In my last blog, we talked about walking, rideshares, and cabs. But there are other practical ways to get from A to B in Panama City: via bus or the Metro.
There are buses that run frequently virtually everywhere in town, with hundreds of bus stops throughout the city. The major hub in the Albrook bus station. Albrook is the largest mall in Central and South America.
Purchasing a Metro Card
To use the public transport system, you must buy a Metro Card. These are available at most pay points, metro stations, and at Tocumen airport. The card costs USD $2 and you can add any amount with cash or via card. Look for orange Venta de Tarjeta y Recarga signs. A ride is cheap. As of March 2020, it’s a mere 35 cents. The card is valid for public transport bus rides and the Metro.
Regular PT buses are generally modern and air-conditioned. You always enter at the front and tap your card against a ticket reader. A hip-high metal barrier will open once your card is validated. I have used buses infrequently because most of what I need is within walking distance. But on occasion, to get my cedula, for example, I took a bus ride. It’s a good service.
Pets are not allowed on buses, so if you want to take poochie, you need a car or use a rideshare service.
A bonus is the transfer feature. You’re charged one price for one ride, regardless of destination (with certain exceptions– the airport for example). You can tap your card at the reader when you
exit a bus and if you board another one within forty minutes, i.e. transfer, you won’t be charged again.
Planning Your Ride
To plan your bus ride, you can use Metro Bus Panama. I found internet map services that show bus lines even more practical.
There are also plenty of private bus companies. You will know them because they have conductors yelling out the destination of their ride to solicit passengers.
The most famous individually owned buses in Panama are the Diablos Rojos. You will hear them before you see them because they play loud music and drive with their doors and windows open.
They have no air-conditioning. Once they come into sight, expect a colorful bus that often looks wild with abstract graffiti art. It’s a picture to behold. I haven’t tried one yet…
The pride of Panama City’s public transport is the Metro, the rapid transport system. The trains are made in Spain.
They’re clean, air-conditioned, and fast. Using the Metro is the quickest way to travel in the city. But unlike western metropolises, Panama currently has only two fully functional lines. A third is currently being built, and a fourth is planned.
There are no stops near my area, but it’s a useful transport system for many Panamanians. A car ride from my area to Albrook Mall is about 30-40 minutes. The metro takes about 15.
Once more stations are available, the usefulness of the Metro will be even greater. The road system in the City has its bottlenecks, leading to serious congestion during peak times. The Metro is a viable alternative to getting stuck on the roads above. It even has its own library travelers can use for free. You can borrow and return books at four stations. They are open from 5 a.m. till 11 p.m. As an avid reader, I would say that’s a fabulous idea, especially if you ride regularly.
I hope you found my two-part series about getting around in Panama City useful. Ping me your question if you’d like to know more.
By: LP Wirth