How to Comfortably Take the Bus in Panama
So you're visiting or just moved to Panama and you're ready to explore the country. There is only one main highway in the country, but unfortunately that does not make things less complicated. Here's how to take the bus, and what to expect while you're traveling. It's a much different experience than in the United States!
Catch a bus one of two ways, either at a bus stop or by putting your arm out like you would to catch a cab.If you are at a bus stop just wait for a bus with the name of the city, or the name of a city that is past the city you're headed to. Be sure to ask the bus driver's helper if that bus is going where you expect it to. They don't always. The second way to catch a bus is to simply stand on the side of the road and wave one down. If they aren't full they will stop and pick you up. If they are full they will keep going, don't give up, you'll eventually find one that will stop.
When you get onto the bus be sure to say hello in Spanish to everyone.Every passenger who gets on will do this, it's expected. In Panama the correct greeting is "Buenas". You will get a collective Buenas back from the passengers already seated on the bus.
Immediately find a seat because the bus driver will start driving even if you're not seated yet and it can be dangerous.If you cannot find a seat go up front and the driver's helper will give you the jump seat in front of the entrance to the bus. Be prepared to get up and down as people enter and leave the bus. When more people leave then get on go find a seat in the back.
The driver does not take payment when you get on the bus.His helper takes it later in the trip. Usually shortly before you arrive at your destination. And the amount it costs can vary. A trip from Coronado to Albrook in Panama City can cost anywhere from .00-.25, it all depends on the assistant. Don't argue about the cost if it's changed from the last time you rode, just pay. Arguing will not help when you're in Panama.
Once you've arrived at your destination be sure to look around you for any belongings you took on the bus and also get anything such as shopping bags or luggage that they may have placed in the back of the bus, many tourists and new expats have been known to forget their things.Once you forget, they are gone forever.
If you are going the other direction away from Panama City you will need to buy a ticket at the Albrook Mall.The ticket center is downstairs from the food court. Before you can get to the concourse you must by a metro-card. They are very inexpensive, a few dollars, but you must have one to get to a bus. The cost to pass is .10 cents. You can use one card for multiple people traveling together. Once you've purchased your metro card you need to purchase your actual ticket. Find the window with the name of the city you are traveling to. There will hopefully be a ticket agent there (there isn't always), and you can buy the ticket at the window.
Once you've gotten your ticket you will go outside.Do not match the number on your ticket to the ones by the buses, they do not match. Instead, follow the ticket agent, he is the bus driver's assistant for the trip. When you get on the bus say "Buenas" to everyone again and find a seat. Hold on to your ticket because it won't be collected until you are almost at your destination. And be sure to let the assistant know where you will be exiting so he can remind the bus driver, otherwise you will end up going on a longer trip then you planned initially. Don't be embarrassed if that happens, you are not the first one to do it, and you'll remember for your next bus ride.
- The large buses are more spacious and roomy then the smaller buses, and much better then the converted school buses.
- Every bus going to Panama City stops at the Albrook Mall. The Albrook Mall is the largest mall in Latin America and one of the largest in the world.
- There is always some sort of loud distraction on the bus, usually extremely loud music. Loud enough it's difficult to have a conversation. Bring headphones so you can listen to your own book or music, or earplugs if you'd rather have it quiet.
- Don't worry if you fall asleep, the bus driver's assistant will wake you up at your destination.
- Bring hand sanitizer, the buses are very crowded and the seats are very close together, this way you can keep your hands clean. You'll minimize the chance of catching something.
- Most people on the bus, including the assistant, do not speak English. As long as you know where you are going and can pronounce the city you will be fine.
- If you are going a long distance be sure to bring food and drink with you. There are no restrictions when it comes to food and drink, other than no alcohol, while you are riding the bus. If you forget, there are people who come on the bus at certain stops to sell soda and snacks.
- Be careful to keep an eye on where you are, otherwise you will get lost.
- If you carry a purse keep it close to you on your lap, otherwise it could easily be stolen from you.
- Do not wear expensive jewelry or clothing, it brings unwanted attention.
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