So it’s time to leave Costa Rica for Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
The $30 USD shuttle From Puerto Viejo might seem tempting but the Sixaolo border crossing it’s so easy and much cheaper to do it yourself. Trust me, we just did it on May 5th, 2015. DIY the border crossing and you could save upwards of $16.75!!
Here’s how (and how much) to get to Bocas Del Toro from Puerto Viejo:
1) Take one of the earlier buses from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola. Starting at 6:30am, they come every hour.
Note that the bus may say Limón on it. Just ask the driver to make sure you’re getting on the right one. The bus takes about 1.5 hours, and the border closes at 5:00pm Costa Rica time.
Cost for bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola: $3.25 USD (you pay in colonies obviously)
2) The driver will kick you off the bus at the end of the line. If you get off on the road, walk straight ahead and up a tiny hill toward the Sixaola River (Rio Sixaola). It take 1-2 minutes. Cross the crazy old bridge. This is where you exit Costa Rica. Make sure you do this!
3) Go through Costa Rica Customs. It’s on your right in a tiny building. You have to fill out a short exit paper and pay an exit fee. The $7.00USD exit fee is payable via credit card (you do it with a machine) and you may or may not get a receipt. It doesn’t matter, the customs officers watch you pay. If you don’t have a credit card, you can pay cash but it’s a little more ($8 I think).
There’s a free toilet here if you need it. It’s kind of gross and had no toilet paper on offer at the time of our border crossing.
Likely, Panamanian shuttle drivers will start soliciting you here. I recommend not to commit to one just yet because you can shop around for prices once you officially enter Panama. More on crossing the border.
4) Start walking straight again. You’ll be ushered into a suspect looking building and asked to pay for a stamp in your passport. It’s $4.00USD and it isn’t your Panama visa.
5) Carry on walking until you can turn left. Turn left and walk past a parking lot on your left. On your right is where you officially enter Panama.
It’s possible to cross without official paperwork being completely. It’s ILLEGAL and you’ll be in shit a few kilometres down the road when you hit a checkpoint.
Do you really need proof of onward travel? We got asked for proof of onward travel. We showed the border guy a print out of our flight confirmation email to Colombia. He looked at the paper and said fine. He didn’t verify in any way that what we showed him was legitimate. We didn’t have a boarding pass (obviously).
Someone we met didn’t have onward travel. The border guy wouldn’t let him through…after about 20 minutes and a $20USD bill later, his passport was stamped.
We DO NOT recommend offering bribes or gifts or using fake tickets to enter any country.
6) All of your paperwork is done now. It’s time to haggle with taxis/van drivers. It costs about $20 to go to Almirante by taxi, which is where you get the boat to Isla Colon (the main island home to Bocas Town). You can split the price with other people. I travelled with 4 other people and we each paid $4.00USD.
The van drivers will lie and tell you that if you take their van, you’ll save money on the boat. It’s total bullshit. The boat costs $6.00USD per person – it’s standard fair. That being said, you can negotiate with the van drivers for a decent price to the boat dock in Almirante (we got them down to $25 for 5 people).
It’s possible to take public buses. We didn’t so I can’t help with that.
Total cost from border to Almirate: $4.00USD.
7) You’ll be dropped off at the water taxi area. It costs $6.00USD and the boats run frequently. Sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s interesting (notice the toilets at the end of the docks!) and beautiful!
Total cost to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Town on Isla Colon: $13.25 USD
Remember, if you cross with the shuttle, you still have to pay all the border crossing fees. It’s cheaper to go by yourself!
It took us about 4 hours to get to Isla Bastimentos, which is about 35 mins by boat from Bocas Town.
**(Directions from http://www.puertoviejosatellite.com/)