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FROM COSTA RICA TO BOCAS DEL TORO IN PANAMA AND TOP ATTRACTIONS

Bocas del Toro in Panama is a small paradise on earth , that is worth a trip from Costa Rica with its excellent top attractions that will amaze you

Usually a 10-hour drive from Panama City , Bocas del Toro are as remote as it can get in terms of getting there from any point in Panama. But with Costa Rica Caribbean coast just next door, its a great option to just hop on your car or shuttle and pass the border to visit the magnificent archipelago of Bocas del Toro in Panama. Of course you can also do it the other way around and plan a visit to the wonderful South Caribbean coast in Costa Rica from Panama.

In this post I will explain you all the different stages to go from Costa Rica to Panamá or vice versa, its quite easy! But of course you need to follow a certain bureaucracy but with this post you will be more than ready to go and explore the other side of the border.

Here below is a map of where you can cross from Costa Rica to Panama – Sixaola on the Costa Rica side and Guabito on the Panama side. Its a mere walk across the river Sixaola bridge (5 minutes).

WHEN TO GO TO PANAMA BOCAS DEL TORO

The best time to go from Costa Rica to Panama Bocas del Toro ius is usually during the dry season from November to April. Despite the name dry season, it will most likely rain but not as heavily as during the wet season. The roads are mostly good on the Costa Rica side when departing from Puerto Viejo, the Panama side is a little rough until you get to Changuinola , the biggest town after Guabito’s border post.

Weather will always be warm throughout the year with high 20’s , low 30’s degrees celsius , humidity being obviously higher during the wet season.

The floating bars and restaurants as well as some hotels are a top experience in Bocas del Toro

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GOING FROM COSTA RICA TO PANAMA

There are a few informations you should know before starting your trip to ensure it will be as smooth as possible.

First of all, the border crossing is only allowed from 8am to 6pm Panama time, 7am to 5pm Costa Rica side (there is indeed one hour difference between both countries). This is because the migration offices have only those opening hours. If you arrive earlier or later, you cant’t cross the border.

Secondly, you can’t drive from Costa Rica to Panama or vice-versa on your rental car. The reason is that no insurance company is recognized on the other side, so your car won’t be allowed to pass. Even the shuttle companies need to switch vehicles at the border.

Thirdly, you can only enter Panama if you have a proof of departure from the country (flight, bus ticket, boat ticket) or you won’t be allowed to enter the country. I used my flight ticket showing the departure from Costa Rica back to Europe. The other way around isn’t an issue. In case you really don’t know yet when will you leave then you can always buy a flexible ticket that you can cancel and get a refund afterwards.

Lastly, you need to fill in the Pase de Salud online and present the QR Code plus the proof of vaccination against Covid-19. These were the rules in place in March 2022. In case the situation changes, you won’t be needing this anymore. So check the latest status on the Panama government website or at the Costa Rica governmental website

And of course you should also see beforehand if you need a visa for visiting Panama. This website with the visa requirements per country provides you a good overview

Note also that the US dollar is A currency widely accepted in Costa Rica as its paired 1:1 with the local Panamian currency – the balboa. So in most ATM’s you will have usually both currencies available.

HOW TO GO FROM COSTA RICA TO PANAMA

As referred above, you can’t drive your rental car across the border between Costa Rica and Panama. But you can park it in Sixaola only a few meters away from the bridge on a surveilled parking lot for 3,000 colones or 5 US$. The same applies in Guabito.

From Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, it’s a fairly quick 30-35 minutes drive until the border with Panama at Sixaola

If you come with a private shuttle company then they will drop you at the border and will wait for you on the other side with a new van. There are several companies running shuttles from Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro in Panama. Caribe Shuttle is one of those companies, operating a bus from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to Bocas del Toro one time per day, leaving in the early morning. Tickets costs $34 and the journey takes 4 to 5 hours.

Alternatively, Air Panama does fly from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to Bocas del Toro airport in small planes 6 times a week. Tickets will be higher cost above 100 US$ but will just take 30 minutes.

After you leave the car (or the bus), you must buy the exit visa at the small office near the pharmacy, not at the migration/ customs. It costs 8 US$ per person and you should present your passport, the health pass for Panama and your vaccination proof. After that, you need to walk up to the migration office from Costa Rica and present the visa receipt, so that you can get your passport stamped. Only after that you can cross the bridge over the Sixaola river, passing the border guards from Costa Rica and then the Panama border guards.

The modern bridge over the Sixaola river that interconnects Costa Rica and Panama and you will need go cross on foot

This should be fairly quick as you just need to present your passport with the exit visa stamped and then you will be allowed access to the migration office of Panama in Guabito. Its immediately to your left , once you leave the bridge. At the migration office you need to present the following:

  • Passport with the exit stamp from Costa Rica and pre-arranged Visa if you need one
  • Pase de Salud/ Health Pass from Panama QR Code (valid during Covid period, it might change over time)
  • Proof of vaccination against Covid-19 , digital or printed
  • Proof of departure from Panama (or other nearby country) digital or printed
  • State the purpose of your trip and its duration and also where you will stay
  • Declare if you have over 10,000 US$ in cash or any other goods

After this process that should take 5 -10 minutes you will get an entry visa stamp on your passport and you can then start the next leg of your journey from Guabito to Bocas del Toro.

The migration office on the Panama border side in Guabito

From Guabito, if you are not having an organized shuttle, its actually fairly easy to get a private shuttle to Almirante ferry. They will be right near the bridge and usually leave when at least 2 persons arrive. The cost per person is 10 US$ one way and they are there around the clock. The drive to the Almirante docks takes 50 minutes as the road has some large potholes. The other option is to take the bus for 1/2 the price but you need to change the bus in Changuinola.

Once you arrive to the Almirante boats area, there are a few operators taking you to Bocas Town in the main island from Colón in Bocas but they all depart each 30 minutes, starting as early as 6am and until sunset. Do not forget that Panama has one hour more than Costa Rica. The boat ride takes around 40 minutes and costs 10 US$ return trip.

Then after you get to Bocas Town, you would either get to your hotel there on foot (Bocas Town is quite compact) or then take a taxi boat if you are spending the night in another island or a remote part of the island or even a hotel only accessible by boat like Punta Caracol. There are several taxi boats in the area, in case you didn’t organize the transfer with your hoteI. You would then need to bargain with the taxi captain, but usually don’t pay more than 10 US$ for nearby islands.

Bocas Town Main Street

As almost anywhere accommodation is a very personal choice depending on your budget, desired options and areas that you will stay. As referred above there are good hotels in Bocas del Toro but if you prefer a location by the water or more remote than you should consider it beforehand as availability might be limited

TOP THINGS TO DO IN BOCAS DEL TORO

Being a touristic destination, Bocas del Toro offers plenty of great activities for all budgets and tastes, but there are top 3 attractions in Bocas del Toro that you can’t miss:

  1. Starfish Beach – it’s probably one of the most lovely places you will see anywhere in the World as it combines a paradise beach, starfishes within reach and great beach restaurants . The best way to get there is taking a water taxi from Bocas Town for 40$ return trip (all persons) or go on a tour that will stop there for prices starting from 50$ per person . The trip will take around 30 minutes . Once you get there, you can spot the starfishes on the beach floor and even hold them but very importantly keep them always on the water ! No selfies or any activities that might endanger them outside the water. Its also a great spot to have lunch, so I really liked Playa Estrella restaurant, with great food quality for reasonable prices. They even have fresh lobsters right there. There are also several water sports activities here like banana boats or you can just enjoy the beach .

2. Cayo Zapatilla – if paradise had a name in Bocas del Toro, it would be called Cayo Zapatilla. There are actually 2 islands but most boats stop at the second one where the ranger station is as it’s a national park and protected reef. The best way to to go to Zapatilla is from Bocas Town by boat, either on a tour or on a private water taxi. The trip will take about 50 minutes as it’s a long one past mangroves, open sea and of course the reefs. The islands are both deserted , no facilities other than the ranger station with some visitor toilets, so it will be only you, nature and of course some other travellers. The island has a beach that is pure white sand. Also it’s worth doing the 1 hour hike around the island and have a swim at the south beach without any reefs nearby whilst snorkeling is more on the eastern side of the island where most boats anchor. I was lucky enough to have my drone and being able to take some nice shots from the island, that made this experience even more unforgettable. There is also no other place comparable to it in Costa Rica, so you will be really having a dream experience in Bocas del Toro.

3. Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos – Compared to Starfish beach and Cayo Zapatilla islands (that actually belongs to the same national park ), this stunning place almost gets overshadowed but it’s really a magnificent national park to visit when in Bocas del Toro. Just a 10 minutes water taxi ride from Isla Colon, Isla Bastimentos has some of the best beaches including the stunning Wizard Beach, reachable after a short hike, Polo Beach and the more popular Red Frog beach . To snorkel, Coral Cay would be your best choice on this island.

Hope this helps you plan a great trip to Bocas del Toro in Panama and enjoy a great time in this small paradise so near to Costa Rica but yet so unique and stunning

Do ask me for a personalized itinerary for a more tailored trip.

The stunning paradise island of Cayo Zapatilla in Bocas del Toro that I filmed with my drone

THE COSTA RICA FREE TRAVEL GUIDE TO HAVE A PERFECT TRIP

A free travel guide to Costa Rica showing the best time to go , what are the top things to do , how to get around and travel tips for preparing the best Costa Rica itinerary

theinsidetraveller View All

My name is Renato Azambujo. I live currently in Hamburg, but was born and raised in sunny capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I also lived in Switzerland for some years, before settling in Germany for the last years.

I am huge passionate about travel, photographer and a global explorer, always looking to the next destination.

I have so far visited over 70 countries across the 5 continents, because I really love knowing about new places, interact with different cultures and get to know myself better after each journey.

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