Everything You Need to Know About Taxis in Panama City5th June 2015
As in many countries, you’ll find taxi drivers in Panama are generally friendly and like to chat with passengers. If you’re looking forward to practicing your Spanish, you’ll find cabbies happy to discuss politics, the economy, music, food, and more.
You’ll see Panamanians from all walks of life taking taxis at all hours, as it’s considered a safe, comfortable, and cheap way to travel. Getting around Panama City by cab is easy, since there are plenty of taxis (and they can be flagged down anywhere).
Sound easy? It should!
Of course, a savvy traveler can always benefit from a few tips. If you’re planning to navigate Panama’s capital by cab, here’s what you’ll want to know:
1. Habla inglés?
Unlike in more touristy destinations, not all taxi drivers in Panama speak English. So it’s helpful to have a phrasebook or commit a few terms to memory. Remember to add por favor (please) and gracias (thank you), as Panamanians appreciate courteous speech. It’s also customary to say buenas when getting into cab. This catch-all greeting can be short for “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” When you exit the cab, the driver may say: Que pase buen dia, or “Have a good day.” You can answer with: Igualmente, or “Likewise.”
A few more terms that may come in handy:
Aquí – Here
Pare – Stop
Derecha – Right
Izquierda – Left
Siga – Keep straight or keep going
¿Cuánto? – How much?
2. You won’t break the bank:
Taxis in Panama are inexpensive, and you’re unlikely to spend more than $2 - $5 for downtown fares. Fares to the city outskirts can cost double. Drivers can often make change but it’s a good idea to stock up on $1 bills. And remember, alternate methods of payment—like credit cards—are not accepted. Cash only!
On occasion taxi drivers will try to charge foreigners more than they should. It’s an unfortunate reality in many countries. The best thing you can do is ask locals (hotel panama staff or even people on the street) how much the fare should be, so you have an idea. On the bright side, stories about kind taxi drivers abound—from returning forgotten items to helping stranded motorists, we’ve heard it all.
3. Know before you go:
If you’re new to Panama, it’s wise to ask what the fare will be before getting into a cab. You should also let drivers know where you’re going. Technically, they’re required to take passengers anywhere they want to go. In practice, however, drivers will sometimes double up on passengers or decline fares to certain areas. So if you’re going to Atlapa Convention Center, say: Voy para Atlapa and wait to see if the driver says yes before getting in.
4. Choose your ride:
Licensed, registered taxis in Panama are yellow, and have plate numbers replicated on the sides of the vehicle. They do not have meters, and instead calculate fares based on how many zones are traversed. White unmarked vehicles known as “tourism taxis” operate out of airports, charging slightly more for private transportation.
Services like Uber have also sprung up in Panama, and fares tend to start around $5. Some accept both cash and credit cards, others only credit.
5. It’s better than driving:
It’s a good thing that there are so many ways to get around Panama City! In addition to the above, there’s the metro line and the metro bus system. And neighborhoods like Bella Vista and El Cangrejo are walkable.
You see, driving in Panama City can be daunting. Noting the unpredictable traffic patterns and laissez-faire attitude toward driving, visitors often choose not to rent cars. In addition, fines for driving under the influence are very high in Panama. So if you’ve had even one drink, it’s best not to drive.
6. Quick little tips:
Here are a few extra tips will help you make the most of your Panama taxi experience:
- Sometimes a cabbie’s driving can seem reckless. But the truth is that most everyone in Panama drives the same way. It may not be what you’re used to, but take heart…statistics show that they do know how to weave in and out of traffic without causing accidents.
- It may sometimes seem like your taxi is taking you down a sketchy road or in the wrong direction. Panamanian taxistas love their shortcuts (especially any that help them avoid traffic lights), so most of the time there’s no need to worry. If you like, use your smart phone’s GPS or an app like Waze to make sure your driver is being good.
- Remember, it’s not customary to tip unless your driver went above and beyond—for example by helping with heavy luggage or waiting for you while you went shopping or sightseeing.
- If you hit it off with your driver, get his or her cell phone number so you can call directly when you need a ride. Nothing’s more convenient than having a designated driver on speed dial!
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