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Driving in Panama is a safe and easy thing to do, but it is important to be aware of the risks. In this driving guide we will inform you about general traffic rules in Panama, road conditions and challenges. With our driving tips, we will give valuable advice on when to get a Panapass, to drive on toll roads, and whether it is safe to drive on the roads at night.

Table of Contents

Driving in Panama on the Panamericana with a Morpho Van

Overview and general recommendations

The Campervan is the perfect vehicle for Panama on most routes along the famous Panamericana (Interamericana). A car with four-wheel drive is not absolutely necessary in Panama, because almost all destinations can be reached via well-developed roads. 

But: If you want to drive into the hinterland on your own, you should choose a four-wheel drive vehicle, because there the roads are partly unpaved and littered with potholes. Even the Morpho Van is not designed for this.

Speed limits and road conditions

A road trip through Panama takes you mainly along the famous Panamericana. This is a continuously paved road that is well developed. Only off this main road it can get bumpy. Some roads to Panama’s beaches are often gravel roads with puddles and potholes. But the government is expanding these roads more and more and to many regions it is quite comfortable to drive on. 

The road conditions in Panama are basically good. However, Panama, like many countries in Central America, is located on the so-called Ring of Fire. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and heavy rainfall influence the climate. Panama has no active volcano, but earthquakes are sometimes easily felt. Most of all, however, it is the heavy rains in the appropriate season that cause a lot of damage to the roads.

Potholes are also not uncommon on the main route through the country. Therefore, it is best to keep to the speed limit (usually 80-100 km/h on the Panamericana) and drive mostly in the left lane. There are definitely more potholes on the right side of the road due to heavy traffic from trucks and buses. In Panama right-hand traffic prevails. Nevertheless, you are allowed to overtake on the right side in Panama. This is irritating at first, but often brings faster progress.

The Panamericana is the only highway. It is very busy at rush hour and in the towns. In towns 40-60 km/h are allowed. Outside the towns the traffic is very quiet and you can enjoy the breathtaking landscape to the fullest.

For driving a vehicle, the international driver’s license or the local driver’s license is officially required. Basically, however, nobody has checked this in Panama so far. Along the Panamericana police controls take place daily and in 20-30km intervals. With the Waze navigation system these are announced in time. Again, 100-120km/h is the maximum speed allowed on the highway through the country. In the curves 80km/h and in towns 40-60km/h are allowed. Speeding can quickly become expensive. Often the friendly policemen turn a blind eye to tourists. But you should not push your luck.

Panama City and traffic jams

900,000 inhabitants live in the 23 boroughs of Panama City. It feels like every one of them has at least one car. Starting at 6 am, you can hear the first vehicles rolling through the streets between the huge skyscrapers. Rush hour is from 7 to 8:30 in the morning and from 4 to 6 in the evening. That’s when most workers stream in and out of the city. Most workers don’t live in the city because apartment rentals are expensive. They commute several hours to work every day.

Many traffic lights regulate the traffic, or policemen, but still the roads are congested. The condition of the roads is sometimes very bad. When it rains, huge puddles form under which there may be a pothole. Caution is advised here. Manhole covers are also in high demand in Panama City and are sometimes missing in the middle of the road. This poses a high risk of accidents. So you see, as in any capital city, driving here is a challenge. If you want to take a sightseeing tour of Panama, you can always turn to Uber or the taxi service. Both are cheap and will get you from A to B in a relaxed way.

If you have driven a motorhome or minibus before, the Morpho Van offers all the comforts of driving. The minivans are easy to steer and not too long. The power steering and the non-slip wheels give you a good driving experience. However, Panamanians often don’t drive with foresight and accidents happen all the time. The horn is used constantly. And you have to concentrate a lot while driving, because the many one-way streets, highways and bridges in Panama demand all your skills. If you don’t want to put yourself through that stress, Uber and taxis are better alternatives.

If you want to park the Morphovan in underground garages and shopping malls, pay attention to the ceiling height! The Morphovan is 2.20 m high and most parking lots in front of shopping malls and hotels only allow a maximum height of 2.10 m.

Plan your trip in advance

If you are heading inland on the Panamericana or want to master the next section of the route, you should set off in good time! The best time to start new adventures and destinations is early in the morning. Panama is located close to the equator. Punctually at 6 am the warm sun rises above the horizon and the birdlife awakens. The Panamanians are also early risers. During the day it quickly gets very warm and most people start work around 8 am. Rush hour in Panama City starts at 7am and by 9am the roads are usually clear again.

Travel times and distances

If you want to arrive at your next destination from Panama City around afternoon, expect to drive about 1-2 hours, e.g. to El Valle de Anton. Also Pedasi and the beautiful beaches of Playa Venao are still about 4-5 hours away from the capital. Ideally, you should reach your destination before nightfall.

Along the Interamericana there are many jungle areas and unfenced fields. Cows, horses, sloths, monkeys and armadillos are not uncommon at night on the unlit stretch. Accidents often occur in the early evening or at night due to poor visibility and heavy fog. The same is true when it rains. Precipitation can be very heavy. Aquaplaning and cloudbursts can be dangerous.

This short list is not accurate, so please make sure to check weather and road conditions on a good GPS system eg. Waze or Google Maps.

From CityTo DestinationKmTravel time
Tocumen AirportPanama City Center via Panapass2230 min
Panama CityPortobelo961:45 h
Panama CityValle de Anton1272:30 h
CoronadoSantiago1702:30 h
CoronadoPedasi2443:30 h
SantiagoSanta Catalina1112:15 h
SantiagoDavid1972:30 h
DavidAlmirante1783:30 h

Best resource for traffic jams

If you are a Facebook or Twitter user, we recommend that you regularly visit the Trafico Panama page. Almost every hour you can find information about accidents, road closures and construction sites throughout the country. Panama is also a country of tranques and manifestaciones. That means they close a road without warning. When gasoline prices skyrocketed, the people used their best leverage against the government. They blocked the Panamericana and went on strike.

In 2022 traffic came to a standstill for months, and many tourists were stranded in various places. In the meantime, the situation has eased considerably, and the protests were successful. The prices for Diesel and Gasoline are significantly cheaper than in many other countries.

Wheather conditions

In the rainy season aquaplaning is a big danger and also sloths, horses, cows, dogs and monkeys cross the road very often. So rather enjoy the beautiful landscape and drive slowly and relaxed, so that you arrive safely at your next destination! Night driving is also not a good idea for the same reasons. In Panama it gets light at 6am and always dark around 6:30pm. By then you should have arrived at the next campground. 

Our Morpho Van is equipped with extra wide tires, which will take you through not so well paved terrain and on wet roads. The way to the beach or high in the mountains you conquer without problems. But do not overestimate the engine power. Many a hill that was easy to master on the way down turns out to be an insurmountable hurdle on the way back. The camper is a bit heavier and needs some power to get over stony terrain.

Special rules in Panama

Panamanians are fast drivers. In the city and in the country, the horn is the most popular means of communication. A friendly blast from the vehicle behind you is often just a hint: “Watch out, I’m behind you now and would overtake if the opportunity arises”. In the city, cab drivers use the horn to draw attention to themselves. It is best to always adapt to the flowing traffic and drive with foresight. Locals are often very inattentive and turn signals on the vehicle do not matter to them.


If you miss an exit on the Panamericana, go on driving. In just a few kilometers mostly a retorno comes. These are turnarounds that are announced in time at regular intervals. The turning circle is often generously designed. Often so large, in fact, that travelers use it as a stop for breaks or as a toilet.

for those who prefer not to use the Retorno as a urinal, but hope for a rest stop, we have all the information a little later. The open-air toilet should also be used only in an emergency, it leaves foul odors on the roadside and is often accompanied by mountains of garbage.

Police and Custom Controls

Customs offices can be found at every provincial border in Panama and they are often manned. Have your passport and driver’s license ready when traveling to David, especially at the borders to Veraguas and Chiriqui. Because here are almost daily and gladly controlled.

Also in the direction of Darién you have to show your ID regularly. The reason for this is that you are driving in the direction of the Darién Gap. This zone is the only point where the Panamericana has not been built yet. There are efforts, but a large section is still missing, so that even in the foreseeable future, no direct traffic to Colombia can take place. ATTENTION: The Darién zone is known for its high crime rate. Drug gangs and traffickers are active here.

Car care

When you’re traveling in Panama and have driven your campervan through rain, wind and weather, it’s time to make a little stop at a gas station. The oil level may be checked several times during the tour. Also the tire pressure and the splash water must be sufficient.

Refueling in Panama

The Morpho Van is a diesel vehicle! At the gas stations you will be served friendly and you don’t even have to get out of the car. After a long drive, you should increase the air pressure in your tires so that you can continue driving safely.

In bigger cities like Panama City or David or along the Panamericana there are many gas stations. To refuel, you must park at the gas pump. In within a few seconds, a gas station attendant will show up to fill up with the type and amount of fuel you want (the MorphoVan has a Diesel engine!!!!). Some gas stations in Panama also offer self-service. Here you can unlock the gas pump at the cashier’s booth and fill up the desired amount, you pay afterwards or upfront. Often the gas is one or two cents cheaper.

For a break or an overnight stay, gas stations and the surrounding areas are perfect. In the towns there are many fast food restaurants of all known fast food chains on the way. You have to look for local restaurants. They are often labeled with the name “Fonda”. Here you can get a full meal from 3-4 dollars.

Outside of the cities the choices are limited. The cleanest gas stations with attached snack bar, air conditioning and very clean toilets are called “VA&VEN”. In La Chorrera, Anton, Penonomé and Herrera attached to the gas stations “Terpel”. Here you can get refreshments and a delicious lunch snack or ice cream. Changing tables for babies and special toilets for children are also available.

Accident or other damage

An accident in Panama – it’s the worst case, it costs time and nerves and it’s not fun at all. But shit happens! Stay calm and there is always a way to make the best out of a situation like that. On the Panamericana and also in the city, there are often objects lying around that can be responsible for an accident. On vacation this is of course annoying, but no reason to panic. The Morpho Van is equipped with a spare tire and a jack. Besides, you can always count on the helpfulness of the Panamanians. They often stop and ask if they can help you. With your phone and a foreign SIM card you can also contact us at any time and we will direct you to the nearest service. All accidents and incidents you have to report directly to us.

Secondly, it is important to call the police so that the accident is officially recorded. You MUST make this report and fill out the accident letter which you find in the front case of the car. Not infrequently, tourists are accused of being the cause of the accident. So always pay attention to the traffic situation and expect the Panamanians to drive fast. The best to have evidence for not being responsible for an accident is a dashcam which you can mount on the holders we have installed in the Morpho Van.

The Morpho Van will be serviced and checked by our team after each tour. We wish you a good trip and unforgettable experiences that you will remember for a lifetime.

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