How to get from Tocumen Airport to Panama City by bus for $1.25?
[Update] November 2019: Metro Line 2 is now up and running
As of November 2019 there is a New Metro line running that can take you even faster into Panama City from Tocumen Airport. Simply take bus E489 from the Airport to Metro Station Corredor Sur from where you can take Panama City Metro Line 2 to the city centre. There should be SIM vendors in the Airport that now also sell Metro Cards for USD 5,-.
Original article December 2016:
So you have just landed at Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport and can’t wait to get into town and start exploring (or go to bed). The most easy way is to grab a taxi, but what if you are a backpacker or simply not willing to spend fixed $30 on a 25km cab ride? I have listed two alternative options for you, including public transportation (Metrobus) that can take you into town for only $1.25! I don’t mention Uber here (which has a flat fare of $25) since it can be tricky to coordinate where to meet the driver if you don’t have a local sim to call.
Colectivo (shared taxi) from Tocumen Airport to Panama City: $15
If you are traveling alone (like I did), you can choose to take a colectivo. Simply walk out of the arrivals area to the official taxis (you will see a line of several white minivans) and ask for a colectivo. This shared minivan will drop you off at your hostel or hotel: however you might need to wait until there are at least two other passengers. If the staff tries to charge you anything more than $15, stay friendly and just point at the official sign sticking to the wall which says $15. Honestly I did not have any problems here, the taxi staff was very helpful and within 10 minutes I was on my way to town!
Backpacker option: public bus (Metrobus) from Tocumen Airport to Panama City: $1.25
Note that this bus is not a designated airport bus, and luggage storage is therefore limited. I actually used this option to go from Panama City to Tocumen Airport as I was more familiar with the city and Metrobus system by then.
First of all, this route is a bit of a hassle if you have just arrived in Panama after a long flight, and speak limited Spanish. It involves a 5 to 10 minutes walk and since you need a Metrobus card (which is – how convenient – not for sale at the airport), the only way to get on this bus is to ask fellow passengers that have a Metrobus card to swipe their card for you. Obviously you should at least pay them the cash fare in return.
Once you exit the arrivals area, turn right and walk alongside the terminal building. At the end you will see a sign that says “public transportation” with an arrow pointing at a small restaurant (or convenience store?).
As the sign says, just walk straight. That is: do not follow the main road, but keep right at the Chicken Port (restaurant?). You will see the small alley as on the pictures below, walk in to the alley and go straight.
At the end of the alley you will see a parking lot. Below two pictures are actually taken in the opposite direction, as I used this route when I went from Panama City to Tocumen Airport (the other way around). Either way, just follow the covered walkway and you cannot really go wrong from this point. The walkway leads all the way to the main road.
Once you see the main road there is a bus stop located on your right: this is the stop for buses going further to Tocumen. Instead, cross the main road to go the bus stop on the other side with buses going to Panama City / Albrook.
From here, just wait until the Metrobus shows up. Take any Metrobus that says “Albrook, Corredor Sur” to go to Panama City. Corredor Sur means that the bus is taking the highway (it’s actually pretty fast if traffic is ok!). Once you reach the city you can get off at Multicentro (close to the Hard Rock Hotel, El Machico and a bunch of other hostels), along the coastal road Avenida Balboa (Cinta Costera), or go all the way towards Panama City’s transportation hub and shopping mall: Albrook Terminal. Tip: make friends with locals that are also waiting for the Metrobus to Panama City, and ask them if they can help you to swipe their Metrobus card in order for you to get on the bus.
In Albrook you can transfer to the Metro, almost any Metrobus line, or take a taxi to your final destination. Note that if you are planning to use public transportation in Panama City more than once, you can also buy a Metrobus card that works for both Metro and Metrobus at the Albrook Terminal for $2. Make sure to check out my Panama City Travel Guide to find out where to go in Panama City.
If you are going from Albrook Terminal in Panama City to Tocumen Airport by bus, board the bus at platform E.
Visited: December 2016