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Getting Around & Out of Panama City

If you have never been to Panama you may have an image of bumping around dirt roads in an old bus with chickens and pigs in the back seat! Remember that Michale Douglas movie, Romancing the Stone? Although it’s true in most Latin American countries it's not so in Panama. Just one of the many pleasant surprises is the ease with which you can get around. You have the options of plane, train, automobile and boat depending on where you are and where you want to go.

The Pan-American Highway (Carretera Panamericana), commonly known as the Inter-Americana, stretches from the Costa Rican border in the west across the country into the heart of the Darien province. There it stops about 50 miles from the Columbian border. The Darien Gap is this area along the border between Colombia and Panama. It is a lush rain forest with one of the highest degrees of bio-diversity in the entire world. This region, its wildlife, and its indigenous inhabitants are protected by the national reserve status in both countries.

The Pan-Am Highway is a real treat by Central American standards, and in some cases even North American standards! It is well maintained and there are plenty of food and gas stops all the way across the Isthmus. The trickiest part of driving in Panama is in the cities and getting out of Panama City itself. Many vehicles, including buses and taxis, are not well maintained so city driving can be an adventure. Taxis are so cheap I recommend getting about by cab within the city and then picking up your rental car when you are just ready to leave.

Getting out of the city can be fun too! The first time we drove into Panama City from Boquete it was a lovely drive and a breeze to make our way right to the Miramar Hotel on Avendia Balboa. Getting out was another story! We found ourselves circling in and out of Casco Viejo for over an hour before a helpful Panamanian motioned for us to follow her and led us to the Bridge of the Americas. Later we were told the easy, but unmarked route directly out of the city.

Here it is: Take AVENIDA BALBOA southwest along the Bay of Panama (BAHIA DE PANAMA). As you approach CASCO VIEJO watch for a Shell Gas Station on your right. Just past and beside the station take a right turn (N/NW). You will come to a busy intersection with a traffic light. Once you pass through the intersection get in the left hand lane and take the on-ramp. It seems a little odd because the ramp is on your left. It feels like you are going the wrong way up an exit ramp. Above you will see a sign, PUENTE DE LAS AMERICAS. The ramp will loop around and you will be traveling south west again along, AVENIDA DE LOS MARTIRES which will take you to PUENTE DE LAS AMERICAS (The Bridge of the Americas). This highway turns into the Pan-American highway and if you stay on it you will end up in Costa Rica!

For North - South driving from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean side, across the continental divide there are only two routes. The Trans-Isthmian Highway will take you from Panama City to Colón and Portobelo. Closer to the west end of the Isthmus there is a wonderful highway which runs from the town of Chiriqui, just east of David, across the divide to Chiriqui Grande, Almirante and Changuinola on the Caribbean. I'm not sure what the name is but it is fairly well marketed. You will see a sign for Chiriqui when you enter this small community on your right watch for a nice paved road and the sign for Chiriqui Grande.

In my next article, Getting Around Panama, I'll fill you in on the other transportation options you will want to take advantage of. Buen Viaje! Happy Travels!

About the Author: Mark has been there and done it! He lived in the Republic of Panama. With his wife and two sons he traveled throughout the country and learned how to Safely Invest in Panama Real Estate bargains. Panama City, Bocas del Toro, Boquete - Shop, Golf, Bird Watch, Snorkel - Now you can follow the journey with his young family discovering the best places to eat, stay and live. To learn more about Mark's family adventures in Panama visit

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