As Panama's second-largest city, David has prospering commerce along Highway of the Americas, but otherwise it's a predicament of dusty streets circulating through a mini-metropolis of bedlam. There's nothing here to warrant an extended stay. Take a hint from the town's central plaza named Parque de Cervantes, but think Dante's Inferno! It's not the place you want to be, but unprepared travelers may find themselves stuck here for the night in trying to reach Boquete.There is no luggage storage service in the Albrook Terminal as Lonely Planet suggests! Be prepared to haul belongings around while waiting for any departure times.Express buses are the most crowded and potentially sold out. Plan to buy tickets in advance or risk getting left behind or taking one of the regular routes.Luggage is tagged and stowed. Passengers are issued claim stubs which must be presented upon arrival. One person had misplaced theirs, and were forced to scour the bus until finding it--even though they were the last passenger and only one bag remained. You've been forewarned!
Every mode of transportation must first arrive in David, including daily flights on Aeroperlas. Most travelers come on luxury motorcoaches from Panama City, and that's where schedules begin to break-down; especially for late arrivals.
Once the sun goes down, bus service connecting to Boquete is unpredictable regardless of what schedules at the station says, locals' advice, or Lonely Planet's listing of 9:30pm for being the last run. Unless negotiating a minimum of $15 for a taxi to Boquete, staying in David could prove wretched; especially for budget travelers.
Pensión Clark (507-774-3452), located nearest to the bus station, and The Purple House were the two recommended places, but neither had weekday vacancies. They suggested Pensión Costa Rica; I don't!
Another American and I split a "closet" for $9.20 that had enough room to walk in, set bags down, and step over them for crawling onto the foot of side-by-side cots. The springs sagged tortuously, the off-kilter fan served no purpose except generating clatter, and I've seen better out-houses than the shared bathrooms.
After drowning ourselves on 40¢ beers across the street, we returned; afraid to even undress for lying on the stained sheets. Usually for exhausted travelers, any place can feel like the Hilton once the lights are out, but certainly not here. We left sweat-soaked at sun-up, without even brushing our teeth. So Not Recommended!
David's Transportation Center
Most travelers will only endure the David bus terminal, which is a straight-forward encounter thriving with the typical Latin chaos of a very busy place. For naive passengers stepping off the bus, getting swept away in the sidewalk frenzy is guaranteed culture shock!
The assortment of local Spaniards and indigenous tribe members, going about their daily routines, are harmless but impart an uneasy feeling with their constant gawking; only the brazen traveler would dare pulling out a camera. Crude measures of eateries and vendor boothes provide everything a person could need during any wait.
The station is divided between two sections. The newer, modern terminal is where long-haul motorcoaches are based from. The older, larger area is where smaller buses and vans disperse through-out the Chiriquí province. All buses unload on the side closest to the street, and out-bound buses leave from the interior parking lot.
Regional departures are easily determined from over-head signs lining the parking spots, and barkers call-out destinations. Ánden is the name for each boarding point. Boquete is #13. Schedules are posted for departures, but again--earliest times and later in the day are the most inconsistent. Safest bets are aiming for something after 7:00am and before 7:00pm.
Broken-down school buses make the run to Boquete, cost $1.45, and were usually packed. There are no storage racks so travelers will need to cram luggage between/under seats or hold items.
Arriving by Motorcoach
Most travelers bypass Panama's interior, heading straight for David from Panama City. Hourly motorcoaches depart from the capital's Albrook Terminal, but timing is everything based on getting to David before services become unreliable.
A pair of Express Buses depart nightly from Panama City at 10:45pm and midnight, taking 6 hours, including the 30-minute stop at a Roadside Plaza in Santiago. Cost is $15. Taking the midnight bus spares having to wait in David for the first "said" morning departure to Boquete, but keep these factors in mind for either of these late-night departures:
Daytime buses, running between Panama City and David, make additional stops, take between 7-8-hours, and cost $12.60. The Albrook Terminal has a large bay of ticket windows with numerous agencies operating side-by-side for transport to David. The only difference is in departure times; not prices.While in the terminal, have spare change ready. Not only is there a 25¢ admission to restrooms, there's also a 5¢ departure tax when leaving the terminal.The Unplanned Scenario
My flight from MIA arrived shortly after noon, and plan was to head for Albrook Station, stow luggage, and later return for the midnight bus to David. Once realizing there was no storage available, and not wanting to drag things around Panama City, I was pleased to find that Direct Buses
to David departed on various lines between 2:00 - 3:00pm, and weren't listed in travel info. They made the express run in 6 hours, but price was only $12.60.
There were less than a dozen passengers on the bus, and the assigned seat numbers weren't mandatory with plenty of room for spreading out. Without knowing what to expect, I'd previously loaded up at the Albrook food court and purchased snacks and drinks for the long ride, all which turned out to be my loss because the inexpensive cafeteria buffet at the Santiago stop looked highly commendable.
Fortunately, I'd pulled out a hoodie and jeans before leaving the capital because the air-conditioning was frigid! Between roadside scenery and entertainment system movies, the ride passed quickly considering 15-hours of "in-transit" for the entire day. Altered plans still allowed for transferring to the last bus for Boquete at 9:30pm, but the station was abandoned; only the first rude awakening while spending the night in David.Considering David's shabby conditions, have a back-up plan ready just in case, regardless of what time you think you'll arrive. Stumbling into Boquete, in the middle of the night, could likely prove just as confusing since streets have no names.When arriving in David, consider purchasing motorcoach return tickets before leaving if departure dates/times are certain, or at least obtain local contact numbers for calling to make reservations later.From Boquete, leave at least 2 hours before the scheduled David departure, earlier if reservations haven't been made.Another Alternative: If Boquete and the Chiriquí Highlands are your only purpose for traveling to Panama, consider flying into San Jose, Costa Rica, if rates are cheaper than Panama City. David is halfway point between the capitals, with express buses taking 6 hours in either direction.
If arriving from Costa Rica, be prepared for the boarder crossing. Other travelers reported a mixed bag of experiences and requirements, most everything inconsistant with what travel information said should be expected.