Should I rent a car?
Renting a car in Panama will allow you the freedom to go where you want, when you want. It’s great fun to be able to dictate the course of your trip—to stop for food at a small roadside café or take an unexpected side trip to a new destination.
That said, driving in Panama is different from driving in the U.S. or Europe and should be given due consideration. The signage in Panama can sometimes be poor and make it difficult to following directions. Panamanian drivers can also be less cautious than some foreign drivers are used to, and rural roads can be challenging.
Depending on where you want to go, you may want to consider renting an SUV with four-wheel-drive. Remoter, more rugged areas will certainly require this, as the roads can have large rocks and require stream crossings. Four-wheel-drives are called cuatro por cuatro (four by fours) or vehículos con doble traccion (vehicles with double traction). Small, compact vehicles are also available for travelers that do not plan to go to rural areas. Rental car agencies are widely available in Panama City and most other large cities. The major companies are Hertz, Thrifty, Dollar, National, Avis, Budget, and Alamo. Gas stations are everywhere and most are open at both day and night. Gas prices are on par with the U.S.
You can rent cars for a maximum of 90 days. Drivers should be prepared to show both a driver’s license and passport. There is a charge of US$180 to drop a car off in a different city than the one it was rented in. Car rental agencies also do not allow drivers to take the cars to other countries.