Happy to have made it across the border in less time than expected, we set off down the Panamanian highway. According to our GPS we were a few hours away from our destination for the night, but soon it had us turning off the main highway and said we were only 20 miles from the canyon where we planned to stay. That can’t be right… It turns out that Panama is in the Eastern Time Zone, but there hadn’t been any signs informing travelers of the time change at the border.
Our GPS took us the wrong way in the little town near the canyon, but eventually we found our way. We were surprised to see someone sitting near the entrance collecting a fee, but realized that it must be due to the new year’s holiday. We drove back into canyon area and parked Sweetcakes in a small lot away from the other visitors’ cars. Most people were swimming in the narrow part of the canyon, jumping off the 10ft high rock walls on either side. We decided to hike back along the trail [after Bethany declined my offer of having us drive Sweetcakes back since the trail was really an off road trail] to see if there was another good swimming spot that wouldn’t be so crowded. We found some nice, deep pools with clear water. Perfect for bathing since we hadn’t showered in a couple of days. Feeling refreshed, we made a quick trip back into town to stock up on supplies for our new year’s eve festivities. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing, drinking mojitos, and listening to fireworks going off in town. Happy 2015!
The next morning we awoke to the sound of several carloads of people unloading near where we were parked. Really, who is here before 7am on New Year’s Day? Apparently the canyon is thespot for the locals to relax and celebrate the new year. We made a big breakfast, did some yoga, then went for another quick swim in the stream. We were happy to get on the road in the morning because on our way out we saw what had to be the whole town walking/biking/driving to the canyon to hang out for the day.
Our destination for the night was Panama City. We had found out Monday night that the ferry would be taking cars the following Monday, so we booked it from north of San Jose, Costa Rica to the border on Tuesday, spent Wednesday crossing the border, then had to arrive in Panama City by Thursday night so we could take care of all the paperwork and inspections on Friday, to be ready to ship on Monday. It was a tight schedule with no room for error. Our drive to Panama City should have taken us 4 hours, but due to the holiday, traffic back into the city was atrocious. We saw a handful of fender-benders during our 6 hour drive, but luckily we arrived in Panama City unscathed. We had our first glimpse of the canal as we drove up and over the Bridge of the Americas and entered bustling Panama City.
Bustling Panama City
That night we parked near the yacht club, where most overlanders hide out while waiting to ship their vehicles. We assumed we’d bump into other travelers trying to catch Monday’s ferry, and we were right! We met Willy from Germany, Spoons from Australia, old friends Colin & Aurelie from France, and a few other travelers who were northbound and had just recovered their vehicles from the port. We spoke with everyone and gathered as much information as possible about the paperwork and inspection process for tomorrow, which was supposed to be a doozy.
A beautiful church we passed driving around Panama City
We had read in other travelers’ blogs that the temporary vehicle import permit we received at the border had to be exactly correct. Any typos in the VIN or other information, and you would have to run around Panama City for a few hours getting it corrected. We were also told that the VIN had to appear in both the VIN and engine number boxes. We checked all this at the border, but didn’t notice that there were actually 3 boxes where the VIN could/should go: VIN, engine number, and chassis number. Our VIN appeared in two of the three boxes, but the engine number was listed as “0.” Uh oh, no bueno. After comparing our permit to the other travelers’ permits, we began to worry that we would have trouble during our inspection tomorrow, which could mean that we wouldn’t be able to take Monday’s ferry. We crawled into the back of Sweetcakes that night hoping for the best. Between worrying about the paperwork and the high humidity, neither of us slept very well.
A crazy skyscraper in Panama City
We woke up early the next morning, repacked our car, then set off to find the DIJ inspection area. Before exiting Panama with your car, you must undergo a vehicle inspection in which they check your car’s plates, VIN, and any other information against your paperwork. After verifying this information, the DIJ office runs some checks with interpol and other agencies to make sure your vehicle’s record is clean. You have to return to the office in the afternoon to pick up your DIJ form giving your vehicle the “all clear.” Seems easy enough, right?
We left the yacht club at 7am. The DIJ was 10 minutes away, but we had been warned by other travelers that it was difficult to find. We exited the highway and saw where we needed to go, but could not get there due to cement blockades and one way streets. We drove in circles around the slum neighborhood trying to find the way into the secret street, eventually driving the wrong way for 3 blocks down a tiny one way street. Finally we found a police officer who told us how to get there. We pulled in at 7:30 and see our friend Willy in his green sprinter van. Inspections were supposed to start at 8am, but the engine needed to be cool. We had to make photocopies of our import permit from the border, so ran across a 6 lane highway to a copy shop. On the way back to the DIJ lot we noticed the pedestrian bridge across the highway. Doh! Copies in hand, we prop open Sweetcakes’ hood to help the engine cool faster, and wait. And wait. Finally the man doing the inspections comes out of the office. Willy had the same problem on his import permit with the missing engine number, so we paid close attention while the officer inspected his vehicle. No problem with the missing engine number, but the license plate on his motorcycle had a typo on the import permit. So off went Willy to find the customs office and have his paperwork fixed. Ike and I were both sweating nervously as the officer took our paperwork and checked all of our vehicle numbers. Ten minutes later and we got the all clear! Hooray! [“When he said, ‘Todo bien’, I could have kissed him!” -Bethany]
We had 4 hours to kill before having to return to pick up our paperwork, so we set off to find the Ferry Xpress office to pay for and receive our tickets. We knew their office was located in the Multicentro shopping mall complex, but we weren’t sure exactly where. We found a place to park our car and headed over to a Subway in search of wifi and breakfast. They had both! The Ferry Xpress office was on the other side of the mall, so we gingerly made our way across the busy multi-lane streets and found the office. Thanks to Martin McGowan from Overland Sphere, the booking work had already been completed, so much of the paperwork was already moved through and made life much easier for us. Thirty minutes later and we had our tickets in hand… there is a chance this ferry thing actually might happen!
We still had a few hours to kill, so we headed over to the mechanic that Colin & Aurelie had recommended. We explained to them the problem with the shock dampener and how we needed to replace the shock mount. They proposed to repair the part by welding on some metal disks instead of replacing the part. After several minutes of back and forth, we relented. They said our car would be ready by 3, but we had to return to the DIJ office at 2. We grabbed our books, some cash, paperwork, closed-toe shoes, and our dirty laundry, and set off to take care of errands while Sweetcakes was being fixed. We found a Chinese self-serve laundry (a rare find in Central America!) and washed all our stinky clothes while we watched the babies play on the floor. We returned to the mechanic to drop off our clean laundry and saw that Sweetcakes was in the shop, progress! We met up with Colin & Aurelie who had to return to the mechanic, and the four of us went to a nearby Chinese/Panama fusion place for lunch. We returned to the mechanics, enjoying their AC lounge while we waited for news on Sweetcakes. At 1:15 I asked how much longer it would be, explaining that we had an appointment at 2pm, but we could take a taxi if necessary. The car was ready in 20 minutes and they charged us less than they quoted, double success!
Central Americans are all about the bright colored leggings right now
We hopped back in Sweetcakes and it felt like we were driving a brand new car. The shock absorber had been detached since somewhere in Guatemala. This meant that every time we went over a bump, the driver’s side bounced and reacted a lot more than the passenger’s side. We didn’t notice the unevenness and assumed that the roads were just that bad. But with the shock mount repaired, we instantly noticed the difference in our ride, even on the nice paved roads of Panama City. No wonder our lower backs had been so sore…
We put on our closed-toe shoes and zipped on our full pants as we prepared to enter the Secretary General’s office. Apparently they have been known to turn away other travelers that showed up in the overlanding uniform of shorts and flip flops. We get our visitors badges and enter the lobby. There sits Willy in swim trunks and flip flops. We were starting to learn that Willy plays by nobody’s rules… We gave the people behind the desk our name and passport numbers and were told to wait. And so we waited and waited some more. Eventually a large man entered and sat down next to us. He heard us talking about the ferry and asked if we were also taking it. It turned out that there was to be a Harley Davidson convention in Colombia next week, so this man was taking his motorcycle on the ferry along with “the boss of Harley Davidson,” who just happened to be this man’s friend from the military. We didn’t probe for the details. He complained with us about the stupid bureaucratic process, but eventually received his papers and was on his way. We were left waiting with Willy. Another half hour later a woman shows up and calls each of us up to fill out a form with her. She returns 15 minutes later and we have our paperwork. It turned out to be a relatively painless process, just lots of sitting around and waiting, uncertain of what will happen next.
Another example of the leggings craze
We made our way across town to the Courtyard Marriott hotel where we would be staying on points for the weekend. Ahh, the luxury of AC, a bed, hot showers, ice, internet, TV, the list goes on and on. While we still enjoy camping and our adventures on the road, we don’t mind taking a break and shacking up in a hotel for a few days. We spent the next 3 days bumming around the hotel, leaving only to get our complimentary breakfast in the morning and setting off for a nice dinner in the evenings. Our families sent us some money to celebrate our anniversary, so we indulged in sushi, Argentinian grilled meat platters, and Indian food throughout the weekend.
Are we dressed classy enough? Don’t care.
Sushi anniversary celebration
Sake to celebrate our anniversary
Complimentary wine & cheese tray from the hotel, yes please
View of Panama City from our hotel room
Tron-esque building in Panama City
Argentinian grill platter
“Salad bar” at the Argentinian restaurant
More anniversary splurging
Our hotel was right next to this mall and it felt like we were back in America
Indian food on our last night in Panama City
Most overlanders headed to Colon on Sunday because we had to arrive at the port Monday morning at 8am to take care of more paperwork and inspections. We decided to bask in the luxury of our hotel for one more night. So we woke up bright and early Monday morning and were on the road by 6am to make it to Colon, a little over an hour’s drive, and on the Caribbean coast. That’s right, you can drive from the Pacific to Caribbean coast in just over an hour in this narrow part of Panama. A great place for the canal indeed! We were the first to arrive at the port. The security guards were a bit confused when we said we were taking our car with us on the ferry, but we expected there to be confusion. We had heard the stories of disorganization and confusion from other travelers who had taken their cars on the ferry. We pulled into the parking lot and saw the ferry tied up at the port, looking quite majestic in the morning sunshine. It’s real!
Monday morning and we are ready to board that ferry!
Fellow overlanders Jurgen & Katharina from Germany. Their rig is a converted firetruck from the 1980s.
We had plenty of time at the port to watch the ships being loaded and unloaded
Such monstrous ships!
Thirty minutes later and other overlanders began to pour in. We met Paul, an Australian traveling on his motorcycle, then came Colin &Aurelie, followed by Antoine & Stella (a French/Chinese couple traveling in a US RV), then Spoons pulled in with his Mercedes van, followed by Jurgen, Katharina and son Movitz in their converted 1980’s German firetruck rig, Willy & his wife in their green sprinter van, and finally Tim in his Land Cruiser. A good looking bunch if I might say so myself! We waited and waited and around 10am someone showed up and we could begin the paperwork process. First up was to review our Bill of Lading to make sure all of the information was correct. Most of us noticed some errors in the document, so the woman from Ferry Xpress said she would take care of it, but we had to wait. Surprise surprise. Early that afternoon the travelers with correct Bill of Ladings started the customs inspections and their cars were stamped out of Panama. The rest of us were still waiting to get our corrected Bill of Ladings back. We started to get nervous as midafternoon approached. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 7pm, and soon the foot passengers would be arriving. Around 3pm the woman from Ferry Xpress called us all over and said that due to the strong winds, they would not be taking cars today. Whomp, whomp. All our hopes and dreams were crashed.
Waiting was the name of the game at the port in Colon
After a bit more back and forth and lots of confusing information, we determined that 1) they would try again on Wednesday, and 2) the vehicles that had been stamped out of the country were not allowed to leave the port. The rest of us discussed our options, but Colon was not a great city to be stuck in and there weren’t any good camping options nearby. We decided to all stick together and camp in the port parking lot until Wednesday morning came. They tried to tell us we would each have to pay $5 to camp in the port, but we laughed them off and eventually they changed their minds. We tried to get more information from the ferry employees about the situation and what the odds were that the ferry would take our cars on Wednesday, and with heavy hearts we watched from the parking lot as the ferry finally departed later that evening. We passed the evening swapping stories from the road and discussing the likelihood of the ferry taking our cars on Wednesday. [Before we packed it in that night, we spent several hours badgering Ferry Xpress for updates on the likelihood of them taking us Wednesday and what options would be available as compensation to us since we were told we would be leaving Monday. I got the pleasure of seeing Colin go into Beast Mode. Normally, Colin has a huge grin that splits his face and squishes his eyes up into squints, so seeing this was a little intimidating. First, he pulled someone from Ferry Xpress aside and asked to have a cell phone to call their office. After they unsuccessfully tried to pawn him off on hold, he pulled a port officer aside and told the man he needed a cell phone. When the officer said there was maybe one around back, Colin said unequivocally, “Take me to it.” and was gone for 20 minutes. As sun set he strode into the building where passengers were loading, walked up to the front desk and demanded compensation for us stuck here. The man behind the counter tried to tell him that there was nothing he could do, so Colin told him to call his boss. The poor man quickly dialed his boss, and Colin spoke to him. They first said they would try and track down the harbor master to assist us, so we spent an hour sitting in the corner of the passenger terminal, a determined look on Colin’s face. After nothing came of that, Colin was right back up at the desk asking for the phone. They agreed to try and find us hotel rooms for the evening, and would call back in 10 minutes. They didn’t, so Colin blew their phone up all evening, before we eventually caved in. “I don’t like seeing an angry Colin, but I’m glad he’s on our side.” I said to Aurelie halfway through this stint. “Ah…sometimes when he wants something…it’s better to stay out of his way.” She replied with a laugh.]
Dat feel as you watch the ferry leave
The next day we decided to visit the Gatun Locks on the canal, since we hadn’t taken the time to visit the canal during the weekend. Antoine & Stella were also interested in visiting the locks, but their RV was already stamped out of the country, so it couldn’t leave the port. No problema, you can ride with us! We emptied all of our crap out of the back of Sweetcakes into their RV, and Stella and I piled in the back. Approaching the gate to leave the port, the security guard stops us with a “Hey where are you going?” We explained that they had not completed our customs paperwork yesterday, so we were free to leave with our car. Suddenly no fewer than 5 people appeared out of thin air to try to prevent us from leaving. Seriously, where were all these customs people yesterday when we needed to complete our paperwork? After a bit of back and forth, they agreed that we were allowed to leave with our car.
Cruising along towards the locks, we notice a government pickup truck pulled over on the shoulder and the man was swatting at something in the grass with his jacket. “I think that’s a sloth!” Antoine exclaimed. Ike pulled over and we all piled out to check out the action. Sure enough, a sloth was lying in the ditch. The man was trying to get the sloth to claw at his jacket so he could lift up the sloth and relocate him to the tree that he had apparently just fallen out of. The sloth has to be one of the most ridiculous animals I have ever seen. It’s cute little face had the biggest “DERP” expression on it the entire time the man was swatting at it and then eventually carrying it to the nearby tree. Seeing a sloth? Check that off the to do list. Back in the car, we drove a few more minutes and arrived at the Gatun Locks.
Sloth mid-rescue. Look closely and you can see his derpy face to the left.
The locks just celebrated their 100thanniversary and they were still impressive to my 21stcentury eye. I can’t imagine how grandiose they must have seemed when they first opened. We arrived at a prime time, with two ships going through the second of the series of three locks. We watched the ships move ahead to the third and final lock, pulled along by electric trains, watched the water level rise, and then watched the ships depart. A ship can move through the set of 3 locks in about 80 minutes. We learned that approximately 40 ships per day pass through the canal. With each lock having 2 lanes, that’s nearly 1 ship per hour per lane. Pretty impressive. As we watched the ships pass through, it was obvious that today’s ocean liners are built to the canal’s specs. There were only a couple of feet of clearance on either side of the behemoth. In fact, the fit is so tight that the ships’ captains turn over control of the ship to a special canal driver for the journey. A new set of locks is currently under construction and all ocean liners currently in production are being made to fit the new locks, which are deeper and wider. We learned that ships pay by their weight and/or capacity, with the average fee being somewhere around $250,000. The lowest fee ever charged was $0.36 for some dude to swim through the canal in the 1920s(?). Pretty baller.
Electric trains pulling ships through the locks
Watching the impressive process of moving through the Gatun Locks
Massive double gates separate the three locks
View from the second lock, looking back over the first
We arrived just in time to watch a Norwegian oil tanker and cruise ship move through the locks together
Massive ships, with little room to spare on either side
“Citizens from all over the world are proud of the Panama Canal.”
Back at the port, Colin & Aurelie announced they would be making a metric ton of crepes to share with the group that evening. One thing led to the next, and pretty soon we had an overlander potluck of epic proportions. Ike started off things right with his now world famous french fries. We had German sausages, Chinese rice with mushrooms, cheese stuffed grilled pita, brownies, and of course all you can eat crepes. Noms noms noms. We all went to sleep with full bellies and positive thoughts for the ferry the next day.
Aurelie’s amzing crepes!
[“Is that for shade?” I ask Jurgen as he and Spoons are setting up some tentpoles from an extension on his truck. “No, it’s for reflection!” He replied. A puzzled look came over my face. Looking at the silvery tarp, I wasn’t really sure how he’d use reflection for anything. “Yeah, I set this up, and reflect the sun directly into your face. Of COURSE it’s for shade.” Jurgen finished with a laugh. Spoons shook his head with a grin.
“Will you go to Venezuela?” Willy asked us while we were discussing future destinations after the ferry got us to South America. “No way, it’s too dangerous!” Bethany replied. “Yes…but the gas is cheap!” came Willy’s emphatic reply. Classic Willy.
Despite the initial frustration over being stuck in the parking lot for 48 hours and no idea if we’d actually get out, we tried to look on the bright side: all of these new friends we were making and old friends we were getting to hang out with! It was really a true silver lining.]
The next morning Ike and I followed Aurelie’s lead and took a shower in our swimsuits under a garden hose hanging from the fence. What a classy life we live! Around 7:30 we hear the rumble of a couple dozen motorcycles rolling in. A few hours later the Ferry Xpress woman was back to issue our new Bills of Lading. We were told to knock on the customs window to start the inspection process. We knocked several times, but the people inside the office did a great job of pretending they couldn’t see us. At some point a Colombian man walked up, knocked, and eventually opened the window himself. Once he was done I stepped up to the window before the woman could go back to ignoring us, but she told us “Not yet.” Ok…. we sat around and waited and waited. Finally the Ferry Xpress lady, by now given the nickname Tiger Lily due to the tiger print jumper she wore that day, told us they were going to process the paperwork for all the motorcycles first, because they were still not sure that they could board the cars today. Ughhhh, not again! We retreated to our vehicles and continued to pick up our belongings with the hope that we would indeed get on the damn ferry today. A few hours later the customs workers decide they will at least take our paperwork to begin the process.
Wednesday morning 2 dozen motorcycles showed up
More paperwork and waiting on Wednesday
We wait and wait and around 3:30 someone high up at Ferry Xpress comes over to talk to us. Luckily Spoons had had the foresight to email Ferry Xpress the previous evening and kindly asked that they send someone to assist us with the process today. This was our man! He assured us that they intended to load cars today and that the ship would dock perpendicular to the port to let the cars from Colombia disembark, and then we would drive on. Then the ship would turn parallel to the port so the passengers could disembark and then all of us southbound passengers would board. Hooray! We told him we were ready and waiting for his signal, but that we needed him to intervene with the customs officers, who had our paperwork all day but still hadn’t approved it. “Ok, but we need to be delicate, because they are a public office.” Yes, we understand, but help! He and the port manager spoke with the customs officers, then magically everything fell into place. [He also offered all of us personal apologies and told us we would all be receiving free upgrades as compensation. Bravo to customer service!] All our paperwork appeared, ready for our signatures. Vehicle inspections took place, and soon we all rolled our cars over to the loading dock. We must have looked like a group of 5 year olds on Christmas morning, with our huge grins and shouts of YIPPEEEE as we practically skipped from vehicle to vehicle. After more than 48 hours of buildup, we were finally driving onto the ferry! [All the horns honking as we started to drive up to the ferry, the cheers and huge grins were just fantastic. None of us actually believed it until we were on the boat. But what a relief it was!]
Moving our cars to the dock to board the ferry!
Sweetcakes looking classy
Punching the ferry for being late
And we’re on!
The ferry crew, ecstatic that our cars are on the ferry!
Cars in place, we all had to exit the ferry and go wait in the boarding area with the rest of the passengers. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 7pm, but we were told it was now delayed by an hour due to the high winds and big waves. We wait and wait (do you sense a theme here?) and finally are allowed to board the ferry around 10pm. We had all been upgraded to exterior rooms due to the delays in taking our cars. After dropping our belongings, most of us met up in the restaurant and enjoyed some surprisingly delicious brick oven pizza. Before its Panama – Colombia route, the ship had been somewhere in the Mediterranean and most of the restaurant crew was Italian, speaking only very very basic Spanish. The ship left port around 11:30pm and we all retreated to our rooms for the evening. The waves were very strong and it was difficult to walk on the ship. We spent most of the time laying in our beds, very grateful for the complimentary upgrade! [This made it very difficult for me to surreptitiously order the three beers for Spoons, Alex, and Tim as repayment for their purchases of empanadas and sodas for the group while we were stuck waiting to board. “Tres cervesas por los tres hombres, pero en mi cuenta.” I said to the waiter. Who promptly walked over to the three of them, and while pointing at them, yells back “Tres cervesas aqui?!?” “Thanks Ike!” “Cheers mate!” “Appreciate it!” from the guys.]
At the port in Cartagena, Colombia
We arrived at the port in Cartagena, Colombia around 10pm. The journey took around 24 hours instead of the normal 18 hours, due to the rough seas. There was a bit of chaos once we disembarked, as the port employees didn’t seem entirely sure of the import process. Eventually they sent us to immigration to get our passports stamped. We then had to fill out some paperwork to import our vehicles. We all lined up to fill in the remainder of some partially completed paperwork (I assume Ferry Xpress had started it), and then wait some more. The customs officer needed 3 copies of this form, but they only had 2 ready. In addition he had to make a photocopy of the stamp page in our passport. This meant that the process that should have been straightforward dragged on and on. Eventually the copier decided it was quitting time, and started overheating. The customs officer kept opening it up and fanning it off, but it would only help for one photocopy. There were 30 of us needing to be processed, each needing 2 or more photocopies. Finally sometime after midnight a few of the guys from our group asked the man to take all the documents and go find a copy shop somewhere. We couldn’t wait another 3 hours to be processed, especially since we had been informed we were not allowed to sleep in our vehicles in the port that evening. The officer returned 20 minutes later with all the copies in hand. Everyone was processed, then the drivers returned to the vehicles for some additional paperwork and inspections. Around 1am we were given the “all clear” to leave the port. Hello South America! We found a place to park on the street that night and doozed off as soon as our heads hit the pillow. [Noootttt quite. Only one person from each vehicle was allowed to go back after the import paperwork was completed, and they had to complete the security. Thankfully the women working back there spoke some English. While we were back there working on the paperwork, Alex asked one of the dock workers for a recommendation on where we could spend the night, since all the other employees had told us was that we could either 1) sleep right outside the gate or 2) sleep across the street at the gas station. WOOF. One of them told us about some waterfront free parking, which is where all of us went, in convoy, as we left the port. Upon arriving, we pull in under the lights, and enjoy the view for a minute while we look around and make sure it seems like an okay play to sleep. After a minute, a police officer on a motorcycle pulls up and asks us what we’re up to. Tim explains to him that we’ve all just left the port, are all very tired, and will only spend the night there sleeping in our vehicles and leave first thing in the morning. “I’ll have to ask my boss.” was the reply. A few minutes later, another motorcycle pulls up with two police officers on it. Tim repeats the plea to them and receives the reply of, “Nope, not ok. Follow us.” Groaning as it’s nearly one in the morning, we start the convoy up again and drive a few minutes, but are pleasantly surprised to find that they’d taken us next to a park that is across the street from the police station. We gratefully pull in and fall asleep, bidding everyone else a good night and happy that we’d survived the ordeal of getting our vehicles around the Darien Gap.]
No fun waiting in port customs for 3 hours after we arrived that evening. Pic taken at 12:45 am
Panama budget recap:
Panama officially has their own currency, the balboa, but for all intents & purposes they use the US dollar. After so many new currencies and exchange rates in the past few weeks, this was a welcome change. The balboa is set equal to the US dollar. We only saw US bills, but they use a mix of US and balboa coins (which are identical in size and color).
Overall we came out right on budget, but our expenses were not at all as we budgeted. We spent a mere $2 on lodging, but treated ourselves to several nice meals in Panama City, so blew our food budget. We had to skip a few places in Costa Rica & Panama to catch the one-time-only car run on the ferry, but it was worth it because we saved around $2000 and several days by not having to ship our car.
Expected days in country: 7
Actual days spent in country: 8
In hindsight, we did not budget enough days in Panama. When we started this trip, we expected to have to ship our car, a process that takes 1 week. We should have budgeted a week for sightseeing and a week for shipping.
Daily budget: $64
Actual expenses: $67 (excluding ferry costs)
Difference: +$3 (+5%)
We celebrated our anniversary while in Panama. Our families generously gave us some money to celebrate, so celebrate we did! We went out to eat at 3 nice restaurants while in Panama City, which means our food expenditures were higher than budgeted, but all other categories were under budget.
Expected costs to ship car and get ourselves to Colombia: $2000 for car, $700 for plane tickets
Actual costs: $600 total
Our skipping the southern half of Costa Rica and most of Panama to catch the ferry was well worth it for the cost and time savings. We hope the ferry is able to get their act together and resume regular car service. It is a huge benefit to overlanders!
Average price for gas: $2.51/gallon ($0.66 per liter).
Hooray for cheap gas! We filled up our jerry can before leaving the country.
Expected miles driven: 450
Actual miles driven: 454
We basically drove directly from the border to Panama City, then up to Colon. If we had more time to explore the country, we would have driven quite a bit more.
Average gas mileage: 20 mpg
Most of our driving in Panama was on high quality highways.
Average miles driven per day: 57
Biggest daily expenses ($/day):
#1: Food – $47.50 (but a big chunk of this was at nice restaurants to celebrate our anniversary)
#2: Gas – $9 (including filling our jerry can)
We stayed at a hotel on points in Panama City and camped for free at the port in Colon. Our only lodging expenses were the $2 we paid to enter the canyon our first night.