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Safety in Panama

Seminole, Florida
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Safety in Panama

I will be flying into Panama city in Oct and driving to Bocas stopping in Santa Fe on the way for a hike and to sleep. Then on the way back a week later stopping at Baru for a hike and to sleep. My husband is worried about crime and gangs. He read people slash tires and rob you or leave road obstructions and rob you when you get out to move them. Is this true? Is it safe in Panama? Has anyone done this drive?

thanks!

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Panama Province, Panama
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Isla Colon, Panama
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Isla Baru
Cartagena District, Colombia
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1. Re: Safety in Panama

Have spent the majority of the past 2 years in Panama (about 8 months/year), have driven extensively, never had any issues and never heard of anything even vaguely resembling what your hubby describes. Where did he "hear" such rubbish?

I have made this same drive several times, including the stop in Santa Fe. I would avoid driving in PC as much as possible. It is confusing and, like any big city, there are bad areas. Maybe hire a taxi to guide you out. But once you are out of PC its easy and the roads are good. PanAmerican highway is good, nice new road up to Boquette. The drive over the mountains toward Bocas is spectacular, but caution on this road as it does get foggy and wet and its a narrow 2 lane, bit in good shape.

Do drive the speed limit in Panama because the do have motorcycle cops here with radar guns.

Don't drive at night.

No areas to avoid on this route, but Almirante is a dump. Not dangerous, just a dump. Several places to park your car there - really no reason to take it on the ferry to Bocas.

Edited: 12 June 2014, 18:54
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Isla Colon, Panama
Edmonton, Canada
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2. Re: Safety in Panama

Although I am sure it has happened, (just as it has in many of our home countries) we neither saw nor heard evidence of tourist targeted crime such as you describe on our two 2-3 week trips to central and western Panama. We rented cars on both trips and travelled both on and off the normal tourist pathways. If you are able to check, I think you'd find south Florida, Mexico's Mayan Riviera and Costa Rica all have higher tourist crime rates than Panama.

Santa Fe is a beautiful area and has some developed trails. We did only one short stint there out to a small coffee farm (6 kms). We found the heat and hills made it tougher than expected. We considered doing some of the viewpoint hikes afterwards, but backed off when we found the trailheads poorly marked and reread the guidebooks which suggested hiring a local guide. We were in Santa Fe at the beginning of the tourist season and found there was very little outside of the "hotel" in the way of developed tourist services. We found only one local eatery outside of the two accommodation based restaurants mentioned on TA. The only tourist type restaurant had been closed for a year. Your October visit is well outside of the tourist season. If you plan on spending more than a day in Santa Fe, you should probably confirm with your hotelier what services are available and what hikes are recommended in that area when it is wet. Visiting Santa Fe will add 1 to 2 hours each way to your road trip. The road is paved, but has pot holes, is frequently narrow and windy and is used by all sorts of vehicles, some quite slow. Taking a bus out there will involve 2 to 3 hours.

Your one week trip sounds a bit ambitious, particularly if you have not been to this country before. Rather than drive all that way you may want to consider flying to the Bocas and driving back (it is at least 10 hours road time each way). Another alternative is flying both ways and allowing yourself time to explore Panama (city) as well more time in the Bocas area. Flying and or bussing to and from David could work as well. You can rent a car there just as easily as in Panama and miss a six hour drive that can at points be a little tedious and at other stressful (e.g. Panama (city) traffic) . You may also want to factor in weather considerations as October can be very wet and tropical rain can and does cause delays and damage to infrastructure and schedules.

Happy Trails

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3. Re: Safety in Panama

I have encountered protests up in Chrique where they blocked the road, but it was just a protest, very non-threatening, we got out and chatted with them as we waited. Road was blocked for about 2 hours. Authorities were also present.

Edited: 12 June 2014, 18:58
Seminole, Florida
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4. Re: Safety in Panama

Thank you, he is paranoid about them targeting tourists and kidnappings. I told him I have read that down near Columbia is very dangerous but everywhere else seemed ok. I think he has watched to many movies! ;) I am trying to convince him to go!

Seminole, Florida
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5. Re: Safety in Panama

great! Thank you so much for all of your info. Maybe I will look into flying into bocas one way. I really wanted to see the mountains though, maybe we will just explore baru. I appreciate all the information! I am trying to convince my husband that its not that dangerous but he knows 2 guys that went on separate business trips there and had to be transported but armored cars and guys with machine guns... Ugh, good luck to me ;)

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6. Re: Safety in Panama

Tell him to find a confirmed case in Panama....not just anywhere "furen". He will have to search hard.

I lived in FL back when they were killing tourists in rental car carjackings. Certainly nothing like that in Panama.

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7. Re: Safety in Panama

There was a brief period of time around 1992 and 1993 when it was not safe to travel parts of the Transisthmus Highway between Colón and Panama City, especially at night. Small, armed gangs placed barricades in the road and would intercept cars/travelers driving alone. They also kidnapped and ransomed a few business people who commuted from the city to Colón. People started traveling in convoys. The one time I made the trip then, I was told, "Don't stop for any reason." When some business people chartered a plane to the daily "to and from," the plane was bombed.

But, that was over 20 years ago. The situation was quickly cleaned up. I have never heard of any business people having to be transported with an armed guard. That seems very unbelievable to me. Are you sure your husband's friends weren't talking about Colombia? And, ike BZ, the only road blocks I've heard about were the indians protested the mining in their Comarca a couple of years ago.

I have driven much of Panama over the years, including to and from Almirante (Bocas), and the only shake-down I ever encountered took place this past February outside of Anton on the Panamerican Highway. That was when a traffic cop on a motorcycle pulled me over and tried to extort $100 to make a speeding ticket go away. We settled on $20.

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Isla Colon, Panama
Seminole, Florida
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8. Re: Safety in Panama

thanks for the info... One of his friends was there 5 years ago and one was there like 16 years ago, so that may be why

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9. Re: Safety in Panama

I think hubby has a different place, or at least a different time, in mind. Never seen armed private security escorts in Panama.

But there are other places in CA/SA where they are common. My primary residence is in Guatemala, they are routine there.

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10. Re: Safety in Panama

Somebody is telling your husband a tall tale, unless they hanging in the jungle in the Darien most of Panama is safer than Tampa FL.

Having lived in both Panama and Colombia most of the safety concerns are way overblown, of course there are bad areas, the city of Colon for example, but tourist areas are very safe and secure, same in Colombia, too much Hollywood hype, the reality is most areas are pretty tame, more nervous in Ybor City at midnight on Saturday night

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