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  • Writer's pictureBrett Ragghianti

How to Get to Santa Catalina? Coiba? FLY!!! - Charter Flight MPLY:

The best option to get to Santa Catalina? = Fly to Lago Bay!

If you've been perusing the Lago Bay website, you can already guess that this blog is going to be primarily about logistics via the Lago Bay Airstrip.  That is correct.  The information presented here is going to go more in depth, however.  I'll describe the process of booking a charter flight, the day of connecting with your charter company, the flight;  then the ground logistics after landing. 

We will also go through what to expect logistically if you are staying here at Lago Bay or a different location in the surrounding area. Our Lago Bay Shuttle bus will get you there.  Finally we will do a quick comparison with other modes of transportation: car and public bus.

Difference between a commercial flight and a charter flight.

How to Get to Lago Bay

First you may be wondering how charter flights are different than commercial flights?  A commercial flight is usually based on buying a ticket as a part of a previously scheduled flight.  If you bought the ticket... or not, that flight would leave according to its schedule.  

A charter flight is based on an agreement with you and a charter company that involves renting their entire plane... luckily complete with fuel and pilot.  You would want to choose a plane that most closely represents the number of people in your group and an adequate combined weight allowance for both the passengers and their luggage.  What most people don't realize is that the charter flight includes all of the time that the plane is away FROM it's point of origin UNTIL the plane arrives at the same point of origin. 

That is to say, if you chartered a plane from Albrook to Lago Bay, you are actually paying for the time it takes for the plane to drop you off and then return to home base.   That is what is called an 'empty leg'.  The plane is paid for the entire flight pattern whether or not it returns full or empty. The reason for this is that it costs the charter company the price of fuel, pilot and plane about equally.  So... if you have chartered a flight from Albrook to Lago Bay and it takes 45 minutes of flight time, you are paying 1.5 hours of charter time.   See below for empty leg tips.

How to Book a Charter Flight

Charter Flight Panama

So, if you look on the Lago Bay website ( and go to the airstrip page ( you'll notice that all of the approved charter companies are listed with their weight and number of passenger capacities.  Tips and FAQs are also there to help you figure out which charter company plane is right for your group.

After contacting Lago Bay for availability, the contact numbers for the charter company is there in order to make a direct reservation for your charter flight. Landing fees are also there along with ground transportation and information regarding how to complete payment. There are four easy steps in all.

Can I use my Empty Leg?

One great way to cut down on costs is to find others that may want to use your 'empty leg'.  If you arrive at Lago Bay for example, ideally you would have a group of similar size waiting for the same plane.  If that were the case the cost could be dramatically reduced.  Blue Skies, for example has a three passenger Cessna that costs $840 to charter the plane for the trip.

If you had six passengers that decided to equally share the costs...everyone could pitch in $140 to pay the charter company for the entire flight.  Unfortunately having the stars align exactly is currently the exception, not the rule. 

Still, take a look at the Discount Calendar on the Lago Bay website (  and decide if you'd like to offer your emtpy leg for cash back.  If you are ultra flexible and traveling solo or with a small group, you may want to take a look at the discount calendar to hop on an empty leg or shared charter 

Albrook or Tocumen?

Most flights to Lago Bay (MPLY) currently originate from Albrook (MPMG).  The codes behind both names are the codes used by the aviation community.  The individual pilots, the aviation authority, the dispatchers etc all use these formal codes to avoid airstrip and airport confusion.  Albrook is centrally loacted in Panama City, close to most of the hotels and some of the city's attractions like the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo.

Albrook is the domestic airport for Panama in which most private charter companies have their hangers and offices.  Air Panama, the largest, has a small airport facility that is set up similar to the style of an international airport.

Tocumen is also an option if you'd like to skip the city and come directly from your international flight to Lago Bay.  Or, when you're leaving, connect directly with your international flight to quickly get back home from your vacation.  There are extra costs that would have to be discussed directly with the charter company but the time-saving advantages could prove well worth it.  

Which Charter Company?

Charter Company Santa Catalina

Currently Lago Bay is associated with three different charter companies. 

Blue Skies for the smallest aircraft in the fleet, the Cessna 3 passenger airplane.  Also an Aztec twin engine five passenger is available from Blue Skies.  The Cessna takes a little longer but both aircraft are very stable and all pilots are excellent. 

SkyMaxx has their very comfortable and fast twin-engine Seneca which is a five-passenger aircraft. 

FlyTrip has the largest in our fleet, the Kodiak, which is also very fast and comfortable.  The size of your group will be the most important variable for your choice of charter company.  

Charter Company Location

The charter companies have a pick up service for your group for a fee.  If you prefer taxi or Uber, you'll need to let them know that you would like to go the the hangar entrance of the Marcos Gelabert Airport for the Blue Skies option.  I recommend that you use the Blue Skies pick up option in order to make this step seamless.  Once in, they have a VIP room...but they are usually ready to go upon your arrival. 

For SkyMaxx they have their own entrance next to the Air Panama Airport.  SkyMaxx is about 100 meters/yards before the Air Panama Terminal.  This option is an easy drop off with an excellent VIP room to catch a breath and a cup of coffee before your flight.   

FlyTrip has their VIP room in the Air Panama Terminal.  This is convenient for the larger groups.

All three charter companies have excellent pilots, well-maintained aircraft and professional services.

The Flight - Lago Bay (MPLY)

So your charter company has stowed your luggage and your all set to fly.  If you have a member in the group that wants to sit in the co-pilot seat, that is usually an option.  Makes for a decent IG pic for the folks back home.  When you do take off, you'll notice that you get a great aerial view of the entire journey. 

You'll quickly fly over the Panama Canal.  It's a good time for a quick picture.  The mountains around Chame come into the horizon soon afterwards.  You'll know when you are flying over Penonome with all of the windmills dotting the countryside.  You're even closer when you spot the huge shrimp farms of Agua Dulce.

Then you'll begin your decent when you reach the Gulf of Montijo.  You will usually fly directly over Isla Leones before you can see the Lago Bay Airstrip straight ahead.

Upon landing, the Lago Bay Shuttle will be waiting to help transfer the luggage and get you to your final destination.  If that destination is Lago Bay, we will get you to your fully equipped Vacation Home and help get you set up. If your final destination is at one of our associate hotels, we will continue the journey.  Hotels in Lagartero are just a minute or so away.  Santa Catalina is a 15 minute shuttle.

Stay at Lago Bay

If you plan to stay at a Lago Bay Vacation Home, you'll probably want to pre order snacks, drinks and meals.  Lago Bay will provide those options.  Upon arrival to the home, the items will be all set up in your fully equipped kitchen.  Each home rental has well-thought-out space for groups of all sizes (from 1-9 guests).

The Lago Bay Shuttle will act as your way to get to the Coiba Tour (highly recommended).  There are also dining options next door at the Catalina's Hideaway Hotel or in Santa Catalina. A beach day at Playa Estero is also a good option with the Oasis Beach Bar and Mama Ines.  Both operations rent surf boards, have outdoor showers and have full bars and restaurants.  Oasis is best if you want to be right on the beach.  Mama Ines is great for a panoramic view of Playa Estero. 

Departing Lago Bay

On your day of departure, you'll need to again plan with the Lago Bay Shuttle to get you to your charter plane.  If you stay at an associate hotel, they will assist with communication.  If you are at a Lago Bay Vacation home, we'll come get you as your flight is arriving with any updates on slight changes.  You can basically forget about waiting lines or hassle.  Your charter flight is...for you.  

And Beyond

Once back at Albrook or Tocumen the charter company will assist with any information regarding connections or logistics.  Pilots and dispatchers are professional and friendly.  It makes for actually enjoying the whole flying process.  In this regard a charter flight is much better than a commercial flight.  A nice experience to begin and end your Panama journey.  


P.S.... other options 'How to get to Santa Catalina' 

I almost forgot to mention the other two options on how to get to Santa Catalina.  


A private car is usually a minimum of 6 hours People always say that 'it depends on traffic' but... there is always traffic!!  From Tocumen, you can count on 7 hours.  If traffic is especially bad between Panama City and its nearby town of Chorrera, you can add another hour or two.

With a public bus option you'll have the trip from Tocument to Albrook Bus Terminal (1 hour)  From there you'll bus until Santiago with a change to Sona (4.5 hours).  From Santiago you'll get to Sona (1.5 hours) and change once again for a bus that goes until Santa Catalina (2.5 hours).  Add that all up and you get 9.5 hours.

That's if the connections go reasonably smooth.  If you have any sort of  time constraint during your may want to cross this option off and start again at the top of the blog.

Whatever your choice for logistics, I sincerely wish you a wonderful time while here in Panama.  For Coiba, the most important point is that have this incredible destination on your itinerary... no matter how you get there!  

Safe travels and Saludos from Lago Bay.


Fly from Albrook to Lago Bay?  Continue on to Bocas?  Find out which Charter option is best for your group.

The best Diving and Surfing in Central America. Unique recreation for family and friends along their Panama journey.

The drive from Panama City to Lago Bay is approximately 6 hours.  A chartered plane takes about 45 minutes. 

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