Should you rent a car in Panama City?> Panama > Panama City ( PTY )
Panama City Car hire summary
Overall drive rating
Based on a weighted score across all factors, including driving roads, hire and fuel costs, road safety etc. [Full notes - drive rating]
Cheapest rate for one week
Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]
- 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.
|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]||
- During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "whynot" section for more suggestions.
|Free parking score Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking.Total 160 - of which 106 have free parking. [full notes - parking]||
Panama City public transport quick facts
"Top trumps" train scoreHigher scores go to the systems which take you to the most amazing places.
- [full notes - top trumps trains]
- A good rail system doesn't mean you shouldn't hire a car, but it often means you have a decent range of options.
Overall public transport scoreThis is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel.
- [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?
Walking and Cycling Overview
Active travel scoreThis overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Panama City
- [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city / country)
Take to the waters!This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Panama City
- [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city / country)
Need, 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:
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.
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?
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?
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:
- Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
- 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?
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?
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 Panama City?
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.
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.
RatingsOur 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.
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: