We do not recommend driving in Panama City. Whenever we go there, we use taxi’s even iwhen we drive there. Driving is very hard, very bad traffic, no place to park and no street signs. Also, drivers in Panama consider that stop signs, speed limit signs, any traffic signs are just suggestions, not the law. Also, most streets have no signs and they go in many different directions. (a lot like Paris, Boston, Mexico City etc.)
Be careful about car rentals most places will not take your out of country insurance even if you have a Platinum American Express Card with full insurance policy coverage. They will actually accept that, but put a $10,000 hold on your credit card. So expect to pay more per day for the insurance than your car rental.
If you are driving from Panama City to David to see the sights - DO NOT DO IT. First the vegetation along the road is such that you won’t see much. Second after you have seen a few miles of jungle you have seen it all. Third if you take the bus, you will see a lot more because they are double deckers. You can ride up high.
If you are driving because you are visiting many different areas (at least 3) and some are in or near Pedasi then a car is best. However, wait until you are ready to leave the city to get your car, use taxis to get around the city. An in expensive unlocked phone with gps will really help you with your drive. Google maps and waze are both good. Google maps is preferable. Waze tends to send you on some roads that are not passable. When you get here buy a Digicel phone sim. They have a great program called “Todo Includo” you get minutes and data pre paid cheap. For example: the 30 day program includes 150 minutes, 2 gig of data and 50 sms for $14.99.
Panama City to Coronado, Playa Blanca, Royal Decameron is about 2 hours.
Panama City to Santiago is about 3 1/2 hours no stops.
Santiago to David is about 3 1/2 hours no stops.
DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT IN PANAMA!!! Unless you know the road, there are very few street lights outside the city. Most roads do not even have markers or lines, which makes it easy to run off the road. If you are driving non stop to David leave Panama City before 9am. During rainy season driving at night is almost impossible because you cannot see road lines or shoulders (if there are any). You will notice that there will be people on bicycles or walking in the street wearing dark clothing - really difficult to see.
If you plan on going to Santa Catalina, the surf place. Oasis surf camp is best and only one on the beach. To get there, drive to Santiago. From there to Sona and then to Santa Catalina. All other roads are very difficult to impassable.
If you are coming from Panama to stay with us at Black Rock BnB look at our web site for the Panama map. It shows a short cut which is a pretty good road and very pretty drive. It cuts 40 mins off the drive.
We highly recommend having a car here in our area because there are many really cool things to see that you cannot see by bus or taxi.
If you decide to fly here, choose your airline based on where you are in Panama City. Many people fly Air Panama from the city to here, then Copa from here back to the city and to their international departure flight. Saves a lot on taxi rides as it is $35 from Tocumen to downtown and $5 from the Albrook Airport to downtown.