Chilibre to Panama City to Sona By Bus

Chilibre to Panama City to Sona

By Bus

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – One of the bright Panama buses

Mission base to Chilibre

Today starts our first independent travels in Panama and we go from the mission base to Chilibre to Panama City to Sona by bus.  Oh my – even with a single trolley bag and day pack each, we still feel loaded up. Our German friend Anna is also moving on with her heavy bag.  As luxury travel experts, we tell her to reduce the load next time she is on a family travel adventure. Doing that has always made us feel lighter and enjoy our single parent travel in some of the places we have visited before.

We struggle down the steep driveway and catch a taxi for $2 to the bus in Chilbre.

Chilibre to Panama City

Local buses are old decorated school buses in Panama. We stand in the dust and wait as the ‘toots and leers’ of the drivers going by. A bus comes at great speed and we put our luggage in the back door but as we do, I burn my arm on the exhaust pipe by the door.

We are packed in like standing sardines and about 30 minutes of torture wearing the backpacks takes us into the huge bus terminal.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – speeding by bus into the bus terminal

I am thankful for Anna, a German girl from the mission as she helps us buy our tickets but she has to leave from here and go her own way now.

Exit Card

It costs ten cents each (which is added to an exit card that is ‘topped up’) to walk out of the terminal to where the buses are parked – which I don’t quite understand.

But to buy the card to you need a passport – and Spanish. Our other friend already did this for us last time we visited Panama City thank goodness or we could not get out. I add the credit to the exit card.

Luggage Fee

It costs me another ‘dime’ ten cents to put the luggage on the bus, and then go back to the waiting room. I pop books on the seats so we can sit together. Most seats are already reserved. There is no toilet on the bus – so we quickly pay a ‘quarter’ and go inside.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – Our bus to Sona is modern but has no toilet

Panama City to Santiago

The bus finally takes off and 2 or 3 hours later we stop. The music is really loud on the bus and I find it a continual thump – thump. The oldies just seem to put up with it as it is something they have grown used to, but it is new to us and is obviously Spanish music too.

Toilets And Break Time

We have to choose between going to the toilet and buying food since time is limited and I am a single Mum so I can’t leave my child. I choose the toilet!

Be aware buses/coaches actually do have a toilet facility on them. But as the bus driver has to clean the toilet, he will lock it and tell you it is out of order.  Most buses in Central America we found did not allow us to use the toilet on board.

I go to buy food and the bus assistant beckons us back – darn no lunch. At least we have snacks.  There is no English speaking person on the bus so I have no one to assist me either. These are the trials of single parent travel.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – trying to buy snacks

Stopping at Santiago

We have to stop in Santiago before heading onto Sona by bus. Fortunately we have a direct bus – apparently, this is not always the case.

Santiago to Sona

Santiago to Sona by bus is the worst part of the trip. The driver has an assistant and puts on a DVD and it is some DJ who repeats this line in Spanish. For over 1 hour. Yipes – it is so irritating and it gives me a headache.  Plus because there is no toilet I can’t drink water.

Arriving at Sona

We get to Sona by bus at around 6:00 pm – and the bus literally drops us in the main street of the town. We are so pleased our German friend, Anna has organized for us to go stay at Cabanas Shelley where she previously stayed.
Shelley collects us with a hug and kisses like we are old friends. She drives us to a local cafe for dinner. She is Panamanian, but lived in the USA for 30 years, and is married to an American.  It is traditional food and a bit of a surprise for us, and we feel like we have stepped into local life here in Sona.
Chilibre to Panama City to Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – playing with the dogs at Shelley’s house in the center courtyard

Staying with Shelley

Shelley is so kind and even lets us stay at her home. She and her husband are still building the massive home and hopes to turn it into a hotel or hostel later on. It is huge and located in a square open center. Her husband is interesting as he refuses to speak Spanish so he tells us. His wife does all the business transactions and he speaks only English to her.

One of the staff feeds the chickens as Explorason looks on pensively.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – feeding the chickens at Shelley’s house

Mystery Breakfast

Shelley takes us back to the cafe for breakfast where we had dinner last night. I have no idea what Panamanian food to order. Tortillas here are small round corn cakes the size of a biscuit. They are bland and they come with friend plantain – a banana-like food.

Explorason is NOT impressed – oh well – ‘he will adapt if when he gets hungry’, I tell myself as he picks at the unusual tasting breakfast. Right now he is a fussy eater, but later on, I realize travel actually cures him of this.

chicken seat

©Exploramum and Explorason – The house is still being built but the chicken has his own seat

Messy Roads

The President is spending a LOT of money doing up the roads in Panama.  Apparently, this Sona road has been a dust pit for over a year so Sona by bus is not so popular with tourists. The sewers were laid and then they had to wait to see if they worked. There are trucks and a mess everywhere and for now – it is not a pretty town.

But if you visit – head back a couple of streets.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – Sona’s roads

Stocking Up On Supplies

There are quaint market stalls in Sona in the back streets – away from the dust. We only buy fruit there, I can’t carry any more stuff!

Shelley takes us to the supermarket where we stock up on food. We have a kitchenette where we are going and it is a tourist resort area so we are told, so not many cafe-style places to eat out.

Exploring Sona

Our hostess then takes us around town to see Sona. I love this little square with the church. She tells us how when she was still young, they all used to go to the church on Sundays, then come and play in the square.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – The square where Shelley used to play after church

Opposite the square is his birth family home of H.E. Ricardo Martinelli – the  President of Panama from 2009 through 2014.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – One of the president’s houses

Traditional Homes in Sona

This area of Sona has a number of lovely old homes. I get the real feel of Panama now and feel excited as I feel their Central American charm.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – traditional Spanish homes

Sona to Santa Catalina

We let out a big hooray! It is 12 noon… then the next day and we finally drive off to Santa Catalina. I felt for a while like we were not going to get there, and we have appreciated our host’s hospitality in showing us around but we just want to get on with our vacation.


©Exploramum and Explorason – Shelley has color coordinated each cabana

Arriving at Santa Catalina

The car is filled with thrilled people.  I’m looking forward to exploring and I want to see the ocean.  Explorason is excited because we get our own hammock. And, Shelley is as thrilled as we are when we arrive at Cabanas Shelley.

You will have to read our next article to find about this hidden area of Panama which is amazing.

Sona By Bus

©Exploramum and Explorason – Our host is happy to arrive at her cabanas.


  • Have you ever traveled by bus overseas?
  • Where did you go and how was the experience?
  • Do you have any stories to share about it?
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Questions and Comments

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