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.
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.