The Pan-American Highway in Eastern Panama is a good, 4 lane highway. The Pan-American Highway in Western Panama between Santiago and David, however, is in very poor condition and only 2 lane. A few months ago a massive construction project was started to make this section 4 lane and it’s going to be fantastic when it is done. Right now though, it’s quite a mess.
On my recent bike trip I chose to travel this part in the bus and I am very glad I did. On my return I was in the front seat next to the driver which gave me a great view of the highway. As a cyclist I was especially conscious of how dangerous it would be to travel this road on a bicycle. There are bikes all over Panama including on the Pan-American Highway east of David. In this section however, I only saw one local guy on a bike. Even the Panamanians who bike everywhere know better.
Here are some of the photos. Excuse the poor quality of the ones taken through the windshield and tinted screen.
Leaving Santiago and heading west, there are large stretches where the new road looks ready for traffic. I appreciate the wide shoulders that will made biking safer and more fun.
The existing road that is being used currently is in poor condition and there is very little shoulder.
Other parts of the new road are still dirt.
There are many bridges being built.
There are many areas with no space whatsoever for a cyclist except on the road with traffic.
Even where there is a small space it is gravel which makes for very difficult biking.
Other sections of the new road are gravel.
There are areas where dirt is still being moved and the roadway is being carved into the hills.
Farther down the road around El Higo, work has not started at all. The driver is driving on the shoulder to avoid some of the worst of the holes and bumps.
Much of the road is in very poor condition and getting worse all the time from the heavy vehicles that must use it every day.
Piles of rock and rubble are waiting to be removed.
The hydroelectric damn under construction in Tole area (if my memory is correct)
As we come towards Tole the construction resumes.
The road may be a mess, but the countryside and vistas are as beautiful as ever!
In some areas there is construction on both sides of the highway.
Another section of gravel that looks like it should be ready for paving.
There is a bit of shoulder here, though it isn’t always in very good condition and there is plenty of traffic.
A bridge under construction
More dirt being moved, and a shoulder not fit for riding. It is possible to bypass the highway by taking route 5 between Santiago and the Tole checkpoint, but one must still travel this stretch of the road to go the rest of the way into or out of David (about 100 kilometers)
A disabled bus is stopped in the road to make it even more interesting to get through.
The road continues to be in very poor condition in some areas. The bus was all over the road and shoulders trying to avoid the worst holes and bumps.
There continue to be large vehicles and no shoulder fit to ride on.
There is Volcan Baru! How nice because this means I am getting close to home.
Coming in to David the road is still a mess with rough gravel shoulders.
Many people are curious to know how things are going with the construction so I hope this gives you some idea. They are working hard and I can see a lot of progress every time we travel through. It’s just such a huge project so it’s going to take time to clear the land, move the dirt, build bridges, move utilities, prepare the road bed, and get it all paved. Then, when the new part is ready I expect we will be driving on that while they repair and rebuild the existing road. Even this will be a huge improvement over the cracked and broken road that is currently in use, but it’s going to be a while yet.
For my cyclist friends though, I strongly urge you to take the bus for this part of the trip! It will be hard for you on this road, and it will be hard for the drivers who have to make their way around you. Any bus with a roof rack can take your bike, or any of the huge blue David-Panama buses can put it in the baggage area. It cost me $13 from Santiago to David on a coaster bus, $9 for me and $4 for the bike. The other way it cost $11 for me and $5 for the bike on the big blue bus from David to La Divisa (about 20 miles east of Santiago). My idea of touring isn’t riding the bus either but in this case, I think it is much more important to arrive safely.
About Kris Cunningham
We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
Thanks for the update, great pictures, no way I want to drive it, much less ride a bike. My friend Tim has discovered a route that takes you out to the coast between Santiago and David and misses most of the construction.
There is the route 5 through Sona. Is that the one you mean? I’ve heard that is a great road, beautiful and much safer for bikes. It doesn’t go all the way to David though so you are still stuck with 100 km or so of construction.
Much easier to bypass 75% of the Panamerican hwy re-construction and travel from Santiago toward David on Highway 5 through Sona. Beautiful, newly paved road which joins with Panamerican at the big police check point at Guabala. Slightly longer than the Panamerican, but faster because there are no detours and most importantly : it’s smooth and comfortable. New scenery for those of us who have done the Panamerican directly to David many times.
Yes, others have said that’s a great route, beautiful and much safer. Unfortunately you still have to make your way between David and the police check point, which is about 100 km of construction and dangerous road for cyclists. It will be so nice when the construction is done!
Good call to take the bus for that part. But it sure will be nice when it’s finished! Might shave hours off the bus trip from David to PC.
It’s going to be great when it’s done, faster, smoother, more comfortable for everyone. Meanwhile though, we’re going to have to deal with this for a while.
Dito what you said Kris. Not a good road for now.
No, definitely not.
Hey Kris,,, Yeah, i knw all about that drive from Panama City to David… My girlfriend flew down from Atlanta, GA the 16 of Aug. 2014 and stayed till Aug 30, 2014… It is beautiful down there, We loved it, and plain to retire to Boquete in first part of 2017.. Well back to the Panama Hwy. redo.. When we got into Panama Airport Tucuman or what ever it’s name is. We got is one of those budget rental car’s with that way over priced Auto Ins., but that’s ok i see now why they charge so much. WOW,, driving in Panama City, and David, do understand, Plus all the work there doing on the Big Panama Hwy, and i thought we had some bad roads in Georgia.. So after the long ride through all the road and bridge work to the turn off to Boquete. We thought we’d fly back to PC on Panama Air, and get a hotel for the last 2 days we were in the country, and see a little of PC before we came back home…. BUT WE’LL BE BACK SOON, to start making our plans to make the move to live down there. I have some funny stories bout our trip, but i typr to slow, LOL….. So Kris, We want to thank you for all the info you put out on your blog. Maybe after we move down there, maybe Jill and I will get to meet Y’all… Well every body take and hope you enjoy Panama as much as we did…. Bill, and Jill, From Lilburn, Ga. USA
Maybe by the time you get back here it will be done. Or at least it should be a lot further along. Yes, this is a beautiful country and we love it too. We’ll look forward to meeting you after you get settled 🙂
Great information. I’ve been wondering what’s going on over that way since it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been over to Panama. I need to go over to get my carnet changed to a Cedula E but I’m planning on taking the midnight bus over to the city, getting in to Immigration first thing and then take the midnight express back to David so it will all be at night and I won’t see anything. Actually I have to go over there twice for the process.
Midnight bus? Ugh. We did that once. It was freezing and condensation from the AC was dripping on me. If I could manage to doze off all the lights would come on because someone needed to go to the bathroom, which of course woke me up. The people in front of us had their seats so far back they were almost in our laps. No more overnight buses for me! I’m old and I like to be comfortable. But, we also want cedulas and will ask the lawyer when we see him about how to do this.
OK, enough grumbling 😀 It’s another beautiful day in Panama, and it’s time for breakfast and a bike ride.
And your mission (that you obviously accepted) was to tell the rest of us how everything was progressing on that neck of the road. Good pics amiga and good advice for other travelers.
Glad I can post something useful 🙂 I had no idea how many bicycle tourists come through this area until we started offering a place to stay. I hope to get the word out to them so hopefully all of them can live to bike another day.
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I love Panama’. I always thought I would retire there. I had never thought about riding my bicycle there except for touring through there.
I’ve had so much fun riding my bike just around David. There are so many pedestrians and cyclists on the roads that the drivers are very used to this and are very good at sharing the roads. I’ve also found different terrains from fairly flat to challenging hills, and the scenery is pretty anywhere you go. The biggest challenge is the heat and hot sun so bring plenty of water and sun screen. But, that would be the case anywhere you go in the tropics.