9 Tips for Renting a Car in Panama

Renting a car in Panama is an absolute must because this country is perfect for a road trip. The distances are not too big, the traffic is quiet and you drive through beautiful landscapes. When you rent a car, you save yourself the hassle of transferring to multiple local buses and you are much more flexible to go where you want. Renting a car gives you the ultimate feeling of freedom and Panama is a great country to explore by rental car. In this article you can read my experience and tips for renting and driving a car in Panama.

For which part of your trip to Panama is renting a car a good idea?

If you’re planning a trip through Panama, you may be wondering whether renting a car is necessary. While it’s possible to get around using public transportation , some places can be a bit harder to reach. For instance, traveling to the beautiful beach spots of Playa Venao and Santa Catalina, which you will visit if you follow our Panama itinerary, may require multiple transfers, making the journey quite strenuous. Renting a car offers more flexibility and freedom, allowing you to avoid the hassle of public transportation or taxis.

That’s why we recommend the following: After possibly visiting the San Blas Islands, pick up your rental car in Panama City. Then, with the rental car, visit the destinations of El Valle de Anton, Playa Venao, Santa Catalina, and Boquete. You can drop off the rental car after Boquete in David, which is a 30-minute drive south of Boquete. From there, you can take a bus to Bocas del Toro. If you want to save some money, you can also drop off the rental car in David first and then travel by bus to Boquete. That way, you’ll have had the convenience of a rental car for the challenging route between Valle de Antón, Playa Venao, Santa Catalina, and David. Please refer to the map of our travel route below for clarification.

Can you combine Panama and Costa Rica with a rental car?

If you’re considering a trip that combines Panama and Costa Rica, there are some important things to keep in mind. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to rent a car in one country and return it in another, so you’ll need to book two separate rental cars. Most travelers cross the border between Bocas del Toro (Panama) and Puerto Viejo (Costa Rica), but it’s not possible to return your car in Bocas del Toro. Instead, you’ll need to return the rental car in Panama City or David, Panama and rent a new car in Costa Rica from Puerto Viejo. Of course, if you’re traveling in the opposite direction, you can do the same in reverse. To help plan your trip, check out our suggested itineraries for both Panama and Costa Rica. These itineraries can help you combine the best of both countries.

Is it safe to rent a car in Panama?

Driving through Panama is generally a very safe experience. While traffic can be busier around Panama City, drivers are generally skilled and the driving is safe. Once you’re out of Panama City, driving is quite peaceful. The roads are not crowded, and people drive with care and consideration.

Tip: never leave your belongings unattended in plain sight in the car Always put your backpack in your trunk with the cover over it. So, when picking up your rental car, make sure that a cover is available.

How are the roads in Panama?

When it comes to driving in Panama, the good news is that it’s generally easy and straightforward. Most of the roads are in good condition, especially the Pan-American Highway (also known as the Panamericana in Spanish), which is the longest highway in the world and runs through Panama from North to South America. The Panamericana is well-maintained, but once you leave it, you may encounter rougher or unpaved roads with bumps and potholes that require extra attention.

Be aware that speed bumps are common in and around villages, and they can sometimes be poorly marked or not marked at all. To avoid any accidents, slow down whenever you see houses nearby. In addition to speed bumps, there may be potholes on the road that you should keep an eye out for. While asphalt roads may have some holes, unpaved roads like those leading to Playa Venao or Santa Catalina can be especially tricky to navigate due to numerous potholes and gravel. But with a little bit of caution and patience, driving on these roads is manageable.

Do you need a 4-wheel drive car in Panama?

If you plan to follow our Panama itinerary, you don’t need to rent a 4-wheel drive car. While there may be some unpaved roads along the way, they’re generally passable with a regular rental car as there are no steep mountain passes to navigate.

Good to know: you don’t need an international driving license to drive in Panama, but make sure to have both your license and the car papers with you in the vehicle, as the police may request to see them at any time

The traffic rules in Panama

When driving in Panama, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll be driving on the right side of the road. Additionally, there are some things to consider while driving in Panama. For instance, you may notice some drivers overtaking on the right, even though this is prohibited by law. Moreover, the entry lanes on the Panamericana are not always well-designed, but there are usually insert lanes between lanes to facilitate crossing busy roads safely and easily.

Speed checks are commonly conducted on the Panamericana and you may come across several police officers along the way, especially if you’re driving for several hours. If you notice oncoming traffic flashing their headlights at you, it’s usually an indication that you need to be alert for something, such as a speed trap, accident, or animal on the road. So, be prepared to adjust your driving accordingly.

Tips for navigating in Panama

Using the Waze app is highly recommended for navigating around Panama. The app utilizes real-time data and enables users to report accidents, checks, and even potholes on the road. As a user, you will receive timely notifications about any potential issues while driving on the same road. It is important to note that a SIM card with an internet connection is required to receive these up-to-date reports. You can purchase these SIM cards from various locations for just a few dollars.

Important: bring your creditcard

When you go to pick up your rental car, it is important to have a credit card in the name of the main driver. This is required for the rental car deposit. Without a credit card in the name of the main driver, you will not be able to receive the rental car. Also, make sure that there is sufficient balance on this credit card for the deposit. The amount of the deposit may vary depending on the car and can be found under the “terms and conditions” section. If you don’t have a credit card yet, we recommend getting one.

What does it cost to rent a car in Panama?

When renting a car in Mexico, prices can vary depending on the season and how early you book. The price for a regular car starts at $50 per day, including full insurance. Booking a rental car through Rentalcars.com is highly recommended for Panama. With a rental car, you always have a chance of damage and problems along the way, which is why it’s smart to book with a reliable party. At Rentalcars, you can always take out a Full Protection Insurance, you can change your booking for free and all conditions are clearly indicated. So you don’t have to worry about snags and if something goes wrong on your trip, everything is always reimbursed and taken care of. This is totally worth it as far as we are concerned, especially on holiday.

Note: Sometimes the local rental company will try to sell you extra insurances. These are absolutely unnecessary as everything is covered with Rentalcars’ Full Protection Insurance. So don’t be fooled because you are 100% covered, even your excess will be refunded in case of damage.

Price hikes due to shortage of cars: There is currently a huge shortage of rental cars worldwide. To survive the corona crisis, car rental companies have had to sell a large portion of their cars. Since demand is rising fast, there are not enough chips for new cars and prices are skyrocketing due to the shortage. As a result, many rental cars are double the price or even fully booked. It’s best to book as early as possible to be sure of a rental car that is still somewhat affordable. At Rentalcars.com, you can currently cancel or change your booking free of charge up to 48 hours in advance, so you are not stuck with anything but still be sure of a rental car.