Travel Tips: Boquete to Panama City
Because Boquete is tucked away into the mountains rather removed from the rest of Panamanian society (a large part of its charm), there is only one way in and one way out. And because Panama is a rather narrow country in terms of north or south, there is really only one route on which to traverse the country: the Pan-American Highway. Don’t take that to mean that travel through Panama is fast by any means.
Boquete to David: $1.75 each, 1 hour
As you did going to Boquete, you’ll need to take a bus back to David before you can even think about going anywhere. Just as when you came to Boquete, buses back to David run frequently, every half hour or so. Note that departing buses leave from the opposite side of the park from the one you were dropped off at. Angel, our hostel host, was gracious enough to drive us to the bus stop from up in the mountains since he needed to go to town that day anyway. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have known about the location change.
David to Santiago: $9 each, 4 hours
From David, you do have the option of making it to Panama City in a straight shot if you don’t mind spending over eight hours on a bus. The cost of a bus ticket straight from David to Panama City is $15.75 for a regular bus or $18.75 for an express bus. They leave every hour from David’s main terminal, with a couple leaving every hour and a half. We, however, had had enough of those long bus journeys for the time being, and decided to break the journey into two legs. Halfway between David and Panama City is a pretty non-descript city called Santiago de Veraguas. The bus to Santiago does not stop at the main station in David, but rather at a small side station off to the left of the main one that you’ll see when you drive in from Boquete. If you can’t find it, just ask and someone will point you there.
Santiago Bus Station to Hostel Verguas: $1 each, 5 minutes
If you’re stopping in Santiago for any other reason than to get some rest, my recommendation is simply: don’t. There is absolutely nothing special about Santiago, as indicated by its complete lack of housing. After a lot of searching, we found one hostel within our budget in the entire city called the Veraguas Hostel. After spending one of the worst nights of my life, I can safely say that it is best to skip this hostel and continue straight to Panama City, long bus haul and all.
I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels in my life, and here’s why Veraguas was easily the worst one yet:
- Spaceship building structure: When you first walk in the gate of Hostel Veraguas, it doesn’t look that bad. The house is quite lovely, with a nice lattice crawling with vines over the walkway and a full garden. But that’s just the owner’s house and it’s off limits for guests, which we found out as they led us around the nice house and toward two less appealing buildings: one a bamboo walled bunkhouse and the other a mint green rocket ship looking structure right in the middle of the yard with a dorm in the bottom and a private room up top. Lucky us, we had the private room at the top of the spaceship. Last I checked, I had bought tickets to Central America, not the final fucking frontier.
- Death trap stairs: In order to reach the cockpit, we needed climb up a set of rickety metal stairs that scrawled around the building. Seeing as it was raining cats and dogs like it had been for the last week, these metal stairs were, of course, wet and slippery with no railing to hold us in should we slip. On the bright side, the side of the spaceship was riddled with sharp bits of metal and rusty nails to catch us if we fell.
- Impossible bathroom access: Because we were trapped in the top of the Challenger just praying it would explode on us and because getting down the slippery death trap (see above) was all but impossible, the fact that we had no toilet in our bathroom became problematic. And yet, I do realize I said “no toilet in our bathroom” because we did actually have a bathroom; unfortunately its only facility was a bathtub. So at least we could shit in the bathtub and then rinse ourselves off. But we’re civilized people, so anytime we had to pee, which is often considering how much water we drink, we would have to brave the stairs and the rain in order to use a tiny little outside toilet that had a cockroach crawling around in it. At least there was a door. We couldn’t say as much for the urinal next to it, which had only the meager privacy of a small swinging wooden door that might barely cover the questionable areas.
- World’s first hostel/landfill: That’s right, folks, this place is practically combining two of the least probably public facilities into one. In every single garden bed around the hostel are beds of plastic bottles. They’re stacked against the house, strung up in the trees, and spilling out of buckets, all for no foreseeable reason.
- An open invitation to thieves: Surprise, surprise, the hostel that hardly even offered basic bathroom facilities did not have locks on the doors and because our travels had made us skeptical and distrustful people with no faith in humanity, we were not leaving our things unattended in an unlocked room. Instead, we rigged up a very ghetto locking system using one of our pieces of webbing and a small luggage lock I had thus far been carrying around for no reason.
- Limited food access: Because Santiago has literally nothing in the city, restaurants and cafes aren’t exactly big sellers there, so the closest thing we could find to get some food in the vicinity was a shitty little grocery store where we settled on Cup O’ Noodle soup out of desperation for something even semi-familiar and appetizing.
- Moths the size of birds: After eating dinner, we returned to our room and flicked on the light only to have a large, mysterious flying creature swoop past us. It’s a bird! It’s a bat! Nope, just a massive moth. Which was honestly worse for Chris than it was for me, considering he is deathly afraid of moths and anything of that ilk. As soon as he realized what it was, he began screaming in a high-pitched voice even I probably couldn’t accomplish, which promptly sent all the neighborhood dogs into a fit and sent the owner running out to us wondering what was wrong. When we pointed to the horrifying creature now perched on our bed, she laughed and told us she thought it was a snake. Great, so apparently that was a plausible thing. Was that what we were to expect next?
- The goddamn rooster: One might be under the impression that the main and minimum goal of a hostel, all other amenities aside, is to provide a place to sleep and the sort of environment where sleep is possible. One might also then question the logic in hostel possessing an animal that makes an excessive amount of noise at 4am. But this hostel apparently didn’t because they had a fucking rooster in the yard that began crowing at 4am, setting off all the other roosters in the neighborhood. Because you know… Panama: Where you can have roosters in city limits.
- Ants: I really don’t need to say more, but I will. We had gotten fairly used to the constant presence of tiny little ant colonies in Central America, as they seemed to be the only real constant on our trip. That was why I was fine with masses of tiny ants crawling all over the dish drying rack in the kitchen (which was a little outside shack with three rickety walls). I could handle that, especially because the only utensils we needed to eat our Cup O’ Noodles were forks. I have a limit, however, and that limit came when we woke at 5am, not only to the rooster, but also to the feeling of crawling on our feet. We looked down on the bed to see massive carpenter ants crawling all over the foot of it, stemming from the rotting wood under our rotting foam mattress. That was all the kick in the ass we needed to get packing and out the door before 6am.
By the end of twelve hours in that hellhole, our nerves were frazzled and our tempers shortened. We stormed out of the hostel, banging on the gate to be let out with no mind that it was 6am. They had, after all, paid no mind to us when they bought the rooster, which Chris chased around the yard a few times for good measure. One of the workers finally came outside to let us out. I tried to ask for my money back, knowing full well I wouldn’t get it.
“This is the worst hostel I have ever stayed at!” I yelled.
“Sorry, me no speak English,” he said like someone who did speak a bit and was pretending not to.
“And yet he knows how to say that in English,” Chris scoffed, meriting a cheeky little grin from the guy proving our suspicions right.
“Fine!” I said, and stormed off, throwing a rude hand gesture in my wake. I wasn’t raising such a fuss so much because I wanted my $20 back, but rather because I wanted them to know how unbelievably dissatisfied and pissed off I was and how such a place of business is absolutely unacceptable. I was doing it to hopefully save future travelers the trouble, and the get rid of a little tension in the process.
Bus from Hostel Veraguas to Bus Station: $0.40 each, 10 minutes
Thankfully, the local bus ran just a few blocks down the street from the hostel, which saved us a few dollars on a cab fare back to the bus station. Either way, any money we had spent in this worthless had been a complete waste.
Santiago to Panama City: $9 each, 4 hours
The bus to Panama City is a full-size charter bus, as opposed to the minibus that had taken us to Santiago, but the ride takes the same amount of time for the same cost. It is, at least, a very pretty ride, passing some lovely high waterfalls tumbling off the surrounding cliffs and finishing by crossing the Panama Canal. For an American, it’s an interested thing to cross considering you get the comforting feeling that you are technically back on America soil (water?) if only briefly. Once you arrive at the massive bus station in Panama City, chances are that you’ll need to catch a cab to your hostel. The city is massive, but the cab fares are relatively inexpensive. We paid $5 total for a ten-minute ride to the Hotel Carolina Princess quite far from the center.