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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Expenses: Panama

Sep 14, 2017
by John

The 37 days we spent exploring Panama set us back $3,134.60 or $84.72 per day. We were hoping to keep our daily average closer to $75 but we had been wanting a little retreat complete with A/C and getting ready to ship around the Darien Gap had us moving out of the van sooner than we had originally planned. We probably could have stuck it out but the convergence of the two had us spending a total of 16 nights in westernized accommodations, 9 upon entering the country and 6 at the end with one sprinkled in between. Our comfy digs persuaded us to partake in the available culinary options, thus spending a considerable amount under dining out. Looking back, we're surprised our total expenditures weren't much higher.

Prices in Panama were on par with Costa Rica so a more disciplined approach could reduce the daily average considerably. The country currency is the US dollar so we didn't have to deal with fluctuating exchange rates.


Our border fees were a little lower than they should be, we think the municipal tax collector made a mathematical error and gave us too much change resulting in us only paying $10 instead of $18. It washed out in the end as the townspeople, meaning taxi drivers, stopped us in the road and made us turn around to drive the pot-holed highway just outside town. The normal fees should have been $3 for fumigation, $4 municipal tax per person, and $10 municipal tax per vehicle. Our total expenditures were $13, $0.35 per day, instead of the expected amount of $21.

We were able to continue using our Movistar service from Costa Rica, having recharged it shortly before crossing into Panama. We did end up using the Movistar iPhone app to buy some additional Colones to keep service long enough to load the van into a shipping container, one of the most stressful parts of the entire trip. WiFi was much better in Panama so we didn't need to rely on our phone as much. We also still have our DeLorme on the cheapest plan just in case we may need it. The $21.51 we spent under communication, $0.58 per day, is as low as we could ever expect it to be.

Under entertainment our expenditures totaled $120, $3.24 per day. Our entrance fees were for Butterfly Haven, Chorro El Macho, and the Miraflores Locks. The only excursion we took was to Cayos Zapatillas from Isla Colon, the $70 includes a $10 tip. We had waffled over visiting the San Blas Islands, ultimately deciding to skip them after reaching out to several friends, choosing to spend more time in Bocas del Toro instead.

Food is normally one of our highest expense categories, this time due to mostly eating out while on Isla Colon and frequenting hotel restaurants while ending our time in Panama. We are really surprised that it totals $1,220.33, $32.98 per day or 38.9% of all expenditures, we expected it to be much higher. We dined out 42 times, averaging $22.26 per meal. Most of our hotels included breakfast, excluding Surfari B&B in Bocas per our choice, which we happily capitalized on. We were able to fill up with potable water from most of the places we camped, again Bocas being the exception and the reason we have any water expenditures at all.

We obviously splurged on living accommodations, spending $948.14 on hotel rooms averaging $59.26 per night over 16 nights. Our fancy pants desires won out and it was a great break from van life. We had been looking for a decent place to rent with secure parking ever since we reached the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, obviously not finding anything suitable, and settled for reasonably nice hotels while in Panama. The 21 nights we spent in the van averages to $14.14 per night. Our last night spent in a hotel is recorded under Panama but it will also be reported on a separate blog post discussing our experience shipping the Darien Gap. All shipping expenses will be recorded under Colombia but we will pull our associated expenditures from both countries to help give others an idea of total costs.

Our only expense under miscellaneous was for a pair of butterfly wing earrings, they really bring out the color of my eyes.

Spending a total of $473.71, $12.80 per day, under transportation was a wonderful surprise considering we had to have repairs in the previous two countries. Our vehicle insurance is higher than most since we had to purchase an additional month but our second policy was cheaper at $15.16 as opposed to the $25 it cost at the border. During our exploits we drove 1,703 miles, consumed 116.69 gallons of diesel, and averaged 14.59 mpg. A big chunk of mass transportation, $70, was for our cab ride from Colon to Panama City. Everyone else used local transport but our namby pamby asses wanted the royal treatment and forget about us schlepping our shit around, seriously. Our extravagant taxi ride, complete with caviar and champagne (cashews and water), will also be reported on our shipping the gap post.


The pie chart and expenses table are programmatically added to this page. Meaning, if we update our expense information then those will automatically reflect the change possibly creating a disparity between the textual breakout and the actual expenditures. This information has been provided to assist others in planning a long-term trip so use accordingly, by all means contact us to ask any questions or to point out any errors so we can remediate them.

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