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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.
• There are flights from San Jose or from Panama City.
• If you have a car you could drive to the border or even possibly to Bocas on the car ferry.
Please also make sure you review the information about crossing the border.
If you're looking for accommodations in Bocas you can see our recommendations below or search all options here:
This is the easy way 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 $32 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:
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:
If you're going to Bocas directly from San Jose or returning directly to San Jose there are both shuttle and flight options (see full details on flying below).
The shuttle option between Bocas and San Jose stops in Puerto Viejo and includes lunch. The schedules are as follows:
¹ All times local time; Panama time is one hour later than Costa Rica time.
Book San Jose to/from Bocas here:
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
Bocas del Toro, Panama full day tour
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:
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 return buses from Sixaola leave on the hour. To see the full schedule for the Limon - Sixaola route, see the local transportation page here.
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).
If 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.
There 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.
Note 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.
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.
Citizens 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 station||Panama border station||Note|
|Open hours||7am to 5pm (Costa Rica time)||8am to 6pm (Panama time)||Because Panama time is one hour later these times are synchronized.|
|Lunch closure||12pm to 1pm (Costa Rica time) Sat and Sun only.||12 noon to 1pm (Panama time) daily||Note 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, there are a couple basic hotels in Sixaola).
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.
There is a new airline that has announced flights between San José and Bocas del Toro! Skyway expects to begin daily flights soon but has not yet received regulatory approval from the Panama government. Nature Air formerly flew this route but their operations were suspended in early 2018 (you may still see them listed as an option on sites which are not up to date).
Skyway will fliy from San Jose (Tobias Bolaños airport, not the international airport) 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 about an hour. The flight schedule will be:
¹ All times local time; Panama time is one hour later than Costa Rica time.
You can book these flights with Caribe Fun Tours using the booking links above or contact Gecko Trail Costa Rica for assistance booking your flights and other transport and tour needs.
If you're coming from Panama City, there are flights from Albrook "Marcos A. Gelabert" Airport (not the main International Airport) to both Bocas del Toro and Changuinola. To continue on to Puerto Viejo from Bocas take one of the shuttle services mentioned above. From Changuinola it's a quick taxi or bus to the border and then onto Puerto Viejo.
Book or inquire about flights with Gecko Trail Costa Rica:
Bocas is not far from Puerto Viejo but it's a world away in terms of feel and accommodation options. The first thing you'll notice when you arrive is that many of the hotels are directly on the water on piers jutting out into the ocean. While Costa Rica tries to protect their beachfront, there's a more anything goes attitude in Bocas but it certainly does make for some unique accommodation options!
Most of the hotels, restaurants and activities are on the main island (Isla Colón) in Bocastown. That's also where you'll arrive no matter how you get here. So if you want the most options for eating, drinking and activities that's the place to stay and you won't need a car if you're right in town as it's quite compact. But there are also quieter options on some of the other islands which you can reach by regular water taxi shuttles from the dock in Bocastown. There are even some private resorts on their own islands, for those they'll arrange transport as part of your stay.
Since this isn't a website about Bocas del Toro we won't make any attempt at an exhaustive list but will just offer you some of our favorites in various categories or you can search all the options here.
Selina has hostels in many places in Latin America including Puerto Viejo and they're consistently nice, if not the cheapest option. They have a well designed stylish vibe and cool social areas to hang out in. This location is waterfront in Bocastown close to all the action with a dock to hang out on or swim off of and a happening bar. Dorms from $20 US and private rooms from $65 US.
Mid-range: Divers Paradise
Not just for divers, this centrally located waterfront hotel comfortable rooms right on the water. As you'd expect from the name there's a diving shop and school on site as well as a restaurant and bar. Double rooms with private bath from about $120 US.
Mid-range: Tropical Suites
Another option right in Bocas Town and right on the water. Splurge on a suite with an oceanfront balcony as there is no shared waterfront patio to hang out on. Double rooms with private bath from about $100 US.
Luxury/Retreat: Eclypse de Mar
Located in car free Isla Bastimentos but a short walk to Bastimentos village so you can walk to other points on the island or the public dock. Luxurious over the water bungalows each with a private deck from about $250 US. Double rooms with private bath from about $110 US.