Panama has a great bus system but it can be a bit intimidating especially at Albrook, the big bus terminal in Panama City. Maybe a few photos and tips will help.
When you arrive at the bus station, probably the first thing you want to do is buy a ticket to your destination. We were going to David so we needed to find the window selling tickets to David.
The easiest thing is to hand the your passport(s) to the agent and request your tickets – dos para David, por favor (two for David, please). They need your name and passport number, and its easier to let the agent read the information than try to tell them through the window in a noisy place.
Your ticket will have some important information.
I have circled the most important parts. Bus 63, means you will be on bus #63, and this number will be painted on the outside of the bus. Asiento 50 means you will be in seat #50. As you go down the aisle look for seat numbers. If I remember they may also say Vent (window) and Pasa (aisle). Hora 10:00 AM means you are leaving at 10:00 O’Clock. Destino (destination) is Panama, and Salida (departure) is David. Monto is price. The words above mean – esteemed passenger, present yourself 30 minutes before your departure.
Now you need one more thing, the card to get you through the turnstile so you can get to the boarding area. This seems to be unique to Panama City, so you won’t need this in other bus terminals. (This card is also good for buses and the metro)
This place isn’t far from where you buy the bus ticket, just a bit down to the left from the David window. Again, give the agent your passport and tell her how much money you want to put on the card (I’m afraid I don’t remember costs but it isn’t much, maybe a dollar for the card and $.25 to get through the turnstyle?) One card can be used for multiple people so you only need one. Keep your card because it can be used again, and you can also have it recharged here. You will find bathrooms on either side of this window also, and this card is used to get through the turnstyles to the bathrooms. Any time you use the card, your balance will be shown in the turnstyle window where you swipe your card.
Yeah! Now you are ready for the bus. The next thing is to find the waiting room, which is between the David ticket window and the place that sells the 3 in 1 cards.
If you have baggage, go to the side of the bus. There will be someone there loading baggage underneath. He will stick a ticket on your baggage and give you the other half. Hang on to this ticket because you will need to present it at the other end to claim your baggage. (They unload baggage one piece at a time and call out the number for the owner to come forward and claim their item. When you claim yours you have to present your half of the ticket. It’s a bit chaotic but somehow it always works out).
Then, finally, you are on the bus, in your assigned seat, and ready to get on your way! One more suggestion though – bring a sweater or jacket. Sometimes they get the air conditioning cranked up to freeze level.
If you are arriving at the bus station, things are much less complicated.
The mall also has a big food court of you are hungry. It’s at the very end of the hall past all the ticket windows.
Hopefully this will give you some idea of what to expect at the Albrook Bus Terminal. Everyone is helpful and used to confused travelers, but I think you feel better when you are armed with a bit of information beforehand.
This is pretty good…However…every bus I was on, it was as cold as a meat locker and as noisy as a rock concert from the awful movies. Don’t forget to wear long pants and have a jacket, no matter how hot it is outside…and ear plugs.
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Ahh yes, thanks! I added this suggestion in. You are right. It can be very cold on some of the buses, and they do tend to like noisy action movies.
This is great Kris. We ride the buses a lot. In fact, we just did the overnighter from Albrook to Bocas del Toro. I sure would have liked to read this post before our first time at the terminal. It is pretty daunting. People ARE very helpful and it doesn’t take a lot of rides to get the hang of it. Thanks for the post, I know it will help people. I agree with John, bring a jacket.
Thanks 🙂 I get a lot of people who are searching for info on line, so I figured an update might be a good idea.
Wish I would have had this post before taking the bus! But it all worked out. Great job talking about the Bus.
That’s right, you hadn’t heard about my blog before you arrived. I wish I had thought to send you the previous post which was outdated but at least had most of the info. Glad you made it anyway!
Here’s something I found out a long time ago. If you’re ARRIVING in PC the taxis outside the bus terminal are manned by pirates. Price gougers. There are Panamanian fares and gringo fares. So, if you don’t have much luggage to worry about, go across the street, go into and THROUGH the mall and come out on the other side. A taxi will be by shortly to drop someone off at the mall and you can usually get them to take you back into the city for LESS than what the pirates charge.
Probably the best in any taxi situation is to have an idea of how much it should cost, and always ask before getting into the cab so if it’s off the wall you can refuse and ask the next one. It has usually cost us $4-7 depending on where we are going and how much luggage we are carrying.
Not all busses give you a ticket with all that information, like the one from Panama to Chitre or Las Tablas, it is just a ticket with no seat number, but you do need the card to get through the turnstile.
Yes, I think these tickets are only for the big blue David-Panama buses. Usually on the other buses you just take any seat available and pay on the bus.
Agree with Mikkel. Having just returned from the city (we must have overlapped) going there and coming back it’s just telling them where and how many people are going. “Uno para Panama” return “Uno para Chitre” (SU picked me up there). And there is no seat assignment.
Going back I didn’t need a card to get through the turnstile at Allbrook ( I never have). You used to put a dime in the turnstile but now the bus driver’s assistant stands at the turnstile with his card and you just hand him a dime to get through while another assistant helps with your bag.
Keep an eye on the bag guy (if you let him take your bag I did, once again I left with one and came back with two plus) and remember to wait for the assistant to put your bag(s) on the bus and get the other half of the blue ticket. He should put on it/them so you can get them/it at the other end. When I got to Panama there was someone who didn’t have his other half and he had to wait until everyone else had claimed their bags to get his. Same thing coming back.
Also keep your tickets handy, don’t tuck them away somewhere and forget where you put them. The assistant will take part one on the bus before departure and the driver will take part two when you’re leaving the bus as proof of payment. Coming and going we didn’t have a full bus so there were people hopping on and off at various towns and they pay cash to the driver at the end of the trip.
That is very cool about giving the guy at the turnstile and giving him a dime. I haven’t seen that on the David-Panama bus turnstile.
I’ve only had them take one part of the ticket, never the second part. Things are different on different routes. I have been on the local buses though with people getting on and off all along the way. It is beyond me how the assistant can keep track of everyone and where they got on and how much they owe, but somehow he always seems to do it effortlessly.
Thank you amiga for your thoughts. I will have to bus to your town more often and get more experience with different buses! (I can think of many excuses to come and visit you 😀 )
LOL! I often wonder how they keep track of everyone too! And you’re welcome any time. 🙂
When we were at the terminal the first time going to David. We didn’t know to have the ticket for the turnstyle. We were lucky a local Panamanian used her card to let us pass through. This helped us on our second trip so we knew what to do. Also, since my husband is 6’3 they booked us on the top level against the window which was a great seat for us to stretch our legs and we had the best view. The only bad thing was it was cold because we were against a large window, but the view was worth it. On our way back to Panama City we aske for the same seat and were lucky to get it again. The buses are very comfortable and we loved the rest stop break we got for the buffet.
Yes, the buses can get quite cold when they crank up the AC but otherwise I agree, they are comfortable. I’m glad to hear they could get your tall husband a seat with more room.
This is all excellent information for a first-time Panama visitor. You mention a rest stop break. Is there a bathroom on the bus?
Yes, there is a bathroom on the big David – Panama buses. The smaller, more local buses don’t have bathrooms though.
Oh, and don’t poo in the bus bathroom. On our last trip someone did. They stopped the bus, the assistant made a big announcement about how embarrassed they were about the problem, and then he and the driver made a few trips through the bus with buckets. Oops
LOL! One more important thing to remember as we go on our adventure, Your blog is excellent, thanks so much to you and all of your contributors.
You are very welcome, glad you find the blog helpful 🙂
Thank you for this very useful info. It will make the bus trip to David next month less daunting!
Oh good, I’m glad you found it helpful
More bus questions!
1. What is the drop-off location for passengers in David? Do you know if there is a car rental ‘shop’ nearby that location?
2. Can the ticket to David be purchased a day before or does it have to be on the day of travel?
3. Have you ever encountered a situation where the bus was already fully booked? How soon before departure do you recommend ticket purchase?
Buses bring you to the bus terminal in David. I don’t believe there is a car rental place near there. The only ones I know of are at the airport. What is your ultimate destination? There are always taxis meeting the bus if you need one.
I have always bought a ticket for the next bus out. I don’t know if they can be bought ahead of time.
Yes, it happened once that the bus was full so we had to wait an hour for the next one.
About car rentals – understand that you must buy insurance here and that can about double the cost of the rental. Your credit card, your policy at home, nothing else works here, only the insurance sold here. If I understand correctly, even Panamanians with insurance on their cars aren’t covered for rentals and need to buy this insurance when they rent. Be very careful to inspect your car for any tiny ding or scratch so they don’t accuse you (and charge you a bundle) when you return it.