Travel to and from Western Panama

We’re in David, close to the Costa Rica border. We love it here but travel to the US is difficult. There has been talk about direct flights from David to the US for a long time. The airport is ready and I’ve heard rumors about a couple airlines looking at the possibilities, so hopefully something will change. It would be a lot easier.

We recently returned from Santa Rosa, California, and wanted to make the trip home in one day. Our son in law convinced us that he should drive us to San Francisco on Friday night. A hotel there didn’t cost much more than the bus fare we would have paid, and we didn’t have to go in the middle of the night to make our early flight. So, we slept in until 5AM (ha!) so we could get some breakfast and get on the 6AM van to the airport.

We made it through the check in process with a comfortable amount of spare time before our 8:30 flight. After a four hour flight, now 2:15 with the time change, we were in Houston. There was the 3 mile dash to the other end of the airport, four more hours in a plane, and we were in Panama City – 7:15 PM.

We took a taxi across town to the bus terminal. The terminal was nuts! There were long lines at every window, and the line for the non express bus stretched all the way down the hall, and looked like enough people to fill two buses. The line for the express bus was much shorter but wasn’t moving. We were told that the staff was outside waiting for the arrival of another bus. It was only a little after 8 PM, but when ticket sales resumed the 9:30 bus was full and we were sold tickets for the 10:30 bus. People in line told us that it’s payday in Panama and that’s why there were so many people traveling.

But, typical of Panama, we made new friends while we waited. The lady behind me had three kids including a darling but active 3 yr old boy, and we chatted about her kids, travel, and life in general. The guy in front of us is an aspiring singer and musician, and now I have one of his CD’s. He hopes to make a living as a singer, and maybe give concerts in the US as well.

The rumors you hear about the express buses being cold are true, and I was happy for my sweater with a hood, and my husband’s extra shirt which he draped over both of us. The bus was so cold that the windows were covered with condensation and you could hardly see out. If I fell asleep a drop of cold condensation from above would land on me, or the lights would come back on for something – the assistant helping someone to the bathroom, a stop, the assistant putting in another CD, etc. The seats were as comfortable as a bus can be and reclined way back, but I’m just not good at sleeping in seats so it wasn’t the restful journey we hoped for.

There was a stop in Santiago at a cafeteria, but a smaller one, not the one I remember from other stops. It was good to get out and stretch though and have a snack. The bus stopped at the checkpoint but unlike other times, the officials didn’t even board the bus or detain it for more than a couple minutes.  Finally, we arrived in David at about 5:30 AM, though we hardly recognized the unfamiliar section of the terminal through the fogged windows. Thankfully, our musician friend was watching out for us and made sure we got off at our destination.

It’s surprising how many people were out and about before dawn. Thankfully, some of them were taxi’s so we had no trouble getting one to take us to the house. It felt so good to finally be home! I was tired though. I generally don’t sleep well in my normal waking hours, but I slept almost straight through until 2 PM, and I was pretty worthless for the rest of the day.

Would I do it like this again? Maybe. We saved the expense of a hotel in Panama City and got home quicker.  I think I would try to avoid payday though, and the express bus. I noticed some of the more experienced travelers had winter type jackets on, so the cold must be expected on the express buses.

I’m not going to think about more travels at the moment though. It’s time to settle in at home for a while, and do some things around here. Later, I will work on arrangements for our August trip to the US!

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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15 Responses to Travel to and from Western Panama

  1. indacampo says:

    Would you be able to get a red eye to get into Houston for the morning flight to Panama for your next trip? It lands around lunch time I think and that gives you the day to travel by bus Home.

    And note to self, don’t travel at the end of the month and near pay day. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

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    • Kris says:

      We thought about staying overnight in Houston, but the flights from California to Panama City weren’t much more than from Houston to Panama City so overall, it didn’t look cost effective. There are many options but bottom line, the way things stand now, it’s such a long trip that you either stay overnight somewhere or come home quite tired from traveling in the night. We have time so we have more choices. For family though, people who don’t have a lot of time off from jobs, it makes it really difficult for anyone to come visit us here.

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      • indacampo says:

        LOL! We’re having the same problem. We haven’t seen anyone but Eric’s parents in the over a year that we’ve been here. We’re starting to think that if the mountain won’t come to Mohamed we must go to the mountain. Just hate to leave here, I’m kind of set in my ways. 🙂

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        • Kris says:

          Yeah, probably so, about going to the mountain. I understand about wanting to stay put and I’m glad to be home, but if it’s a matter of not seeing people I’ll get out my suitcase.

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  2. maureen says:

    Kris,
    Thank you for this story… we will avoid all the tips for our first travel there!

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  3. Emma says:

    we have a guest bedroom in panama city and i’m sure i could talk my roommate into hosting fellow expat bloggers! he’s met some before. 🙂 (just depends on when in august… let me know if you want to consider it!)

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    • Kris says:

      Wow, thank you so much, very kind of you 🙂 I will let you know when we get our travel plans together.

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    • charlene charles says:

      Hi Emma, if your guest bedroom is not taken by the end of August, I would certainly be interested. All replies appreciated.

      Charlene

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      • Kris says:

        I believe Emma is out of the country at the moment and not on line very often. You might go to her blog and leave her a msg there.

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  4. tombseekers says:

    Ypu’re right about the Arctic Express busses. Meat locker doesn’t begin to describe the cold. We come from Miami and it’s still a really long day to Boquete and two days to return. People want to visit until they hear the planes, trains and automobile story.

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    • Kris says:

      Arctic Express bus? LOL Yep, that’s a good description. We’ve taken the regular buses before and they are chilly, but I don’t remember them being this cold. And yes, people have promised to visit us too, but we shall see if anything actually happens. We didn’t get visitors in Florida, and this is a bit more complicated!

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  5. oldsalt1942 says:

    Let me tell you, from my several trips back and forth to PC during the daytime, ALL the buses are like meat lockers. I always bring along a sweat shirt and a small blanket. I pity those who think that we’re kidding about how cold the buses are and don’t come prepared.

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    • Kris says:

      I don’t remember the regular buses in the daytime being that cold, but maybe because it was day and I wasn’t so tired, and there wasn’t condensation dripping on me, it seemed better. I always travel with a heavy sweater because I get cold on planes and everywhere else too. I am a wuss! No wonder I’m happy in this climate.

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