Border Runs to Bocas del Toro, Panama


Border Runs to Bocas del Toro, Panama

Need to go on another border run?  Check out grad Chrystal's tips on going to Bocas del Toro, Panama!

What is a Border Run?


Why Bocas del Toro?

Bocas del toro, located in Panama, is amazing in every sense of the word! The Caribbean vibe is tantalizing, with reggae music playing from one end of the island to the other. This magical destination is an incredible and unforgettable place to visit. The multiple selections of islands to explore, beautiful blue water, white sand beaches, and plentiful nightlife is sure to captivate you.


How do you get there and what was the border crossing like?

There are several ways to get to Bocas: small airplane or shuttles, which cost an arm and a leg. Or take the bus, which is substantially cheaper. When I went there for the first time in February, I chose the cheapest route possible and took the bus for the long journey.

So here is the process to get there: a four hour bus ride from San Jose to Puerto Viejo (roughly $11). Puerto Viejo to the Sixaola border, an hour and half ride for about $3. (I chose to split the day trip in half and stay a night in Puerto Viejo to avoid the risk getting to the border in Sixaola and having immigration office be closed.) Small bus or taxi in Sixaola to the water taxi is another hour for $10 total. And once you arrive at the water taxi boats, which was $15 on a 30 minute boat ride finally arriving in Bocas.

So, if you chose the least expensive route as I did, you spend about $30 to get there (NOT including the $24 to get through the immigration to Panama). If the trip is done in one day it is roughly 6-8 hours (from San Jose). If you chose to take a plane or shuttle you avoid the hustle and bustle at the border, but you can expect to pay double or triple those traveling fees per person. There are not a lot of signs pointing you from one part of immigration to another on either side of the border, so if your Spanish isn’t proficient, be patient and remain calm because it can be overwhelming at times. You should expect that prices for everything, especially for the small bus and water taxi, are subject to change going to and from the island.


Hostel/Hotel Recommendations

There are a wide variety of hostels for accommodation, most of which follow a first come first serve basis  and will not allow you to make reservations. I did however want to make sure that I had a place to rest my first night, I spent about $80 for a private room at Selina Hostel, which is in a prime location right on the water.  Another great option is Skully's!  

If you are traveling here on the weekend during peak season I highly recommend making reservations to guarantee a place to sleep. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and saw people being turned away left and right trying to get a bed. I also recommend Mar e Iguana Hostel,  which was a little more relaxed atmosphere and further away from the central part of Isla Colon. You should expect, at any hostel that you visit, the price you see on the internet to be different than what they say when you show up in person.


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Things to do there

Island hop, go snorkeling, swim in the beautiful blue Caribbean water, rent bikes or a quad and explore the island, shopping, parties, and good food are just a few things to do. I was on a modest budget for the three days I spent there but still had plenty of fun riding a bike around, attending happy hour and meeting an array of world travelers. Although Bocas isn’t the cheapest vacation destination, remember too that Panama in general is cheaper and finding affordable food is easy.

Getting back into Costa Rica

VERY IMPORTANT: BE SURE TO HAVE PROOF OF AN EXIT TICKET AT THE BORDER! The first thing I was asked by immigration was to show my passport and proof that I was leaving Costa Rica within 90 days.

After making the journey to Bocas, the way back to Costa Rica is a breeze because you know what to expect. You can expect a water taxi, a small bus or taxi ride to Sixaola, then hop on MEPE to head back to San Jose. If you are headed to the Central Valley as I was, START EARLY. The way home I did all in one day and encountered a bit of traffic, so it took about 8 hours total.

Do be prepared to be sad to depart such an amazing place.  Everyone I know who has been to Bocas experienced a bit of what I call “postpartum beach blues.” You will be thinking of all the ways to get back to Bocas as soon as possible!

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