How to get to Santa Catalina? / Transport to Santa Catalina.
Santa Catalina still lacks a nearby airport. The only way to get there is by road, either by rental car or bus.
Santa Catalina is about an hour and 10 minutes south of Soná, a small district capital with about 30,000 inhabitants and your last chance to find gasoline stations, reasonable sorted super markets, pharmacies, banks / ATM´s, a post office, hospital etc. for the next 61 kms. No matter from where you are coming, from David (Boquete, Bocas del Toro) or Panama City, you are passing Soná on your way to Santa Catalina. The road to Santa Catalina turns off a little bit out of Soná on the road to Santiago at a Delta gasoline station. You should try to reach Santa Catalina at daylight, as roads off the highway are not or sparely illuminated and frequented by people, cattle and horses. As there is not much of a night life in Santa Catalina, you should have a hotel reservation and have informed your hotel in case of late night arrivals.
Coming from Panama City:
Exiting Panama City via the Bridge of the Americas, or the new Centenario Bridge, follow the Interamerican Highway west to Santiago de Veraguas for around 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Panama City.
Upon entering Santiago make a left turn at the Delta gas station (across the street from the El Piramidal Hotel and bus station) turning onto Avenida Central, driving towards a white cathedral. As you approach the cathedral, stay to its left then immediately turn right after you pass it. Turn left after two blocks at a Chinese Mini Super, following the signs to Soná, located another 47 kilometers (29 miles) away.
If you do not need to stop in Santiago downtown for some reasons, it is easier to find your way to continue about 6 kms on the highway after passing Hotel La Hacienda on your left site and then turn off to the left at the small town of La Peña (turn off is marked while writing this page). After La Peña you turn right and you are about 35 kms from Soná.
You will cover about 360 kms (225 miles), what will take about 5 1/2 hours driving time.
From David (Costa Rica, Boquete, Bocas del Toro):
Coming from the west (David) you do not have to go through Santiago anymore, you can drive a short cut, turning off the highway at Guabala (it is right at a checkpoint 90 kms / 55 miles, 1:10 hours east of David) and passing through Puerto Vidal – Soná to Sta. Catalina. The road from Guabala thtough Pto. Vidal and Soná is completely new and in excellent condition. Plan on at least a 3 1/2 to 4 hours drive from David to Santa Catalina.
There are direct buses leaving Panama City to Soná (bus company San Isidro). The most convenients for connecting to Santa Catalina leave the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama at 8:20 and 10:20 every morning. Others leave 12:45, 2:20, 4:20 and 5:45 pm. It takes about 4 ½ hours to reach Soná. From here you can catch a bus at 1:30, 2:40 (not on Sundays and holidays) and 4:40 pm down to Santa Catalina (1:30 – 1:45 hours). If you miss the public bus, take a taxi, what will charge you USD 42.00 for the hour trip. Please recheck bus itineraries and prices, as they might change (based on information October 2015).
From David you have to take any of the buses going to Panama City, getting off the bus in Santiago (3 ½ hrs). They arrive at another bus terminal on the highway and you will need to take a taxi to the main terminal. From there take a bus to Soná (1 hour) and from there a bus to Santa Catalina.
Coming from Bocas del Toro you can try to get a place on a direct bus to Panama City. This bus stops at 7:45 am in Almirante (so you have to take a water taxi at 6:30 from Bocas to be sure), does not enter David, which saves you at least an hour and changing buses. Get off in Santiago and continue from there via Soná to Santa Catalina. If you don´t get on this bus you catch a regular bus in Almirante to David. Coming from Bocas del Toro by bus is a whole day of travelling, but the trip can be done in one day. Ask at your otel or the water taxi station on Bocas Islands, schedules change!
By private car with driver / taxi
Private transportation can be arranged either by your hotel / hostel from where you are coming from or by your hotel / hostel in Santa Catalina.
Typically the cost is nearly $350 U.S. dollars one way to/from Panama City, $ 250 – $ 300 to/from David, $ 400 from Bocas del Toro