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Car Rental in Panama City: driving a Central America’s most Cosmopolitan Metropolis
Central America’s metropolis, Panama City is a mishmash of cultures and ways of life. This diversity is visible in the city’s architecture, which matches skyscrapers with construction sites, colonial cobblestone with roadway chaos. While the City itself will keep you busy, you will most certainly want to head out into the surroundings, whether to beaches or nearby tropical national parks. Rent a car today to make the most of your visit to Panama City!
Panama is a great place to visit year round, though the dry season is the most preferable and runs from mid-December to mid-April.
Panama is linguistically diverse, though you can expect to do most of your navigating during your travels in both Spanish and English. Spanish – with a unique Panama dialect – is much more frequently spoken. If you spend time outside of the City itself, you are also likely to encounter some of the many indigenous languages spoken throughout the country, including Ngöbe-Buglé (Guaymí), Emberra, Woun Meu, and the native Kuna language.
The banknote currency in Panama is still the US dollar, though the US ceased occupation of the country in 1999. Panamanians refer to the dollar as the balboa. Many of the coins in circulation are minted directly in Panama; though they look different, they are interchangeable throughout the country. ATMs can be a challenge for some visitors to Panama, as they do not necessarily serve the major card companies. Maestro alone is widely accepted. While you can often use credit or debit cards in the businesses in Panama City, you will need to have cash on hand for any services elsewhere.
Travellers arriving by air will land at the Tocumen International Airport, located 20 km east of downtown. Featuring a number of international car rental agencies, the airport is a great place to pick up your rental car. Numerous car rental agencies also speckle the city center, along Via España and Calle 50.
Citizens of over 100 countries can enter Panama visa free or with a visa stamp issued upon arrival. These nationals can stay for a total of 180 days at a time, with applications for extension permissible. Some of these citizens, such as those coming from the US, Australia, and Japan, will need to prove that they have a return ticket, at least $500 in the bank or in cash, proof of accommodation, and a yellow fever vaccination if they are travelling from areas in the world where yellow fever is common. Double-checking entry requirements with your nearest Panama embassy is recommended before you travel!
Driving in Panama and Panama City
Roads in Panama City itself are pretty packed, but the road system throughout Panama is fairly well maintained, particularly in comparison to other Central American countries. The Pan-American Highway is paved throughout the length of Panama, though offshoots are often unpaved. Acquaint yourself with the roads along your day trips via map before you depart to avoid any sudden surprises.
When driving directly in Panama City, drive defensively and be alert for erratic road behavior! For many of Panama City’s inhabitants, road rules are just rough guidelines, and you cannot expect other drivers to follow them consistently. Keep your eyes open and take the opportunities to move forward whenever they arise!
- Traffic proceeds on the right-hand side of the road.
- In cities: 30 km/h
- In smaller towns: 60 km/h
- On the Pan-American Highway: 100 to 120 km/h
- Expect a good deal of day traffic and traffic congestion while driving in and around Panama City. If at all possible, avoid being on the road during morning rush hour, between 8 and 9 am, and evening rush hour, between 3 and 7 pm.
- Parking can be a challenge in the City, particularly as parking tickets are likely for any failure to follow roadside signage. If you’re planning on retaining your car for the length of your stay in the City, booking a hotel with complementary off-street parking is highly recommended.
- An international driver’s permit is recommended in addition to your valid domestic driver’s license to hire a car in Panama.
- The Corridor Norte and Corridor Sur, among other throughways, are toll roads.
- The minimum driving age in Panama is 18 years, though will likely have to be at least 21 to rent and will face young-driver surcharges until the age of 25.
- If you’re planning on returning your rental car to the airport, ask your agency where exactly to park the car. There are not many signs directing you to rental return, so talking through the return of your hired car will save you a lot of stress before you head through security to fly home. Roads are winding and sometimes unmarked throughout the city and its surroundings, so ask your rental company to outfit your car with a GPS or satnav system and its most up-to-date locally produced map of the city.