There’s a great benefit to owning a car regardless of the city you live in. Transportation is quicker, you’re protected from the elements, and you can go further. But do you really need one in Panama City, Panama? What would it be like without one? Will you be able to get around, if so, how?
Why you should buy a car in Panama City
Panama is small but it’s loaded with things to do. To fully explore this beautiful country, a car is ideal. From Panama City, you can take flights to David, Bocas Del Toro, and Changuinola, and then rent a car for exploring. However, those areas only scratch the surface of all Panama has to offer.
The first reason you should buy a car is so you can easily travel to all the crooks and crannies of Panama. There are towns, beaches, and natural wonders scattered from east to west and north to south. While renting a car is possible, having your own is most convenient.
Keep in mind, the famous Pan-American highway is well maintained but some secondary roads can be a bit rough. This is something to note if you are looking to purchase a vehicle and explore.
Another reason to buy a car is to be protected from the elements. If you haven’t seen our weather article, you can check it out here. It can rain quite a bit in Panama City, though usually for a short period of time. Still, in that short period of time, you can get pretty wet if you’re walking. The midday heat could also be a factor in your decision. A car would help with this small inconvenience of living in the city.
Getting around the city might be a tad quicker than public transportation as well. This could be useful in emergency situations or when you’re late for that Sunday brunch. When the roads are clear, you’ll be able to get from point A to point B quickly. Panama City is not tremendously sprawled, and most of the most popular neighborhoods are close to one another.
Why you shouldn’t buy a car in Panama City
It is by no means a necessity to own a car in Panama City. In fact, there are strong reasons why you shouldn’t! The first reason would be the cost to purchase and maintain. There’s no reliable data comparing the cost of a new car to a place like the United States. However, it’s easy to be surprised by the cost of a new vehicle. Prices are similar to that of other 1st world countries. Additionally, there are maintenance costs, gas, insurance, and inspections. These costs add up, and when taking public transportation is just as easy, it’s a no brainer to avoid purchasing a vehicle.
This leads to our next reason which is public transportation. Public transportation in the city is safe, clean, and affordable. A metro card is just $2, rechargeable at all metro locations and many other locations. The card will give you access to the metro buses and rapid transit system (train).
The train runs mainly north to south through Panama City. Where the train doesn’t go, the buses make up for it, connecting you to places like the Amador Causeway, Tocumen International Airport, and Punta Paitilla. Train rides are $0.35 per ride and buses are $0.25 per ride.
If you’d prefer to travel by taxi or uber, you’ll find it’s also easy and quite affordable. Taxis are anywhere from $1.50-$5 and uber’s $2-$6, topping around $7-$9 during peak hours. Obviously, these costs will be higher with longer rides. Such as going to and from the airport which is 30 minutes away.
Another reason not to buy a car in Panama City is the traffic. In Panama, there are many one-way streets, which can mess with the flow of traffic. During the day roads can get pretty congested. Routes that may take you 5 minutes with no traffic could take up to 20-25 minutes. This can be frustrating for some but Panama is a growing city with a sizable population.
The good news is, most of your daily necessities are within walking distance. Neighborhoods are full of mini-markets, laundromats, and shops. And if you can’t find what you need, you can head to the malls with a taxi or uber.
Parking can also be a headache in certain parts of the city. Sometimes you’ll need to get lucky to find street parking. But be warned, if you are holding up traffic, Panamanians will not be shy about honking their horn.
Panamanians are not dangerous drivers but they can be a bit aggressive at certain times. Maybe even a little risky. The pace of traffic is a bit quicker in Panama. Highway driving is a different story, however. Cars tend to be very cautious of their speed due to speed traps and cops on the highways. Panamanian highways are notorious for speed traps.
Lastly, an indirect benefit is the health reasons. An extra 5-10 minute walk per day can be great for your health long term. The exposure to sunlight will be an added dose of vitamin C per day as well.
The reality is, owning a car has pros and cons. Ultimately it matters what is most important to you. If you’re wondering if your life will be miserable without one, we promise you it won’t. Many choose to skip buying a car and are happy without one. Though if you want to explore the country, a car would be ideal.
It may be a good idea to get a Panamanian driver’s license either way. On a tourist visa, you can drive with your home country’s license for 90 days. After that, you’ll need to get a Panamanian driver’s license to rent a car. Might as well get it done so you can explore all this beautiful country has to offer.