Living Like a Local in Panama City

Marissa Ruxin is a student at University of California San Diego and an ISA Featured Blogger. Marissa is currently studying abroad in Panama City on a Fall 1 program.

One of the places I have spent the most time at in Panama has been the mall.  This may sound dull and you might think that I can do this in any city, but this mall is special.  It is called Albrook Mall and it is one of the largest malls I have ever seen!  There are hundreds of stores, a carousel, a bowling alley, banks, restaurants, an internet café, a movie theater and a casino.  There is also a little train that drives people around.  This mall is so large that some stores have more than one location just in this mall.  For example, there are three Cinnabons, two Conways, two Titans and many other places have a multiple shops here.

Albrook Mall

Another experience from Panama that has been notable though it seems ordinary has been the rides I take on the public buses.  These buses are called Diablo Rojos, meaning red devil, because they are notorious for having bad drivers.  They never close the doors on these buses even when people are packed into them, with some forced to stand on the stairs leading up to the main area.  I have only seen them close the doors one time and that was because a police officer drove up next to the driver and demanded that the driver shut the doors because people were hanging out of the bus.  Another time I rode the bus there was a big traffic jam so my driver made a U-turn in the middle of the narrow two-lane street as several people honked at him while he turned around the large bus.

Diablo Rojo bus… and a very large ship in the background!

Though this sounds like a less than desirable form of transportation it is very cheap and costs about 25 cents anywhere you travel in the city so the buses are always filled with people.  However, they are not very reliable and there is no bus schedule. I believe that the drivers do have a route, but they seem to have a lot of freedom in deciding if they follow this or not.  Therefore, you never know how long you will wait until the next bus comes.  These rides are an adventure and I often acquire interesting stories to tell after hopping on a Diablo Rojo.

6 thoughts

  1. Much fun reading about your experiences here in Panama, Marissa!

    Not every foreigner can say they’ve ridden a diablo rojo, so kudos to you for trying it out! More than half have been replaced with new metro buses and hopefully the last diablos will be gone within a year, so this is an experience those who come after you may not get! I am starting a small collection of photos of diablos that are particularly great…one has a portrait of India’s Sai Baba of Shirdi…very international! :D

    Your photo of the diablo rojo with the Panama Canal in the background is priceless…award-winning engineering juxtaposed with one of the worst transit systems ever (but …again…not for long!)

    Hope to see more photos and posts from your adventures around Panama.


    Jessica Ramesch
    Panama editor
    International Living Magazine

  2. Marissa, I know you write well, but kudos apparently are in order for your photographic skills! I like Jessica Ramesch’s posting- neat to know about the diablos.

  3. I studied in Panama City in Spring of 2012 with ISA as well. These are definitely some great tips of living like a local! The new Metro Buses we just starting to learn there routes when I was there..I am bittersweet about seeing the Diablo Rojos weeded out!

  4. The cruise ship and the diablo rojo together was a great catch! The combo says something about Panama’s fascinating complexities. Did you have a chance to take the new metrobuses? They are air-conditioned, but they have no music inside and no hand-painted artwork. Panama City is gaining something and also losing something in the changeover.

    1. Yes I did take the metrobuses. They are much nicer with air conditioning and a much more reliable schedule, but there is nothing like taking the Diablo Rojos. I do have mixed feelings about the change but maybe there will be a way to incorporate the culture of Panama into the updated transportation system.

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