Monday, March 22, 2010

Costa Rica To Panama City

There is no direct bus from Dominical to Panama City so you have to take a few. There are several routes from Dominical I chose to head to San Isadoro where I could get a big luxury bus as far as David Panama.

Bus Dominical to San Isadoro - $1250.00 Colones (33 km) about 1 1/2 hours (very twisty road)
There is only 1 direct bus from San Isadoro to David it leaves at 10:30am and is often full. I caught the 6:45am bus out of Dominical to make sure I made it on time

Bus San Isadoro to David - $15.00US - 7+ hour ride depending on the border
Tracopa bus depot (Calle 3 @ Panamerican Hwy) - to the right side of the big church as you come up the road from the bus station you get dropped at from the Dominical bus (5 minute walk pretty much directly up the street). It is hidden a little there is an enterance off Calle 3 and the Panamerican Hwy. When you go to buy the ticket the city you want to go to is David but it is pronounced Daveed.

Bus David to Panama City (Express) $13.00 US - 7 hours

The bus ride from Dominical was on a local bus, I was the only tourist on it the rest of the folks were locals. Friendly folks considering the time of the morning it was, guy beside me had a live chicken in a bag :-) Great scenery on the route pretty much uphill the entire way.

I got to San Isadora and found the bus station without too much of a problem, I had an hour and a half to kill before the bus pulled out so I found a soda (local cafe) around the cLaorner and grabbed some breakfast. There were a couple of tourists on the bus to David, an American who was going to Panama for his mandatory 3 days out of the country and a Swiss girl. The bus wasn't full but it was close.

Last time I went from Costa Rica to Columbia via the Carribean I had to pay $5.00 for a tourist visa and I had to purchase a return bus ticket out of Panama back to Costa Rica.. They really want to make sure that they don't have to keep you. With this in mind I tried a little trick a fellow backpacker told me about and altered my airline ticket print out before I printed it and changed my flight home from Lima Peru to Panama City with a legit flight number I got off a search on the Internet. We got to the boarder and we got off the bus, got our get out of Costa Rica stamp and went to the Panama border. Strangely no line up so filled in the appropriate forms and went to the window. The guy looked at my form looked at my passport, stamped it and told me to have a nice day... No tourist visa and no return ticket out of Panama required. Score for me! Swiss girl was not so lucky, she had to go and purchase a bus ticket out of Panama. When I told her I didn't have to she tried to rat me out.. "Why do I have to have one and she does not?" breaking one of the main rules of backpacking, never never point fingers at other travelers. I was forced to tell her to shut up in a not very polite way. After she did it she realized the bad thing she almost did so we were okay. They did search my backpacks this time, not very well the general stuck their hands in and zipped it back up again thing.

Currency in Panama: US $'s but they call it Balboa. Change is same denominations but different pictures (no US presidents)

The bus got into David at about 6:45. According to my guide book Panama City was only 3 hours away... Stupid book, for anyone using Footprints there is a typo. It is a 6 1/2 - 7 hour bus ride. The next bus was leaving @ 8:30pm which would get us in to Panama City at 2:30am ish. Swiss girl was also going to Panama, both of us needed a break from the bus for a bit and who wants to get into town at 2 or 3am so we decided to catch the night bus that leaves at 10:30 which would get us into Panama City at 5:30-6 am. So I had some time to kill.

As far as I can tell there is not much to see in David but they do have lots of restaurants and Internet cafes which is pretty much all I was looking for. Had some great Chinese food and an icy cold beer, answered and sent some emails then back to the bus station.

Night buses are great in a way, it saves you paying for a night of accommodations but they are not so good for sleeping, somewhat like airline seats. They also crank up the air conditioning so make sure you grab a jacket or sweater out of your pack before they put it under the bus, a pair of pants is also a good idea. As it turned out sleeping was not a problem, the bus makes 1 stop at about 2am at a gas station/cafeteria and there is a bathroom on board if you need to go.

I had found a hostel online before I left Manuel Antonio and had made a reservation which is not something I usually do but because of spring break I was playing it safe. Most hostels will not let you check in until 11am at the earliest so I figured I would just drop my stuff off and find something to do until check in. Swiss girl and I grabbed a cab from the bus depot for $5.00 to hostel mamallena it is about a 10 minute ride from the bus depot. The location is great it is right by all the major bus routes and a 30 minute walk from Casco Viejo (old town) and the street market. To my surprise we got the hostel and they told us they would have our beds ready in 20 minutes and to help ourselves to coffee while we waited. Sure enough in 20 minutes my bed was ready and I fell into it for a nice little 4 hour nap.

Next up exploring the city and surrounding areas.


  1. Nice post! I love the part, "..and I had to tell her to shut up in a polite way"(Swiss Girl) That's true to Canadian customs!

  2. Good to know I'm headed from Dominical to Pamama City next week! I hope the bus rides are about the same!