Changuinola (pop. 39,896), a congested, unlovely provincial town, is not exactly what you’d call a tourist destination. It’s little more than a single strip of road—Avenida 17 de Abril, commonly known as Calle Central—that’s lined with shops offering cheap goods and basic services, plus a few hotels and restaurants.
It’s not even particularly colorful—it’s a hot, humid, nondescript little town surrounded by banana plantations. But it is a commerce and transportation hub.
Those who haven’t experienced this part of Panama may be curious to pass by for a quick visit. Primarily, though, it’s a crossroads for those traveling between Costa Rica and the islands or heading up into Naso country and the Bocas entrance to Parque Internacional La Amistad.
Only those who end up stranded on the way to or from those places will likely want to spend the night.
Central Changuinola is about a kilometer long from north to south, and nearly everything of interest is on or within a block of Avenida 17 de Abril, which runs parallel to the train tracks. Because of that, the town is easily walkable.
But Changuinola isn’t particularly safe after dark; take taxis instead of walking (US$0.50 or so). The streets are packed with them. Unless otherwise noted, all the places listed are on Avenida 17 de Abril.
Getting to Changuinola
Changuinola is a regional transit hub, with two bus terminals and a small airstrip. Sadly, the dilapidated train that used to link Changuinola and Almirante is no more. Those traveling between the Costa Rican border and the islands must pass through this town.
By Air: Changuinola has nonstop flights to and from the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Flights to and from Panama City often connect through Bocas town, on the islands. Make sure you get off in the right place. Changuinola airport is on the north end of town, just east of Avenida 17 de Abril. Taxi fare to and from town is US$0.50.
By Bus: Changuinola has two bus terminals. Long-distance buses to Panama City and David leave from Terminal Urracá. Local and regional buses, including those to the Guabito-Sixaola border crossing leave from the SINCOTAVECOP bus terminal.
Terminal Urracá is on the north end of town between the Hotel Golden Sahara and the Multi-Credit Bank. There is one direct daily bus each way between Panama City and Changuinola. It leaves Changuinola at 7 a.m., arriving in Panama City at least 11 hours later. The fare is US$24. Two pieces of luggage are allowed; additional luggage is an extra charge. Note this is the same bus that passes by the crossroads at Almirante.
Buses from Changuinola to David leave every half hour 3 a.m.–7 p.m. The trip takes about 4.5 hours and costs US$8.
Local and regional buses leave from the SINCOTAVECOP bus terminal, across the street from Bar y Restaurante Chiquita Banana. Destinations include: Almirante, Guabito/Costa Rican border crossing at Sixaola, El Silencio, and San José, Costa Rica.
By Car: To reach Changuinola by car from eastern Panama, stay left on the main road when it forks at Almirante. Changuinola is 21 kilometers farther west, on a scenic and curvy road. Watch out for speeding traffic.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition