Taboga, Panama

No easy thing to hail a taxi in Panama City these days…and, when you finally find one, you can’t be sure the driver will want to take you where you want to go. Maybe he doesn’t feel like driving that far…or maybe he doesn’t think he’ll find a return fare once he gets there…

Drivers are increasingly choosy about where they’ll travel when…and increasingly bold about the rates they quote. In fact, new official rates have been published, but I haven’t seen them yet. Anecdotally, a driver tried to charge Lief and me $5 for a ride from MultiCentro mall to our Bayfront apartment building. I have trouble believing that this is the new official rate, for this trip, though.

If you know Panama City, you know that this is a journey of, say, 2 minutes, straight down Avenida Balboa. The only reason we were trying to hail a cab to travel the few blocks was because we’d just bought dishes and glasses and were weighed down with six heavy shopping bags. The driver thought he’d take advantage of our vulnerable situation, I guess. I walked away shaking my head. So did Lief…after he told the driver something in Spanish that I won’t repeat in polite company.

Our strategy typically is to determine how much we think a ride should cost. In other words, we don’t ask…we just climb in. Then, during the drive, we prepare the amount we intend to pay, in exact change, so we can hand it over to the driver as we exit the cab. We are fair, even generous, in our figuring, accounting for the number of passengers and the number of parcels, etc., but we don’t stick around to argue with any driver who thinks the gringos should pay more.

Still, sometimes, the taxi gods continue to smile.

Yesterday afternoon, on the pier at Amador, just back from a day on Taboga (see below), we walked off the ferry just as the skies opened. The rain came down in buckets. We and everyone ran for shelter. I looked over my shoulder and asked Lief where he thought we should go to try to hail a taxi.

“You need taxi?” asked a gentleman wearing a galebeya and a headdress.

“Uh, yes, we do,” I replied.

“Where you go?”

“Bayfront Tower. Avenida Balboa.”

“How much you pay?”

“It’s a $5 taxi ride, so we’ll pay $5,” said Lief, behind me.

In fact, we’d paid $8 for the ride over earlier in the day.

Our new friend wrinkled his brow…

“$8,” I said. “We’ll pay $8.”

“OK. I get car.”


I’ve resisted visiting the island of Taboga because, in the dozen years I’ve been traveling to Panama, dozens of people have suggested that I should.

That is, everyone goes to Taboga. It’s the easy day-trip to the beach from Panama City. Not only tourists and expats, but locals, too, make frequent jaunts to this island, an hour from the city by ferry.

It must be crowded and noisy, probably dirty, I thought. Something like Ocean City, Maryland, the nearest beach escape for those of us who grew up in Baltimore.

In fact, Taboga, which we visited yesterday with the kids, is a pleasant surprise. This past was a holiday weekend after payday, so I was prepared for the worst. But the three sand beaches near where the ferry drops you weren’t unpleasantly over-crowded. We rented an umbrella for $5. The kids snorkeled in the warm, clear water just offshore and saw dozens of fish, including a blowfish. We had lunch at a hillside restaurant with a view of the other nearby islands and of the ocean all around…

“We should make a day trip to Taboga one of our standard things to do every time I visit,” Kaitlin suggested on the ferry ride back to the city. “That’s the most fun I’ve had in Panama yet.”

The ferry ride was $11 round-trip ($7 for Jack). Note that the ferry departs from the pier at Amador…even though the guidebooks say it travels from the Port of Balboa. Used to be Balboa. Now it’s Amador…

The ferry from the mainland to Taboga passes by the entrance to the Panama Canal. World trade is thriving, if the number of boats sitting out in the Bay of Panama yesterday awaiting their turns for passage is any indication. I counted 50, then stopped counting.