Border Crossing: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro, Panama
From Puerto Viejo on the Southern Carribean coast of Costa Rica, it is a relatively easy trip on public transportation to the islands of Bocas del Toro in Panama. Of course, you can always book a much faster shuttle service, but below we’ll explain how to do the crossing for under $12 per person with public transportation (plus $10 in border crossing fees).
- Bus Puerto Viejo to Sixaola (1.5 hour; ~$3) – Buses leave every hour on the half hour starting at 6:30am. We left at 9:30am and recommend leaving at this time or earlier to make the last boat to Bocas at 6pm.
- Pass through Costa Rican immigration (20 min; $7-$8) – The exit tax is $7 and you have two options for paying: 1) Pay in cash at a small store across the street from immigration. They will charge you a $1 commission fee for a total of $8. 2) Pay with a debit/credit card inside the immigration office at the machine. Beware: my bank (Bank of America) charged me a $10 fee for this transaction as they considered it an international bank transfer, so check with your bank or be safe and pay the $8 in cash outside.
- Walk over the bridge to Panama and pass through Panama immigration (30 min; $3) – After walking over the bridge, the office where you’ll pay your $3 entry fee is on your left-hand side. After getting your receipt, walk down the stairs and to the left to the immigration office to get your entry stamp. You will need proof of onward travel (plane, bus, or boat ticket) to enter the country. The official sent us to the internet café to print out our ticket confirmations before letting us in.
- Take a taxi ($1.45pp) or bus ($0.95pp) to Changuinola (30 minutes) – From the time you exit immigration on the Costa Rican side, shuttle drivers will be waiting for you wanting to charge you $10pp to take you all the way to Almirante and will invent all kinds of stories (road closures, etc) to convince you not to take the buses. Don’t listen to them. Buses for $0.95 leave every half an hour for Changuinola, or you can take a taxi for only $1.45 per person.
- Bus Changuinola to Almirante (50 minutes; $1.45) – At the same terminal where the taxi or bus from the border leaves you, wait for another bus to Almirante. You shouldn’t have to wait more than 20 minutes.
- Boat to Colon, Bocas del Toro (30 minutes; $6) – Tell the bus driver you are going to Bocas and they’ll leave you within 2 minutes walking from the boats to Bocas. Don’t worry, even if you miss the stop and go all the way to the terminal, it’s only a 10 minute walk to the boats. Boats charge $6 and leave every 30 minutes. Last boat is at 6pm!! So make sure you leave early enough in the day!
Total time = 5 to 7 hours, depending on waiting time to change buses and at immigration
Total cost transport = $11.40-$11.90
Total cost immigration fees = $10-$11
Total transport changes = 3 buses + 1 boat