One of the key questions a newcomer to Panama City may have is how to get around. In this two-part series, I will take you through the options of walking, taxis, ride-sharing, and public transport.
Walking Around in Panama City
One of the best ways to get a feel for a new place is to explore it on foot. I have done so on many occasions, and I often walk several miles to bathe in the sun. There is an oceanfront promenade leading from the city to Casco Viejo, the historic part of town. It’s lined with parks, playgrounds, some cafes, a fish market and street vendors who sell cold refreshments at reasonable prices. It’s ideal for joggers, bicycle riders, and walkers. Most importantly, it’s safe for kids.
Walking to the supermarket, bank or specialty store is also an option in Panamá. The more modern infrastructure, however, is modeled on U.S. principles, where pavements may not be the priority. Walkways are common, but they can abruptly end and continue the other side of the road with no pedestrian crossing, or they are littered with building access roads and mega-tall-curbs that are not pedestrian-friendly.
I enjoy walking in town to enjoy all the city has to offer. Walking is a great way of appreciating the hustle and bustle, the generally friendly mood of the people, the stores and cafes.
However, walking in Panama City isn’t for everyone because it’s hot; 88-92 degrees Fahrenheit is common from 10:00 A.M. This is not ideal for carrying groceries or if you’re in a hurry. If you want to jog, I recommend early morning hours with temperatures around 75-80 degrees F.
Sharing a Ride
For my first outing the morning after my arrival, I used an Uber to get me safely and on time to the immigration lawyer. I had registered with the rideshare before I arrived in Panama. That was a wise move because it took a few days for my residential internet to be installed.
Depending on the time of day, waiting times for a car range from one minute to 30 minutes in the city. My two-year average is around 10 minutes. Most drivers speak some English, and the rideshare companies allow special options for English-speaking drivers.
I found rideshares to be cost-effective, safe, and reliable. There are two main services in Panama City: Uber and Cabify. The latter tends to be a bit more upmarket. They have never sent a drive with a beaten-up car. Their prices can be higher than Uber’s. I always compare cost and driver availability and pick whatever is fastest if it’s not wildly more expensive. In a recent court battle, the Panama Supreme Court decided that riders could pay with cash, but the Dept. of Transportation has issued a contrary order. Card payments are the safest and quickest.
Taking a taxi
Cabs here differ from other places–they take cash and only cash. Panama has traditionally been a cash-based society and it still shows in many areas. Paying in smaller USD notes (1, 5, 10, 20) or balboa coins, is expected (1 Panama balboa = 1 USD). Taxis come in all forms and shapes. They are yellow. There are many decent cars, but some wouldn’t qualify as roadworthy in Germany. No cabby I have been in runs a meter.
If you do not speak Spanish, use a rideshare, not a cab! You must negotiate cab fares beforehand and only pay when you have reached your destination. I have had no problems with cabs. They are proud Panamanians and friendly for the most part.
Hailing a cab is easy because they find you. Whenever a yellow cab passes, they honk their horns slightly to make pedestrians aware of their presence. Don’t react to it unless you want to hire a cab. They will stop if you nod even slightly. Ignoring is best if you don’t need a cab and no offense is taken. Cabs tend to be cheaper than rideshares. Cabbies can be quite chatty. I even start to understand a thing or two– and know where you’re going.
In Part 2, I will talk about public transport options in the city. In the meantime, if you have a question about Panama, leave a comment, and I will respond.
By: LP Wirth