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overnight in Panama City

New York, NY
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overnight in Panama City

We are arriving late in the evening, renting a car, and planning to drive out of PC the next morning. Can someone recommend a hotel - should we stay near the airport? should we take a taxi to a hotel and then get our car in the morning? thx

Atlanta, Georgia...
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1. Re: overnight in Panama City

There are many good hotels in the downtown area and one poor hotel near Tocumen. Tell us what you want in a hotel -- U.S. chain, like Marriott or local -- B&B or a tower -- price range? My wife and I really like the Country Inn and Suites Amador. It's very close to Albrook (see below), quiet, well kept and offers nice views of the ships passing under the Bridge of the Americas as they enter or leave the Canal.

If you're staying overnight in Panama City, don't rent the car at Tocumen. Driving in or through downtown Panama is absolutely heart-stopping insanity. City traffic is the stuff that divorces, emotional breakdowns and coronaries are made of. And, it's that way for a number of reasons -- lack of street signs, lack of working traffic lights, heavy traffic, aggressive -- almost foolhardy -- driving styles and the fact that you can easily find yourself lost in neighborhoods where you don't want to be. In town, GPS's are only helpful if you know where the bad areas are and which streets to use to avoid them.

Instead, save yourself a lot of grief. Take a taxi from Tocumen and rent your car in the morning at Albrook (Gelebert) Airport. It's outside of the city proper and very close to the Bridge of the Americas with easy access to and from the bridge.

I would recommend reading some of the other posts about renting cars. Particularly, about insurance and inspections.

One of the most critical things is to thoroughly inspect your car when you rent it. The agent will do a walk-around inspection, noting any dings, scratches and chips on the inspection form. Make sure you check everything with the agent, especially under the front bumper and the windshield. And, make sure the agent marks anything you find on the form.

When you return your car, it will be inspected again and any dings and nicks will be compared to the form. It it's not on the form, the rental agent will want you to pay for it -- as in buying a brand new windshield, a new front bumper, whatever. You won't be able to leave the country until it's paid in cash. Not that they're really going to replace the windshield for that little chip. They'll leave it for the next gringo.

The cost of insurance will basically double the cost of your car rental. However, there is a way to get around most of it. You'll have to pay for the "minimum" liability insurance. (Only Avis at Albrook has waived that due to my AmEx coverage.) But, the rest of the insurance is more cheaply handled by American Express and possibly other cards. For $27 per rental, AmEx covers liabilty, collision, theft, vandalism, medical, etc., with no deductibles. I think it's well worth it.

In any case, when renting cars in Panama, be aware and beware.

New York, NY
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2. Re: overnight in Panama City

Thank you!! I've booked the Marriott (we have a good rate), and noticed that it has a Hertz car rental at the hotel (this is my preferred rental). Would you still recommend we avoid driving out of the city, and go to Allbrook to rent a car in the morning and drive from there?

Panama City, Panama
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3. Re: overnight in Panama City

For the next couple of years (yes 2 years) GB's suggestion of renting at Albrook is probably a good idea (EXCEPT for the part about using the BOA) because the Bridge of the Americas will be undergoing repair and will only have two lanes open. Expect BIG TIME traffic problems.

Take a taxi to Albrook Airport (if you get a taxi at the Marriott it will be expensive - walk away from the hotel $4) and leave the City via the Puente Centenario (Centennial Bridge). It's pretty easy - just get some good directions from the rental desk.

Have fun, enjoy Panama.

Steve www.panamanotes.com

Edited: 09 January 2012, 19:17
New York, NY
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4. Re: overnight in Panama City

great - Allbrook it is.

just one more question for you both - as you seem to be experts - since we are driving to Santa Catalina, and then to David/Boquete, and then dropping the car and flying back to PC from David, is there an argument to be made for just hiring a driver/taxi to take us, rather than renting a car?

Atlanta, Georgia...
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5. Re: overnight in Panama City

You would pay hundreds of $$$ for a taxi to take you to David. You're much better off renting and driving.

Getting to Puente Centenario is easy from Albrook. At the intersection (light) at Avenida Balboa, turn right. You'll go past Miraflores locks. You'll see the signs for Puente Centenario, La Chorrera and Arraijan. After getting over the bridge, DO NOT turn off toward La Chorrera. Follow the signs toward Arraijan and Autopista. (You'll see a sign that says Carretera Panamericano. Don't follow it.)

Steve -- have the lanes to Puente Centenario been repaired?

Panama City, Panama
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6. Re: overnight in Panama City

The approach roads to Puente Centenario have been repaired and everything is ok. It will have increased traffic because of the work on the BOA, but will be the best way to leave or enter the City for the foreseeable future.

Steve

Panama City, Panama
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7. Re: overnight in Panama City

Another change (I should have know this was coming, it's Panama) they have "postponed" the work on the Bridge of Americas. Last week it was "critical" the thing was "falling apart," and we can't afford to wait any longer. Now everything is magically ok. Guess the bridge repaired itself over the weekend.

So . . . . just pick a bridge, see what the "plan" is for that day and hope for the best.

Seriously, I still think using the Centennial Bridge is the best bet.

Travel safe.

Steve

Atlanta, Georgia...
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8. Re: overnight in Panama City

I'm sure you''re right on all counts, Steve. As they say, "This is Panama." Taking the Centennial Bridge will also give you a great view. You can look up (north) along the Gaillard Cut and down (south) to Pedro Miguel Locks.

True "this is Panama" story from Panama Guide. Seems the gringo son of the editor was driving along a congested street. He was stopped when a taxi backed right into him. The cop gave him the ticket. When he complained she said, "What do you expect? This is Panama."

LN
Panama City, Panama
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9. Re: overnight in Panama City

Love it or Leave it, I always say.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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10. Re: overnight in Panama City

You've got that right. 'Course, wearing blinders also helps.