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.

•  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:


Heading to Bocas Town from Almirante on the water taxi.

Shuttles between Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro

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 about $35 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.

Both the major operators shuttle schedules are as follows:

Puerto Viejo Bocas del Toro² Price¹  
6:00 9:00 $34 Book
8:00 11:00 $34 Book
12:00 15:00 $34 Book
Bocas del Toro² Puerto Viejo Price¹  
6:00 11:00 $34 Book
8:00 13:00 $34 Book
12:00 17:00 $34 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.

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 have a rental car, we reccommend you leave it in Puerto Viejo while you're in Bocas and just take the shuttle. Ask your hotel if they will securely store your car while you're there or Banana Azul offers this service for $10/day.

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 (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:

  San José Bocas del Toro¹ Price  
5:30 15:30 $78 Book
Inquire² --- --- Book
  Bocas del Toro¹ San José Price  
8:00 17:00 $78 Book
Inquire² --- --- Book

¹ All times local time; Panama time is one hour later than Costa Rica time.
² The flights between Bocas and San José have not yet resumed after being paused for the pandemic at the time this was updated.

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.

Independent travel: 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 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).

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.

Photo 1 of 3. Click to view slideshow.
The Costa Rican border post. Make sure to stop both at the Costa Rica post for an exit stamp and the Panamanian post for entry (and vice-versa when traveling the other way). Photo by Nina Neidhart

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 offered assistance by some children offering to help guide you, especially if you're getting off the bus in Sixaola. There really isn't any way 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 to register your exit. You must also pay an exit tax of $8 per person either online in advance or $9-$10 at a booth setup at the border. It doesn't seem like anyone is making you do this step (and locals cross to the neighboring town all the time without doing so) but if your passport is not registered as exiting the country, you will have problems later.

You can pay the $8 exit tax before you get to the border at branches of the Banco de Costa Rica or online at this link to Banco de Costa Rica. But it is also easy to pay at the border (there is an additional $1 fee to pay in cash or $2 to pay by credit card so the total is $9 or $10. Look for the exit tax payment booth (see photo 2 in slideshow).

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 no longer any fee charged to enter Panama as long as you are entering from the countries with visa free entry. Panama has several entry requirements that you need to keep in mind, be ready to show proof of:

  1. A ticket back to your country of origin or onward within the next 90 days. This is ideally an airline ticket leaving from Central America back to your home country but an onward ticket may be allowed. In the past, a return bus/shuttle ticket back to Costa Rica was accepted but this is no longer generally accepted.
  2. A passport with a least 6 months of validity left on it.
  3. Proof of financial solvency. This can be $500 USD in cash or proof that you have credit cards etc that can cover this.
  4. The address of your hotel/accommodation in Panama.

Not all these requirements are are uniformly enforced. As you can surmise they are there to make sure you aren't going to become a problem of the Panamanian state by overstaying your entry or running out of funds so the application of the rules is up to the customs officer.

These rules pertain to tourists from most Western countries (the USA, EU citizens, Brits, Canadians, etc) but if you're traveling on another passport you need to check beforehand if you need a visa for Panama. Please note if you are traveling with children under 18 you will need additional documentation.

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, when you're traveling to Costa Rica from Panama, there are similar rules but they are less often enforced. You must also stop at both offices for exit and entry stamps. No fees are payable in this direction either exiting Panama or entering Costa Rica.

The border stations are not open 24 hours. The Costa Rica offices are open from 7 am to 5 pm Costa Rica time. Panamá customs says they are open 24 hours but that won't really help if you can't get the Costa Rica exit (or vice versa). 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 one or two basic hotels in 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.

A much easier option is to leave your car behind in Puerto Viejo and take a shuttle to Bocas. Hotel Banana Azul offers the option of secure parking at the hotel for $10/day and you can easily catch one of the shuttles from there. Or, you could 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.

Arriving Bocas del Toro by air, just 50 minutes from San Jose International Airport

Flying to Bocas del Toro

tips and warningsFlights between San Jose and Bocas del Toro were suspended in Spring 2020 due to the pandemic and have not yet returned to a regular schedule. You can use the booking links below to inquire if they have restarted for your dates.

Aerobell flies the route between Bocas del Toro and San José. 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). Sansa has also announced an intention to start flying this route but there have been no specifics announced yet.

Aerobell flies from Tobías Bolaños Airport in Pavas which is closer to San José so you would need to change airports if you are connecting from an international flight

The flight time is just 50 minutes. 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 on most days is:

San José Bocas del Toro¹ Airline Price from  
Inquire² --- Aerobell --- Book
Bocas del Toro¹ San José Airline Price from  
Inquire² --- Aerobell --- Book

¹ All times local time; Panama time is one hour later than Costa Rica time.
² The flights between Bocas and San José have not yet resumed after being paused for the pandemic at the time this was updated.

You can book these flights using the booking links above or the buttons below.

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:

Bocas hotels are often not just waterfront but on the water on piers

Where to stay in Bocas del Toro

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.

Hostel: Selina

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. In Bocas they have two locations. One waterfront in Bocastown close to all the action with a dock to hang out on or swim off of and a happening bar. Another is in Isla Bastimentos at Red Frog Beach. Dorms from $25 US and private rooms from $65 US.

See more info / reserve Bocastown
See more info / reserve Red frog

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 $105 US.

See more info / reserve

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 $179 US.

See more info / reserve

Romantic: Dolphin Bay Hideaway

Located on Isla San Cristobal, 20 minutes by boat from Bocastown, this hotel is a special place where you'll find quiet and nature. Double rooms with private bath about $200USD with breakfast.

See more info / reserve

Retreat: La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm

Located on car free Isla Bastimentos this property is dedicted to sustainability. Each room has a private bathroom with a hot water shower, comfortable beds with canopy mosquito nets, overhead fans and furniture crafted on-site from local materials. Double rooms from about $500 US include all your meals.

See more info / reserve

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

Write a comment/review

What are people saying about us?

Federico Rodriguez

Hola ya se encuentran operando los shuttles desde Puerto Viejo a Bocas del Toro? y para la vuelta hay posibilidad de vuelos a San José? Estaríamos viajando en Enero 2022.

December 01, 2021

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Si, los shuttles están operando. Todo la información arriba está actualizado. Los vuelos, espero que están operando por enero pero tenemos que esperar y ver.

December 01, 2021

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Buenas, muchas gracias por la información, muy completo. Una consulta: si soy extranjera (argentina) y quiero renovar mi estadía en Costa Rica, ¿cuánto tiempo debo quedarme en Bocas para renovar la estadía en Costa Rica o puedo devolverme el mismo día a Costa Rica y con eso ya se renueva el tiempo de estadía? Gracias

November 16, 2021

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Borja Arcones Velasco


Una duda, yo voy en carro hasta puerto viejo y depués cogería un shuttle para ir hasta Costa Rica, ¿Que podría hacer con el carro? Es decir existe algún parking donde pueda dejar el coche durante los tres días que voy a bocas de toro?

Un saludo

June 15, 2021

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hola al parecer ya se va a reabrir, eso quiere decir que habran shuttles?


April 01, 2021

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Caribe Shuttle me dijó que van a operar los shuttles lo más rápido posible después del el 5 de abril -- probablemente dentro de una semana. No estoy seguro sobre los otros compañias. Vamos a anunciarlo en nuestra página de noticias.

Caribe Shuttle advised me they would be restarting their shuttle routes as quickly as possible after the Apr 5 border opening; probably within a week. We will make an announcement on our news page.

April 01, 2021

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gabriela alpizar cervantes

Hola saludos estan haciendo el transporte a bocas del toro desde puerto viejo

March 01, 2021

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Costa Rica ha cerrado la frontera desde Panamá hasta hasta al menos el 1 de abril, la noticia aquí.

Por esta razón, ninguna de los transportes turísticos están operando.

Se puede entrar Panamá pero solo Costarricenses y residentes pueden regresar a Costa Rica por tierra (y ellos necesitan hacer una cuarentena después). O, puede volar pero solo vuelos a Costa Rica desde la Ciudad de Panamá ahora.

March 01, 2021

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Are you doing any round trip border run from costa to bocas del toro

February 25, 2021

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

None of the shuttle companies are operating transport over the border currently as the border is closed going from Panama to Costa Rica (until at least the end of March). You could make your own way to the border and then walk across into Panama but the only way back to Costa Rica at that point (except for citizens and legal residents) would be to go to Panama City and fly back to San José. Citizens and legal residents can cross back into Costa Rica at the land border but they will be required to quarantine when entering that way (which is not the case for flying).

February 25, 2021

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Conrad Williams

FYI, it appears the MEPE bus schedule has changed.

January 16, 2020

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Thanks Conrad. We had posted a news story about this as well as a warning on our local bus page but we have now updated the schedules on our local bus page.

January 16, 2020

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i want to travel from Bocas to San Jose with public express bus. What is the latest time to leave the island so i can catch the last bus on a saturday.
All schedules show SJ to PV but not PV to SJ.

August 23, 2019

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

All the return schedules from Puerto Viejo to San Jose are also there just in their own section further down or go to them directly here. The last express bus from Sixaola to San José leaves at 3:00 pm so you'd have to arrive in Guaybito, Panama before 2:30pm at the latest but there are later buses from Sixaola to Puerto Viejo and onto Limón (where you could catch a connection to San José).

August 25, 2019

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¡Hola! Soy tica he ido un de par de veces a a Puerto Viejo, mi novio de Bélgica y me visita por 3 meses, entonces quiero hacer un paseo 3 dias PV y 3 a Bocas. No tengo un carro, entonces mi plan es viajar en el autobús de San José a PV, y estando en la frontera tomar el autobús y luego el taxi / lancha.
mis preguntas son
¿Cómo llego a Puerto Viejo a la frontera? Preferiblemente algo público.
¿Dónde es el mejor lugar para quedarse en Bocas de toro?
¿Cual es una playa imperdible?
¿como es la primera semana de septiembre para viajar por el asunto del tiempo?

July 16, 2019

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

Hay una respuesta para su pregunta primera arriba en el sección "Viaje independente: Bus, Collectivo y Lancha". En corto, hay un MEPE bus desde PV a Sixaola a la frontera. Las otras preguntas es mejor para Google info para Bocas del Toro directamente. Hay varios sitios buenos que tienes muchos detalles sobre Bocas.

July 16, 2019

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Hi! I was wondering if it possible, from David (Panama), to go to Puerto Viajo? There’s not much informations about this trip. I would like to go directly to Puerto Viajo. Thanks !

January 20, 2019

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Puerto Viejo Satellite

There's no way to go directly from David to Puerto Viejo. If you wanted to visit Bocas del Toro as well you can book a shuttle from David to Bocas here and then another onto Puerto Viejo a day or two later. To go direct the most efficient and cost effective way is a local bus from David to Changuinola, then a taxi or local bus to the border town of Guaybito, then walk across the border to Sixaola then take the local bus to Puerto Viejo. It's not as complicated as it sounds, just check the border and bus schedules and leave early enough from David.

January 20, 2019

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Alan Macher

I traveled back and forth from Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro last month with Gecko and it was perfect. Everything was taken care of and very little hassle for us. I also made a neat youtube of our experience, which will give you some insight into our trip.

Viajé de Puerto Viejo hasta Bocas del Toro ida y vuelta en Dic 2018. Lo hicimos con Gecko Trails y fue bien, sin problemas. Hice un youtube para los que están interesados hacer lo mismo y tengo certeza que van a disfrutarlo.

January 14, 2019

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