Panama has a bus travel culture. There are very limited railways and flying is both expensive and an increasing hassle.
We travelled from Uvita in Costa Rica to Boquete in Panama.
Often bus travel is a lot more enjoyable than taking a flight.
A flight would have required either a shuttle (expensive) or a bus plus a taxi to the airport, arriving hours early, going through all the sludge of checking in, bags being x-rayed, waiting for the flight and then being squashed into a seat designed for a midget! Arriving at an airport a long distance from your destination, anxiously waiting for your baggage – hoping it won’t be one of the sixty thousand that finds its way to where you aren’t! – and finally taking an overpriced taxi into town. Overall it may be quicker but it’s not nearly so relaxing.
Trapoca - Uvita to David
On time is not a feature of Central American life … and that includes bus travel. The planned departure of 11 to 11:30 turned into 12:30. Sitting in a very hot and humid waiting room was not the best start. Travelling in 3rd World countries you soon learn that with no expectations you’ll seldom be disappointed.
The bus was crowded and although there were seat numbers on the tickets the seats were already occupied. In these days of computerisation, the allocation of seats seems to be logistically so simple so why can’t they at least get that right?
I managed to get the last seat sitting hot shoulder to hot shoulder with a large man. My other choice was to sit on the floor until a passenger got off.
The bus was comfortably air conditioned. We travelled down a forest with a bananas and palm lined highway - the Pan American Highway. In theory this highway goes all the way from the north of the US through Central America to Chile and Argentina. In reality there is a 160 kilometre break at the Darien Gap - the dangerous section of jungle between Panama and Colombia. Like so many Developing World projects the concept is good but the practice a bit lacking.
Customs between Costa Rica and Panama
This was our first experience of a border crossing on a bus. We joined the line but soon realised we had not paid the Exit Tax. So we headed over the road to pay at a machine or in the office … this manual option turned out to be the slower option.
We walked the few hundred metres across the border and joined another line to the Costa Rican immigration. Nothing to pay but then the luggage had to be taken to Customs. Through an unmarked door into a room and having to complete the unavoidable piece of meaningless paper to complete.
The first impression is that the geography is different Panama seems to be flatter and drier.
There are towns being developed with new buildings and shopping centres in places like Santiago and Penonome and a new university in Santa Clara. We also passed a wind farm.
Finally David to Boquete
Arriving in David we were confronted by the expected flood of the overpriced taxis. We asked where we could find a bus to Boquete. It was easy … walk along the open passage saying “autobus para Boquete” until someone shouts out “Boquete” from the door of a bus. The transition … a very fast 20 minutes and we were on our way.
We had arrived in mid-afternoon and climbed on a local commuter bus. Schools had just closed and so it made numerous stops along the way.
Boquete to Panama City
We also decided to travel by bus from Boquete to Panama City.
The first leg was the commuter bus from Boquete to David slow bus every 20 minutes takes about an hour and a quarter but depends on the time of day ($2 per person).
David to Panama City
We had not booked tickets from David to Panama City but there is a bus every hour – with some express buses scattered throughout the day. On arrival we were directed to the end of the terminal. Arriving at the line we were approached by “a man” to go straight to the bus as one was about to leave.
Bumping our way through the waiting room we went straight to the bus. Luggage checked in … we were directed upstairs. No ticket and no allocated seat but no problem.
Left on the hour at 8am and stopped quite regularly on the journey. There was a longer stop for lunch and we arrived on schedule after about a 7-hour trip.
Another good bus travel experience in Central America.