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 City (Boquete, Bocas del Toro) or Panama City, you will pass through Soná on your way to Santa Catalina. Coming from Santiago, when you get to Soná you must take a left turn at a Delta gasoline station and that puts you on the road to Santa Catalina. When you reach the new hospital at Tigre de los Amarillos, take a left turn at the top of the hill, that will put you on the road to Farfan, then Lagartero, then Hicaco, and finally Santa Catalina. You should try to reach Santa Catalina at daylight, as roads off the highway are not well illuminated and frequented by pedestrians, cattle, horses and chickens. Hotels in Santa Catalina are small and fill up quickly, so don’t expect to easily find a room late at night, you should have a hotel reservation in advance, and have informed your hotel in case of late night arrivals.
Exiting Panama City via the Bridge of the Americas, or the new Centenario (Centennial) Bridge, follow the Inter-American Highway west to Santiago, the capital of the Province of 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 Central Avenue), driving towards the large white Catholic Church Cathedral in the heart of Santiago City next to the city square park. 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 Supermarket, following the signs to Soná, located another 47 kilometers (29 miles) away.
Alternatively, instead of going through the center of downtown Santiago, which often has traffic during peak hours, it is easier to find your way to Santa Catalina by continuing about 6 kms on the Inter-American 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 with a sign). After you pass through the small town of La Peña you will reach the road to Sona, turn right and you are about 35 kms from Soná.You will cover about 360 kms (225 miles), which will take about 5 hours driving time, not including breaks.
Coming from the west (David) you do not have to go through Santiago anymore, you can drive through 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 to Soná, then take a right to Santa Catalina. The road from Guabala through Puerto 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 (Albrook Mall Terminal) to Soná through the bus company operator called “San Isidro”. The bus to Santa Catalina leaves the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City at 8:20 am and 10:20 am every day. Other buses leave Albrook Terminal at 12:45 noon, 2:20 pm, 4:20 pm and 5:45 pm. It takes about 4 ½ hours to reach Soná. From here you can catch a bus at 1:30 pm, 2:40 pm (not on Sundays and holidays) and 4:40 pm to Santa Catalina (1:30 – 1:45 hours ride). If you miss the public bus, take a taxi, they charge US$42.00 for the hour trip from Sona to Santa Catalina. Please recheck bus itineraries and prices, as they might change (this is based on information from October 2015).
From David you need to take any of the buses going to Panama City, getting off the bus in Santiago (3 ½ hrs). They drop off at another bus terminal on the highway and you will need to take a taxi to the main Santiago bus terminal, just a short distance away. From the main Santiago bus terminal, take a bus to Soná (1 hour) and from Sona take 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 leaves at 7:45 am from the port town of Almirante on the mainland of Bocas del Toro (so you have to take a water taxi at 6:30 am from Bocas Island / Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro), the bus does not enter David, which saves you at least an hour to avoid changing buses. Get off the bus in Santiago City 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 City, and from there get the bus to Santiago, then to Sona and then to Santa Catalina. Coming from Bocas del Toro to Santa Catalina 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!
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.