Onward travel to Bocas del Toro, Panama or getting here from Bocas

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Photo 1 of 3. Click to view slideshow.
The two bridges crossing the Sixaola river from Costa Rica to Panama. The old railway bridge was very scenic but a little rickety to cross and the crossing is now on the new bridge. Photo by Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes

Options for getting to Bocas

Bocas del Toro is a series of islands, reachable only by boat or plane. Generally most transport will get you to the main island Isla Colon or Bocas Town. There are a number of options for travel between Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro:

•  Shuttle trips by van and boat are the easiest way as you will be guided through the transfers and border formalities.

•  Booking a complete package with transport, hotel and tours is an excellent option, especially for a quick trip.

•  If you want to travel independently, there are detailed instructions below for going by bus shared taxi and boat.

•  If you have a car you could drive to the border or even possibly to Bocas on the car ferry.

•  There are flights from San Jose or from Panama City.

Please also make sure you review the information about crossing the border.

Heading to Bocas Town from Almirante on the water taxi.

Shuttles between Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro

There are now easy ways to get to Bocas without the hassles! Several companies offer shuttle service where they pick you up in your Puerto Viejo hotel and drive you to the border. There they'll assist you with luggage as needed and walk you across the Rio Sixaola bridge and help you deal with Costa Rica exit and Panamanian entry customs.

On the Panama side another van is waiting to take you to Almirante where you have a reserved seat on the boat to Isla Colon (aka Bocastown). Price is from $30 per person for all transport. You are responsible for any customs and immigration fees that are applicable for citizens of your country, see the border crossing section below for details.

Shuttle schedules are as follows:

Puerto Viejo
Cahuita
Bocas del Toro Price Provider  
6:00 11:00 $33 Caribe Shuttle Book
8:00 11:00 $33 Caribe Shuttle Book
8:00 11:00 $32 Pleasure Ride Book
12:00 15:00 $33 Caribe Shuttle Book
12:00 15:00 $32 Pleasure Ride Book
 
Bocas del Toro Puerto Viejo
Cahuita
Price Provider  
6:00 11:00 $33 Caribe Shuttle Book
8:00 13:00 $33 Caribe Shuttle Book
8:00 13:00 $32 Pleasure Ride Book
12:00 17:00 $33 Caribe Shuttle Book
12:00 17:00 $32 Pleasure Ride Book

¹ Prices slightly higher for pickups and dropoffs in Cahuita, Punta Uva or Manzanillo
² All times local time; Panama time is one hour later than Costa Rica time.
³ Round trip discount available which may reduce price further.

You can book these shuttles directly with either our travel agency partner Gecko Trail Costa Rica (either shuttle company) or directly with the shuttle company using the buttons below:

One of the shuttle vans operating between San José and Bocas del Toro

Transport between San José and Bocas del Toro

If you're going to Bocas directly from San Jose or returning directly to San Jose there are both shuttle and flight options. The shuttle option between Bocas and San Jose stops in Puerto Viejo and includes lunch. Shuttle schedules are as follows:

San José Bocas del Toro Price  
6:00 15:30 $76 Book
Bocas del Toro San José Price  
8:00 17:00 $76 Book

¹ All times local time; Panama time is one hour later than Costa Rica time.
³ Round trip discount available which may reduce price further.

Flight schedules change frequently so please check the airline websites for the current schedules or click the Gecko Trail button below to inquire with them regarding a flight booking.

Bocas del Toro is a series of islands. Many buildings are built on docks over the water.

Packages from Puerto Viejo to Bocas

Booking a one or two night package is the perfect way to get a taste of Bocas with all the details taken care of. The packages include round-trip transport, hotel, breakfasts and tours. Click for more info:

Bocas del Toro, Panama overnight packages

If you really want to experience Bocas but don't have time to add to your trip, you can also visit it as a day trip from Puerto Viejo. This includes transport, tours and lunch. Click for more info:

Bocas del Toro, Panama full day tour

Photo 1 of 7. Click to view slideshow.
Overview of the route to Bocas.

Bus, Shared Taxi and Boat

There are hourly buses (on the half hour) from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola, the town on the Costa Rica side of the border, and there are also hourly buses from Limon to Sixaola (stopping in Cahuita and Hone Creek). The schedule for the buses from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola is below. To see the schedule for the Limon - Sixaola route, see the complete schedule for local buses here.

Puerto ViejoHone CreekBribriSixaolaNotes
     
6:306:457:008:00 
7:307:458:009:001
8:308:459:0010:00 
9:309:4510:0011:001
10:3010:4511:0012:00 
11:3011:4512:0013:001
12:3012:4513:0014:00 
13:3013:4514:0015:001
14:3014:4515:0016:00 
15:3015:4516:0017:001
16:3016:4517:0018:00 
17:3017:4518:0019:001
18:3018:4519:0020:00 
19:3019:4520:0021:001
SixaolaBribriHone CreekPuerto ViejoNotes
5:306:306:457:00 
6:307:307:458:001
7:308:308:459:00 
8:309:309:4510:001
9:3010:3010:4511:00 
10:3011:3011:4512:001
11:3012:3012:4513:00 
12:3013:3013:4514:001
13:3014:3014:4515:00 
14:3015:3015:4516:001
15:3016:3016:4517:00 
16:3017:3017:4518:001
17:3018:3018:4519:00 
18:3019:30--1,2
19:3020:30--2

¹ Does not operate on Sundays or Holidays
² This bus terminates at Bribri, does not go to Puerto Viejo

From Puerto Viejo, the bus takes about 1 1/2 hours to Sixaola. Make sure you catch an earlier enough bus as the border is only open until 5pm daily and Sixaola is not someplace you would want to be stuck for the night. Note if you are staying South of Puerto Viejo you could possibly also get a taxi to take you directly over the mountain (a 4x4 taxi would be needed) to the highway then to Sixaola but expect to pay about $50 USD for this.

At Sixaola you will walk a few minutes towards the Sixaola River which is the border where you will find a Costa Rican customs station on the Costa Rica side of the bridge. Please read the crossing the border section below.

After crossing the river and clearing Costa Rican and Panamamian customs formalities you will be in the town of Guabito. Add 1 hour to your watch as you will now be in a new time zone. If you arrived here on the bus from Costa Rica there will almost certainly be shared van shuttles waiting right at the border to bring you to the boat dock in Almirante. This should cost about $10 per person (you may be able to negotiate a lower rate) and take about 1 hour.

Note that the van drivers can be a bit pushy and if you're thinking of taking the bus or getting there in some other way they are not above bullshitting you saying the road is closed or you'll miss the last boat if you don't go with them. To continue by bus you need to find the stop for the public bus to Changuinola (about 30 minutes) and then take a bus from there to Almirante (another 30 minutes).

tips and warningsIf you're looking at old info that talks about water taxi service from Finca 60 (near Changuinola) to Bocastown / Isla Colon, this service has been out of service since flooding in 2008. Unless the canals are dredged as some point in the future, this very scenic route is now permanently closed. So when traveling to Bocas it is necessary to travel to Almirante instead.

At Almirante there are frequent water taxi boats ("lanchas") run by Bocas Marine Tours or Taxi 25 which run every half hour and cost $6 per person. This will take you to Bocastown on the main island, Isla Colon. Most hotels are located here within walking distance of the dock or you can take a taxi to further hotels on Isla Colon or a water taxi if you're going to a resort of hotel on a smaller island.

tips and warningsThere is also a car ferry which leaves daily except Monday at 7:00 AM from Almirante and 3:00 PM from Isla Colon, this isn't possible to catch coming from Puerto Viejo as the border doesn't open until 8:00 AM Panama time.

tips and warningsNote you may see on some sources a bus operated by Transporte Bocatoreño which operates from San José to Changuinola with a stop enroute in Bribri. However at the time of writing this bus has been suspended although it is possible it will begin service again. You can try calling them at their San Jose office to confirm: 2227 9523.

Border formalities. You will have to complete paperwork at both Costa Rican and Panamanian offices no matter which direction you are traveling

The Border Crossing

Crossing the border from Sixaola in Costa Rica to Guabito in Panama is quite straightforward but there are a couple very important things to keep in mind. First you might be you are being offered assistance by some children offering to help guide you, especially if you're getting off the bus in Sixaola. There really isn't anyway to get lost, it's a small town and the border is the river. They're pretty harmless but obviously don't let them carry your stuff.

Make sure to stop at both the Costa Rican customs office for your exit stamp. As of 2014 you must also pay an exit tax of $7 per person. This is paid inside the immigration office. It is an ATM style machine that you swipe your credit card and it gives you a receipt to give to the immigration official with your passport. If the machine is broken (not an uncommon occurence) or you need to pay by cash you will be directed to a small tienda where a man will manually enter your passport info into a computer and give you the receipt. But he charges a $1 fee for this service so you will pay him a total of $8 for the exit tax.

Then you walk across the new bridge (the rickety old railway bridge parallel used to be a fun way to mark your crossing) which crosses the Rio Sixaola which marks the international border to the Panamanian town of Guabito. On the Panamanian side you will need to stop at the Panama customs office for your entry stamp to Panama. There is a $3 fee for the entry stamp / sticker in your passport. Panama DOES ask that you show proof of an onward ticket out of Panama or return ticket to your home from Panama so make sure you have documentation proving this available. Buying a round trip shuttle ticket is the easiest option.

tips and warningsCitizens of some countries may also be asked to pay a $5 US fee for a "tourist card" (which isn't actually a card, just a stamp in your passport). This requirement is still listed on official Panama websites however people crossing the border lately say this requirement is no longer being enforced in favor of the $3 fee which applies to everyone. However it does still appear to be the law of Panama so don't be surprised if this fee is also required. See the Panama visas page for details on who needs a tourist card, who needs a visa and who needs neither and other documentation required.

Note that there is nothing to impel you to enter these offices (no gates, etc) but you WILL have problems later if you do not have the right paperwork. There is a checkpoint about 8km after the border on the way to Changuinola where they will verify you have all the correct paperwork. In the other direction, you must also stop at both offices for exit and entry stamps. There is a $3 fee for your Panama exit stamp but no fee is payable to enter Costa Rica.

The border stations are only open as follows:

 Costa Rica border stationPanama border stationNote
Open hours7am to 5pm (Costa Rica time)8am to 6pm (Panama time)Because Panama time is one hour later these times are synchronized.
Lunch closure12pm to 1pm (Costa Rica time) Sat and Sun only.12 noon to 1pm (Panama time) dailyNote the lunch hours are not synchronized so on weekends you may find the border closed for 2 hours in the middle of the day.

So make sure you arrive at the border in time or you'll be spending the night in Sixaola or Changuinola (there is no place to stay in Guabito, some people have said there is one small hotel just outside Sixaola).

Secure parking is available in Sixaola and is open from 7 am to 6 pm daily.

Driving to Bocas del Toro

I don't know anyone who has driven all the way from Puerto Viejo to Bocastown / Isla Colon, but it is theoretically possible to do so. However if you are driving a rental car, your rental contract will almost certainly prohibit taking your car out of Costa Rica. For a private vehicle you would need a permit for your vehicle to temporarily enter Panama and this should be obtained in advance. The car ferry from Almirante to Bocas leaves daily except Monday at 7:00 AM from Almirante and 3:00 PM from Isla Colon, so it isn't possible to catch the same day coming from Puerto Viejo as the border doesn't open until 8:00 AM Panama time. However, the water taxi companies offer a service where they will transport you by water taxi and arrange for your car to be delivered the next day.

But an easier option which many people do is to drive to Sixaola and leave your car there while you are in Panama. There is a parking lot in Sixaola offering parking either for day trips or for several days. The local police have advised that the owners are serious and there have been no reported incidents of thefts. Rates reported by a traveler in March 2015 were 4,500 colones (about $8) per day. Their phone number is 2754 2106 (likely Spanish only) for more information.

Nature Air plane on the runway at Bocas del Toro airport. Photo by Caretaker

Flying to Bocas del Toro

Nature Air also flies from San Jose to Bocas Town. So if you're starting in San Jose and want to visit both Puerto Viejo and Bocas, a circle trip where you take a bus or shuttle to Puerto Viejo, spend some days in Puerto Viejo then go on to Bocas by land and sea. Then from Bocas town you can fly directly back to San Jose in just over an hour. More information on flight prices and availability is available on our Nature Air flights page or click below to check rates and flight schedules and book.

Click here to make a flight booking

If you're making the trip from Panama to Puerto Viejo, note that you can also fly from Panama City (Albrook airport not the International Airport) to Changuinola in Panama. From Changuinola it's a quick taxi or bus to the border and then onto Puerto Viejo. Or you can fly from Panama City (either airport) to Bocas del Toro and then take a shuttle onto Puerto Viejo.

Additional comments from our visitors about Transportation between Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro

Write a comment/review

What are people saying about us?

Ricardo Rojas

Buenas!!! Me gustaria saber como puedo hacer o buses agarrar para llegar desde san jose hasta bocas del toro, es decir desde donde salen las lanchas o taxis, y si se ocupa el pasaporte para realizar el viaje??

April 18, 2017

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Natalia Ibañez

Buenos días! Tenía una duda sobre los autobuses para llegar de Guabito a Almirante, porque al principio comenta que hay autobuses directos, con coste aproximado de 10 $ y que dejan en el mismo Almirante, y en el siguiente párrafo dice que "Para seguir el viaje en bus público, hay que encontrar la parada del bús hacía Changuinola (aprox. 30 minutos) y luego tomar un bus de ahí a Almirante (30 minutos más)". ¿Podría aclarar mi duda, por favor? Muchas gracias, estoy segura de que su información nos será de gran utilidad.

April 10, 2017

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

$10 es para un taxi compartido directo a Almirante. No recomiendo el bus público, es tan complicado para ir a Almirante con un cambio en Changuinola.

April 10, 2017

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Kender Salas

Buen Día! Algún hotel recomendado para pasar la noche, serca de la frontera.... y parqueo para dejar el carro al lado tico... el número que está en la info del parqueo, no contestan!!! Gracias!

March 29, 2017

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Cecilia

Hola

Pensamos ir en bus un domingo. Salir de San Jose 2pm y llegar a Sixaola 7:30 pm. Cruzar la frontera. Tomar el taxi a Almirante y luego un taxi aquático a esas horas para llegar a Bocas esa noche aunque sea tarde. Usted me puede dar horarios de la frontera y de los aqua taxis?

Gracias muchas y saludos!

March 21, 2017

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Toma en nota las horas de la frontera! Es cerrado a las 5 hora de Costa Rica. Mejor para pasar la noche en Puerto Viejo o San José y toma un shuttle o bus el día antes. O podría considerar un vuelo San José a Bocas.

Las taxis compartidos en Guabito esperan a la frontera y son aproximadamente $10 por persona.

March 22, 2017

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joep

we have to travel from Isla Bastimentos to Puerto Viejo. What is the best solution also seeing the trouble with the border?

February 01, 2017

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

All the information above applies; you just take a quick lancha (passenger boat) from Bastimentos to the main island where you then choose whatever method you like as described in detail above to get to Puerto Viejo. The shuttle tickets you can purchase here include transport from the main dock on Isla Colon to your hotel in Puerto Viejo. I'm not aware of any border problems at this time, not sure what you're referring to.

February 01, 2017

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April

Where do the water taxi's from Almirante to Isla Colon drop you off at? Would it be near the southern tip near the airport? I'm asking because when I arrive in Isla Colon, before moving on to Isla Solarte, I would like to purchase a local mobile SIM card. Someone mentioned I could do this at the Rosa Blanca pharmacy. I also see on the "Bocas Marine Tours" photos you have, the sign also says "Digicel" which is another mobile provider. Anyone have any experience with the mobile providers in BDT (more specificaly Isla Solarte if possible). Or would it be easier for me to purchase my SIM card when I arrive in Almirante?

November 22, 2016

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

I don't know anything about Panamanian SIM cards but the boat drops you off at the Bocas Marine Tours dock which is in the main Bocastown which is the main settlement on the islands. Easy walk to lots of places that will sell you a SIM card and any other supplies you need then you can go back to the dock for a transfer to Solarte.

November 22, 2016

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simone

Hi,

I'm looking to travel from Panama City to San Jose - wondering what would be best way,(not spending 16 hrs on a bus)? I am only coming to Panama for 2 weeks from, but i really don't want to leave without spending around a week in CR. I can't see anywhere that i can take a water taxi to

November 15, 2016

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Flying is not expensive. If you want to visit Bocas del Toro as well then I'd recommend you fly from Panama City to Bocas. There are several small Panamanian airlines (such as Air Panama) that do this route inexpensively. From Bocas grab one of the shuttles to Puerto Viejo and then on to San Jose. Alternatively you could fly to Changuinola, get a shared taxi to the border and then the bus to Puerto Viejo. Of course, you can fly directly from Panama City to San Jose too but that tends to be pricey and I'm assuming since you're on a Puerto Viejo site you are interested in visiting our Caribbean Coast!

November 15, 2016

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Steve and Donna

My wife and I will be traveling to Puerto Viejo in November. We are renting a car and I was wondering if it would be easier to drive to the Panamanian border and leave the car there, then catch the bus from there or would you recommend taking the shuttle the entire way? We are just going to go to Bocos Del Toro for an over night stay to look at some property and then back to Costa Rica.

October 09, 2016

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Kailene

Thank you for the helpful post!
Is it possible to travel from PV to Bocas in the morning and return from Bocas to PV in the same day (at night)?

July 10, 2016

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

It's possible but the border isn't open late so you'd have to get up very early. I'd definitely recommend the full day tour (see above under packages) if you wanted to do it as a day trip otherwise you'd be wrapped up in logistics all day.

July 10, 2016

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scot

Ok, please tell me if I am completely crazy. Daughter is volunteering in Panama in August, planning on taking the rest of the family (wife, son-college, son-5 year old) on a trip from San Jose to Panama City to pick her up over about 7-8 days. Was thinking of flying into San Jose, renting a car and driving to Puerto Viejo. Spend a couple of days there, then cross over (boat, taxi, bus???) to Boca del Toro and spend a coupe of days. Take a flight from Boca to Panama City (panama air or nature air?) to end the trip and pickup the kid. I am completely open to ideas and/or suggestions. My wife is open to adventure, but likes a good room to sleep in. We would love to try and do zip lines, see some water falls, beach, etc. Looking at AirBnB places also in the region, but wondering more about how tough that trip will be and what the best way to do it is.

Thanks,

Scot in TX

May 18, 2016

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Not crazy at all. That all sounds like a good plan. You've got the right idea to not try and take the car across the border, that's a big hassle and the car ferry to Bocas only runs a couple of times a week. To get from San Jose to Puerto Viejo you'll find info on shuttles, bus or driving directions here. From Puerto Viejo to Bocas, definitely take one of the shuttles shown above; it includes a minibus/van and boat transport. From Bocas airport you can take Air Panama to Panama City (note they don't fly to the main international airport but to Albrook airport). Nature Air only flies from Bocas to San José. Your other flight option is from Changuinola to Panama city which might be a little cheaper but more hassle. Nothing particularly tough about this trip; Puerto Viejo and Bocas are well developed tourist destinations. There will be a lot more hotel options than AirBnB though in these tourist towns.

May 18, 2016

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jorge

buenos dias yo tengo ganas de ir a bocas pero voy en moto alguien que se apunte voy en julio para las vacas de 15 dias

May 02, 2016

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Jamie

Hi there apologies if this question has already been answered we are travelling around Central America and plan to fly into Panama City for a few days then fly to bocas del toro from there we want to cross the border to Costa Rica we will have hotel confirmation and a flight out from San Jose to Belize then one from there to Mexico then Mexico to LA and finally LA to New Zealand (home)!will this be sufficient for customs? Many thanks!

May 01, 2016

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Yes, looks like you've more than covered all the bases. The best thing to have is a onward flight ticket leaving Central America. The rules are enforced with some discretion and are hard to nail down exactly but shouldn't be a problem for a regular tourist.

May 01, 2016

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