This is a quick post on how to get from Panama City to Boquete, upon the request of a reader. I am happy to oblige! I am not going to take the time to provide tons of links within the text, as anyone reading this already has internet access and can easily consult Google to find Air Panama, Copa Airlines, etc. I’ll do so when I have a chance and remove this sentence. In the meantime, I hope the information is useful.
Option 1: Fly
There are two companies currently flying between PC and David, which is your point of entry into the Chiriquí Province on your way to Boquete. Air Panama and Copa Airlines. They have similar schedules and fares, though Copa’s seem to vary while Air Panama’s do not. Just last week Copa offered flights from David to Panama for $45 (!) on way on Wednesday morning. Typically they are around $100, though, on either airline, regardless of direction or day.
Schedule-wise, it is very difficult to coordinate flights into Panama with a secondary flight into David on the same day, which necessitates taxi or bus and hotel costs. This is because there is only one morning and one evening flight time per carrier per day. If your flight doesn’t coordinate well with those times… you’re staying overnight. Pay close attention to this when planning your flights, and consider overnight flights into Panama to mitigate this expense.
The benefits of flying are obvious: the trip is only about 30 minutes across the country. Also, if you flew into Panama City with Copa, you now have the option to book directly into David, which will transfer your generous international luggage allotment all the way across the country with you. Copa is also the only option for flying an approved in-cabin pet across Panama.
One major difference between Air Panama and Copa Airlines is that Air Panama flies into Allbrook Airport, while Copa flies into Tocumen. If you fly with Air Panama, you will be adding a taxi ride of about $30-$45 to get between airports. This ride takes at least 45 minutes in normal traffic and should be considered with serious cushion when planning and booking flight times.
Anyone who needs an honest, reliable taxi driver who speaks English, keeps a clean vehicle in good repair and provides terrific service from airport transports to holding your bags while you shop to trips across Panama to shuttles between the airports should contact our friend Benito Noriega. He was recommended to us by friends in Boquete during our first visit here, and has provided our taxi service exclusively in Panama City, from driving us with our dog across the country, to taking our guests from outside the country sightseeing during long layovers at Tocumen. He walked my young daughter and I into the Allbrook bus station to help us buy overnight bus tickets and made sure we were safely aboard. We’ve met his delightful wife and children and can’t recommend him highly enough!
Hint: Locals who find their luggage exceeds the allotment of either airline use Fletes Chavale to transport their goods. This service transports items by truck between Panama and Boquete on a near daily basis, meaning your luggage should arrive in Boquete the day after they get it. The fee is nominal, around $5 or $10 per item, saving travelers a whole lot on additional airline luggage fees.
Option 2: Hire A Taxi Service
There are shuttle/taxi services who will transport you across the country for around $400-$500. Driving is your only option for getting a large pet that won’t fit in an airline cabin across the country. It is a good option for several people with a lot of luggage looking to mitigate airline fees, baggage shipping costs, etc. And, though it’s a long drive at about 8 hours with the incessant construction after Santiago, it does provide the added benefit of letting you lay eyes on the entire country if you haven’t before.
Option 3: Drive Yourself across Panama
Car rentals are ridiculously expensive in Panama, on purpose, thanks to government regulations. What I can tell you for sure, without over linking to every car rental place in the country, is our personal experience that renting a car to drive yourself costs almost exactly the same as paying a shuttle/taxi service. If you want to veer off the straight path to David, it’s a plus to rent the car. If you want to eliminate the risk of your first Panamanian speeding ticket or the mania of driving in Panama City… go with the taxi.
Option 4: Take the Bus
The bus is by far the most economical option to get from Panama to Boquete. Service runs all time of day from the station at Allbrook Mall (remember the taxi from Tocumen to Allbrook if you plan to take the bus or see the note below) for about $18 per person. I can’t remember the cut-off age for child fares, but my 6 year old daughter had to pay the full price last time we took the bus. I also don’t know if an official baggage allotment exists or not, but we brought four giant stuffed-to-the-limit bags, plus several small carry-ons with us and no one batted an eye.
My husband just took the bus from Boquete to Panama last week, but during the day. He also paid $18. The trip was long and arduous due to the construction and many stops – about ten hours. My best advice is to take the overnight buses. There are officially two, one leaving in the ten o’clock hour and one around midnight. They stop only in Santiago briefly and arrive at the main terminal in David. From there, you will need to hop on a bus bound for Boquete, which costs about $1.50 per person. (And from there, you’d arrive either at your destination if it’s along the bus route, or hop into a taxi for another $1 or $2 to get to your accommodation.)
I confess I don’t speak or read Spanish well, and do not yet understand the ins and outs of the bus system. But I can say that the night we took the express bus, there was more than one bus lined up per time slot. What I think happens is that if there is need for a second or even third overnight bus on a certain route, they typically have one available. Maybe not… But it seemed so in our case, for our particular route. You also have to be there in person to purchase tickets. It’s not an internet friendly situation. So prepare for the possibility that you might encounter a full bus and have to wait however long it might take for another one to be ready.
The bus wasn’t uncomfortable, nor was it the lap of luxury. It wasn’t full, so we were able to spread out across a row of seats to attempt sleep. It very chilly, so pack a travel blanket or a sweater and socks. While it might be the only time you use them on your trip to Panama, you’ll be glad at that moment that you did.
Note: There is a bus from Tocumen to Allbrook if you want to save the taxi fare, which takes about an hour and a half to two hours. However, at that point (timewise) you are really doing some fancy maneuvering. This would work if you flew in on an overnight flight or very early in the day and didn’t mind all the bus transfers; or if economical transport was truly your number one goal. But if you are traveling with kids, have a lot of luggage to haul around, or aren’t up for virtually 24-36 hours of straight travel, this would be the moment to spent the extra cash on a taxi.
Again, I am not a consummate traveler across Panama who understands the ins and outs of every method listed here. But I have used all of the options above to get across the country, depending on our circumstances, finances and schedule. I hope this provides a useful introduction to your options. Feel free to comment with questions I can help answer from inside the country.