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Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

Alberta
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Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

Hi all,

Thanks to everyone for the useful information they have shared. My friends and I are planning our first trip to Panama and we'll be there for 11 days at the end of the month. I have been doing some reading on renting a car, but I am still not sure what to do, so I am hoping to get some advice.

From what I've read, I understand that for about 11 days, the cost of the car rental is going to be around $400 (which includes the daily Panama tax of $20/day). I am aware of some of the pros and cons of renting a vehicle (the potential scams for car damage, the adventure that is driving around Panama City, the ease and economy of using taxis, potential to be ripped off by taxi drivers, etc.) and still haven't figured out which is better.

I am not sure how many days we will be in Panama City (I am still doing some research on things to do) and how many days we will be doing day trips, but if we are doing a lot of day trips (say, 4 or 5), does it make more sense to rent a vehicle for the whole 11 days or just the days we will be out of the city? Or is it better to use taxis for the whole trip?

Any help you can provide on whether to rent a vehicle or not would be appreciated. And if you have advice on where to go for day trips, that would be helpful, too. Thanks.

pennsylvania
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1. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

Rent a car for the days you will be out of the city. Might be easier to rent from Albrook Airport, it is close to bridge of Americas and highway leading out of the city. Be careful. Assume the car in front or approaching is going to do what you least expect them to do! Try to avoid driving at night. Know some Spanish.

Cabs are easy in the city. Chances are you find a nice driver that helps you with all your city needs.

4 or 5 day trips out of the city? What do you want to do?

LN
Panama City, Panama
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2. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

My visiting friends just rented a car from Tocumen. With all fees, taxes, insurances they paid $350. for four days rental, so you may have to pay more than what you posted above.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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3. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

If you read about renting cars in Panama, you should have seen that there a number of "rules of thumb" to follow.

#1 Plan that your cost will be almost double any on-line prices you 've been quoted.

#2 When in Panama City do not rent a car. Pick up your rental car only when leaving Panam City.

#3 Whenever and however possible, make arrangements to pick up and return your car to Albrook.

#4 Avoid picking up rental cars at Tocumen.

As for day trips -- you're saying you're planning 4 or 5 day trips? Be more specific with us. A) Where are you thinking about going? B) When are you thinking about going?

In most cases, you'll save money and have more convenience on day trips if you rent a car versus taking a taxi or hiring a private driver.

Alberta
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4. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

Thanks everyone for your advice. From your suggestions, it looks like I am better off only renting a car for the days we will be out of the city. I was just curious if it was cheaper to rent a car for the week (I had a quote of $150 for 11 days, plus I know the taxes of 11 days x $20), especially since LN said the cost of a rental for 4 days for LN's friends were $350. The place I am staying at has a parking space. I was also told that since there are 4 of us on the trip, we will need two taxis to get from the airport (2 taxis at 2 return trips at $30/trip = $120). Just trying to be economical, so I appreciate everyone's advice.

I know that I need to do quite a bit of research about what to do in Panama City and area, but my impression from reading the forum suggestions so far is that there is not enough to do in PC for 11 days. That is the only reason why I was thinking about 4 or 5 day trips. Is my impression correct?

Atlanta, Georgia...
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5. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

For me, two days in Panama City at the beginning of the trip and one day at the end are plenty. Because of the proximity of all the major sites, you can see more than one in a day. For example, you could do Miraflores and Casco Viejo on one day and have ceviche and a drink on Amador that evening. The next day, you could see Panama Viejo and Soberanía. You can do all of this very easily (and with much less trouble) by taxi versus rental car.

Have you thought about extending any of your day trips to overnight or a couple of days? Fro example, El Valle. For me, going to El Valle for just a day is like going to Hawaii for just a day. Yes, you would enjoy it, but it would be too short a trip to relax and truly enjoy the location. You'll spend nearly as much time driving as you will at the locations. You might consider spending two or three days in El Valle and perhaps a couple of days on the Caribbean side to see Gatun, Portobelo and possibly visit Isla Grande.

Also, keep in mind with the car costs that while the taxes and fees will be at least $20 per day additional, you'll have an additional $18 or $22 per day (depending on vehicle) mandatory insurance charge. Unfortunately, those charges don't show up in any on-line reservations.

Getting back to the airport taxi issue -- in addition to the typical, small, European-size taxis, there are minivan taxis and a few six-pack (pick-up) taxis. While getting one at the airport when you arrive might be hit-or-miss (you might consider waiting for one) you could make arrangements for a minivan to take you to the airport.

Panama City, Panama
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6. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

we arrived in Panama city yesterday at the main airport. My wife had made reservations via internet with Payless and actually spoke to someone to verify the price because it was so cheap. So we get to the counter and some young guy with the worst freaking attitude EVER looks up our reservation which was quoted at $73 for 8 days. Before all the BS taxes, fees, gps etc it was to $287 not including GPS. Then he says there is a $2000 deposit. What!!!! DO NOT USE PAYLESS!!!! Besides this guy would not even give us a price breakdown of all the charges until we gave him our credit card. So we went to Economica (last one on the aisle) which was great! Super nice and super helpful, they even put stuff in the GPS for us. Total price including GPS was $393 for 8 days with $150 refundable deposit. Still expensive but probably cant get any cheaper if getting GPS. DO NOT USE PAYLESS!!!!

Atlanta, Georgia...
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7. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

It's too bad you didn't read the TA threads on Payless before making reservations. You would have seen many other complaints just like yours.

I would be very cautious about trusting any GPS while driving in Panama City. It won't help you with the detours due to construction. It won't help you with the streets that have been recently changed from two-way to one-way or have had their one-way direction reversed. And, it most definitely won't keep you out of neighborhoods, such as Corundu, where even the police won't enter without the protection of an amored vehicle.

Hopefully,l you'll be driving your rental car outside the city and take taxis while inside. They are much cheaper than even Payless.

Alberta
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8. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

Thanks for sharing your experience, steve393. I will look into Economica. Please let me know what happens after you return the vehicle and whether the company tries to make you pay for any "damages".

Thanks for sharing your knowledge, gb_williams. I will look into the minivan taxis. And I do think I will avoid driving in Panama City. Thanks for the itinerary suggestions. I will look more into the other places you indicated. In your last post, you mentioned a neighbourhood to avoid. Can you list the other neighbourhoods? Is safety generally a concern in Panama City?

Atlanta, Georgia...
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9. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

Safety in Panama City is like most other large cities. I certainly don't fear walking on the streets any more in Panama than I do in New York or San Francisco. or Atlanta. It's a matter of being aware of your surroundings and not doing things that would atract trouble.

Other barrios to avoid are the infamous El Chorillo, Santa Ana and Calidonia. They are pretty obvious when you see them. Across the canal, avoid La Chorrera.

10. Re: Does it make sense to rent a car? And day trip suggestions?

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