Santa Clara, Panama: No Car No Problem - A day in the life

This is just one ex-pats story of how to make the best of it and be pleasantly surprised in the process.  In the last few months we have found ourselves “transportation challenged.”  We have bored our friends with our mechanic woes about what should have been a 3 day job to fix our car and which turned into a 3 month affair with 4 different mechanics.  The positive side is that we have found a mechanic we really like and trust and we have discovered that the Panamanian transportation system is great!  I have to say we are really impressed with the efficiency and the quality of the buses into the city. I think that if Toronto had half the system Panama has we would have had the Olympic games in our city long ago.

7:00 a.m. - Out in front of our development on the highway with our puppy to say goodbye and to wait for the bus.
albrook_terminal_thumbnail.jpg7:10 a.m. - A brand new, air-conditioned Coaster Bus stopped in front of us.  The attendant got out and put the 100 pounds of luggage in the back compartment/trunk for the trip to the National Bus Terminal at Albrook Mall.  Total cost $3.

8:10 a.m. - Robert hopped off the bus just after the Bridge of Americas and took a taxi to Tocumen, which is $20 + tolls if you want to take Corredor Sur expressway.  He did this as he was running out of time and he wanted to get to the airport to ensure he arrived within 90 minutes of his flight departure.

8:35 a.m. - Robert arrived at Tocumen with over 100lbs of luggage and a leather jacket to check in for his 10 a.m. Copa flight. For a total cost of $25.60 he made it to Tocumen in style, no stress, read a book and was, for once, not running to catch his plane!  LOL!

If we had left the house about 15 minutes earlier this morning he could have made it the whole way by bus.  Last week we toured into the city to meet a friend at Tocumen.  It took 1 hour 40 minutes by bus from San Carlos to Tocumen and cost us $3/each.  The bus from the Albrook Terminal to Tocumen is a huge 48 seater Coach Bus with air-conditioning and the fare is $1.

The Albrook bus terminal is spacious, lit and very, very clean.  The Tocumen Coach is accessed on the lower level next to Dunkin Donuts.

I have traveled to Panama City a few times on the bus on my own.  I am a Canadian woman and I insist on wearing shorts.  I have never been bugged, hassled, or even looked at twice.  Taking public transit is the way of life down here for most of the population and I would rather sit next to someone I don't know, and read a book or take in the scenery than stress myself out by driving, not to mention I am doing my part in helping our environment. I do drive into the city on my own which is another story in itself :)

If there is anyone that has wanted to try the bus but has been reluctant to do so, I would love to show you how. I am off to the city this weekend on Panama Public Transit.  My only advice is to keep your purse on your lap, don't forget to bring a few dollar bills and enjoy the ride.

Notes: Our anonymous writer’s story is a great example of learning pleasant things from necessity in Panama. Panama’s National Bus Terminal is directly adjacent to the Albrook Mall. A taxi from the bus station to anywhere downtown is typically $2.50. A round trip for one person by bus from Coronado by McDonald’s to the bus station, to the banking district by taxi and back to Coronado costs $9 for one person.

If you want to shop at the Albrook mall, or just see a movie, the mall is across the street from the bus terminal and the round trip costs $4. The buses along the Santa Clara, Coronado, Chame route  pass about every half hour going into the city and they all go to the Albrook terminal. If you are at Albrook buying a ticket to go up the coast you will see the names of the destination cities listed above the ticket windows and you only need ask if the bus goes to your destination.

If longer destination bus travel is your goal the overnight “sleeper” from Albrook to San Jose, Costa Rica and back is $60 before the “jubilado” discount. Like the large air conditioned bus from Albrook to the airport the long distance buses in Central America are new, clean, large, and air conditioned.