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Six-hour layover in PTY CM-CM; what can we see?

Six-hour layover in PTY CM-CM; what can we see?

Old Dec 1, 15, 12:10 pm
  #1  
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Six-hour layover in PTY CM-CM; what can we see?

We're flying CM SCL-PTY-BOS and as booked we've got a 6 hr layover in PTY (arrive 6:05am, depart 12:09pm).

My wife has always wanted to see the Panama Canal.

We'll be checking our carry-on bags for portability.

We're members in the US Global Entry program, but I don't think that helps us enter Panama; it looks like it does let us *apply* for Panama's Global Pass program, but at $100 and mandatory interview, maybe not a great deal.

Does Copa have any kind of special "layover tour" program? If not, what's the best way to see a tiny bit of Panama City with a 6hr layover at the airport?

(We have previously seen a fair chunk of suburban Osaka during a 4h35m layover in KIX, so we sort of know the drill.)
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Old Dec 1, 15, 7:41 pm
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
We're flying CM SCL-PTY-BOS and as booked we've got a 6 hr layover in PTY (arrive 6:05am, depart 12:09pm).
Unfortunately, at that hour, you're mostly going to see Panama City traffic, which is some of the worst in the world. You really want a 9-12 hour layover if you're going to leave the airport.

You could probably make it to Casco Viejo. I would not try to do the canal at that hour, it's on the far side of the city and could easily take two hours just to get there. Leave yourselves at least an hour to get back to the airport (plus an hour for security/immigration). Note that the cab will be $30+ each direction. CM does not offer tours.
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Old Dec 1, 15, 8:05 pm
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Yes, traffic into town on the highway at that hour will be miserable. You will leave the airport at 7 am and want to be back at 11 am. Here are two suggestions.

Cutting it close: drive into the city, cruise down to Amador, look out to see the ships heading up to the canal. Drive through Casco Viejo, adjust based on traffic. Head back to the airport. December traffic is the worst, it lessens after 1 Jan.

Sure thing: head to Panama Viejo (30 min from PTY). Walk around the ruins, pass through the museum, check out the souvenir stand. You'll be soaked in sweat heading back to the airport, but no issues with time.

If it were me, after a redeye from SCL, I'd get a cheap deal at that new Crowne Plaza at the airport and crash for a few hours.
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Old Dec 6, 15, 7:52 am
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I've been told immigration at PTY can be pretty slow as well. I've only ever stayed within the airport.

I'd make sure you get a pass to the Copa Club, it's not great, but there's not really any alternative. I love the airport, but the facilities leave something to be desired. You can do some electronics shopping, though I haven't found the prices to be amazing. The food is sparse and WAY over priced. It feels to me like it's being charged in some other currency, but it's not, it's just over priced USD.

But for like $50 you can have some snacks, a bunch of drinks (after a red-eye I'm always down for drinks) and use their good wifi, there's some comfortable seating options as well.

Sorry there isn't better news!
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Old Dec 6, 15, 5:44 pm
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Originally Posted by drvannostren View Post
The food is sparse and WAY over priced.
Come on, there's a Carl's Jr.!
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Old Dec 6, 15, 8:49 pm
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Could go to Lake bayano. No traffic. I have lived in Panama for 4.5 years and been Tocumen 75 times or so and have never been past the airport.

The crowne plaza hotel was offered at 5000 points. I picked a night up before I fly out and a week later when I get back in. At that price it is worth it.

You can make the canal and back and maybe even over the bridge of the americas to get a real good view of the canal. But there will be traffic part of the way.The corredor norte extension could really help. Way back you could go corredor sur and see the downtown area.

Last edited by copaflyer; Dec 7, 15 at 11:10 am
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Old Dec 7, 15, 8:42 am
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Originally Posted by jsk1973 View Post
Come on, there's a Carl's Jr.!
I usually go to the Quiznos I think. But like, a Quiznos combo in Canada that's like $8 MAYBE costs $6-7 in the US, so you're spending a bit more after conversion, but then in Panama it's like $12 + conversion. It's like they take airport ridiculous price and charge 10-15% more.

Oh I did go to Carl's Jr in Costa Rica...not bad. Chicken was good at least, not sure if we have it in Canada, if we do I've never seen one.
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Old Dec 7, 15, 9:35 am
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Originally Posted by drvannostren View Post
...but then in Panama it's like $12 + conversion...
No US$ conversion in Panama!

Last edited by KLouis; Dec 7, 15 at 9:51 am
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Old Dec 7, 15, 12:50 pm
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Originally Posted by KLouis View Post
No US$ conversion in Panama!
How so? Unless I use a credit card that doesn't charge conversion fees, I still pay conversion FEES + the currency difference to Canadian dollars.
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Old Dec 7, 15, 3:32 pm
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OK, thanks for the feedback, all. We're just about to fly SCL-PTY tonight.

My wife is heartbroken that she likely won't have enough time to see the canal this time around with a six hour morning layover. I think we'll plan to see either the Panama Viejo site or somewhere along Lago Bayano — we'll report back how things go.
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Old Dec 7, 15, 6:31 pm
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Tomorrow (Tues 8) is Mother's Day here, a national holiday! Streets should be wide open each direction. Check with the taxi hawkers outside of customs to see what they'll do for you.

Go see that canal!
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Old Dec 8, 15, 7:26 am
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Originally Posted by YadiMolina View Post
Tomorrow (Tues 8) is Mother's Day here, a national holiday! Streets should be wide open each direction. Check with the taxi hawkers outside of customs to see what they'll do for you.

Go see that canal!
Wow, thanks very much for this tip.

We did something a little crazy:

* Landed 5:55 a.m.

* Disembarked and freshened up by about 6:15 a.m.

* Entered the country circa 6:30 a.m. I had no trouble but my wife attracted the ire of an incredulous immigration officer by making the fatal mistake of saying too much — she got grilled a little bit by someone who was skeptical that anyone would enter a country for just a couple of hours just to see some boats. It was no problem, just took an extra minute or two.

* Bought a prepaid data SIM for $30, which is our punishment for not using a mobile carrier who offers international data roaming. We just did the same in Chile but at much less usurious rates.

* Took an Uber from the airport to the Miraflores Locks visitor site; 6:42 a.m.---7:11 a.m. Ultra fast thanks to no traffic on the Mother's Day holiday. We had never seen Panama City before, even a little bit, and were shocked and surprised by the huge set of sprawling silver buildings. What a cool downtown. The outlying suburbs we saw have an interesting and very different look too. We'll have to come back to PTY and see it properly.

* We just kind of hung out at the Miraflores locks for a while. I think it was shift change; a lot of actual staff who work there doing real canal work were coming and going. There's a visitor center which opens at 9am which gives you a deeper understanding of the canal system and lets you get a better view, but we decided not to wait quite that long — instead, we just watched a solid 4-5 boats transit this part of the canal. Cool stuff, exactly what my wife wanted to see with a tiny layover in PTY!

* Feeling kind of tired / hot and a tiny bit worried about time, we took an Uber back from the locks to the airport; 8:07 a.m.--8:34 a.m. We took the Corredor Sur in both directions; on the drive back we noticed the surprising flatness of the parts of the ocean that abut the city. I wonder what the deal is there. We saw the top of the Panamá Viejo cathedral from the road — could also be interesting to come back and see that site. Each of the two Uber rides we took was about $16-$19 including tolls.

(Edit: Uber adjusted the trips ~24 hrs after travel to change the price each way to about $28 including tolls. Baffling. I think they may have decided to impose a flat rate to/from PTY? But weird that their 'fare quote' doesn't do this automatically and they have to adjust prices a day later???)

* Exit immigration is just a person looking at the entrance date on your passport before you go into the security line (fascinating! like the US or the UK, Panama doesn't really care about migrants as long as they're leaving??). Security was no problem (shoes off, electronics out; more stringent than SCL). We got to the Copa lounge by about 9am; we have showered (the CM lounge has 2 showers available), eaten a bit, and are ready for our flight now circa 9:20 a.m.

If normal rush hour traffic makes the PTY-to-lock-visitor-center journey a 2 hr drive each way, there's no way we could have made it there and back.

With roads nearly empty, we had plenty of time and we enjoyed getting to see something a bit more than just the airport transit area! Thanks so much for everyone's advice and input here.

I think in total we spent about 2 hours from "entering the country" to "re-clearing security", which is a really, really, really short trip, possibly the shortest we have taken. Great to know that (at least outside of rush hour) PTY supports this pretty well. We probably could have seen a lot on a weekday with a 9am-3pm layover.

If we did this again, next time we would *probably* shower at the CM Club first, enter the country circa 8am, get to the visitor center at opening circa 9am, and head back to the airport; just a little scarier on time for a 12pm flight, but things worked out fine this time.

Last edited by mherdeg; Dec 9, 15 at 12:12 pm
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Old Dec 8, 15, 8:26 am
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
With roads nearly empty, we had plenty of time and we enjoyed getting to see something a bit more than just the airport transit area! Thanks so much for everyone's advice and input here.
Glad to hear it worked out (and that you didn't have to battle Panama City traffic!).

The taxi drivers must hate Uber - the fare from airport to downtown (about half the distance to Miraflores) is around $30.
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Old Dec 8, 15, 1:04 pm
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Do not count on a 9am to 3pm layover to see much more. Still a lot of traffic.

I have done punta pacifica hospital (right off the corredor) to the airport for a drop off and back in 25 minutes around 3pm but it could be a lot longer.

On other streets can be much longer then the corredors.
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Old Dec 21, 15, 8:39 am
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Originally Posted by copaflyer View Post
Do not count on a 9am to 3pm layover to see much more. Still a lot of traffic.

I have done punta pacifica hospital (right off the corredor) to the airport for a drop off and back in 25 minutes around 3pm but it could be a lot longer.

On other streets can be much longer then the corredors.
I had a 6 hours wait between my flight from mex via Pty to bogota and took the local bus just outside the terminal a 5 minutes walk to the Avenue to downtown. It was about 40 minutes and then walked around and had some very good lunch before taking the local bus back to the Airport again, but now it was about 65 minutes with heavy traffic.
But i made it all on time and still had my drinks in the copa club😄
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