is back!

And for this retired expat, that means traveling again and I could not be happier!

Hello, my name is Elaine. My husband and I have lived in Panama for 6 years. One of my favorite pastimes before the pandemic was to hop on a bus and go anywhere I wanted in Panama. One of the joys of living here is that Panama is small enough where you can get to Panama City from anywhere in the country in just a few hours’ time. Now that Panama has “opened up again”, I am taking full advantage of the country that I have grown to love, a country that is now my home.

Now join me on my latest adventure!

Leaving my husband to fend for himself for a few days, my best friend and I created our version of “Gringa’s gone Wild”!

Even though I have lived in many parts of Panama, I now live in my favorite town which is Boquete. Nestled high in the mountains, the air is cooler, the mountain views are spectacular and the atmosphere is quieter, more peaceful than some of the busier parts of the country. I moved back here after spending (and enjoying) the beach town of Coronado.

My best friend still lives in the Coronado area. The joy of living in Panama is that I am still close enough to be able to see Suzanna as much as I want even though I moved 5 hours away! Therefore, we planned on meeting each other in Panama City for a few days. It will be fun to not only see each other but to play tourist!

When you live in a place, it is quite common that you never go to where the tourist goes, and because of that, you miss a lot of the history and charm of your own backyard. But not us, we were going to enjoy the freedom of travel and enjoy the delight of the things that are so close to us!

Even though I have a car, I had 2 reasons not to use it for this trip. The first is that I LOVE taking the bus in Panama! It is so much fun!

The second reason is that I hate to drive in big cities. When I grew up in the United States, I always lived in small towns. No driving in big cities for me! Especially when you get the joy of riding a bus!

I am going to take you step-by-step on my journey from Boquete to Panama City, so one day, you can do the same!

I got on the bus in Boquete headed to David, where the bus station is large and will allow you to get on a bus headed to pretty much anywhere you want to go in the country. That bus trip cost me $2.50 and took about 45 minutes.

The bus driver will put your luggage in the compartment underneath and give you a ticket so you don’t have to worry about it for your trip. {I always tip them when at the end of the journey when they take my ticket and hand me my luggage at the end of the bus ride. It is not mandatory, but it is a nice thing to do.

Once I got off the bus in David, I asked one of the workers where to go to get on the Panama City bus. Now is the time for full disclosure. Even though I have lived here for many years, my Spanish is not very good. So, the real exchange was that I found 2 men standing by the buses wearing the same t-shirt of the bus terminal. I said to them “Panama City?”, and they pointed in the direction for me to go.

In front of each bus parking spot is a sign that tells you where that bus is heading. Once I knew what direction to go, it was very easy to find the Panama City bus!

Since I have ridden the bus from David to Panama City before, I knew where the bathrooms were (bano’s) so I made a quick pit stop. I was sure to have a bunch of change with me, that comes in handy for tips and in this case, the 2 quarters they charged for the use of the bano.

I also knew that since I was going cross country, unlike smaller busses, there was a ticket counter where I could purchase my ticket. Side note: when you are in a larger bus station and get your bus ticket from a counter, they will ask for your ID, whether it be your passport, or in my case my E-Cedula (my permanent residence card). I knew the busses take off frequently but I did not realize that the bus I wanted was minutes from heading out.

So, while I was waiting in line for my ticket, the bus driver came up and said to us waiting in line “Panama City?” A gentleman behind me and myself said yes, and he motioned for us to follow him to the bus. After giving my luggage to a worker there at the bus and getting my luggage tag, when I was getting on, I said to the driver that I did not have a ticket. He told me (in English) that I could pay on the bus. It was just that easy!

It was a beautiful, modern, air-conditioned bus with comfortable seats so I sat back and started enjoying the ride!

From experience, I knew that about halfway through the 7 hours ride we would be stopping at an outdoor cafeteria for a 20-minute break in the town of Santiago. (see photo below)

Shortly before we arrived there is when a bus employee came and charged me my bus fare, which after reminding him that I was “Jubilado” (Senior Citizen), the fare came to a whopping $10.60! Imagine going cross country and it only cost the amount of a Starbucks coffee with a Danish!

My timeline had been that I got on the bus in Boquete around 9 am, then the bus taking off from David to Panama City around 10:20, and making it to Albrook bus station in Panama City around 5:20. I used the time on a bus for a quick nap so I would be able to enjoy my night, and I was able to enjoy the countryside without having to worry about driving the entire time! That is what I call a win-win situation.

I have talked about Panama being open and the COVID restrictions lifting. With that being said, I did have to wear a mask and a face shield on the bus. As of this date, Panama still requires you to wear a mask in public.

I love the Albrook bus station. It is attached to the Albrook Mall, which is the largest mall of all the Americas. My friend and I decided to meet at the Wyndham Hotel which is next to Allbrook Mall. We rented a room to share for 2 nights.

albrook mall panama city panama

I decided to arrive a day early so I could get a good night’s rest before Suzanna drove in from where she lives near Coronado. Since her trip is only an hour and a half long, me having the room already meant that she could come as early as possible. Again, win-win situation!


Upon her arrival at the hotel, we headed to the Amador Causeway for a lunch at the Marina. After a delicious Shrimp Ceasar Salad, we rented one of the fun bicycle carts that are everywhere in that area. For $10.00 per hour, not only is it fun to drive, it allows you to explore all the shops and the different things to see in the area! We even stopped for ice cream!

When our hour was up, we headed back to enjoy shopping at the mall, enjoying the rooftop pool, and eating at the Sushi restaurant that was in the hotel itself. What a great day we had!

The next day we decided instead of Suzanna driving, we spent the $3.50 and took an Uber into Casco Viejo or “Old Town”. The history is amazing, and they have refurbished this part of Panama into a thriving area of beautiful architecture, shops, and restaurants. The cobble-stoned streets, the well-maintained squares, and the century-old churches make Casco Viejo a must for anyone visiting or in our case living in Panama to see.

One of our first stops was the Iglesia de San Jose (Saint Joseph’s Church) to look at the Golden Altar. The famous story surrounds the altar when Jesuit Priests found out that Captain Henry Morgan was on his way to attack the city in 1671, they painted the golden altar black to hide the gold from the pirates. (It is the rich history such as this that makes Panama City a must see.)

After visiting many more sites and eating a delicious lunch, we headed back to the hotel for more fun in the sun at the pool, and of course, some more shopping in that glorious mall!

The next day Suzanna headed back to Coronado and I retraced my bus steps back to Boquete. Four days of fun for 2 retired ex-pats enjoying Panama!

The point of this article is not a travel guide but rather an inside look at just a few of the wonderful things you can do when you live here. (There are many, many things to do and see in Panama City but we only picked a few. It is highly suggested to do your own research for all the sites to see.)

Our next trip could be to enjoy some of the islands around Panama, whether they be in the Pacific or the Caribbean. The number of things to see, the history you can enjoy, the ease of traveling either by bus or by car is just another reason to pick Panama as a perfect place to retire. So, until my next adventure, happy trails until we meet again!

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Sabine Ryder says

    What a lovely story about the ease of travel in Panamá and the many wonderful things to explore.

    • Jackie Lange says

      I’m glad you enjoyed Elaine’s story!

  2. Gary says

    Buses have toilet on them?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Some buses have a toilet but most do not.

  3. Jenny McLellan says

    Hi Jackie,
    I’m currently in Panana City with my fiance. He is from here. This article was very helpful to get additional information about traveling from other parts of the country to Panama City. Elaine explained details that are very helpful. I listen to your calls and watch the videos since we want to retire here from U.S. in a couple of years. This is my first trip and have met his family. Thank you for all the great information you provide!

  4. Susan Knapp Light says

    As a former CZbrat raised at 15th Naval District and a. BHS 1956 graduate your story brought back great memories. Thanks for your description of the ease of traveling in Panama.

  5. Jerry Leskiv says

    Is uber pretty efficient and safe in Panama? Looking to use on a long layover in Panama.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Yes, Uber is efficient and safe in Panama. It’s better than a taxi

  6. Tobias Schohl says

    Thanks for the great article. This gives us confidence that we can get through the country worry free, even if we don’t have our own car, when we eventually come over from Costa Rica at the end of April.

  7. David Jordan says

    I have always enjoyed Elaine’s video about the “Fuzzy House”. I credited her enthusiasm for helping my wife and I to decide to retire to Panama in the near future. I greatly appreciate her sharing her experiences riding the bus. Meeting her and her husband is on our Panama Bucket list. Elaine, thanks for sharing your joy of life in Panama!

    David Jordan

  8. Alice Spurr says

    Thank you, Jackie, for posting this wonderful article by Elaine. No doubt her step-by-step direction on traveling in Panama will be very helpful for many newcomers as well as people who haven’t traveled yet but want to. I completely understand her preference to travel by bus rather than by car to a big city, like Panama City. I, for one, would much rather have the freedom to enjoy the time visiting places instead of being stressed by driving and having to find a place to park in the busy city. Of course it takes more time traveling by bus but when you are retired and live in Panama more or less permanently what does it matter? I hope you continue to add her future travel experiences in your email. I really enjoyed the article. Thank you!

    One question I have is Uber only available in Panama City?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Uber is available in Panama City. Elaine mentioned in the article that she and her friend took it one day. I’ve taken Uber many times in Panama City. I think it’s the best way to get around.

  9. Stephen harrison says

    Elaine’s article was very informative and well written. She sounds like a hoot to be around. I hope you will have many more of her articles posted in the future.

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