From past experience, border crossings in Latin America have always been an exercise in chaos and patience. Panama proved no different although I must admit that the fact that there were very few people crossing made the process much easier. Our two hour visit went something like this. Park the car and go to a converted storage container that receives your exit tax then enters it into a computer before sending you dodging trucks across the highway to the Costa Rican migration window. There we got ourselves stamped out of the country. Next was a visit to the aduana window to process the exit permit for the car. Here another fee was paid and we got another official stamp applied with artistic flourish on another piece of paper.
Now it was time to trudge the road of happy destiny down to the Panama side of the border. Everywhere along the 1/4 mile or so zone, trucks and cars are lined up idling, honking and belching out fumes as they try to maneuver to the front. With all of the big rigs, it’s hard to hear any of the officials through their tiny windows.
At the Panama migration office, the health official wouldn’t accept our digital covid results from Costa Rica. We had to March down to the copy center and get them to make hard copies. They printed them from photos we WhatsApped them. Then we emailed our airline itinerary and they printed that as well. We took that back and the health guy okayed them but the migration agent at the next window said we had to get the car papers first. So it was out and over to the other end of the building to a row of windows where no one appeared to be working. One guy kept wagging his finger no at anyone approaching his window. Finally a girl in the exit side waved us over and started the papers. Copies. Of course, she needed copies. So it was another run over to the copy center for copies of the registration and my passport.
When I got back she said I needed the stamp from the migration guy. When I returned to the migration window, he said no I needed the car papers to get the stamp. A customs agent outside searching trucks took us under his wing and walked up to the aduana lady and asked her to get us the car papers. She put the initial forms together then we went back over to the migration guy and he stamped me out but not PJ until I went back to the aduana lady and got the final car papers. But wait, she said I needed to buy insurance before I could get the papers. Where do I get the insurance? Why, they sell it at the copy center down the block. About this time, the skies opened up and torrential rains began to send people scurrying for cover like so many cockroaches.
I got a good drenching but got the insurance and went back to get the final papers from the aduana lady. As we are shouting to each other to be heard over the rumbling diesel motors all around us, she explains that this insurance is written for a pick up truck but my car is an SUV. Another slog back to the copy center to get it corrected then back to the aduana lady. I stood there like one of the contestants on the Amazing Race waiting to see if I solved the puzzle correctly. Ding, ding! Yes, she hands me the final car papers just like the yellow envelopes on the show.
I run over to the migration guy. I still need the okay from the customs guy outside. He’s taken a liking to us and looks in the back at all of our crap and says “you don’t really want to take all of this out” and proceeds to look in one or two of the nearest bags and signs the customs form. Back inside, we finally get PJ’s stamp and all’s well! Well, not quite. Before the customs guy can let us drive off, I have to go across the west side of the road to the agriculture hut and pay them to fumigate the car. I give the receipt to the customs guy and we’re all done. I was really starting feel like a part of the crew and was almost sad to leave my new friends behind but off we drove through the mister of insect spray which immediately got rinsed off by the heavily pouring rain. Welcome to Panama!
For anyone driving from Costa Rica into Panama, the good folks at the blog Two Weeks in Costa Rica have an excellent post on details for crossing https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/paso-canoas-border-crossing/ . The only thing I would add is that if you are driving your car into Panama, after being stamped out from Costa Rica, pull right up to the front of Panama migration.
The rain in Panama was coming down so hard, it was impossible to see where you were going. I tailed another car for a while but he pretty much came to a halt. After I ran over some traffic cones closing off the left lane, PJ convinced me to pull to the side and sit it out for a while. Gladly, there was no major holes or work going on there. After it eased a bit, we continued but had to stop one more time. I’d only seen rain like this once before, that was in Florida years ago where it was literally driving blind.
Thankfully, by the time we reached the traffic of David, it had settled down to a steady moderate shower. Waze took us far out some side roads we didn’t need to go down only to bring us back to the main highway again. The host had only sent GPS coordinates to go by and that was on WhatsApp and once in Panama, my phone would no longer update anything. We finally arrived at the end point around five o’clock but the house from Airbnb wasn’t there. We looked around the back street, then back along the road in. Luckily, I remembered the photos from the website and spotted the house. It’s a two bedroom duplex in a suburban neighborhood outside of David. We unloaded our gear, ate some crackers & cheese then hit the sack.