Panama City

By | 16th January 2018

Should you rent a car in Panama City?

Do you need a car in Panama City > Should you rent a car in Panama City Panama > Panama City ( PTY ) Do you need a car in Panama City? Is it worth hiring a car in Panama City? Should you rent a car in Panama City?

Panama City Car hire summary


Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]

40%

  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Panama City but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]

€145

 #171/300

  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Panama City during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]

 €180

117/300

  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.


Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 160 - of which 106 have free parking. [full notes - parking]

66%

#67/300

  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Panama City, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Panama City public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.

50%

  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Panama City

100%

  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.

60%

  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Panama City good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Panama City because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Panama City. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.

40%

  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Panama City, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Panama City Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Panama City", "is it worth hiring a car in Panama City", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Panama City?

Do you need a car in Panama City?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Panama City " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Panama City?

Is it worth hiring a car in Panama City?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Panama City" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Panama City?

Should you rent a car in Panama City?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Panama City, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Panama City compares with other destinations in  Panama or  North America.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.


What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Panama City?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.

20%

Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.

2

  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Panama City if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Panama City for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Panama City for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Panama City if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Panama City if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Panama City if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Panama City, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Panama City if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Panama City if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Panama City if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Panama City, or are there good reasons not to?

Apart from the recent news coverage concerning tax havens, any first thoughts of Panama will no doubt bring up the Panama Canal, and much as though this immense wonder of the modern world was always designed as a major piece of transportation infrastructure, this really is all about cargo ships, rather than transporting people, although of course no visit to Panama would really be complete without actually taking some sort of trip on (or at least along) the canal itself.

Do you need a car in Panama City? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Panama City?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Panama City? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Panama City as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Panama City?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

So what are the best ways of actually getting around Panama, including getting around the urban jungle of Panama City itself, travelling along the Panama Canal and then also getting lost inside some of Panama’s heavily forested interior?

Panama City is one of those cities that has done a lot of sprouting upwards rather outwards in recent years, given the various constraints of the local terrain, and the city has also invested heavily in a range of public transport schemes, including most notably the first heavy rail metro system in Central America.

Panama City has historically been served by two different airports, with the main international airport being situated at Tocumen. Although the metro doesn’t extend out this far, various different local buses are available, as are taxis.

Note that taxis in Panama City operate on a zonal system, rather than by metered fare.

Panama Canal – Car or no car?

It may come as a surprise to learn that there is a railway which was also built running alongside the Panama Canal, and this has been used for various different logistical purposes over the years. Now it also runs as a passenger service, aimed largely at tourists, but still passing through breathtaking landscapes and man-made wonders at the same time!

Various different options are also available for cruising on the Panama Canal, and sometimes these can even include Panama packages on full sized oceangoing cruise ships that then head off elsewhere. You can still just about squeeze in a partial trip as a day excursion, but for a full trip in a cruise liner, most people will instead choose to start their itinerary in a place like Miami or San Diego.

There is also a major highway running alongside the canal from Panama City to the northern port of Colon, and regular buses are available here as well.

For venturing anywhere else within the country of Panama, a hire car might be moderately useful, and it’s the same old question about cost versus relative flexibility and convenience. However, there really are very few roads in Panama outside the capital Panama City, and you might find it almost as easy to get around using a bus of some form, whether it’s an organised tour or scheduled service.

There’s no shortage of day hiking opportunities which can be done as an out and back trip from Panama City, but we really don’t think a hire car is necessary for this. Your own decision here will depend on how deep into the interior want to go, and what other local options are available at the time.

The adventurously minded might also want to head out to the Pearl Islands by boat, direct from Panama City. This island group has been popular with a number of survival reality TV programmes, and it is an easy excursion from the city.

Why should you rent a car in Panama City?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Panama City?
  • Generally, a hire car isn’t that useful in Panama City, unless you want to view the canal from certain vantage points above it, without taking an organised tour.
  • Panama City car hire options may also be useful for exploring some more remote areas, especially for getting ot the edge of the rainforest (but again, many people will prefer to use the services of a locally guided tour).

Why not? Visiting Panama City without a car

What is public transport like in Panama City? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in 2?

No need for anything relating to the Panama Canal.

  • Take to the waters – either on the canal itself (see above), or to various offshore islands.
  • for a truly unique experience, see the Panama Canal by train – although this is popular with tourists, it’s also a commuter route (no need to get a packaged tour).
  • Endless excursions available from Panama City to explore natural wonders – no car needed!
  • Zoned taxi services in Panama City – can often be very good value.
  • Ample bus services in Panama City, including some express bus lanes.
  • Panama City metro – largely useful for commuters, but can also give access to some tourist sites.

Verdict

So, ultimately, should you rent a car in Panama City? There’s certainly no need for it, and you may well find that you can see a great deal more without bothering. This makes Panama City one of our more surprising “no” verdicts.

Ratings

Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Verdict

What is our final score for Panama City on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.

1


Would you hire a car in Panama City?

Have you driven in Panama City? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Panama City}? Do you need a car in Panama City? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

 

 

 

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