Getting to Panama
Most visitors come to Panama by air, and it’s rarely a bargain. Except for occasional promotions, such as an airline inaugurating a new route, standard fares don’t change much.
The cheapest way to get to Panama from North and Central America is by bus, so long as one has lots of time and doesn’t mind a bit of adventure and discomfort.
Driving from North America to Panama, even all the way to the Darién Gap, is a popular adventure for intrepid road warriors that requires considerable planning and resourcefulness.
There are no roads between Colombia and Panama, and no ferry service. The only safe way to travel between Panama and South America is by air. Panama has no international rail service.
Make reservations far in advance for travel around holidays and festivals, particularly Christmas and Carnaval. Planes and buses are generally more crowded during the dry season, which is high season for both in-country and foreign tourists and summer vacation for Panamanian students.
November is filled with national holidays, which can make travel logistics trickier. There are typically fewer flights and buses on Sundays. Important note: Domestic and regional airlines typically revert to a Sunday schedule for holidays, sometimes without notice.
On my most recent visit, a couple had to cancel their visit from San José, Costa Rica, to Panama because they held a ticket for a weekday flight that turned out not to exist—the date fell on a national holiday. The airline didn’t notice the problem when it booked their reservation and sold them the ticket for the imaginary flight.
Remember that visitors to Panama must be able to show proof of onward travel. This is enforced more often than it used to be, and visitors without proof can be turned away at the border.
The departure tax to leave the country is US$40. It is now included in the price of air tickets.
Charter Flights and Package Deals
All-inclusive packages, sometimes including charter flights, are popular, especially with Canadians, Europeans, and Latin Americans. They can be a good deal for those who don’t mind traveling with the herd and like having accommodations, meals, and activities concentrated in one place.
The all-inclusive resorts generally offer tours of the surrounding attractions for an extra fee, but visitors should expect to spend most of their time at or near the hotel.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition