If you’ve been living in Panama for some time, you’ve probably heard the old adage “you need a car to live here.” This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Having a car is not just a convenience for most Panamanians, it’s also a luxury. And this luxury, while helpful for many, can actually be a burden for others. When it comes down to it, some people need (or are greatly convenienced by) to have a car, but more often than not, especially if you live in the city, it’s an unnecessary expense and headache. If you’re one of the people that falls into the latter category, we’ve got some tips for you. Here are our best suggestions on how to live in Panama without owning a vehicle, and still make the best of your day-to-day life.
Public transportation is getting better by the year…use it!
Let’s start with Panama City. For many years, riding Panama’s public transportation as a foreigner was a bit of a daunting task. Buses were old and not serviced well (Diablos Rojos), fares were hard to figure out for newcomers, and routes had no way of being checked out other than word of mouth and trial and error. These days, that’s all changed, and Panama now boasts both a modern bus system AND Central America’s only subway (metro) system. Panama’s new buses are clean, air conditioned, cheap (35 cents for most routes), and easy to find and map out routes via websites and apps from MetroBus. The Panama Metro (subway) is still in its infancy with one line, yet is very efficient with stops between Panama’s main bus terminal, its hospital district, hotel district, and residential areas.
Yes, Panama is a walking city
Much like public transportation, this is something that’s improved greatly over the years, making not owning a car even easier, especially if you like to get outdoors. Panama has revitalized both its historic district (Casco Viejo), and its downtown commerce districts of 5 de Mayo and Calidonia. Panama City also has a 3.5km pedestrian-only walking park (Cinta Costera) at the city’s busiest traffic area that can get you from downtown neighborhood to neighborhood without stepping foot in a car.
When it’s raining, you have a long way to go, or you’re tired, you can also cheaply hop into an Uber with a few clicks of a button in your app, from anywhere in the city to another. Uber and taxis are so cheap in Panama City, that a typical 5km round-trip will often cost only $6-$8. If you multiply that by just a few times a week, you’re still saving significant money over owning your own vehicle, ensuring it, gassing it, and keeping it serviced.
No car in Panama’s interior
For some people in the more remote parts of the interior, it’s a huge inconvenience not to own a car. This isn’t the case for everyone, and despite popular belief, you may find your life in the interior is actually a lot simpler without one. Almost every town in the interior of Panama has its own small, independent bus system. May times, buses will take you from the center of town to the Panamerican highway, or the next larger town, stopping where you need in between. Rural buses can be as cheap as ten cents a ride, and will often wait for you, and drop you at your door in the case of rain. Also, in interior areas with big expat communities (Boquete, Coronado, El Valle), you’ll find many taxis available on-call if you need to do a big grocery shopping, get caught in the rain, or find yourself out without a ride late at night!