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Old 20-03-2013, 14:39   #1
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Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Has anyone recently visited this area and have some words of advice or caution about travel through this part of Panama? In April I will be part of a crew that will take a 43ft sloop from Colon to Panama City then north along the Pacific Coast. I will be spending a few days in Panama City and Colon.

Travel guidebooks say that documentation is needed showing passage through Panama. When arriving by commercial plane and leaving by private yacht this may be difficult. Also, heard that Colon is a particularly unsavory place. Any suggestions about travel to Colon from Panama City? Heard the morning train may be a nice ride.

Thanks for any help provided.
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Old 20-03-2013, 18:44   #2
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Colon is fine. OK you have a security guards in the Supermarkets with automatic shotguns buy hey, who's gunna hold up a checkout chick when the auto shot guns are out?
Just do NOT walk about the place by yourself, drunk, at night.
The only people robbed where downing stupid things at dumb times. As taxis are about $1 for a ten minute drive you can take one anywhere, anytime.

But daytime is fine! All the cab driver will tell you you need a taxi during the day but that's BS, just walk.

Panama City is even safer. Great city. But Colon is not quite the ******* of the world. I have an affection for it because the shopping is so much cheaper than anywhere else in the world. You can't get it that cheap if its totally safe


Enjoy it.
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Old 21-03-2013, 04:29   #3
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Glad to hear they now have security guards at the supermarkets. Years back the baddies used to wait outside, knock folks down loaded with groceries, and nick whatever. We 'strolled' through the worst of town on the way the free section and got pulled in by anxious shop owners pointing out thugs eyeballing us. But MarkJ is right, the Taxis's are cheap and plentiful.
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Old 21-03-2013, 05:07   #4
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, desertsailor.
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Old 21-03-2013, 10:19   #5
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

We were in Panama from July 2012 until February 2013 and enjoyed it.

Panama City was a fun place and relatively safe, except Casco Viejo, which has been seedy for 30 years and is dangerous, except the old historical area.

The City is going through growing pains right now and traffic is a mess since they are building a new subway system from scratch. Public transportation (Buses) are ok and cab drivers are nuts! Although the City has scheduled fares based on zones, the taxsi, like in most tourist areas will try and get you to pay too much.

The restaurants in Panama City are many.... We highly recommend Napoli's Italian in Casco Viejo, which is really cheap and has great steamed clams and Segredos da Carne one of those Brazilian Meat Restaurants.

The local cruisers net will provide information on current safety concerns when you arrive. Panama City appears to be a very modern city, but like any large City, it has its problems.

After we crossed the Canal we stayed in Colon twice, once November 2013 and late January-February 2013 waiting on a parts shipment.

During those times two different anchored sailboats were boarded and robbed at gun point, off Club Nautico (Colon). So in my opinion you do not want to anchor in Colon Bay... Period.

Also when we were in Panama, Colon had several riots and a major disaster involving flooding, which destroyed over 1400 homes. The Panamanian government tends to turn its back on Colon, as a result it doesn't have too much going for it as far as tourism and the citizens are pretty pissed off at the government

You DO NOT want to go into Colon after dark unless you are with a Panamanian Guide. It is very dangerous!

In Colon, while waiting for your Canal Transist I would adivse berthing in Shelter Bay Marina (The Only Marina). It is about a 25 minute cab ride to Colon from there, but is safe!

The only tourism in Colon is the the world's second largest Tax Free Zone, which was also the root of the riots in the Fall. People come from all over Central and South America to shop there. It is a small city! If you like shopping this isthe place!

For up to the minute information on Panama.... Go to the Panama Guide
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Old 21-03-2013, 10:49   #6
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

We spent about 2 months at Shelter Bay. The have a free shuttle 2x daily into Colon, so along with that a taxi you are pretty safe. Even the market the shuttle takes you, has shootings out back. Stay on the beaten path for gringo's.
There are cheap busses to Panama city from Colon and even a train once a day.
On an aside, do you give line handlers bus fare home to Colon or Panama City or do you hire them a taxi for a $100? I think next time I will get mine a taxi. The bus depot and the whole experience can be a bit much for for those who have not spent much time in Central America.
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Old 21-03-2013, 12:28   #7
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

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The bus depot and the whole experience can be a bit much for for those who have not spent much time in Central America.
Forgot about that... Both Panamanians and Ex-Pats both told me that the Bus Station in Colon is very dangerous and if I had to use it, take a cab just prior to your trip and do not loiter outside where there the criminal element waits for victims.
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Old 21-03-2013, 13:21   #8
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

This is my first post and wasn't sure what kind of response I would get. Thanks to all of you for your helpful information.

Since I am not the skipper, dealing with line handlers I assume will be taken care of. Judging from the replies, docking at Shelter Bay was a good choice.

During my stay in Panama City, I will be staying at a motel in the La Alameda district, apparently not too far from the Metropolitan Natural Park. Judging from google maps seems to be a few restaurants in the area and located not too far from the bus line.

Again, thanks for all you help.
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Old 21-03-2013, 13:40   #9
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

If you have not already made your hotel reservations, There is a hotel right next to the Balboa Yacht Club on the Panama City side and Shelter Bay has a few rooms that they rent to crew who don't sleep on a boat. The Alameda area is nice enough so good choice there
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Old 21-03-2013, 20:12   #10
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Thanks Guy for your advice. My first access to WIFI after my trip I'll provide an update to what I found while visiting Panama.

One question I still have is regarding the stated requirement to show continuing passage through and past Panama. When flying in by commercial aircraft do the customs agents ask for your return ticket or evidence of continuing passage? Heard this is a requirement.
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Old 21-03-2013, 20:21   #11
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

They have the right to ask and legally you should have a letter stating you are crew and leaving the country by boat. If the owner is using a Canal Agent, he or she can prepare a crew letter for you, before you leave for Panama.

Panama seems to be very casual about this since it deals with a lot of mariners coming and going at the airpport.

In August, we had to fly out of Panama for a funeral and then return. Our Canal Agent prepared a letter, that no one ever asked for.

Other cruisers reported the same thing and I only met one person that ran into trouble with Immigration, but he worked it out some how.
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Old 27-05-2013, 18:37   #12
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Returned last week from my sailing voyage from Colon, through the Canal then north to final destination, San Diego. Stayed one week in Shelter Bay Marina prepping boat, then 5 weeks sailing 3 thousand miles to San Diego. I can now answer my own questions, which I'll post to help others in their quest.

Arrival at Panama City Airport-Passing through customs was very straight forward. Answered their questions directly, and had no questions about my other travel plans. Was only asked how long I was planning on staying in Panama. No other documentation was requested beyond my passport and the certificate that was handed out on the plane.

Transiting the Panama Canal-I was not the skipper so I can only infer what occurred. Cost was between $1500 and $2000, including renting of lines and tire fenders. Some of the cost was for assistance in obtaining an earlier departure date through the canal. Passage through the canal was trouble free and included an overnight stay on Lake Gatun. The attitude of the Canal Advisors is critical to a good transit. Our first advisor, taking us through the northern locks, was very specific with his instructions. Since we handled the lines ourselves, this proved critical and helpful. Everything went smoothly. The second advisor, who took us through the locks near Panama City, was more laid back, telling us to use "common sense" as the water levels fell in the locks. Apparently, we had different ideas as to what that meant. Fortunately, only problem occurred as we rafted up with another sailing vessel. It was critical that all lines be cleated quickly. No mishaps, and no damage. The transit went surprisingly well. We expected much worse from the horror stories we heard at the marina about turbulence and dismastings. The turbulence turned out to be minimal.

Considering, this was a great learning experience that I would gladly participate in again. The only regret is not having enough time to visit some coastal areas during our trip north.
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Old 27-05-2013, 18:43   #13
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Wow fast trip. You guys sound like pros.
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Old 28-05-2013, 07:11   #14
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Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

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Forgot about that... Both Panamanians and Ex-Pats both told me that the Bus Station in Colon is very dangerous and if I had to use it, take a cab just prior to your trip and do not loiter outside where there the criminal element waits for victims.
We have used the Colon bus station numerous times. Nothing dangerous about it at all, although the surrounding neighborhood is very seedy.

Yes, take a taxi to it. Once there, there isn't any reason to loiter anyhow - grab something from the fried-everything vendors if you want, or use the bathroom, but the buses leave continuously, so just walk onto the nearest bus and go.

I have never heard of anyone having problems in the Colon bus terminal. Other than a $150 taxi or a long train ride once/day, there isn't really another option to get to PC from Colon. Hundreds to thousands of people use that station daily with no problems - grandmas, rich businessmen sporting lots of gold, etc.

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Old 28-05-2013, 07:23   #15
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pirate Re: Transiting Panama canal-Colon to Panama City

Only went into Colon a couple of times... but... did walk to and back from the 'Free Zone' about 2 miles from the 1st SB bus stop at the supermarket.
People were friendly enough... road snacks tasty... no sense of any danger at all..
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