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

Esa página está disponible también en español.

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 Caribe Shuttle 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.

If you'd like to fly directly between San José and Bocas, please note that flight schedules change frequently and may not run daily 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.

Book San Jose to/from Bocas here:

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. You may also pay the $7 exit tax in advance at any branch of Bancredito (locations here, note there are none on the Caribbean Coast).

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 $4 fee for the entry stamp / sticker in your passport. Panama DOES ask that you show proof of an onward ticket. While the official government sites are ambigious on what is required and in the past many people have used a return bus or shuttle ticket, sources at the border are saying that Panamanian officials are now requiring tourists to show a airplane ticket leaving from somewhere in Central America in the next 90 days so make sure you have documentation proving this available. Costa Rica officials may also ask for this on your return to Costa Rica.

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 $4 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?

Gustavo Gonzalez

La semana anterior viaje a Bocas del Toro desde Costa Rica por carretera, yo deje mi vehiculo en Sixaola en el Parqueo Mayela, cobran 4500 colones o 9 dolares por dia, en tramite en el puesto fronterizo de Costa Rica dura entre 1.5 a 2 horas depende de la cantidad de gente y se pagan $8 de impuestos al lado de la farmacia que esta por el parqueo Mayela, en el lado de Panama es mucho mas rapido 20 o 30 minutos igual depende de la cantidad de gente y no se pagan impuestos, despues tome un colectivo a Puerto Almirante donde se toman las lanchas para Isla Colon, taxi amarillo o colectivo te cobran $10 por persona, pero se puede negociar. Otra opcion es conducir hasta Puerto Almirante, la carretera esta muy bien y alli se puede dejar el carro en alguno de los 3 parqueos que estan cerca de donde se toma la lancha hacia Isla Colon. Nos comento el del taxi que esos parqueos son seguros y cobran $3 por dia. Las lanchas cobran $6 por persona por viaje, o puede comprar el viaje redondo de ida y vuelta por $10. En Bocas hay varias agencias que manejan los tours con precios entre $25 y $40 por persona dependiendo del tour. Hay un restaurante Tico que se llama Be Nice Nomade al frente del Hotelito del Mar. Siempre consulte en las agencias que es lo que incluye el precio del boleto, recomendacion para ir a playa estrella llevar equipo de snorkel.

July 17, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

Muchas gracias por el reportaje detallado Gustavo. ¡Ayudara mucha gente! En su descripción, parece mejor para conducir para Almirante pero no estoy seguro si es mucha más dificultad para traer su coche al otro lado de la frontera. Y creo que no es permitido para llevar coches alquilados afuera de Costa Rica pero tal vez no sea difícil con su propio coche.

July 17, 2018

What are people saying about us?

eduardo rojas rodriguez

hace pocos días(del 10 al 13 de mayo 2018) me aventure a ir de paseo en solitario, guiado solo por la información y los comentarios expresados en esta pagina, y he de decirles que todo me resultó fenomenal, todo es justo como se explica acá, con algunas salvedades que comentaré a continuación.
Soy Costarricense, viaje en mi auto hasta Sixaola, ahi lo deje en un parqueo que es el que nombran acá ( mayela 4500 colones x día) y en la frontera no se me pidió mas que el pasaporte vigente, nada de pago de nada ni presentar $500 como me ha pasado en paso canoas-Panamá, y mucho menos presentar tiquete de regreso a C.R. eso sí, a los extranjeros si les solicitaron el tiquet de avión, al menos una copia!!

Utilicé el servicio de micro bus de frontera- almirante,(45 min) el precio normal es de $10 aunque por un asunto de huelgas el día que viajaba hacia bocas, debí pagar $15 pero en todo momento nos acompañaron dos Panameños hasta que nos dejaron prácticamente montados en las lanchas hacia Bocas.El precio de las lanchas es de $6 extranjeros 1 vía, pero si se compra el viaje completo se pagan solo $10. (30 min x viaje)

Le agradezco a "Puerto Viejo Satélite" por toda la info que encontré y que es completamente veridica, un gran paseo a muy bajo costo!!

May 16, 2018

What are people saying about us?

JVC

Que tal es ese parque es seguro?

June 14, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Cristina

Hola Eduardo! El cierre de la frontera es a las 5 de la tarde? Que pasa con Panamá?
Que pasa con el tema de los tiempos?

July 08, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Eduardo Rojas

Que tal JVC, seguramente este comentario está tardío pero le comento que el parqueo es sumamente seguro.

Que tal cristina? perdón por la tardanza, el horario de la frontera de Costa Rica es de 7am a 5 pm y la de Panamá creo que también, con la diferencia que en Panamá lleva una hora adelante, eso significa que la de Panamá estará abierta desde las 6 am hora de Costa Rica, y claro que la frontera tica estará cerrada a esa hora! ese es el asunto de los tiempos.

October 09, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Tanya Trenhaile

Hi,

I am living abroad in Costa Rica with a tourist visit currently but am going on vacation to Bocas at the end of April. On your site, you state proof of a return ticket out of Panama within 30 days is required and a bus/shuttle ticet is acceptable but I have read on caribeshuttle.com that Panama is only accepting PLANE tickets as acceptable proof.

They state the following: Please have your passport, and printed flight itinerary with you for immigration officials. Panama is only accepting flight itineraries for entry into Panama. (No bus tickets)
Your flight can be from anywhere in Central America back to your home country.

I am very worried now as to which information is correct and on the Panama Immigration site it simply states 'a return ticket'but does not specify whether it has to be by land or air. {I think-I speak minimal Spanish so I may have missed something!}. Any information you have on this matter would be much appreciated!

Gracias.

March 23, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

This topic is endlessly frustrating as what seems to be written on the official Panamanian and Costa Rica websites seems to differ from the reality on the ground. Caribe Shuttle runs multiple shuttles per day and so they are the most reliable source of what is being enforced and so I have changed our text above to agree with that. I would suggest using their chat function to verify your particular position.

That leaves you and others in an awkward position I know but what I do not know is how often these rules are enforced and whether there are ways around them. Despite what sounds like a very cut and dry policy I haven't actually heard of tourists being turned away at the border in any great numbers. A reservation saved on your phone is probably adequate proof. This blog post is rather informative on this topic.

March 23, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Lara

he leido todas las instrucciones, y las alternativas, pero no me queda en claro si me conviene mas ir en el paquete por un día donde te llevan aun cayo de coral y despues a playa roja q no se bien donde queda, o si me conviene ir en un shutles que me deje en bocas del toro, ya que una vez llegado ahi no sabría que hacer, ya que solo tenemos esa tarde apra estar ahi y luego volver, que me recomendas? viajo con mi novio el 23 de Marzo y vamos a estar hasta el 25 en Puerto viejo, alquilamos una 4x4, gracias por tu ayuda!

March 07, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

Si tiene tan poco tiempo en Puerto Viejo Porque piensas de ir a Bocas? Hay un montón de cosas de hacer en el Caribe Sur de Costa Rica. Pero si quiere ir a Bocas y regresar al mismo día tiene que elegir el tour. Si va en shuttle y regresa el mismo día va a tener un o dos horas máximo en Bocas, no bastante tiempo para ver nada.

March 07, 2018

What are people saying about us?

laura andrea arrigo

Hola buenas tardes, somos dos amigas de Argentina, que estamos organizando viajar hasta San Jose desde Argentina, ahi alquilar un auto recorrer desde San Jose hasta la frontera con Panama para luego cruzar a Bocas del Toro, sabes de data de agencia de alquiler que podamos retirar auto en San Jose y entregar auto en Puerto Viejo?? Gracias

January 20, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

Hola, hay información sobre alquiler de autos a la página de manejar. Hay tres compañías de carros, Adobe, Alamo y Poas, que tiene oficinas en el Caribe Sur y ofrece rentas una via.

January 20, 2018

What are people saying about us?

laura andrea arrigo

hola sabes de alguna pagina que tenga info de quevisitar de camino de san jose a puerto viejo?

January 20, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Enrique

Buenas! Soy de argentina y tenemos pensado con mi mujer hacer el mismo recorrido en marzo. Conseguiste informacion sobre el alquiler del auto? Gracias

February 05, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Willy

Se puede viajar desde CR en vehículo particular ( con el respectivo permiso de salida del país ) hasta Almirante y dejarlo aparcado en un lugar seguro para desde ahí tomar la lancha hacia Bocas?

January 01, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

No sé si hay un parqueo cerca las lanchas pero si no me imagino que hay algo en Changuinola. El otro opción es podría tomar su auto a Bocas. Hay una transbordar para autos pero pienso que solamente 2 días por semana. Posiblemente es más fácil para dejar su auto en Sixaola. Después de la frontera la lancha es solamente 45 minutas.

January 01, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Oscar

Lograste encontrar algún lugar? También estoy buscando parqueo en almirante.

May 17, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Paulina

Hi. Does anyone know how about shuttles between Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro during the Idependence Day in November? Will it be avalaible option?
Thanks for answers

September 16, 2017

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

Yes, they run normally during holidays.

September 16, 2017

What are people saying about us?

Juan Carlos

buenos dias,
Se puede coger un bote taxi en sixaola hasta Isla Colon? Si hay que bajar hasta Admirante para coger el bote taxi, cuanto se dura de Sixaola a Admirante? se pueden coger taxis de sixaola a Admirante? cuanto cuestan?

August 21, 2017

Write a review

None
(required) (Address never made public)
(required)
(if you'd like a link included to your homepage)
Add photo?

You may upload a photo from your hard drive to accompany your comment if you like. Your photo will be automatically resized but to upload must be no more than 6MB.

Contact Reason: (required)
Subscribe? Email me when someone replies to my comment
Email me when any comment is made on this page
No, I don't want to receive any email

   Due to a problem with spam, your comment will not appear until it has been approved.