We started our day shoeless on the San Blais Islands from there we were transported back to Hostel Mamallena in Panama City. They have a bag storage area and they allowed us to leave our bigger bags there for the short trip to the islands. Our plan was to take the overnight bus from Panama City to David and then take a second bus in the morning to our destination which was Boquete.
We got different answers depending on who we asked but we were told there are express and non-express buses, they all leave regularly and you should take an express. The overnight express buses leave at 10, 11 and 12. I believe you can buy tickets one day in advance at the bus station but we did not. We were also told the buses can fill up.
The long distance buses all leave from Albrook Bus Terminal. You can get there on the metro but we took a taxi because we had bags and it was cheap and easy. We arrived at the station at 8:00 pm and were able to get tickets for the 10:00 pm bus which was full when we got on it. You need your passport to buy your ticket.
The bus station is really big and modern with many ticket counters. Each route has its own counter so you just walk around the station until you find the counter for your bus. The buses to David are in the 40-50 range. Once you have a ticket there are waiting rooms you can go into. You are supposed to be there 30 minutes before the bus leaves. We learned the hard way that you are not allowed to eat in the waiting areas.
The bus station is attached to the Albrook shopping Mall, a huge modern indoor mall with all the stores you would expect in a mall in North America. It has a massive food court with traditional food court fare McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza and a merry-go-round in the middle. We bought take out, took it to the bus station and had to take it back to the food court after we were told we could not eat in the bus station.
The bus station and the mall are very clean and patrolled by many security people.
When it’s time to leave the waiting room and go to the bus you have to go through a gate which you need a metro card with $ 0.25 on it to open. We had a metro card but it had a total of $0.30 on it. Luckily there was a man at the gate who would use a card to open it if you gave him $0.25.
The buses are clean and modern with assigned seats. They actually tagged our bags and gave us claim tickets. The bus stopped once for food even though it was the middle of the night and the police boarded the bus at a checkpoint along the way. Everyone on board had to produce their passports.
A final but important note the bus was FREEZING COLD! Luckily we had been warned and had all our warm clothes on board. This is not the first time we have been on a freezing cold bus in a warm country. It’s very odd. It must use more fuel and the locals on the bus looked even colder than we did.
We arrived at the bus station in David at 4:30 am. The station in David is also quite large but it’s mostly outdoors and the different buses leave from different areas. There is a waiting room for the long distance buses from Panama City but as we discovered after waiting for a while it’s only for those buses.
The local buses leave from a set of platforms down the hill. There are signs for each destination. We wanted to go to Boquete but between our bad Spanish, the fact it was 5:00 am and dark and we had been on a bus all night we managed to get in a van which was going to Burica.
Harold had a GPS and after a while he figured out we were going the wrong way. The driver dropped us off at a gas station in the dark where he told us a local bus would come by. We were a bit nervous about being on a street corner in the dark with our bags but a few people on their way to work came by and tried to point us in the right direction. Eventually we were picked up by a very crowded local van. Being female and older I was immediately given a seat which I have learned to take because it causes much confusion if I refuse. Harold had to stand. We were still a bit concerned about where were going to end up but we arrived safely back at the bus station.
We got on the correct bus this time and took the $1.75 trip to Boquete. Buses to Boquete go every 20 minutes starting around 5:00 am. The trip takes 40 minutes to an hour depending on how often the driver stops along the way to pick people up. If you need to be somewhere allow at least an hour for the ride.
The buses drop you off in the main square in Boquete. Buses back to David leave just around the corner from the square and the local collective vans leave up the street by the grocery store. You pay on the bus or van for all of these routes.
The advantage to our side trip was that it was light when we arrived in Boquete. We could not get into our room but we were able to leave our bags. Most things were still closed but the touristy coffee shop by the main square was open so we had coffee and breakfast.