10 Years of Blog Archive

Monday, August 03, 2015

What’s It Like Taking National Bus in Panama? Our Experience from Panama City to David

The long distance transportation system and National travel buses in Panama are efficient and organized. We traveled across the country from one end of Panama to the other (Puerto Armuelles and Costa Rica border) and down the Azuero Peninsula to Chitre and Las Tablas using the National bus system. The video is about our experience with taking the bus from Panama City to David using the National Bus system. See article about the bus system below the video. 
Buying Your Ticket  

From Panama City you will need to go to the Albrook Bus Terminal. Both the Metro City Bus and the Metro Subway go to the Albrook Terminal, and costs a whopping $0.25 and $0.35 cents. Once inside the terminal you’ll see about 30 ticket kiosks where you can buy tickets going to different parts of Panama.  
David, Panama ticket Kiosk
You’ll notice different names of cities and towns listed in blue above the ticket kiosks; bus fares depend on where you are going but prices are reasonable.
Albrook bus terminal
After you buy your ticket, ($15.50 per) you'll want to carefully look it over because it will have everything you will need to know for your trip: where to board the bus, bus number, the time it leaves, and what your seat number is on the bus.
Inside David, Panama Terminal, waiting to board bus back to Panama City
Last but not least you will need to get/buy another Pass-Ticket that is called the RAPI-PASS and it costs another dollar or two, before you can go through the turn-gate and even board the bus. The ticket booth for buying the Pass-ticket is near to the other ticket booths. Ask anyone behind one of the ticket counters if you can’t find it.

For popular towns and destinations in Panama the buses leave about every hour, so there usually is no need to buy your ticket ahead of time. There are air-conditioned waiting rooms (another nice thing about Panama’s Bus Terminal) so you aren’t standing around in a hot basement, smelling exhaust fumes. If I remember right the bus to David boarded about 30 minutes before its schedule time to leave.  
David, Panama waiting area before you board the bus
There are three express buses to David from Panama City, they cost about $3.50 more per person and leave in the late evening around 10:00pm, 11:00pm and 12:00pm. The buses arrive in the town of David early the next morning.  Apparently they are called the express buses because they do not make any stops along the way. However, because at that time of our travel there was road construction on the highway to David, the attendant at the ticket kiosk told us the express bus doesn’t get there much sooner than the regular bus.
Rules and regulations for passengers, bus schedules and the bus numbers,
leaving Panama City for David (click to enlarge)

There is storage under the bus and inside the bus.  If you put luggage under the bus, the attendant will put a sticker number on your luggage and hand you the number, so hang onto it, you’ll need it later. When you arrive at your destination hand it to the attendant and he’ll get your luggage. There are also storage bins inside the bus you can put your things if you want. We noticed that a lot of people put their things up in the overhead bins without a care in the world. That was surprising for us because you don't even want to do that riding Greyhound in the U.S and definitely NOT in Ecuador either.

The Buses

The buses reminded us of the national buses in Ecuador. They are fairly comfortable and all the buses have air conditioning and play movies during the travel time.  Surprisingly, just like in Ecuador, local folks will come onto the bus from time to time to sell their different traditional foods, water and soft drinks.

Lunch Stop

The wonderful part about Panama’s long distance bus travel is a huge step up from Ecuador. The bus actually stops for almuerzo at a decent stop with clean restrooms half way to your destination! We were going to David, so after about 4 hours through the trip, the bus stopped in a nice town called Santiago at a nice and clean café with a banquet of food items to choose from, or you can choose to order off the menu ala carte.  

Note: in Panama a popular way for locals to eat is going to cafeterias where you pick out the type of food you want (all locally prepared and traditional food usually) and then they weigh it and that's how they price the food. We experienced in one restaurant that two pieces of chicken with a side of vegetables and maybe a side of beans or lentils costs about $4.50 to $5.00.

The bus stops at this same bus stop for about 30-minutes or so, which gives passengers time to stretch their legs, eat, and use the restroom. The cafeteria has a large covered outside area with outside cement picnic style tables, and an inside restaurant.  It’s very nice. The bus stop has clean restrooms with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels.

Safety on Panama Buses

Another surprising thing we noticed about travel in Panama compared to Ecuador is people put their things in the overhead bins and leave their things on the bus when they get off to go eat. (Back packs, bags in overhead bins, etc, etc).  

NOTE: on the way back to Panama City from David we stopped at the same cafeteria in Santiago and the driver made everyone get off the bus and he locked the doors while people used the restroom and ate. Some bus drivers make everyone get off and some don't.

BTW, we noticed this laxness throughout Panama where people would count their money right out in the open in the Mercado, and local folks would put their cell phones and bags down on the table and then go up to the counter and order their food.  In Panama about 90% of people walk and talk while on their Iphones.  

Bus Drivers Drive Good (Not Fast)

Another nice aspect we noticed is the Panama bus drivers did not speed around corners, or drive too fast, or step on the brakes often, or pass other cars on a two-lane highway. In fact, the bus ride was very smooth and careful, as you’ll notice in the video.

Traveling the country of panama by bus is a frugal way to get from point A to point B. You get a chance to see the Panama countryside and other small towns along the way. We would definitely recommend long distance bus travel in Panama to anyone wanting to travel the country.

Riding the inter-city buses or short distance buses (1 to 3 hours) totally different story; video and ALL the details coming soon.

We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!


  1. Doing the bus in Panama reminds of the same in Turkey about 35 years ago.

    1. Really? It reminds us of taking the long distance bus in Ecuador in 2015. Same type of buses and comfort levels, except that in Panama they stop for lunch and a bathroom break.


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