Hi we are family of 4. Kids: 17,12. We would like some suggestion as how we can best use our time dec 25th to 31st. Would you recommend renting a car in Panama? This will be our first time in Panama.
If you could give some more information about what you guys like to do maybe we could share some information.
Regarding renting a car, yes you can rent a car at the airport, or in the city or in a couple of the suburbs around the city. Driving in Panama is reasonably safe in my opinion and easy to get around with google maps. There are two main highways going around the city and you need to have what is called Pana Pass to be able to drive on these, ask at the rental agency about how to pay for this. You can also get around the city by taxi or uber for reasonable prices. If you want to go outside the city and explore a little of Panama then having your own car would be preferable.
Staying in the city, you should check out the canal, ancon, go cycling along cinta costera, have dinner in amedor, go to the malls either allbrook or multiplaza. Go outside panama city a little bit and spend some time on the beaches or go to a few islands and relax. If you are staying in a nice hotel it can be good just to relax by the pool for a while too.Edited: 29 November 2016, 23:43
I hope the recommendation is renting a car to travel in Panama, the country, not in Panama City. There are several threads in this forum where the vast majority of recommendations is not to drive in Panama City, and I can't agree more with that assessment. It takes time to get used to the chaos, the lack of street signs, the fact that there are no addresses, the agressiveness of Panama drivers, etc. You might be used to it by now, I'm used to it by now, but nevertheless, I hate driving in Panama City and do it only out of necessity. I wouldn't wish my enemies the nightmare of driving in Panama City during rush hour.
Taxis, private drivers, tour companies, buses, and the metro are all better options for exploring Panama City.
I totally agree with El_Chiners that for even more reasons than what he has identified, driving a rental car in the city is probably the worst possible way of getting around. It is not reasonably safe -- unless you're on your way out of the city or just returning to the rental agency. Google maps is highly inaccurate in the city and elsewhere. It misplaces hotels, restaurants, points of interest and misnames main routes. For example, Google maps shows "Highway 1" as one of the main roads from Tocumen into Panama. If you asked a Panamanian how to get to "Highway 1," he would tell you there is no such Highway. (Or, more likely, to be polite, he would give you directions, but they would be to some other road that happened to cross his mind.) "Highway 1" is actually known in parts as Avenida Domingo Díaz, Tumba Muerto, Ave. Manuel Espinosa Batista and Ave. Frederico Boyd. Waze is much more accurate.
Only Corredor Norte and Corredor Sur require the use of PanaPass. In most cases, PanaPass is a rental agency rip-off. At Tocumen, most agencies offer two options: 1) Pay $40 for "unlimited" use (for one week), or 2) pay $16 for the initial pass fee and you'll be charged per use. In most cases, you'll pay $1.25 to $2 per use. And, in most cases, you'll use the toll roads just a few times.
The other option? Avoid the toll roads. Depending on where you're going, I can offer directions that are "toll free."
When you're in Panama City, like El_Chiners said, take taxis, private drivers, tour companies and the metro. Rent the car when you're leaving the city to go to El Valle or Portobelo or other points west. It will save you a lot of time, money (yes, taxis are cheaper then rental cars in the city) and it will save you frustration. Driving in Panama City is the stuff heart attacks and divorces are made of.
Have you picked a hotel in the city? I'd recommend looking at El Cangrejo. Toscana Inn, Hotel Milan and Torres de Alba are good hotels at very reasonable prices. There are a lot of good restaurants within walking distance. It's easy to get a taxi or a short walk to hop on the metro.
Forget the malls. You have plenty in California. And, forget eating at Amador. It has a wonderful view of the city at night, but most all of the restaurants are mediocre at best. Go out to enjoy the view ... after dinner in the city.
Ditto Tiqy -- tell us more about what you like to do and we can probably come up better ideas for you.