Exploring Panama

Since we needed to renew our Costa Rica visas (another 90 day stamp in our passports), we decided it would be fun to explore Panama beyond the border at Paso Canoas, which is the nearest border crossing for us.  (We took a day trip to Paso Canoas on May 9th.  See previous post titled “Day Trip to Panama” posted on May 11.)  Instead of flying to Panama City, which might have been a little easier, we wanted to drive across so that we could do some major shopping.  Panama does have a better variety of American goods and the prices on most things are lower than in Costa Rica.

Panama Map

To drive across the border, we needed to obtain a permit to take the truck out of the country, which required us to drive to San Isidro to the National Registry.  For a fee of $15 and proof of ownership, we received the permit.  Also, we had to pay $7 each exit tax at Bancredito Bank.  You can pay the exit tax at the border, but we wanted to do as much as we could ahead of time to get through the border crossing faster.  We got lucky and the lines in Costa Rica Immigration and Customs were short.  We breezed through them in about 15 minutes total.

Panama Boarder Control building

Panama Boarder Control building

There was a long line of trucks queued up waiting to get through the border

There was a long line of trucks queued up waiting to get through the border

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Then, we drove about 100 yards to the Panama side.  It took us a little longer here as we needed to buy car insurance, which cost $15.  Once we had that paper, we were able to go to Panama Immigration.  According to all our research and from what we had been told by others, to get through Panama Immigration, we needed to have an airline ticket from Panama City to our home country (even though we were driving…it makes no sense, but evidently that’s the law) and proof of at least $500 in our checking account.  We weren’t asked for either documents…again, guess we were lucky!  After immigration, we walked over to customs.  We also had to pay $1 for fumigation of the truck.  After the customs officer checked our vehicle paperwork and inspected the truck, we drove through this huge tent-like building where the truck was sprayed.  Getting through the Panama side took us about 30 minutes.  We were really amazed that we had been able to cross in only 45 minutes.  We’ve heard some stories of it taking a total of three hours to check out of Costa Rica and into Panama.  Guess we got lucky!

Not long after we left the border, we were stopped at a checkpoint by Panama National Police with automatic weapons and had to show our passports and the vehicle paperwork, which allowed us to legally drive our truck in Panama.  After that, we were on our way to spend one night in the small town of Boquete and two nights in the city of David. (Leaving Tuesday, July 8 and returning Friday, July 11)

The drive to Boquete from the border was about an hour.  It’s located in the mountains, so it was much cooler and dryer there, which felt so good to us, but maybe a bit chilly for the locals.  We saw many of them wearing winter jackets!  In Boquete, we stayed in a small hotel (30 rooms or so) called Valle del Río.  It was a lovely place and quiet, too.  The hotel is within walking distance of downtown Boquete, which was nice.  We had a lot of fun exploring the area and checking out the restaurants and shops.

Relaxing at our hotel in Boquete

Relaxing at our hotel in Boquete

Getting ready to walk downtown Boquete from our hotel

Getting ready to walk to downtown Boquete from our hotel

Downtown Boquete

Downtown Boquete

We left Boquete at noontime the next day and drove to David, which took us around a half hour.  Since it was too early to check into our hotel, we stopped at the shopping mall where there is a good sized grocery store, a Conway department store (owned by Target), a Fix-It store (like Home Depot), a huge pharmacy, several small clothing shops, etc.  We went into a liquor store there to check out the prices and we found Eddie’s favorite salad dressing, Wishbone Russian, which I haven’t been able to find in Chapel Hill for a long time.  We also found gluten free crackers and Fritos.  The clerks thought it was strange that we bought only food and no booze!  Before we knew it, it was well past time for lunch and all the shopping made us hungry.  Good thing there was a TGI Fridays right there!  We had a nice lunch while watching Argentina and the Netherlands play soccer (or as it known in this part of the world, fútbol).  It surprised us that almost everyone in the restaurant was rooting for the Netherlands.  Go figure!

David Conway

In David, we stayed at a fabulous hotel called Cuidad de David.  It was a large hotel with six floors!  They had a gorgeous pool on the 3rd level, which we didn’t have a chance to use.  We spent most of our time walking around the city and shopping!  Poor Eddie…shopping is NOT one of his favorite pastimes.  Believe it or not, we shopped so much that even I had had enough…for a couple of months anyway!

Ciudad de David Hotel

Ciudad de David Hotel

At our hotel in David after a hard day of shopping!

At our hotel in David after a hard day of shopping!

On our travels around David we spotted a Blockbuster Video store.  We stopped to take a picture of it since our son, Erik, worked at Blockbuster in Chapel Hill for a couple of years until they went out of business (at least in the USA).

Ellen in front of an OPEN Blockbuster in David

Ellen in front of an OPEN Blockbuster in David

During our trip, we ate at some really good restaurants.  The food was fabulous there!  Good thing we walked everywhere since we ate so much.

Eating at El Fagon in David

Eating at El Fagon in David

We left fairly early Friday morning as we didn’t know how long it would take us to get through the border crossing from Panama to Costa Rica.  Checking out of Panama was easy, a quick stop through immigration and customs.  We drove the short distance to Costa Rica.  It’s not a big place and we had trouble finding somewhere to park as there were two big tour buses blocking several parking spaces.  The line for immigration was short, though.  We had to fill out the same form as when we left Costa Rica, provide our passports and have a return ticket within 90 days to our native country, which we do have as we are returning to Chapel Hill in September.  But, wouldn’t you know, we weren’t asked for the return ticket!  This had to be the easiest border run ever.  Our new friends will be so envious when they learn about it!

The Costa Rica Border Control station

The Costa Rica Immigration & Customs building

Instead of leaving Paso Canoas right away, we decided to do some shopping there, too.  We stopped by the liquor store and bought quite a bit; they have the best prices.  It takes a while to get out of the liquor store.  You place your order, pay for it and then wait for the clerk to find the items in the back room, bring them out front and pack them up.  Definitely not like home.  Next stop was a grocery store where I was hoping to find some hummus.  While I was inside the grocery, Eddie was re-packing the suitcases to add some of the liquor in them.  We were concerned about the Costa Rica Border Control (customs) that we would encounter about  20 minutes from the Paso Canoas border.  Again, we have heard some stories about liquor and other things being confiscated at border control.  Well, we didn’t have any trouble at all!  The customs guy was all excited that we were from the United States…so he let us pass without even looking in the truck.  Awesome!

Paso Canoas duty free zone

Paso Canoas duty free zone

Visiting Panama was great fun.  Next time, we would like to visit the Panama Canal.  The best way would be to take a cruise, so that we could go through the locks.  Eddie has always been resistant to going on a cruise.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been on two cruises with my sister-in-law, Linda and we had a blast.  However, Eddie is changing his opinion about it; I may get him to go on a cruise soon!

P.S. We think we have solved our slow internet issues…so we are good to go!

3 thoughts on “Exploring Panama

  1. Great blog post, Ellen! So glad you had a good trip with no unwelcome surprises! Hope you talk Eddie into a cruise. I bet he would have fun! Miss you both. xoxo

  2. Thanks for the wonderful blog, Ellen! It is so fun to follow all of your wonderful adventures down there! 🙂 ( you guys are truly courageous explorers!)

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