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San Jose to Panama City on the Pan American Highway – The Shortest Route Isn’t Always The Best Route

San Jose to Panama City

We headed out of San Jose to Panama City via the Pan American Highway. We were not necessarily in a hurry, but the sooner we got to Panama City, the better and sight-seeing wasn't on the list of things we wanted to do for money sake, Costa Rica wasn't the heaven we thought it would be.  Financially, we figured we should get out of expensive Costa Rica as soon a possible and head for greener pastures.



Costa Rica Highlands

San Jose to Panama City

Taking The Short Cut

We decided to take the "shorter" route to the Pan American Highway. There were two routes, the round about way to Jaco, or the more direct and shorter mountain route down Highway 239. We even looked at satellite images to see if the road was passable. When traveling, you have to weigh the benefits of taking certain routes, and we felt that taking the road less traveled might give us an opportunity to see some of the country we wouldn't have otherwise and the roads looked pretty good. However, we had no real data to support this.



Bridge On HWY 239

San Jose to Panama City

End Of The Road

The road started off paved, winding through mountain villages and spectacular scenery. This soon ended when we hit a dirt road that was well maintained and smooth and we were able to use our 2 wheel drive on the Jeep at decent speeds. The route we chose was about 40km shorter in distance and more direct than the Pan American Highway route. The further we got on this route, the more we realized we had grossly underestimated the expedited path. The roads became more and more pot holed, narrow, and dangerous. We put it in 4 wheel drive and slowly made our way over the Costa Rican countryside. The views were incredible however even if the jeep was taking a beating.

The Pan American Highway

We made it to the Pan American Highway just outside of Parrita and took a break. Dusty, tired, and 4 hours later, as we hit the paved highway, it felt as if we were riding on silk. It's amazing when you go from off-road to pavement how smooth and quiet the ride becomes. We headed down south past the popular surf spots of Quepos and Dominical where we detoured to check out the surf and village, and attempted to off-road to the "whale tail beach" of Uvita. When the path turned to a semi-dry river bed, we decided that the Jeep and our kidneys had enough of a beating.  We didn't make it to Uvita and turned back and headed south to the southern Costa Rican border town of Golfito.



Mar Y Luna - Golfito

San Jose to Panama City

Golfito, Costa Rica - Pleasant Border Town

Golfito is a small town near the Panamanian border. The town has a good selection of differently priced hotels and restaurants, and a great place to stay the night before heading to the border the next day.

Golfito used to be the main port in this part of Costa Rica due to the abundance of banana plantations. Diseases infected the bananas, subsequently the workers striked.  contributed largely to the United Fruit Company's decision to leave the area.  The banana growers split leaving the area in financial ruin.  The government then created a Duty Free Zone to boost commerce. 

The "Small Gulf" (Golfito) is serene and beautiful.  We stayed at the Mar Y Luna Hotel and ate dinner.  The restaurant and our room was actually on a dock and the room was like a little apartment with a kitchenette and large room with table, chairs and sofa.  Outside our room were swinging chairs overlooking the marina and gulf.  We rested well and headed to the Panamanian Border in the morning after breakfast.



Panamanian Border - Not Fun

San Jose to Panama City
Panama Border
Panama Border

Panamanian Border Search

The Panama border is not a pleasant place. It's the first time we were searched in our trip south. We have been lucky up to now with as much stuff as we had stuffed into the Jeep.  Much to our disappointment, the "border jefe" was unwavering in letting us cross without getting searched. We had to remove EVERYTHING from the vehicle. This upset me and I got a little lippy with the agent who was assigned to look through our stuff. They even brought an army guy over to stand watch to make sure I didn't get unruly.  However, he mostly just stood there smirking at my rising blood pressure.

 We were ordered to get the stuff off the sidewalk and put it in a small room with tables for searching. The agent must have taken pity on us and only searched a few bags before getting tired of my constant complaints in spanish. We were allowed to packed it back up and we headed out of the border in a torrential downpour.



Fake Cop On The PanAmerican Highway

San Jose to Panama City

Arriving In David - Cops Galore

We had left Golfito later than we had wanted and the border took hours. As we entered the city of David we saw a motorcycle cop with his radar gun pointed right at us. That's right.... motorcycle cops.... radar! A first for us since leaving the USA. There were some motorcycle cops in Mexico, but only in the cities, not the highways. We jammed on our brakes because the speed limit is ridiculously low in Panama as we white-knuckled our way to the cop who we realized wasn't moving.  It's not a real cop, but a cardboard cutout of a cop holding a gun! We had to laugh, but it scared us into driving the speed limit in Panama.  We decided to stay at the Aranjuez Hotel & Suites in David for the night and order some Dominos Pizza.  It was really nice and superb customer service.



Arriving In Panama City

San Jose to Panama City

Getting to Panama City

The next day, we headed down to Panama City arriving at about 4pm.  Along the way, we saw several fake police on the side of the road and a few real ones, but the real ones were never pointing their radar guns. All of them were under a tree getting some relief from the heat texting on their cell phones.

It took us 3 days total to drive from San Jose to Panama City.  One day driving through Costa Rica which is the size of West Virginia, and two days through Panama to Panama City. Panama is great! More developed than Costa Rica and less expensive. The food is really better here as well! Next adventure is to find a Job in the massive Panama City.

Change In Perspective

I remember my father being the type of person who tried to get rich quick.  Herbalife and Commodity Trading ended up being a failed prospect for him in his getting rich quick scheme. It never worked out for him.   Finding a shortcut to a final goal can be a long-cut.  It's a 50/50 proposition.  You never know if it will actually be shorter or not. 

Even though we took the short-cut out of San Jose, we got to see a beautiful part of Costa Rica.  It took us twice as long to get from San Jose to Panama City, but we were able to see little villages and wonderful scenery that we wouldn't have seen taking the Pan American Highway. 

This is life.  It's not the destination that matters but, the journey.  We enjoyed driving along the back roads and arriving in Parrita and getting to the paved Pan Am Highway.  Yeah it took us "longer" even though we thought it was a shorter route, however we have realized that getting lost, and taking the longer less traveled route makes all the difference to us.  What's the rush? Enjoy the journey!

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