A man, a can, a panama, a canal, Panama, a planama, a canama, wait, what?? Oh, a man, a plan, a canal, Panama!
With thirteen hours to kill in Panama, I decided to venture out to the canal via public transit. I definitely could have seen part of the city, too, but with the searing heat and the tyranny of decisions, I didn’t make it much further. I could have taken a cab or one of many tours from the airport, but with ample time and an aching wallet, public transit was definitely the way to go.
After going through customs, I exited the airport and followed the very clearly marked signs for public transit. These signs, of course, all noted that one needed a prepaid card, but whatever. Ten minutes or so later, I came to the main highway. I asked someone sitting at the bus stop there if it was the stop with buses to the city. Nope! Cross the road. I did so, and ask a lady at that bus stop, just as a bus pulls up. She urged me on, so I followed, hoping that it was the right bus.
It wasn’t the bus I’d planned, of course, but it was going in the general direction of downtown, so I figured that I’d make it work, and befriended the lady standing next to me, who very helpfully told me that this bus would go to Albrook Mall, which was a center for transportation and, bless, has free WiFi. I somehow also managed to be on the one bus that didn’t require a card to pay, and was able to use cash to pay the $1.25 when I got off.
At Albrook Mall, there were buses everywhere going to anywhere–I considered briefly hopping onto one to Costa Rica, but decided it’d make getting back to the airport a bit hard. I found a stall inside the terminal that sold the little bus cards I needed, and presented my passport. It was $2 for a card, and she had me put $2 on it.
The only challenging part of this day was figuring out where to get on the bus. With every bus seeming to have one of twenty designated spots, this was a struggle, and I ended up getting on a couple, asking the drivers if it was the bus to Miraflores, and following their directions until I thought myself in the right spot. When other tourists started showing up, I knew I’d been successful, but still had to wait half an hour! The fare was $0.25.
There was no way around the $15 entrance fee, which included access to their museum area and a short informational video offered in English and Spanish. I arrived around 10:45 just in time to head out to the viewing platforms, where I saw a boat leaving the lock. The next boat was due to arrive at 3:30. I killed an hour wandering through the museum, but decided that I was too tired and grumpy to stick around much longer.
I returned to the bus terminal (another $0.25 from my card) and went into the mall. To my disappointment, all the food was chain food and as expensive as in the US. The only correct decision was to eat ice cream for lunch and sit and watch people. When I finally decided I should head back to the airport, I found the bus far more quickly due to the people with suitcases standing at the stop. This ride was $0.50, so I still have a dollar on my Panaman transit card–a good reason to come back.