On the Road to Yaviza
With the exception of the El Llano–Cartí Road and the area around Lago Bayano, there’s little to interest travelers on the road to Yaviza. Most people will not choose to spend the night in any of the towns along the highway unless stranded on the way to somewhere else. Leave Panama City as early in the morning as possible to improve the chances of getting to your destination the same day. Breakdowns and missed connections on the road are common.
Attempt the drive only in a four-wheel drive with high clearance, a couple of spare tires, a winch, and plenty of fuel. The road is tough or impossible to navigate the whole length in the rainy season, and even in the dry season there can be rough patches. Still, there are tire-repair stands at regular intervals along the road, which may very well come in handy.
Note also that, while there are police checkpoints all along the highway, these are at widely spaced intervals. Those who get stranded or have an accident are in for a long, long wait before help arrives. There is exactly one transit police station along the entire 200 kilometers between Chepo and Yaviza, and it doesn’t even have a phone. It’s in the tiny town of Zapallal, just east of Santa Fé, about 80 kilometers from the end of the road.
From Panama City, take the Corredor Sur toward Tocumen until it peters out, then follow the signs east to Chepo and the Darién. If you forget something, stop at the town of 24 de Diciembre, at the turnoff to Cerro Azul. There’s a mall here with a supermarket, gas station, and the last McDonald’s until Colombia (talk about entering the wilderness…).
The highway passes through or close to all the towns listed, though few travelers will be inclined to stop unless stranded for some reason. There are several other small towns and Kuna, Emberá, and Wounaan villages along the way, some of which have minisupers (convenience stores), pay phones, dirty and rustic places to stay, and little else. Any bus going at least as far as Metetí stops by them all.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition