Calling all adventurous travelers! Getting to Chagres National Park by public transportation isn’t hard, but it’s not for the casual tourist. In this guide, I’ll teach you how to get to the Puerto Corotú region of Chagres Park by public transportation from Panama City.
PS—If you’re driving, use trusty Google Maps to arrive at Puerto Corotú.
Accessibility Note: The public transportation to Chagres National Park isn’t wheelchair accessible.
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You’re in Good Hands
I’m an American living in Panama and visit Chagres often. Chagres National Park is like a second home, and I take the exact transportation I’ll share with you here. We might even see each other en camino!
How To Get To Chagres National Park
Getting to Chagres by public transportation is a two to three-step process, depending on how quickly you want to arrive there. Personally, I prefer the three-step process, so I’ll walk you through that first.
Step 1: Get on the Metro
Hop on Metro Line 1 in the direction of San Isidro. Metro Line 1 runs through several key parts of Panama City, including Albrook (where the big mall is) and the Bella Vista district (one of the top areas I recommend staying at). The cost of the metro is $0.35.
Stay on the metro until the last stop, which is currently San Isidro. In the near-ish future, they’ll open the Villa Zaita metro station. If Villa Zaita is open when you travel, getting off there will reduce your travel time a smidge.
Step 2: Bus to La Cabima
When you get off at the San Isidro metro station, follow the hoards of people downstairs to the road. You’ll want to wait for a bus on the right side of the road when facing the direction the metro was traveling in (the side of the road going east towards Colon, not going west back to Panama City).
From there, look for a bus that goes to La Cabima. You’ll likely have several options, as most of the buses go there. San Isidro is a bus hot spot, so you won’t have to wait long for a ride.
Here are the three types of bus options you’ll encounter in San Isidro:
- Metrobus (Part of the Panama City public transportation system, $0.25)
- Chiva (Air conditioned sprinter vans that charge $0.50 – $1, depending on demand)
- Diablo rojo (Repurposed American school buses that charge $0.25 – $0.50, depending on demand)
You might have to wait for a while to catch a Metrobus, and they often arrive full. I recommend taking the chiva or diablo rojo. Be prepared to stand on any of the three buses if you’re traveling during peak hours (7:00 am – 9:00 am, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm).
Step 3: Bus to Puerto Corotú
The bus from San Isidro to La Cabima will take anywhere from less than 10 minutes to 20+ minutes, depending on traffic. When you get off at the bus stop in La Cabima, walk back toward the direction the bus was traveling.
Your destination? The side of Super 99 (a large grocery store you can’t miss).
It takes less than two minutes to walk from the La Cabima bus stop to Super 99. Once there, you’ll (usually) see a row of white sprinter vans lined up at the side of the supermarket. When facing the supermarket, the bus on the far left is the one that goes to Puerto Corotú. But for good measure, ask the driver “El lago?” That translates to “The lake?”
If there aren’t any buses, wait until one arrives. Depending on the day of the week and time you travel, the buses usually depart every 20 – 45 minutes. There’s no set schedule, but as long as you travel in the daylight (which I highly recommend anyway since you shouldn’t cross Chagres River in the dark), you can rest assured there will be a bus at some point for you to take.
The bus ride from La Cabima to Puerto Corotú takes about 40 minutes. Stay on until the very last stop. The bus will drop you off, pick up any passengers at the port, and (usually) immediately head back to La Cabima.
Alternative Chagres Bus Option
If switching from the metro to a bus in San Isidro sounds like too much of a hassle, here’s the good news: You can take a Corredor Norte bus directly from Panama City to La Cabima.
The Corredor Norte buses cost $1.25, and you can catch them anywhere along their route in the city (they start at Albrook and pass through Bella Vista). Just make sure you get on a Corredor Norte bus that passes by La Cabima; not all of them do.
The travel time from Panama City to La Cabima via the Corredor Norte bus varies wildly depending on traffic; less than one hour to 2+ hours is fair game. Once you arrive in La Cabima, follow step #3 above to catch the bus to Puerto Corotú.
Arriving in Puerto Corotú
On a day with little traffic and buses that depart near-instantly, you can expect it to take around 1.5 hours to travel from the Bella Vista district of Panama City to Puerto Corotú. That said, the trip can take upward of 2.5 hours.
This is more or less the view you’ll have when you arrive at the port. Depending on the time of year, the water might be practically touching the road (December-ish), or it might look like a tiny stream at the bottom of a small valley (May-ish).
Puerto Corotú receives tourists near-daily, but it’s primarily a local port. So, you won’t encounter pushy vendors selling you trinkets or people handing you brochures of the tours they can take you on. Instead, once the boat drivers at the port determine that you don’t have your next step planned, they’ll approach you with offers to take you on a boat tour.
More often than not, no one at Puerto Corotú speaks English; download the Google Translate app if you don’t speak Spanish.
From there, you can coordinate for a boat driver to take you on a tour. The most popular boat tour from Puerto Corotú is heading up the river to the waterfall (cascada in Spanish). Along the way, you’ll pass by the indigenous Emberá communities of Tusipono and Parará Purú. You can also request the driver take you all the way up to Emberá Drúa.
For the love of all things travel, please don’t ask to get off at the indigenous communities if you don’t have a pre-arranged tour with one of the villages. The Emberá communities in the Puerto Corotú region of Chagres are tight-knit and private; wandering around them without having booked a tour is basically like trespassing.
There’s no shortage of options for booking an Emberá tour. You can view availability below for the Emberá Drúa community:
As for a boat tour price? It depends on how far you want to go (visiting Lake Alajuela is an option as well), whether you want to be picked up and dropped off at the waterfall or the boat driver to stay with you, and how long your boat tour lasts. Tipping is common and appreciated in Panama if you’re happy with the service you receive.
I’m preparing an article about the dos and don’ts of arriving in Puerto Corotú, and I’ll link it here once it’s ready. But for now, one of the major takeaways is to arrive at Puerto Corotú before noon and be back at the port before dark. Furthermore, it’s sometimes too dangerous to travel the river by boat, which is particularly common during the rainy season when flash floods happen.
If you have questions about traveling from Panama City to Chagres National Park, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.
Enjoy beautiful Chagres!