Travel to Panama City
Flying to Panama City
Panama’s national airline Copa Airlines (www.copaair.com) operate direct services to the capital from Argentina, Aruba, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, St Maarten, USA and Venezuela.
There are no direct flights to Panama City from the UK. Indirect options involving one change include flights with British Airways via Madrid, KLM via Amsterdam and American Airlines via Miami. Prices tend to be about the same all year round - the best option is often to book two separate flights via the USA. Airlines operating direct flights from the USA include American Airlines, Copa Airlines and United.
Travel by road
All roads lead to Panama City – it is the geographical centre of Panama and it is hard to miss if you’re driving. Like most Central American countries, you drive on the right. Driving in the city can be chaotic. You need to be prepared to be pushy; keep your eyes peeled at all times and beep that horn as if your life depends on it. It is not for the faint-hearted, but the main roads through the city are slightly more manageable. Look out for the one-way systems.
Theoretically you only need a licence from your country, but the police can make things difficult for you if you’re stopped, so get hold of an International Driving Permit if you possibly can. The minimum driving age is 18. Speed limits are 40kph (25mph) within cities and 100kph (62mph) on the highways. Insurance is not mandatory in Panama – so drive very carefully.
Emergency breakdown services
Your car hire company will arrange roadside assistance in the case of a breakdown.
The decently-paved Panamerican Highway runs from one end of Panama to the other, stopped in its tracks only by dense rainforest at the Colombian end. Thus, you can get to just about everywhere worth seeing in Panama by stopping off along the way.
Coach travel in Panama is recommended. Panama City’s Gran Terminal is large and modern and part of the Albrook shopping centre. Ticket prices vary depending on the standard of the coach, but they all tend to be air-conditioned. There will be many buses going to every destination.
Time to city
From Boquete - 7 hours; Bocas del Toro - 10 hours; David - 7 hours.
Travel by Rail
Rail travel from Panama City is limited, as it is for much of Central America.
Rail fans can enjoy a historic train route from Panama City to Colon along the famed canal. It is a luxury service generally providing beautiful views. The service departs Monday to Friday at 0730 from Corozal Station (just north of the Miraflores lock), which gives plenty of time to explore Colon before the return journey at 1715. It’s a good idea to buy your tickets in advance.
Panama Railway Company (tel: +507 317 6070; www.panarail.com) operates services from Panama City to Colon and back. The train is very comfortable and the ticket price includes a snack box.
From Colon - 1 hour.
Travel by boat
From Panama City, you can travel to Colombia via the San Blas Islands, or on a transit, either full or partial, of the Panama Canal. The former involves travelling by private boat from the Island of Carti. You can book tickets within hostels in the city. The latter involves booking a seat with a tour company. The boats leave from Panama City’s main port of Balboa, or Flamenco Marina.
For full or partial transit of the canal from Panama City, the following tour companies are recommended: Canal & Bay Tours (tel: +507 209 2002; www.canalandbaytours.net), Panama Marine Adventures (tel: +507 226 8917; www.pmatours.net) and Panama Jones (www.panamacanal.com).