Modes of transport

How to get around in Panama

Modes of transport

Panama is an amazing country that offers fabulous and very different landscapes, despite its small size. You should get the maximum out of your stay in Panama, and travel inside the country.

Here are the different ways for you to travel in the country.

By air

Domestic scheduled flights are available to all major cities and towns in Panama, including: Achutupu, Bahia Piña, Bocas del Toro, Carti, Changuinola, Chitré, Colón, Corazon de Jesus, David, El Porvenir, El Real, Isla Contadora, Isla San Jose, Isla San Miguel, Isla Secas, Jaque, La Palma, Mamitupo, Pedasi, Playon Chico, Rio Sidra, Sambu.

The two main domestic airports are in Panama-Albrook and in David.

The two main airlines to travel inside the country are Aeroperlas ( ) and AirPanama ( ).

By rail

Except for the historical train between Panama City and Colón that runs parallel to the canal, and is operated by the Panama Canal Railway Company ( ), there are no passenger railway services operating in Panama.

By road


The road system throughout Panama is reasonably good. People drive on the right. The speed limit on highways is generally 90 km, and is between 40 and 60 km/h in towns. Nevertheless, it is not considered safe to drive outside the cities by night.

Since many of the laws of the road are often ignored and driving can be reckless, you should drive defensively. Seat belts should be worn at all times and are mandatory for the driver and passenger in the front seat. Children under the age of five must sit in the back seat in fitted child seats. Drunk–driving laws are not strictly enforced and road accidents occur frequently.

You should also be aware that it is not unusual for two way streets to become one way streets during the rush hour periods in Panama City; therefore care must always be taken. You should also know that insurance is not mandatory in Panama, even for third party damage and injury, and many Panamanians drive without it.

In case of an accident, Panamanian law used to require that anyone involved in an accident had to wait with the vehicle until the traffic police arrived. However, this law changed and you are now allowed to move your vehicle so that it does not disturb traffic. In any case, people tend to prefer to stay and not touch anything until the police arrive, which causes big traffic jams.

Car hire

Car-rental firms are represented locally in Panama at the main airport and in major town centers. In the international airport of Panama, Tocumen, you can find most of the major car rental agencies.


Efficient express bus services go to most towns from Panama city. Most of these regular services have air-conditioning but are otherwise often in poor condition. Poor maintenance and low driving standards are the cause of numerous accidents. A modern bus terminal was completed in 1999 and is near the domestic airport at Albrook. From there you can also take a new bus to Costa Rica and many countries in Central America.

Within Panama City and the suburbs there are local buses, which are very cheap to use. However, it is quite difficult to figure out the rides and the stops, plus they are often overcrowded and considered unsafe.


Panamanian taxis do not have meters and should have standard fares based on the number of zones travelled through, but you should always negotiate the fare beforehand. Taxi services are cheap although prices increase at night and when it is raining. Within Panama City, a taxi is supposed to cost between $1 and $2. To go to “el casco Viejo” which is a bit further, it is not supposed to be more than $3. To go to the airport, it is around $16 but to go from the airport to the city, a taxi will charge you almost $30. The “sedan” taxis that stay parked in front of malls or hotels will charge you at least twice what you would pay for a hailed cab.

When you hail a cab, the driver will stop and ask where you want to go, and if it is not on his way, he might leave without saying a word.

If you know that you will need a taxi for a large amount of time, you can hire a taxi for the whole day or a specified number of hours, with the fare agreed at the start. There are also radio taxis, which can be ordered by phone and are listed in local telephone directories and these are recommended.

You should know that taxi aggression does occur, so do not take a taxi if there is someone else already inside it, especially at night.

By boat

From Panama City, you can take ferries to go to Isla Taboga with Calypso’s company or Isla Contadora, in el Archipielago de las Perlas, with Sea las Perlas’ company ( ). The boats leave from the Causeway, Amador.

Boat is of course the main transportation in Bocas del Toro, San Blas, Isla Coiba, Isla Grande… You should always negotiate the price whether it is just a boat taxi or a tour. You can also have a boat tour through the Canal or to go to Barro Colorado Island.

As you can imagine, the options are big from piraguas (traditional canoe), lanchas (small boat), ferry, yacht, sailing ship… and the price will vary according to your chosen mode of transportation.

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