The beautiful city of Panama City is surrounded on one side by the Panama Canal and to the south by the Pacific Ocean; on its other sides, it has rainforests that are protected. It has been growing eastward and upward with many high-rise buildings adding to its skyline.
For many years, the people of Panama City have been working hard to fix their transportation system which is always blocked with cars. Most recently, they have invested billions of dollars in it and after all these efforts now they finally have the best public transport system in Central America!
Getting around this city has never been easier with modern buses and metro trains. In the evening, you can take a walk alongside the beautiful Cinta Costera.
Exploring Panama City on Foot – It’s Difficult, but Doable!
Well, let’s just say that Panama City is not really the best place to go for a nice walk. Most neighborhoods are filled with streets that can be very confusing to find your way through and there aren’t many proper sidewalks, or clear road signs to help you get around either. Plus, the only way to cross from one side of the street to another are these old bridges which can make you feel a bit nervous and dizzy.
There are many drivers on the roads in Panama City who act as if they own the city. They drive very fast and don’t slow down when they see a pedestrian trying to cross the street. Most cars also have dark, tinted windows which makes it difficult to see or talk to whoever is driving inside it.
Walking around the city is still the best way to explore – it’s easy if you know what you’re doing! You can take a leisurely walk through neighborhoods or use public transport to get between places that are a bit further out. Just be aware – walking long distances in Panama City can get quite hot and confusing.
Explore the Streets of Panama City
Walking is the only way to sense and experience what Panama City is like. Santa Ana and Calidonia are two busy districts filled with lots of hustle and bustle, which is the true lifeblood of Panama City. They grew out of Casco Viejo, but they aren’t fancy like it. At Parque Santa Ana you can find all kinds of people such as people selling things on the street or offering shoeshine services.
On La Peatonal Street there are lots of stores selling cheap stuff and fast-food restaurants with really loud music. Keep an eye out for Bajada Salsipuedes alleyway, as it is full of stalls that sell unique items and medicines. This street ends at Plaza 5 de Mayo, which is a very busy place.
You should keep going east, you’ll end up in Calidonia. Its main street is usually filled with old and worn-out awnings. Throughout the years, this place has been full of energy from shoppers visiting the many market stalls set up here. The air is always thick with grease from cooking oil, car fumes, sweat and sweet smells from ripening fruit. Vehiles make a lot of noise as people are yelling to get attention for their goods. Music can also be heard playing loudly.
Keep going east and you’ll soon come to the area where the banks are located. The buildings here are tall, new and look fancy. It creates a different atmosphere altogether.
Explore Panama City with ease
Remember to wear clothes that are suitable for hot weather, bring some water with you and have a good map handy. Panama City has plenty of interesting places to explore, so make sure you check them out!
In the old part of the city called Casco Viejo, there is no need for public transport since everything is in walking distance and calm streets making it perfect for a leisurely stroll.
Make sure to stay away from El Chorrillo, the neighboring area, since it can be dangerous for visitors. The Cinta Costera is a great place to walk and look at the Pacific’s skyline but make sure you are ready for hot weather during the day. On Sunday evenings, it is filled with people who like to take a walk along its length.
El Cangrejo has lots of awesome bars and restaurants that you should totally visit in the evening. Balboa was once part of the Canal Zone, and it’s really peaceful, with lots of trees and you can take a walk around to get an amazing view of the canal from Ancón Hill!
Get Around the City Easily with a Metro Card!
If you’re traveling around the city, you will need a special Metro card. If you’re arriving in the city at Tocumen International Airport, you can purchase one near the SIM-card kiosk for $5. This will include $3 worth of fares.
Alternatively, if you are already in the city, visit your local train station to buy an integrated card which allows travel on both buses and trains (the orange Metrobus cards only work on buses).
If you’re going to take a bus across Albrook, make sure to get the “RapiPass.” It will give you permission to go onto the platforms. You can find charge cards at Metro stations, grocery stores and some stores with a Metro sign logo. The least amount of money you can add is 50¢ while the most is $50. One card can be used by 4 people in total.
A Quick and Affordable Way to Travel
The Panama City Metro opened in 2014, making it the first train system in all of Central America. The two existing lines work to avoid traffic jams and make it easier for people to get around the city. There are plans for three more lines and a light railway too!
If you stay in the El Cangrejo or Calidonia areas, Line 1 is a fantastic way to travel. It takes you through Vía España and the closest stop to Casco Viejo is Cinco de Mayo, which is quite far away. The Metro will get you to Albrook bus station quickly and without fuss.
The Metro runs from Monday to Friday between 5 am and 11 pm, 5 am and 10 pm on Saturdays, and 7 am and 10 pm on Sundays. If you take the train during peak hours, there will be one coming every few minutes! Every journey only costs $0.35.
Take a Ride on Panama City’s Modern Buses
A long time ago, in Panama City, the buses were special ones! They had cool artwork and bright neon lights, not to mention the super loud reggaeton music that would come out of them. People called them “diablo rojos”. Unfortunately, they weren’t in great shape – they were hot, cramped and often broke down. Plus, when they moved along the roads, they Create a smoky haze from their diesel exhaust.
The buses in Panama City have changed a lot, and they now use nicer, modern buses that are air-conditioned and powered by Volvo engines. There are currently 1400 of these buses on 140 different routes in the city. The airport and Amador Causeway can only be reached by bus.
Use the MiBus website or app to check bus schedules and routes, or just wait at a stop for a passing bus. Swipe your Metro card when you board the bus. Each ride costs $0.25, but toll roads cost $1.25. When you hop on the bus, two free transfers come with it – which need to be used within 40 minutes – as long as you tap your card on the green validator near the back of the bus before getting off. Buses only accept Metro cards, except for some ‘diablo rojos’ (red buses) that only take cash payments.
The city has two main bus stations, Albrook and Plaza Cinco de Mayo. They are located between the downtown neighborhoods of Santa Ana and Calidonia. Amador Causeway is a nice place for biking!
Cycling in Panama City
Biking around Panama City is not a good idea because it can be dangerous with traffic and there aren’t any bike lanes to protect you. However, you can rent bikes on the Amador Causeway or use the Cinta Costera which has a special lane for bikers and rollerbladers. If you still want to go cycling, weekends are best when there’s lighter traffic – Sunday mornings are the most popular time!
Panama City people are really chill… except when they drive. In my opinion, drivers in Panama City are some of the craziest drivers I’ve ever seen. If you want to get anywhere on the roads there, then you should be aggressive instead of polite and kind – it’s much more effective.
Driving in Panama City can be quite hard. With roads full of traffic and floods, it’s not the most fun way to get around. It also requires navigating looking for signs, going the right direction and dealing with random diversions and accidents. If you’re up for a challenge though, you can rent a car at the airport or other locations in the banking district. Just make sure you have a good GPS so you don’t get lost!
In Panama City, it is normal to negotiate with taxi drivers. © Ivan_Sabo / Shutterstock
Taxis are not hard to find in Panama City, but they’re a bad deal instead of using public transport. The drivers try to charge too much money and you should steer clear from taxis that wait outside hotels as their rates normally cost three times the regular fare. Near downtown, short rides should be between $1.50 to $5.
Get Where You’re Going with Confidence
If you stand on a busy street, you can wave to a taxi driver who is passing by. The driver will stop and ask you where do you need to go. Be polite when you give your answer because the taxi driver might be grumpy and drive away without taking you anywhere if he doesn’t like what you said. Usually, taxi drivers don’t want to get stuck in traffic or need to turn off in too many different directions, so they won’t take passengers going there.
Before you get in a taxi, always ask how much it will cost. The driver should use a system to calculate the fare (but this doesn’t usually happen). If there is an argument about the fare, you can check the zone map for the answer.
Some drivers may pick up other people on the way to where you’re going. Tell them if you don’t want this and ask for ‘servicio exclusivo’ or ‘no compartido’. If they give good service, remember their phone number for next time. Taxi drivers usually don’t expect a tip unless they help with your bags.
“Ubering in Panama City
Uber is a popular ride-sharing service in Panama City, but it has caused some controversy because it gives people a cheaper and more reliable option than yellow taxis. Even though Uber is usually safer and less expensive, some of its drivers have been caught overcharging customers by not turning the meter off at the end of the ride. Taxi drivers often protest against Uber’s presence on city streets.
Panama City isn’t great for people with disabilities. There are mostly broken sidewalks, and very few areas designed for disabled people to get around safely.
Tocumen airport and all the Metro stations have wheelchair access with special elevators so you can get to the platforms. The Metro trains have orange chairs just for disabled people, and there are buttons inside each train car that you can press if you need help. Also, there are two spaces for handicapped people in the middle of Metrobuses. To make it easier, you can also hire a private van with a driver.
Big hotels are ready with ramps, big bathrooms, and special handles. If you plan to stay somewhere for a long time, or even move there, then you can ask your local government agency called SENADIS (La Secretaría Nacional de Discapacidad) to give you an official permit. Unfortunately, the government support isn’t very strong yet but it is getting better. Check out our online webpage that gives more useful information about accessible travelling.