Panama Driving Guide

Panama Driving Guide 2022

Panama is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit

2021-08-06 · 9min read
Panama Driving Guide

Buenas! Greetings from Panama!

If you want to experience a vibrant culture and look for the adjacent views of the Pacific and the Caribbean, you should definitely try to visit Panama. With numerous cultural influences and a good tropical climate, the country has become one of Central America's most visited places. Additionally, the place has also been famously featured in various travel blogs for its good coffee products brewed straight from the Chiriquí highlands in the country's northernmost region.

There are numerous reasons to enjoy your travels in Panama. You can cruise through the different islands or drive your way towards the famous sites. Whatever it is that you like, if you intend to hire car rental vehicles in the country, you must always bring your international driving permit with you at all times. Being able to do so will make your trip more memorable and save you some time to avoid any potential delays in your travels!

How Can This Guide Help You?

This driving guide will help you with some of the most common inquiries when traveling the different regions of Panama. Moreover, this guide will bring about some of the facts and essential information about the country, which may help you with your future trips. In the succeeding sections, you will see some of the do’s and don’ts, the driving rules and regulations, and some of the most relevant questions about the country's driving situation.

General Information

Exploring the different locations in Panama would require you to have an IDP at all times. It is also considerably recommended to keep constant updates regarding the country’s current border status and quarantine protocols. Here are some of the essential things to know about the country to help you with your future travel plans.

There are a lot of things that can be gleaned out from your trip to Panama. From the numerous scintillating sceneries to a myriad of outdoor activities, the possibility to enjoy the country is limitless. In the succeeding sections, you will know more about the country, the people, and the history of Panama. Read along and learn more about the country!

Geographic Location

Panama is geographically situated in Central America. Interestingly, a larger portion of the country can be found between the Isthmus of Panama, where a narrow bridge of land connects smaller areas of North and South America. With more than 1600 islands off its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the country is famously recognized for the Panama Canal.

Panama is a tropical country widely known for its lush and splendid beaches. It has a tropical maritime climate that is warm and humid at sea level. The geographical orientation of its east and west orientation makes it the only country in Central America where you can see the sunrise over the Pacific and set over the Caribbean.

Unlike the other regions of Central America, Panama does not have four seasons. The country’s two seasons only follow the ‘dry’ and ''wet” months, usually starting during December and April. On an annual basis, Panama City receives at least 50 to 70 inches of rain. Additionally, the sea level temperature could reach 88 F during sunlight hours and 78 F after sunset.

Languages Spoken

The official language spoken in Panama is Spanish. For centuries, the influence of the Spanish heritage on the development of the official Panamanian language has also made its way towards the smaller regions of the country. Some of the unique features of the dialect inflection include the omission of the consonant syllables while the pronunciation is somewhat more nasal.

Speaking of the different regions of the country, Panama has about 14 languages which encompasses those spoken by the minorities and indigenous groups. Although Spanish is the main language, about 14% of the population are also fluent in English. If you are a wandering tourist, it wouldn’t be a problem to ask for directions since most people understand English.

About a small percentage of Panama citizens speak Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, and Korean. Immigrants from Asia, mainly in the Chinese region, have run smaller businesses and markets. Given this fact, native Chinese dialects particularly Cantonese and Hakka are also spoken by the majority.

Land Area

Panama has a total land area of approximately 75,417 km2 (29,119 sq mi). It is 772 km (480 mi) long and between 60 and 177 kilometers (37 and 110 mi) wide. Numerous forested hills and mountain range heavily surround the country. The majority of the land areas are equally divided into high plateaus, ridges, and valleys. Some of the country’s well-known deepwater anchorages include the Gulf of Panama, Pearls Archipelago, and the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean.

History

Panama is a country filled with a rich history that can be predated from the earliest settlement of the Native American People. The earliest groups of Guaymi, Kuna, and Choco were thought to have inhabited the unexplored regions of the country. Since then, the Spanish voyages have made their way to conquer the vast lands of the country.

The major ethnic groups in Panama originally stemmed from a diverse group of Amerindian people. Subsequently, Spain colonized it, and the cultural influences began to spread to the different regions of the country. After a few years, Panama achieved independence from Spain and became a part of Colombia before it finally stood its nation. A mixture of British, French, and American visitors has also influenced Panama through diplomatic arrangements.

In contemporary times, the country’s opening of the Panama Canal has made it one of the world’s leading transportation hubs. Consequently, the ongoing role of the strategic implementation of the location in international affairs and world commerce has enabled the transition of the country to a free state. Since then, the United States of America has relinquished control of the Panama Canal on December 31, 1999.

Driving to the Panama Canal is relatively easy! It only takes about 1 hour (approximately 43 Km from the Capital) to get there. If you do it via a land trip, you will need to secure an IDP to be permitted to arrive at the location. That is why it is essential to get an IDP as early as possible.

Government

Panama is a Presidential Democratic Republic. The President is both the Head of Government and the Head of State. He//She is elected by simple majority vote and serves a five(5) – year term. On the other hand, the Legislative Body is unicameral, with the National Assembly as the main legislative assembly. The National Assembly has 71 members; 26 of which are elected by plurality vote while the rest of the 45 are elected by proportional representation in multi-member districts.

Tourism

Different tourists from across the globe have frequented Panama for various reasons. The country has long been considered an ideal getaway vacation due to its uniquely captivating tourist sites like Casco Viejo and the Panama canal. Foreigners also favor the good tropical weather in Panama because it helps them do outdoor activities, sight exploration, and island hopping.

Aside from these things, Panama is loved because of its welcoming atmosphere. The vibrant culture and friendly people will make you feel right at home. You can enjoy the beautiful sceneries of its finest beaches or experience some of the most extreme outdoor activities like the canopy ziplining tours. Whatever it is that you like, there is always something new that awaits you in the country of Panama.

Are you excited about your Panamanian travel? If so, have you already got an IDP with you? If you still don't have an international driving permit, you can head on to the International Drivers Association and click on the IDP bundle that best reflects your travel needs!

IDP FAQs in Panama

The best way to traverse the different scenic routes in Panama can be done by driving. If you are the type of individual who delves into a thrilling land trip exploration, you would definitely enjoy the different regions in the country. Luckily, you can drive as a tourist in Panama if you have with you an international driving permit.

An International Driving Permit is required if you plan to drive within an international border. It serves as an unofficial translation of your country's driver's license and will also serve as a secondary supporting document for identification purposes. With an IDP, you get to enjoy your driving without worrying too much about the potential stops you might encounter during one of your travels. Most importantly, an IDP is required by most car-rental agencies. If you want to rent a car in Panama, always remember that you need to present an IDP as this will serve as proof of your initial transaction.

Is a Local Driver’s License Valid in Panama?

Driving in Panama with a Canadian driver's license is easier since the country permits 90 days validity for local licenses. Correspondingly, you can also drive in Panama with a US license considering that you only intend to stay for less than the 90-day allowable period. Otherwise, you will be required to apply for a Panamanian driving license.

You can use the IDP whenever you plan to drive in Panama. This is one of the first requirements for tourists who intend to drive within the country. Additionally, driving to Panama may require you to stop at different police check points. That is why it is essential to always carry an IDP with you at all times so that you can prepare for these types of scenarios. Alongside this, you must also always carry your other travel-related documents for identification purposes.

Can You Drive With A European Driving License in Panama?

Driving to Panama using your local driver’s license is only valid for up to 90 days. However, if you plan to stay in the country for more than the said time frame, you must secure a Panamanian driving license. Alternatively, tourists can opt to leave and return anytime after being out of the country for at least three days before starting over with another 90 days of allowed driving. The driving license in Panama is only allowable in the said stipulated time frame. Otherwise, you are required to secure a driving license in Panama.

If you’re all set for your Panama trip, you should take note of these things before heading out. Here are some of the application requirements for an International Driving Permit:

  • Valid government-issued driver's license
  • Passport size image of yourself
  • Passport copy (if needed)

If you already have these documents with you, then applying for an IDP would be easier! You can start right away by visiting the International Drivers Association website for more information on the latest bundles and package deals!

When Should I Apply For An IDP?

Ideally, it is best to apply for an international driving permit months before your intended travel date. If you want the best experience out of your getaway vacation, you should prepare at least weeks before and decide which place to visit. Also, always remember to bring all the essential travel documents with you in case they are needed for identification purposes and for renting a car.

An international driving permit application could take up to several minutes to be processed depending on the speed of the issuing office. You can look for the best package by applying with us.

An IDP is only valid for one year from the date when it was issued. However, newer IDPs have an extended validity of up to a maximum of 3 years. It is essential to consider availing of an IDP package if you plan to travel to Panama for the next three years or so. A good thing to remember is that an IDP cannot exceed the validity of your foreign driver's license. So, a tourist’s driving license in Panama, which is only valid for 90 days, is not accepted if the card’s validity has expired. Hence, it is important to regularly check your license to check if it is still up to date or needs renewal.

Renting a Car in Panama

While planning your Panamanian road travel, you might also constantly wonder where to rent a car. Renting a car not only gives you a sense of freedom when traveling, but it also gives you the idea of where to go and what to do in your travels. That is why the following sections will help you through some of the most common questions encountered by tourists when renting a car in Panama. Read along and know exactly where to rent a car and how to get the best deals!

Car Rental Companies

While in Panama, you’ll surely find an array of car rental agencies that offer sweet deals for travelers. Notably, there are plenty of car rental shops scattered throughout the capital. To help you make an informed choice, here are some of the best car-rental agencies in Panama:

  • Thrifty Car Rental
  • Panama Car Rentals
  • Budget Rent A Car De Panama
  • Avis Car Rental
  • Alamo Car Rental

But before you check on these car rental agencies, be sure to avail an IDP first. It is one of the most important documents car rental owners look for when transacting. Driving a rental car in Panama is the best way to enjoy the good place and save some money for your intended travels!

Documents Required

Driving a rental car in Panama would require you to secure personal identification cards and travel documents. Before you plan your trip to some of the beautiful tourist sites in the country, be sure to always bring with you the following:

  • Valid driver's license
  • International driver license
  • Passport and or an I.D and entry permit
  • A credit card with the name of the rental customer only (for non-electronic)
  • A credit card that will serve as an initial deposit during the rental period

Vehicle Types

Car rental companies in Panama offer various types of car rentals. If you are a budget traveler, you can rent economy cars for as low as $5/day. However, considering Panama’s terrain, you will better off renting an SUV or any 4WD vehicle.

Car Rental Cost

The cost of car rental depends on the type of car that you want to avail of. Most car rental agencies offer great deals ranging from $7 - $40 per day. To help you choose what type of car you would want to rent during your trip to Panama, here are some of the prices listed in some of the car rental shops:

  • Standard (5-seater car) - $7/day
  • Economy (2-seater car) - $5/day
  • Compact (4-seater car) $5/day
  • Intermediate (5-seater car) $5/day

Age Requirements

Additionally, it is essential to take note of the age requirements to rent a car in Panama. Most car rental companies allow those who have at least reached the age of 21 years old to rent a car. You’ll have to expect to pay for a surcharge, though, if you are between 21-25 years old. It is also recommended to check for constant travel updates before heading out to your intended destination.

Car Insurance Cost

The mandatory Panama rental car insurance includes the liability and property damage coverages that could amount to a maximum of $100,000 to $300,000. This car insurance coverage is optional, although it is highly recommended to avail for one. There are also a variety of other full-coverage options available. And commonly, you will need an accident report form to claim your insurance's benefits. Additionally, the charges also apply for the following car components:

  • Gasoline provided
  • Key replacement
  • Flat tire repair

If you wish to decline the charges, you can notify the individual car rental agency ahead of time or during the vehicle’s pick-up time. Also, it is essential to know that the potential damages covered by the packages mentioned above include:

  • Collision and total theft of the unit
  • Scratches smaller than 40 mm
  • Dents under 30 mm
  • Tires and crystals

For your safety and convenience, it is best to include these things during your reservation. It is also important to know that the car rental companies in Panama have now issued strict cleaning protocols for their cars. So, your safety wouldn’t be much of a concern.

Car Insurance Policy

In Panama, car rental insurance policies involve covering different types of circumstances that may encompass liability coverage and other similar injury protection provisions that guarantee your overall safety. Interestingly, you can also inquire about additional coverage depending on your needs and preferences. Other types of car insurance coverage are as follows:

  • Rental reimbursement coverage/transportation expense coverage
  • Gap coverage
  • New car replacement coverage
  • Towing and labor cost coverage
  • Ride-sharing coverage
  • Sound system coverage
  • Classic car insurance

Other Facts

Renting a car in Panama is not as difficult as it may seem. If you’ve traveled to other countries, the system is more or less the same. On the other hand, if it’s your first time renting a car in a foreign country, it is still not that daunting.

What Are the Tips That I Should Know When Renting a Car in Panama?

If you want to travel to Panama via car, you should look for the best car rental deals in advance. You can do this by looking for some information regarding the recent updates on car rental agencies online. To help you decide where and what to look for, here are some essential tips for renting a car in Panama:

  • Always check for a car before deciding. Take photos from all angles and check for any dents, scratches, or dings. This may save you from potential liabilities and ensure that you will not be held accountable for any damage to the car already there before the transaction.
  • Look for the car rental agency’s online reviews. This will help you make an informed decision based on the reviews of other tourists. Additionally, online reviews guides you to be more aware of the recent updates or policies which may differ from various car rental companies.
  • Avail a car that suits your travel needs. If you intend to travel with your family, choosing a wider car will help you carry additional luggage and give you more space. Before driving in Panama, look for reviews on what best car models to choose from.

Can I Drive To Panama Using a Rental Car?

There are a lot of ways that you can explore the beauty of Panama. Flying to Panama is the easiest and most preferred method. Once you get through the airport, you can access Panama City's main roads via land trip. That is why it is highly recommended to drive through the capital by renting a car. It is relatively easy, and it is one of the best ways to enjoy your trip!

If you are from neighboring countries in Central America, you can easily drive your way to Panama, similar to how various travel documentaries have portrayed it. However, you must take note that overland travelers are required to present entry and exit visa stamps so that they may be spared the potential inconveniences that may ensue once they decide to leave Panama.

Alternatively, the Paseo Canoas, which is accessed via the Pan-American highway, is the most frequently used border to cross. If you want to take a quiet crossing, you can head on to the Rio Sereno crossing. However, you must remember always to bring the essential travel documents and entry stamps to avoid any delays in your trip!

Road Panama

The Road Rules in Panama

Road rules are an essential component in regulating road safety. Wherever you are in the world, there will always be some form of restriction and limitation that you must conform to.

Important Regulations

Interestingly, some of the road rules may differ in some places. But whatever it is that makes it uniquely different, you must carefully abide by these rules and remember to follow them at all times.

Drunk-Driving

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is punishable by fines and punishment. In Panama, if a motorist tests for about 0-24 micrograms per deciliter in the breathalyzer, he is still considered within the tolerable limits. However, those who have registered a BAC (blood alcohol content) more than 24 micrograms will be charged with a $1000 fine and a corresponding withdrawal of license for one year. Consequently, repeat offenders are charged with a $1500 fine and suspension of license for three years.

The sanction structure in Panama for drunk driving is designed to help reduce the incidence of road accidents. It is anticipated that heavier penalties will be reformed to help reinforce this concept.

Seatbelt Laws

In Panama, all motorists are required to wear a seatbelt. Children under the age of 12 are also mandated to wear a seat belt since they are the most vulnerable group prone to accidents. Consequently, the enforcement of the provision regarding the mandatory wearing of seat belts also includes the passengers of the vehicle.

Parking Laws

There are designated parking areas around Panama, especially within the towns and cities. Although you may find local drivers parking in non-designated parking areas, you should try to avoid this. Designated parking spaces may require payment, but this is better than leaving your car in an unsecured place or spot.

General Standards Of Driving

While driving in Panama, you will notice that the driving is on the right side of the road. Like other European countries, the driving conditions conform to the set of rules imposed by the national government. You can get fined if you’re caught without a license and IDP. Most importantly, Panama has zero tolerance for drunk driving. If you are caught under the influence of alcohol, a fine ranging from $1000 to $1500 could be given, plus a corresponding 1-3 years of license suspension.

If you are in the country and you are planning to have a road trip, you must remember the following safety tips and driving rules in Panama:

  • Observe the main road’s current speed limit
  • Check for the car’s condition before heading out for long driving hours
  • Check for the gas, fluid leaks, tires, and other parts of the vehicle
  • Never drive if you are drinking or under the influence of Alcohol
  • Use turn signals if you are planning to transition from one lane to the other. This will help other driver’s know where you are going and will help them understand which lane you want to go in
  • Avoid talking to the phone or texting while driving. As much as possible, maintain 100% focus while driving

Speed Limits

The speed limits in Panama generally depend on the type of roadway you are driving in. While driving in the capital, you will see that the current speed limit for city streets is between 25-30 Km/h and around 100 Km/h on highways. Alongside this general speed limit, it is also expected that small residential towns may have additional speed limits imposed.

Driving Directions

Considering the driving side of Panama, you should expect that driving at roundabouts follows a counter-clockwise direction. You should also check which exits you should take so that you’ll know which lane you should position your car in. If you’re taking the 1st exit, you can just drive along the outer lane. However, if you’re taking the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th exit, you should drive on the inner lane until you need to exit.

Traffic Road Signs

Road signs can be seen everywhere you go in Panama. They are usually scattered on highways and on city streets to help the tourists with their travels. Driving rules in Panama encourage motorists to abide by the traffic road signs to avoid the event of an accident and injuries. If you intend to drive for long periods of hours within the capital, then you should be aware of the following traffic road sign variations:

  • Warning road signs
  • Information road signs
  • Mandatory road signs
  • Priority road signs
  • Prohibitory road signs

Knowing all of the signages will help you traverse through your planned location. Paying particular attention to these signs’ importance will save you some time and help you know more about the country’s unique driving regulations. Driving to Panama with extreme safety precautions should be your top priority!

Right of Way

If you are driving in Panama, you must know that the country has different driving rules than most countries in Central America. Driving is on the right side of the road, which you may not have been accustomed to if you are from countries where driving is on the left side. Considering that the local and national traffic police are strict on implementing speed limits, you must be aware that the highways have a speed limit of 100km/hr while city streets have 25-30 km/hr, respectively.

The driving age in Panama is 18 years old. Those who are below the stipulated age requirement are not permitted to drive and rent a car. Driving lessons in Panama are also required for first-time takers to ensure that they are given appropriate road safety and etiquette.

Laws on Overtaking

If you try to read personal blogs, you’ll notice that some tourists describe local drivers unruly. People are suddenly switching lanes, over-speeding, not signaling when maneuvering, and the like. Due to this, you should be more watchful when you overtake.

Before you overtake, make sure that the road ahead is clear of any obstruction and there is no other vehicle that’s trying to overtake behind you. Once you are ready to switch back to your lane, signal to the driver you are trying to overtake. This is for him/her to reduce their speed to allow you to enter.

Driving Side

If you are planning to drive in Panama, you should know that driving is on the right side of the road. The situation is very similar to that in the United States, and all drivers are required to abide by the driving rules. Additionally, most of the traffic signages are standardized to help drivers adjust to the right-hand side driving.

Other Road Rules

Ideally, it is best to prepare for your trip by planning ahead of time. That is why it is also advised to pack light whenever you are traveling. Bring items that maximize the space capacity and only include the essential goods for your trip.

What Are the Most Important Items to Carry When Driving Around in Panama?

When traveling to Panama, it is important to consider what items you should carry. Aside from the essential travel documents and IDP, you should also remember to bring with you at all times these items when driving:

  • Hydro Flask - When traveling for long periods, you may also experience the sun’s radiating heat, especially considering that you are in a tropical country. That is why you must carry with you a water bottle or a hydro flask to keep yourself hydrated at all times.
  • Light Clothing - Driving in a sweltering climate may make you sweat more than usual. Hence, it is essential to carry additional light clothing so that you can change anytime you want. Also, wearing light clothes makes you feel comfortable and allows free movement.
  • Medications - If you are allergic to something or you have prescription medicine with you, you must carry them while traveling. Before heading out to your planned location, check for the relative prices of the generic brands of your medicine. Remember to keep them in an organized container to keep track of what medicine you should take on a particular day.
  • Comfortable Shoes- Whatever footwear you like, always remember to bring other shoes with you when driving. As much as possible, carry lightweight, comfortable footwear for easy traversal.
  • A Smartphone - Carrying a smartphone is convenient, especially if you are traveling from time to time. Most hotel reservations can now be made online, and you can easily access their website through a smartphone. Additionally, the GPS installed in most smartphones can help you get back on track if ever you are lost in a particular place.
  • Rain Jacket - Although Panama’s climate is mostly hot and humid throughout most of the months, there is also some rainfall possibility. Also, it is best to always check for weather updates first before you drive so that you would know what to bring with you.

What Are Some of the Tips When Traveling in Panama?

Are you looking for new ways to make your driving exploration in Panama more meaningful and enjoyable? If yes, then you should definitely try some of these driving tips:

  • Look for cheap hotel prices online and discounted prices. Accommodation services usually increase during the summertime since the majority of the incoming tourists arrive at this time. It is best to make a reservation to get the cheapest deals.
  • Always carry your “contingency box” in case of emergency. This should include a photocopy of your travel documents and identification cards. Also, always remember to bring your maintenance medications and other important things, such as flashlights and extra smartphones.
  • Leave as early as possible. Driving between the rush hours in Panama may cause delays in your trip.
  • Always look for the weather forecast a day before your intended travel date. You would not want to have your plans canceled just because you failed to notice the type of weather expected on the day of your travel, right? Always check for weather updates a day before your trip!
  • Ask locals for directions when you are unsure where you are going. Panamanian residents are friendly people, and they are also approachable. Suppose it happens that you were lost during your trip. You can ask the locals for help. Alternatively, you can also look for a map online to be sure you know exactly where to make a turn.

Following the tips mentioned above will not only help you enjoy your trip, but you should also always remember that driving to Panama with extreme safety precautions should be your top priority!. Always give precedence to your safety over anything else!

Driving Etiquette in Panama

Driving entails restriction and conformity to societal rules and expectations. Wherever you are in the world, you must learn to adhere to the individual set of rules that a particular country may implement. Hence, driving etiquette is essential to maintain road safety. To help you understand more about Panama’s driving situation, here are some of the things that you should remember when driving in Panama.

Car Breakdown

Suppose your car breaks down while driving in Panama. In that case, you should know that the most important thing to remember is to maintain preventive measures for the passenger, the motorists, and yourself. Also, it is important to do the following to avoid causing much traffic congestion:

  1. Try to speed down and stay away from any curves in the road. This will help you from causing much traffic congestion and signal other motorists that your car broke down. It is also relatively safer to stay away from any curves as they are generally known to increase the likelihood of accidents.
  2. Get your vehicle to the side of the road and contact a car towing service to help you - It is a best practice to get to the side of the road first before making any adjustments or changes to the car. Also, it is important to contact a car towing service.

Police Stops

Being stopped by the police in Panama may invoke fear among tourists. However, do not worry. Local police authorities hold regular checkpoints to see if the driver and the passenger of a vehicle have all the necessary documents needed for travel. If you are a tourist, always remember to bring your travel credentials and greet the police officers. Most of the time, the intended purpose of sudden police stops is to ensure that you are safe, so do not be afraid to cooperate.

It is also essential to know that the driving range in Panama may vary depending on what road you are on. If you are in the city, there is a lot of space to drive, and you can almost always find a driving spot. However, if you are traveling in the countryside, you may find only limited space for driving.

Asking Directions

Panamanians are generally amiable and friendly to tourists. It is easy to ask them for specific driving directions if you have background information about the particular place you want to visit. If you are familiar with some Spanish words, then asking for directions will not be a problem. Most of the time, head gestures and body language are used to get directions in Panama.

Descriptive directions are often used, which is more accurate than giving out technical terms. In Panama, people would usually just say “p’ya” while tilting the head to the right or left instead of saying “turn southwest to the right of the corner, etc.” Although this may seem odd for tourists, it is entirely normal for the locals to do this.

Additionally, driving lessons in Panama offer local dialects and essential information on how to ask for directions. The different driving schools in Panama will also help you know more about communicating with other motorists.

Checkpoints

If you are driving in Panama City and it happens that you get to stop by a police checkpoint, the best thing to do is to cooperate. Be courteous and respectful to the inquiries of the police officers and be attentive to their instructions. It is ideal for your convenience to prepare your identification documents like valid ID or IDP to hasten the engagement and give the police proof of your authenticity.

Driving Conditions in Panama

While driving in Panama City, you should be aware of the different road signages and unique driving conditions that may ensue during one of your trips. It will not only help you make the necessary adjustments and preparation, but it will also give you a glimpse of the driving scene in Panama City. To help you understand more about the country’s road conditions, here are some of the most important things that you should know if you are planning to drive in Panama.

Accident Statistics

As per the data collected from the WHO, the cases of vehicular accidents reached 494 or 2.77% of total deaths. Moreover, this statistical data from 2018 has shown a significant decline in the number of accidents with an adjusted death rate of 12.50 per 100,000. The data implies better road performance, contributing to why Panama is only ranked as the 114th country in vehicular accidents. Panamanian drivers are known to be safe drivers and law-abiding citizens.

Driving in Panama at night may be a scary drive, especially if you navigate through the rough road areas going to the highlands. Emphasis should be given to safety, and delaying the trip until daytime is highly recommended.

Common Vehicles

You’ll notice different types of cars in Panama — from two (2) seater cars to 10-wheeler trailer-trucks. For passenger cars, three (3) of the most famous brands are Toyota, Kia, and Hyundai. Model-wise, three (3) of the most popular cars are the Toyota Rav4, Toyota Hilux, and the Hyundai Accent.

Toll Roads

If you are driving in Panama, you should be aware that the two toll roads are the Corredor Sur and Corredor Norte. These major roads require you to secure a Panapass, which is like an electronic toll reader for drivers. Luckily, this is already part of the inclusions for the car rental company that you will choose. These car-rental agencies will preinstall transponders to help you pass through the toll roads.

If you want to avoid these things, you can also alternatively drive through the Tumba Muerto. You will then exit to the Via Centenario and the connecting Puente Centenario. In comparison, these alternative routes will help you reach your destination in a shorter period.

Road Situations

Driving through the Capital, you will find distinct differences from the driving conditions of other countries in Central America. Some of the driving rules and regulations may be completely different from the US. Also, Panama City has a designated traffic map. For your convenience, here is the color-coded guideline for the traffic map:

  • Red lines indicate heavy traffic flow. The area designated with these red lines is the busiest during the rush hours.
  • Yellow/orange lines indicate medium traffic flow. These areas are generally considered busy only during the busiest months of the year.
  • Green lines indicate that the designated areas have normal traffic throughout the different months of the year.

Driving Culture

As soon as you have finally decided to drive in Panama, you may continuously question yourself, “Is driving in Panama safe?” The answer to that question is Yes! Panamanian drivers are known to be law-abiding citizens.

Driving in Panama reviews have indicated that the country is relatively easy to drive through. Motorists and residents strictly abide by the driving rules and regulations. While driving across its borders, you will find that numerous road signages have scattered throughout the place to assist drivers with lane transitions and road responsibilities. Most importantly, local drivers are respectful, and they generally give way to others who are in a rush.

Other Tips

As a tourist, one of the few questions that might occur in you is, “how is driving in Panama?”. You may search for online reviews and travel blogs just to find out if Panama is your ideal getaway vacation. But do not worry! Panama is one of the best places to drive in Central America, and here are some of the reasons why.

Does Panama Have Busy Streets?

As a tourist, one of the few questions that might occur in you is, “how is driving in Panama?”. You may search for online reviews and travel blogs just to find out if Panama is your ideal getaway vacation. But do not worry! Panama is one of the best places to drive in Central America, and here are some of the reasons why.

The highways of the capital are generally the busiest out of the numerous streets in Panama. If you plan to stay for a weeklong drive in Panama City, be prepared to drive through the narrow pathways. The flourishing businesses, restaurants, and shops have all occupied the little space left for driving. That is why you must drive as early as possible to avoid congested traffic during the night-time.

You may also find that driving in Panama at night may be difficult since most booming businesses, night markets, and restaurants open their establishments during these peak times. Before traveling, choose a less congested route.

How Do You Pay Tolls in Panama?

If you are driving in Panama, you should be aware that the two toll roads are the Corredor Sur and Corredor Norte. These highways require you to secure a Panapass, which is like an electronic toll reader for drivers. Luckily, this is already part of the inclusions for the car rental company that you will choose. These car rental agencies will preinstall transponders to help you pass through the toll roads.

If you want to avoid these things, you can also alternatively drive through the Tumba Muerto. You will then exit to the Via Centenario and the connecting Puente Centenario. In comparison, these alternative routes will help you reach your destination in a shorter period.

Is Driving in Panama Difficult?

It is easy to drive in Panama since there are many road signages scattered throughout the cities. Also, asking for driving directions from the residents in Panama City is easy since the people are generally friendly and approachable. However, to have the best driving experience in Panama, it is recommended to plan your trip ahead of time travel early in the morning to avoid the potential traffic congestion during the night hours.

The roadways in Panama are well-maintained. Additionally, you can easily drive through different areas since many road signages will help you find your way. Also, driving schools in Panama offer extended classes to help those tourists know more about the driving condition.

Things to Do in Panama

Exploring the beautiful landmarks and heritage sites in Panama is the best way to know the country. Correspondingly, there are many outdoor activities that you can also try whenever you visit the country’s capital. If you are planning to stay for long, you can also check for employment opportunities and look for a stable job. In the succeeding sections are some of the most common questions regarding the job opportunities in Panama.

Drive as a Tourist

This may sound like paid work, and indeed it is, but not through remuneration, but payment through memories and refined driving skills. When you visit a foreign country, it can be inevitably tempting to join pre-arranged guided tours because of the convenience it gives regarding logistics. However, the downside of pre-arranged tours is that you really don’t get to decide where to go and when to go.

If it suits you better, you can go ahead and join guided tours and then go self-driving after. You can explore the places that you weren’t able to go to during the tour. Self-driving in Panama can be very rewarding because you get to plan and figure things out by yourself. Plus, you can learn about a place or experience something at your own learning pace.

Work as a Driver

Working as a driver in Panama has many advantages. For one (and probably the best), you don’t get to stay in one place all the time. There are various types of driving jobs that you can explore. You can work as a truck driver, a delivery driver, a tourist driver, a company driver, a personal driver, a public transportation driver, and many more.

If you’re interested in pursuing a driving career in the country, you’ll have to apply for a work permit. To apply for a work permit in Panama as a tourist, you should hire an immigration attorney to help you process a work visa. To help you know more about applying for a work permit, here are some of the important things that you should secure to help you process your work permit application.

  • Letter of Responsibility that should be issued by your future employer
  • Two (2) copies and an original document of the future full-time Employment Contract
  • Certificate of School Records and Professional Experience that should either be legalized by a Panama Consul or by the internationally recognized Apostille
  • Eight passport-sized (8) photos

As per the signed Presidential Executive Decree 343, faster processing of permanent work permits is granted for those tourists coming from “Friends of Panama” nations.

Work as a Travel Guide

If traveling is a great part of your lifestyle, then working as a travel guide may enthrall you. Apart from the unquestionable beauty of Panama, you’ll be able to learn about new cultures from the people you’ll meet. To be a travel guide, you’ll have to learn everything you can about Panama, including speaking the local language. Plus, if you know how to drive, you may get a better job offer.

A variety of employment opportunities awaits you if you try to look for job vacancies. Depending on what type of job arrangement you want to do, multi-niched jobs are readily available in Panama. Ultimately, here are some of the best jobs that you could apply for in Panama:

  • Freelancer
  • Domestic worker
  • Researcher
  • Sales Specialist
  • Call Center Agent
  • Truck driving jobs

The majority of big companies and businesses in Panama choose working tourists to create more diversity in their work structure. Moreover, truck driving jobs in Panama City have opened their way to accepting visiting tourists looking for part-time employment. Foreigners are welcome to apply and to work for as long as they have secured a work permit.

Apply for Residency

Many tourists are interested in staying in Panama for work-related purposes. Most importantly, there are several options that foreigners could choose from to secure employment in Panama. New immigration rules have highlighted the special temporary residency given for those tourists who want to work in Panama. Specifically, foreigners can apply for a Temporary Visitor via Marrakech Treaty for Small Companies or secure a Panama Specialist Workers Visa, which is only up to a maximum of 9 months.

The Top Road Trip Destinations in Panama

Panama is home to some of the world’s most favored tourist destinations. What makes it a good vacation stop is that it has a good tropical climate and a vibrant atmosphere that compliments the culture and heritage of the people. Most importantly, If you are looking for new ways to explore Panama, you should visit the following locations.

Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro

Located in the northeastern region of Chiriqui province, the archipelago of Bocas del Toro is widely recognized for its innate beauty and pristine landscapes. With over 200 islets and 52 adjacent islands, it definitely makes a good tourist spot.

Driving Directions:
From Panama City, you can drive to Bocas Del Toro in 10 hours (approximately 630 km)

  1. From Fernández De Córdoba, head straight to Route 4.
  2. Take Route 1 and enter route 21.
  3. Head to Route 10, then go straight to Route 11.
  4. Enter Bocas Del Toro Almirante.

Things To Do

Bocas Del Toro has a rich biodiversity, both terrestrial and aquatic. The underwater scene is also famous for enclosing some of the rare species of stingrays, lobsters, and fishes (probably one of the best underwater scenes in Central America!).

1. Go On A SCUBA Diving Adventure

Considering the hundreds of islets and islands in this area, it is no doubt that it supports a rich marine life diversity. There are plenty of SCUBA diving shops in Bocas Del Toro where you can rent your gear from. Likewise, if you don’t have a SCUBA diving license yet, some of these diving shops have instructors that can teach you and issue a SCUBA diving license.

2. Go On A Canopy Adventure

On Red Frog Beach, Bastimentos Island, you will find the Bastimentos Sky Zipline Canopy. This is one of the most thrilling treetop adventures in the country because not only does it have a zipline, but you can also cross a suspension bridge high up the trees and rappel down the trunks.

3. Get a Taste of the Local Chocolate

The local chocolate in Bocas Del Toro is organic and handmade. This is because the islands are arable for cacao trees. If you need to buy souvenirs, you can go for the local chocolates because they also come in various forms, like nibs, cacao beans, fruit-infused chocolates, and even vegan chocolate bars!

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is located in the eastern part of Panama City. Packed with rich historical importance, the place was the first settlement of the Europeans in 1519. Up to this day, tourists frequented the location to witness the well-preserved ruins of the La Merced Church and the San Jose temple. Did you know that Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Yes, that’s how well history has been preserved in this city.

Driving Directions:
From Panama City, driving to Casco Viejo takes about 9 minutes (approximately 5.4 km):

  1. Drive from Calle Nicanor de Obarrio to Calle 54 este.
  2. Make a quick turn to the right, then enter Calle 56 Este.
  3. Head on to Av Balboa, and go straight to Av. Eloy Alfaro.
  4. Turn right to Calle 8a Este, then head straight to Casco Viejo.

Things To Do

Suppose you are up for a fun-filled exploration. In that case, you can also enjoy the beautiful colonial structures that have withstood the ages there, or you can also alternatively look for the impressive art collection at the Diablo Rosso Art Gallery. Whatever cranny you’ll explore in the city, you’ll always find something unique and interesting.

  1. Visit the Interoceanic Canal Museum

The country is world-famous for the Panama Canal. In the Interoceanic Canal Museum, you’ll get to learn about how it came to be. The museum features the original materials and technology used to build the canal.

2. Tour Casasola

Casasola is a space that features the works of talented local artists and photographers. It aims to exhibit non-conventional art that will encourage conversation among visitors. Casasola is open from Monday to Saturday, between 11:00 am – 8:00 pm. Guided tours are available for those who prefer them.

3. See the Golden Altar

The Golden Altar was built in 1915. It is famous for being covered in gold leaf. You can find the Golden Altar at Iglesia San Jose and get a chance also to see the pilgrims that frequent the church.

Boquete

Boquete

If you want to hike and do some trekking activities up in the highlands, you should include Boquete in your road trip plans. With numerous hot spring locations and canyons, you can fulfill your adventure plan by doing some of the most extreme outdoor activities like zip-lining.

Driving Directions:

From Panama City, the driving time to Boquete is estimated to be around 6 hours, approximately 478 km from the Capital.

  1. Drive through Via Fernandez de Cordoba to Route 4.
  2. Then head to Route 1, go straight to Route 41.
  3. Go to Calle 2a Sur, then head on to Bajo Boquete.

Things To Do

What makes Boquete exciting is that several suspension bridges can also be found within this small village. That is why most tourists enjoy the cloud forest’s panoramic views and spend multiple hours hiking to witness the mountain top ranges. It is definitely one of the “must-go” locations when visiting Panama!

  1. Zipline Through the Cloud Forest

Ziplining through the dense canopies in Boquete is one of the most extraordinary adventures to do. To do this, you’ll have to hike a little up the zipline stations or towers. You’ll also have to contact a tour operator to guide you through the forest.

2. Cross the Suspension Bridges

The suspension bridges in Boquete are among the highest and longest hanging bridges in Central America. Don’t worry. The bridges are made of iron and steel, so they are perfectly safe. To get to these suspension bridges, you’ll also need to hire a tour guide because it is within the forest.

3. Go On A Coffee Tour

Boquete is blessed with many coffee plantations. Some of these plantations offer guided tours where you can learn about how coffee beans are planted, harvested, extracted, and made into the different varieties of coffee.

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