Getting to the tranquil valley town of El Valle from Panama CIty was relatively easy, but going anywhere besides Panama City afterwards can seem a bit of a challenge.
Guidebooks are light on information and I didn’t find much help online to help me avoid going back to the city before I could head up to Boquete.
Here’s my experience with the trip and some tips to help you avoid some of my mistakes.
After a quick walk in the morning I had breakfast at my hostel and packed my luggage. As a lot of people were still sleeping in the dorm, it took me a little longer than usual as I attempted to keep as quiet as possible.
I headed off at 9 am and caught a San Carlos bus at 9:15 am right outside my hostel which was located on the main road.
The trip to San Carlos was approximately 45 minutes from the centre of town. You are dropped off at the side of the highway near an overpass which you must cross to get to the bus stop on the other side.
Here I waited about 20 minutes to catch a David bus, but started to get anxious and jumped on the next Santiago-bound bus that I saw. The problem with getting the Santiago bus is that you must get off at the Terminal for one of the David - Panama buses. The Santiago bus will keep going to the main terminal where I believe you could get a mini-bus to David as well, so don’t freak out if you miss it. This leg of the trip was about 3 hours.
At the terminal I waited another 40 minutes before the next David-bound bus left. The terminal has a cleanish toilet and a cafeteria with cheap meal and drink options.
The David bus takes roughly 3 hours. My trip unfortunately took 4 hours due to heavy rain.
At the David bus station, after taking a quick toilet break, head towards the back of the station. Each stop has a sign above to indicate where they will be going, so just keep walking until you find the Boquete bound bus.
The trip to Boquete is roughly an hour long. The bus can drop you off along the way if your hotel is further out of town, or continue on to the Parque Central, the main plaza in the centre of town.
I arrived close to 7pm. What should have been a 7 hour trip (if everything went perfectly) had become a 10 hour day. Most of the delay was due to the heavy rain, even more reason to head off as early as possible if you are travelling in the rainy season.
Here are some tips to help you get to Boquete as quickly as possible:
Leave as early as you can
Leaving early does two things:
you potentially avoid the awful traffic at the end of the day, and
if it’s the rainy season, you might avoid travelling in the middle of the afternoon rains.
Stay on the bus to San Carlos
You might get advice to get off the San Carlos bound bus at the very first highway stop once you get on the highway. Stay on until San Carlos, the David buses will only stop there.
Don’t catch the Santiago bus
Try to avoid the urge to catch the Santiago bus, really only use it as a last resort. A David bus will be more direct (less stops) and cheaper as well.
Be prepared for the Air-Con
Make sure you bring something warm for when the bus driver decides to create his own mini-Antarctica.
Know if you pay on the bus or need a ticket
Most of the buses ask for payment either enroute or at the end of the trip except for the Santiago to David bus where you have to buy a ticket at the little office on the left of the terminal.
Take some snacks
Either bring some snacks or some small change to buy snacks from local vendors who might get on the various buses along the way. You can get a proper lunch at the Santiago rest stop if you’re not too picky. There were some vegetarian options including a freshly made fried egg and salad sandwich.
Pack some entertainment
Bring some reading material or download a bunch of podcasts to keep you entertained. See here for some of my favourites.
Ask questions if you’re not sure
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I almost missed the terminal stop at Santiago but I had mentioned to the ladies sitting beside me where I was planning on going and they made sure that I got off at the right stop. You might feel silly but tell the conductor where you are going and keep reminding him so that you get off at the right place.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about the trip.