Traveling by bus from Santa Catalina, it is always necessary to travel first to Soná. From there, most travelers take a second bus into Santiago, a farm industry town that is at the highway crossroads. (A rest stop on the Pan American Highway acts as the mid-way stopping point for busses between Panamá City and David.) This is what I did. As Santiago is a bus hub and cross road, here is info about it.
I started my day at 6am, walking about 1 mile from my hostel to the intersection in town for the Santa Catalina to Soná bus. After a 1.5 hour bus ride, I arrived in Soná and after fast restroom visit, I was walked around the corner to another bus, an old schoolbus, that carried me (and a full load of others) to Santiago, an 1 hour ride. In Santiago I took a planning break, had a piece of chicken for lunch, bought cookies at Super Carnes – the supermarket across from the bus terminal, then walked over to the Panamá City bus slot. There were no advance tickets sold, at least on this busy post-Carnival travel day. I simply stepped up to the awaiting bus, asked, got on, found a seat, and paid my $9 fare when the bus man came around.
This is where I was on my final bus of the day — the one from Santiago to Panamá City — at 12:19. (I bought cookies at 11:55 then walked across the street and boarded the bus but it waited for others before departing. So we may have left the terminal at 12:10.)
Don’t use my Santiago departing time as yours unless you also give yourself a self-imposed stop to sit down in a restaurant to a piece of chicken, then pop into Super Carnes (the supermarket) for snacks. However, these maps can show you the bus progress and travel time.
There may have been a bus that went to Panamá city directly from Soná, but I didn’t look closely..