After driving into Panama City yesterday to drop our guests off at Tocumen for an evening flight, I have decided that I will always take the bus or fly to the city until the subway system is completed in Panama.
I have been taking the bus since we arrived in Panama almost 5 years ago. Unless I am going shopping for some big items, the bus can accommodate my shopping sprees of shoes, household items and clothing. They all have storage under and over the bus, 95% of the buses have air conditioning and some even come equipped with video entertainment. The best part is it costs me a whopping $3 from the road in front of my gated community to the Albrook Mall Terminal in Panama City. For those of you who want an almost stress-free ride to and from the city, here is how it is done.
Cat Mandell and Denise MacDonald on their first bus ride to the city
From the Coronado Area to Panama City
1. You can catch all city-bound buses in front of the Yogen Fruz Ice cream shop in Coronado (in front of the Super 99 Plaza). 99% of the buses that stop there are going to Panama City. This includes both the 30-seat white coaster buses and the large coach buses. The guy standing in the door of the bus (I will call him Door Guy) will ask where are you going and will confirm the bus is going to “Panama”. All Panama buses go to the Albrook Mall Bus Terminal. Some buses take a loop into Chorrera. If you are pressed for time then ask the Door Guy, “Directo a Panama, sí?” He will confirm they are going straight to the city or doing a loop into Chorrera.
2. Board the bus and find a seat. Once the seats on the bus are filled, the bus will not stop to pick up more passengers. You will not be asked for your money until the bus is over The Bridge of the Americas. At that time, the Door Guy will come around and ask you for your $3 (or sometimes $2.50 or sometimes $2.75). He has a good memory and will remember where you got on the bus.
3. Once at the Terminal at Albrook, you can grab a taxi to your destination or proceed into the mall to do your shopping.
If you live in San Carlos or Chame or in between, like I do, you can still catch the bus on the highway. I stand on the highway at the entrance of Costa Esmeralda and put my hand out as the bus is approaching–if they have room, they will stop.
From Panama City to the Coronado Area
1. Get back to the terminal via the doors outside of El Costco or down by the Cinemas in the Albrook Mall. You can take the foot bridge which is located upstairs from the Food Court.
2. If you think you are going to be a frequent bus user, obtain a MetroCard so that you can get out on the platform where the buses are waiting without having to explain to the platform lady that you are only a tourist before poking through your pockets to find the five cents required to pass through. The MetroCard is obtained at the MetroCard kiosks. Put $1 on the card and that will take care of your entrance to and from the platforms for a long time. If you are a very occasional bus user then just hand the platform lady her five cents and have her let you through the turnstiles.
3. Before getting to the platforms, go to the kiosk that says San Carlos or Anton. Tell them where you are going (Coronado, Chame, Costa Esmeralda, San Jose, San Carlos, etc.). If you are travelling beyond San Carlos then you will need to take a Penonomé bus or a Santiago bus.
4. They will ask you for your $3 (or $3.25 or $2.75). You will then be issued a ticket with a number on it. Do not pay any attention to the number. I repeat, do not pay any attention to the number.
5. Go through the turnstiles and proceed to your bus. For the San Carlos bus (that will stop at all requested stops until it reaches San Carlos) you will go to platform #42. The buses are all clearly marked on their windshield; if you are unsure, ask one of the drivers standing in front of the bus.
6. Board the bus. Take out your book and enjoy the ride to the beach. The Door Guy will yell out the stops before you get to your destination. When you are disembarking you hand the Door Guy your ticket.
Tips and Etiquette
All Panamanian Bus Travelers will be wearing long pants or a skirt or a dress. You will never see anyone on board with shorts unless they are a foreigner. You can wear whatever you want; this is simply an observation that I have made and have been told is part of the culture when traveling anywhere in Panama.
When the passengers board the bus, most will address the whole bus with a “Buenos” or “Buenos Dias”.
Most of the long haul passengers will fall asleep so watch out for a snoozing head hitting your shoulder.
The A/C will be cold and the music will often be a little loud. Bring a long-sleeved something if you are sensitive to the chill.
Keep your hands on your purse and items at all times. If you have too many bags, store them under the bus rather than under someone’s seat.
Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back–you are now a Central American Bus Traveler.