So you’ve moved to Panama City, specifically the beautiful and central neighborhood of El Cangrejo. Next step- figuring out how to get around. Though it seems like every local Panamanian drives a car even if only to go one block, you want to be different and not own a car either because the aggressive driving style of Panama isn’t for you or at this point you’re simply not interested. Either way, we’d like to present the facts about getting around in Panama with its various modes of transport and let you decide the best route for you.
The international ride-share app exists in Panama and seems to be improving daily. At all hours of the day or night you will find at least a handful of Uber drivers wondering the streets, able to pick you up in a matter of minutes. Safe, comfortable, and accessible, Uber’s transparent rate system provides transparency in what was a roll of the dice taxi fare system, just hoping not to get ripped off.
Additionally, with the introduction of Uber English, you don’t even have to worry about a language barrier with your driver. Picking you up wherever you are, Uber makes it easy. You might want a local phone number though, in case the driver tries to call you to clarify where your pickup location is. Typically, an Uber ride through the central city will cost between $3-5.
Take a Yellow Cab (TAXI)
Looking to be adventurous and travel the local taxi route? First of all, be careful as taxi drivers may not have insurance, the paperwork to the car, or it might not even be their car. Furthermore, price gouging is common if you look foreign and don’t speak Spanish. Few taxi drivers speak English. Best to pre-negotiate the price before you ever get in the cab. With a million and one taxis on the road this becomes a quick option if your phone is dead and you have a couple bucks in your pocket.
If you get lucky you may only pay $2 for a ride across town, but be prepared to pay even more like $5-10.
The latest ride share app to hit the market, Cabify is the Panamanian version to Uber. Technically it exists throughout Latin America and Europe and is considered more the Spanish Uber than anything. The big difference here is that Cabify charges per kilometer of the calculated route regardless of the actual route taken by the driver. In contrast, Uber charges according to minutes in route & kilometers travelled so you may be able to experience a price difference in your favor versus Uber.
Rent a Car
Don’t want someone else driving you around? Renting a car is easy in Panama and in El Cangrejo there are at least 10 rental car agencies. Please note that traffic is usually horrendous during the weekdays from 7 to 9:30 am, around 12 noon, and from 4 to 7pm. If you want to get somewhere fast then don’t drive because not only is traffic terrible, but the numerous potholes punctuating the roads will definitely slow you down. Additionally, you’ll find that rental car companies don’t tend to include insurance in their list pricing so be ready to pay an additional $50-100 per day on top of that list price you see.
Take the METROBUS
Join the thousands of Panamanians that use the bus every day in their daily commute. Operating on a star route system all buses depart from Albrook terminal and head out to their end destination along single routes. They then return, usually along the same route, back to the terminal. So, in order to really get around on the Metrobus you need to first learn what the routes of each end destination bus are in order to fully utilize the bus system and not end up at the other end of town. One of best routes for getting around the city is the bus that says: Panama Viejo-Via Israel-Mariscos. It stops by key places like Multiplaza, Multicentro, Avenida Balboa, San Francisco, the Fish Market, Panama Viejo, and Atlapa. There are a ton of busses for this route so you should not have to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. You can get the bus at any of the stops on Via Israel, & Avenida Balboa (it basically goes in a circle on these main streets).
The Metrobuses are fairly comfortable with air conditioning onboard and fairly clean interiors. The cost for using the Metrobus is only $0.25 for any one way ride regardless of if you are going one stop or to the end of the line. If you hop on a bus that uses one of the toll roads then the fare increases to $1.25 – be aware of this for the Corredor Sur & Corredor Norte. If you’re taking the bus to the airport, then you’re looking to save quite a bit, paying $1.25 instead of approximately $30 in Uber or taxi. In order to ride the Metrobus you will need a MetroCard which costs $2.00 and can be purchased at grocery stores like Super 99 or El Rey or at the terminal.
Hop on the METRO (SUBWAY)
Operating in Panama since 2014, the new subway is very clean, reliable, and easy to use. There is currently only one line, so no worries in trying to navigate a complicated subway system. Each ride only costs $0.35 and you will need a MetroCard as mentioned before for the buses. It also works on the Metro. In El Cangrejo, there are 2 subway stops – one at Via Brasil and the other one at La Iglesia del Carmen. The subway will take you towards Casco Viejo and loop you back to Albrook Terminal. Going the other way, the subway takes you out away from town. Metro Line Two is in construction and will go all the way to the airport. This line will hopefully be open in the next year or two.
Bike Around the City
If you’re willing to take your life into your hands then feel free to navigate the winding, pothole filled, congested roads of Panama. Drivers do not respect cyclists so using a bike as an everyday mode of transport is not ideal or recommended. On Sundays however, the government shuts down the Cinta Costera for cyclists to ride safely all the way from Panama Viejo until Casco Viejo.
Don’t already have a bike? In El Cangrejo you can visit MTB bike shop right off Via Argentina. They specialize in mountain bikes, which might be good idea given the pothole situation.
What’s the Takeaway
From areas like El Cangrejo it is very easy to access a number of modes of transport, but we do recommend avoiding taking a car down Via Argentina in the afternoons as the congestion tends to get so bad that you could be stuck in place for an hour, not inching forward at all. Close to the two subway stations you can easily walk to these or hail an Uber. Good luck and be safe navigating the busy streets of Panama!