I recently had the opportunity to take a road trip which started in San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City, Panama. It was 358 km from San Jose to the border of Paso Canoas in Panama and it took us about 5 hours to get to the border crossing. During the drive we took highway 27 out of San Jose towards Jaco and then Parrita. We then connected to the Costa Rican Costanera Sur which takes you along the pacific ocean. During this part of the drive you will pass Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal, Coronado and Ciudad Cortes. A very scenic drive along the coastline of Costa Rica. After Ciudad Cortes we hooked into the Panamerican Highway (highway 2) and drove to the border crossing at Paso Canoas, Panama.
Since we were driving our car across the border crossing on the Costa Rican side to exit the country involved Immigration for the passport exit stamp and then checking in with Costa Rican Customs Control (Aduanas) to obtain the required exit permit for the vehicle. If you are drving across the border you will need to obtain and bring with you the following documents before you show up at the border.
1. Vechicle exit permit (Permiso de Salida). This can be obtained from the National Registry office in Costa Rica.
2. The Vehicle Title (Certificatdo de Propiedad)
3. If the vehicle is in the name of a corporation then you will need to bring with you a certificate of corporate standing (Personeria) to show that you are the authorized representative of the corporation. If you are not listed as the legal representative then bring a Power of Attorney.
Be sure you bring these documents with you or it will cause delays. We were fortunate on the day that we travelled that there was not alot of movement at the border. It took us about 20 minutes to process immigration in Costa Rica and another 30 minutes to process the vehicle exit permit. So in less than an hour we were out of Costa Rica. Now we approached the Panama side of the Border. The border crossing tends to be caotic when you are crossing with your own vehicle. We parked in one of the lanes in front of the Panamanian government building. The first step was getting the Panama entry stamp at Immigration. That took us about 20 minutes as well since there no heavy lines at the moment. The vehicle entry permit was a bit more cumbersome. The first step was to purchase Panamanian Liability insurance. With insurance in hand then we go to the Panama Customs window to obtain the vehicle permit. This process took us over an hour since that same window is used by semi-trailers that are hauling cargo across the border. Be sure you have the documents that I indicated above or they will not let the vehicle in the country. They are particularily hung up on seeing the certificate of title (titulo de propiedad). They have have a sample posted on the window – without this you are not coming in.
As you cross the border into Panama the first notable difference with Costa Rica is that they have 4 lane highways which makes driving much easier. We witnessed massive road construction projects all along the route where they are expanding the size of the Panamerican Highway. When those highway projects are completed the time frame to drive from David to Panama City should cut down by a couple of hours. In the meantime you will have to put up with construction delays along the route. If you want to avoid that then drive on a Sunday when the construction crews are off.
Before we arrived at the city of David, Panama there was an Immigration chekpoint where it it mandatory to stop. The officers will inspect the vehicle documentations and your passports. Once the officers were satisfied witth the documentation we were on our way. From the border to the city of David, Panama it took us 1 hour. Our intention on this trip was to take a detour up to Boquette to spend the night. I had heard of Boquette from expats that were living in the area so I wanted to see it for myself. The drive from the city of David to Boquette is about 45 minutes on a 4 lane highway.
In Boquette we decided to stay right in town so we could get a feel for the town. I can see the attraction for expats living in Boquette. The climate is cooler than it is in the flatlands of Panama. They have a major city, David only 45 minutes away with all the amenities and shopping that you can imagine. There is also a regional airport in David for flights into Panama City.
The next morning we were back on the road. This was the long-haul. We drove from David to Panama City which is about 486 km. We made stops along the way in Santiago which is the provincial capital of the Province of Veraguas and in Penonome the provincial capital of the Province of Cocle. The drive with stops included along the way took us 7 hours. During the driving trip we pass through the provinces of Chiriqui, Veraguas, Cocle and into Panama City which is part of the Province of Panama.
When you enter the Province of Cocle you then start heading towards the Panamanian coastline on the Pacific Ocean. You pass the town of Anton and then head down to Rio Hato. From this point you drive along the Panamerican Highway towards the beach town of Coronado. The drive from Anton to Coronado is about 1 hour. All along this road there are numerous beach resorts. You then reach the beach town of Coronado which is a also a very popular expat desitnation in Panama. Due to the proximity from Panama City, about an 1 1/2 hours, the Coronado area is also a popular destination for Panamanians during weekend or holiday breaks.
So 7 hours after starting our journey in David we arrived in Panama City – what a drive ! Since we were arriving at around 4 PM We decided to stay in the outskirts of Panama City to avoid the heavy traffic and rush hour of Panama City. We decided on the Albrook area of the city. This is the area where the former Albrook Air Force Station was located. It is now home to the Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport. Albrook Mall with over 500 stores. The next day we were going to move into the downtown Panama City area but we discovered the Panama City metro which leaves from the Albrook Bus Terminal station. It took us a 12 minute metro ride to get from the Albrook Bus Terminal station to downtown Panama City and it cost us .35 cents per person. We spent 3 days in Panama City. During that time we toured the Panama Canal which is an interesting experience. After all this is the main artery connecting the pacific to the atlantic with over 15,000 ships per year crossing the Canal. I wanted to limit the amount of driving I did in Panama City so we used the metro, taxis and the Hop on Hop Off bus tour which gave us a great overview of the city. The Hop on Hop Off bus has stops in the major attractions of Panama City so it is a good way to see the city without the stress of looking for parking.
The hardest part was having to get back in the car and drive back to Costa Rica. On the way back we decided to spend the night in David before crossing the border and heading back to San Jose. Overall we enjoyed the experience . Panama is a country that is investing heavily in transportation infrastructure with new highways, metro and airports. I found the cost of living in Panama to be less than in Costa Rica. We filled the tank in our car with Diesel in Panama for $50 and the same tank in Costa Rica cost me $80. Electronic goods in Panama are at least 40-50% lower in Panama than in Costa Rica. The cost of food in the supernarket also seemed lower in Panama. However I find the climate in the central valley of Costa Rica to be hard to beat. Panama City can be hot and humid which means you are living with A/C. The two countries are very different and I will discuss the Pros and the Cons of both countries in my next article.
If you want to see a video driving around the city of David, Panama then watch the video below: