Traveling to Bocas del Toro from Panama City, Boquete or from Costa Rica
How to get to Bocas del Toro? First of all it depends on:
- how you will be traveling into Panama (as in the country, not in the city)
- how fast you want to make it to Bocas del Toro (with our without spending a night in Panama City, or in San José Costa Rica)
- your budget (using a domestic flight or taking the bus once you're in the country or in Costa Rica)
In this page you will learn how to travel to Bocas del Toro depending on how you entered into our country and you'll get a good idea about how much time your journey will take you. The most common ways travelers enter our country are:
- flying into Panama City from anywhere in the world
- flying into Bocas del Toro from San José, Costa Rica
- crossing the Costa Rican border through Sixaola (northern border)
- crossing the Costa Rican border through Paso Canoas (southern border)
Ultimately, there are several ways to travel to Bocas del Toro:
- by airplane from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
- by bus from Panama City to Almirante and then a boat to Bocas del Toro
- by bus from David to Almirante and then a boat to Bocas del Toro
- by bus from Boquete to David, and then a bus from David to Almirante and a boat to Bocas del Toro
- by car from Panama City to Almirante and then taking a Ferry to Bocas del Toro
- by airplane from San José, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro
- by bus from San José, Costa Rica to Almirante through Sixaola and then a boat to Bocas del Toro
- by bus from Paso Canoas to David, and then a bus from David to Almirante and a boat to Bocas del Toro
Traveling from Panama City to Bocas del Toro is fairly straight forward. The airport is located on Isla Colon, the archipelago's main island and is also known as the Isla Colon International Airport (BOC).
The best way to travel? Well... it depends on what you want: fast and convenient, or taking a bit more time and saving some money. To travel from Panama City to Bocas del Toro there are mainly 3 options:
- a flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro (45 minutes)
- a bus from Panama City to Almirante (10 - 11 hours) and a boat to Bocas del Toro (30 minutes)
- driving from Panama City to Almirante (10 - 11 hours) and then a Ferry to Bocas del Toro (2 hours)
One way airplane tickets from Panama City to Bocas del Toro cost around $125. We are more than happy to book these flights for you at no additional cost if you intend to study Spanish at our schools or if you're doing tours with us (please contact us). Online reservations can also be made at: www.flyairpanama.com.
AirPanama flies from Panama City to Bocas del Toro both from Tocumen International Airport (PTY, the airport that you will be landing into Panama City) and from Albrook Airport (PAC, also known as Marcos A. Gelabert Airport or former Paitilla Airport).
Logically if you do not intend to spend any time in Panama City during the first part of your trip to Panama, you might as well try to fly directly from Tocumen Airport to Bocas del Toro (BOC). The flight from Tocumen Airport to Bocas del Toro currently takes place in the morning on Thursdays and Sundays around 10:30 a.m. In other words, if you land into Tocumen before 9:00 a.m. you shouldn't have any problem making that connection. If you booked this flight from Tocumen to Bocas del Toro, you have to clear customs and immigration as normal, go to the AirPanama counter to check in and they will provide you with your gate information.
Tocumen Airport, the international airport, is located in the outskirts of Panama City. Albrook Airport, the domestic airport, is located within the city. It's about a 35 minute commute without traffic between both airports, or 1 - 2.5 hours with traffic. A taxi should cost around $35 and we also offer private airport pickups for our Spanish students for $35 (one of our drivers will be waiting for you with a sign with your name on it).
AirPanama has flights from Albrook Airport to Bocas del Toro. Flights depart daily around 6:30 a.m., 6:45 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. On Sundays AirPanama also offers an 8 a.m. flight. During certain times of the year, flights get completely booked, so make sure to book in advance.
If you manage to find a flight into Panama City's Tocumen Airport that lands before or just after 1:30 p.m. you can make it to Bocas del Toro on that same day flying via Albrook Airport, providing there aren't any delays or major traffic jams in Panama City.
If your flight lands after 1:30 p.m. and you weren't able to secure a flight from Tocumen Airport either, you will have to spend a night in Panama City. The reason for this is because the last flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro from Albrook departs around 4:30 p.m., which means you have to be at the domestic airport by 3:30 p.m.
Both domestic airlines have a 25 - 35 pound baggage allowance and on their websites they say that: "any excess baggage is accepted as baggage conditional and subject to available space inside the aircraft. If there is available space would be sent on the same flight, otherwise it will be sent on the next flight" . To this date we have NEVER heard of someone not being able to take all of their luggage on a flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro so no worries! What we can't tell you is exactly how much it will cost but people tend to pay between $5 - $20 for addittional luggage (sorry, but we do not understand how they exactly calculate this charge!)
Panama City's hotels have one of the highest occupancy rates in the world so if you are spending a night over there and want to reserve a good room at a decent price, the sooner you book it, the better.
For information about hotels in Panama City for different budgets please visit Frommer's Travel Guide.
A taxi from your hotel should not charge you more than $5 to take you to Albrook Airport if you are staying within Panama City.
AirPanama has daily flights from Bocas del Toro to Panama City at 4:45 p.m. Monday to Saturdays they also fly at 8:00 a.m. and on Sundays they fly back at 9:15 a.m. They also have a flight to Tocumen Airport on Thursdays and Sundays.
If you want to save some money, then taking an overnight bus from Panama City to Almirante (10 - 11 hours), and then a boat from Almirante to Bocas del Toro (30 minutes) is the way to go.
To make this happen you first have to take a taxi from Tocumen Airport ($35) or from your hotel in Panama City to Albrook Bus Terminal (Gran Terminal de Transporte, www.grantnt.com). And from there you can get your bus to Almirante. We arrange private transfers from the airport to the bus station for our Spanish students ($35), in which case one of our drivers will be waiting for you at the airport with a sign with your name on it.
The Bocas del Toro bus ticket office numbers are: 303-6326 and 303-6327 in Panama City, and 758-8127 in Bocas del Toro.
The only dates when you will not be able to easily catch a bus is when it is a Panamanian National Holiday or when there is school break (3 times a year and dates constantly change). On these days you are better of booking a flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro because buses can get chaotic.
Once you arrive to Almirante, you can pay any taxi $1 to take you from the bus stop to the docks from where the boats depart to Bocas del Toro.
Overnight buses from Panama City to Almirante depart at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m and take around 10 to 11 hours. Busses are air conditioned, modern and have reclinable seats. You will arrive to Almirante between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. The first boat to Isla Colón (Bocas del Toro's main island, where our Spanish school is) departs at 6 a.m. and takes 30 minutes. Boats depart every 30 minutes until 6 p.m. The cost for the overnight bus ticket is approximately $30 and the boat (water taxi) costs $5. On Sundays, there is also a bus that leaves Panama City at 7 a.m.
Currently there are three water taxi companies: Bocas Marine Tours ($5 per person), Transporte Torres ($4 per person or $7 for an open return ticket) and Taxi 25.
The bus that will take you back from Almirante to Panama City departs daily at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.
If the above bus schedules don't work for you (because you arrive into Panama City in the morning or late at night, and don't want to spend a night in Panama City), you can always take a bus to David (6 - 7 hours, $15) and from the bus terminal in David, then take a bus to Almirante (3.5 - 4.5 hours, $8). Busses from Panama City to David depart almost every hour, with the first one leaving at 5:30 a.m. and the last one leaving at 12 midnight. Busses from David to Almirante start at 4:30 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. The bus that takes you to Almirante is the one going to Changuinola. If you were visiting Boquete, you also have to go David to get to Almirante. Busses from Boquete to David start at 5:30 a.m. and run until 7 p.m.
As stated above, it's important to note, that the last boat from Almirante to Bocas del Toro departs at 6 p.m. After that there are no boats to Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro's main island, until the next morning. So if you arrive after dark, you really should spend the night in a hotel in Almirante. Sometimes someone offers boat rides at night at overpriced rates but it is not advisable at all to take a boat in the dark, as fatal accidents have happened in the past, because of boats not having appropriate lights for the evening (it doesn't have to be your boat the one without lights!).
Busses from Almirante to David depart every 30 minutes and run from 4 a.m. until 7 p.m.
If you're just visiting Bocas del Toro, there really isn't any reason you'd want to have a car in Bocas del Toro. Almost everything is within walking distance. Taxis and minibuses aren't expensive and can take you to all of the beaches and surf breaks on Isla Colon. If you want to go to another island, the only way to do that is by boat. So the only reason you'd want to bring a car to Bocas del Toro is if you're relocating here and will be living out of town. If you are renting a car during your Panama vacation you can always leave it at one of the public parking places in Almirante that charge $3 per night, are fenced in and are perfectly safe.
Having said all of this, if you want to drive from Panama City to Almirante and the cross your car over on the Ferry (Palanga Ferry, www.ferrybocas.com, Andrés Cerrud, 6615-6674, 261-0350), here is how to do it. First of all, you have to exit Panama City and get on the Interamerican highway. There are two bridges that will allow you to cross the Panama Canal: El Puente de las Américas and El Puente Centenario. Once you leave Panama City you just have to drive on the Interamerican highway to the West for about 400 km until you reach a town called "Chiriqui" . If you arrive to David, you've gone too far: turn back! At the town called Chiriqui you should be able to see a sign indicating that Almirante and Chiriqui Grande are to your right (North). It's also sign posted Gualaca which is a town about 30 minutes ahead. Basically you follow that new road up North. It's very windy and with lots of hills. If it's rained a lot there could be mudslides. You drive on this road for about 2.5 hours (95 km) until you reach a town called Chiriqui Grande. At Chiriqui Grande you will turn left (West again) and drive for a bit more than 60 kms until you reach Almirante.
In Almirante you should ask someone to direct you to the Ferry. The Ferry leaves on Tuesdays to Sundays at 8 a.m. and they start boarding vehicles at 7 a.m. There is no way to make a reservation and it's strictly a first in line, first to get on bases. Sometimes you have to line up from the night before (another reason to not bring your car over). Having said that, it is openly known that certain firemen at the fire station are willing to take care of your car, put in line the night before and put it on the ferry on the next day for $10 - $15.The ferry returns to Almirante at 4 p.m.
If your plan is to travel only around the West side of Panama then it could make sense to fly to Bocas del Toro without going to Panama City. For many dates, airplane tickets to San José, Costa Rica, from many parts of the world are cheaper than tickets to Panama City. And from San José, Costa Rica you can fly to Bocas del Toro with NatureAir (www.natureair.com).
Flights from San José to Bocas del Toro take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (during certain times of the year only, contact NatureAir for more info) and depart at 1:20 p.m.
The Nature Air terminal is located at Tobias Bolaños International Airport (SYQ) located about 5 miles west of downtown and is about 10 miles away from the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose, Costa Rica.
There is really only one case in which we recommend doing it this way. As flights from San José Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro do not depart from the same airport from which you will be landing in San José, if you are able to land in San José at a time (before 11 a.m. in the morning) that allows you to catch the flight to Bocas del Toro on the same day, then you will have been able to travel to Bocas del Toro in the most efficient way (as long as you get a cheap ticket to Costa Rica as well). Otherwise, spending a night in San José, and having to wait for the day in which the flight happens might not be worth the hassle, in which flying into Panama City is recommended. Take into account that there is also $28 international departure fee from Costa Rica.
The return flight from Bocas del Toro to San José leaves Bocas del Toro at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
In San José, Costa Rica you can take a bus to Changuinola in Panama (about 7 hours plus border crossing time), which is 19 km away from Almirante, from where you will be taking a boat (30 minutes) to Bocas del Toro. You can also take a bus from San José to Sixaola, which is located right on the Costa Rican border, do the immigration procedures, cross over to Guabito on the Panamanian side, do the rest of the immigration procedures, and then continue by other means of transportation to Almirante.
There is also a private shuttle from San José to Bocas del Toro (Costa Rica just 4 U, www.costaricajust4u.com).
If you're in other parts of Costa Rica such as Puerto Viejo, Cahuita or Manzanillo there is a shuttle that does private transfers from these destinations to Almirante and include the boat ride within their price (Caribe Shuttle, caribeshuttle.com).
With this option you will be traveling with Transportes Bocatoreños (758 - 8511 in Panama, and 2227 - 9523 or 2259 - 1325 in Costa Rica). This bus company departs from the same bus station as Panaline does (for traveling to David in Panama from San José, Costa Rica). The station for Transportes Bocatoreños is just north of the Coca Cola Bus Terminal, in downtown San José in front of the Hotel Cocori. Buses leave at 9 a.m. and arrive at the border around 3 p.m.
At the border in Sixaola you will have to get an exit stamp from Costa Rica, and then when you cross the border (over a bridge) to the Panamanian side (the town is called Guabito) you will have to get your passport stamped to enter Panama. Keep in mind that you will have to show a valid exit ticket for Panama, and if you don't have one, just purchase a bus return ticket to somewhere in Costa Rica (for more information about Panama visas click here). Then you will be able to continue your journey to Changuinola (about another hour). In Changuinola you can take another bus to Almirante (less than $2) or a taxi (around $15). And once you arrive to Almirante take a $1 taxi to the dock, from where you can take a water taxi to Bocas del Toro ($4 or $5 depending on the company).
On your way back to Costa Rica, buses to and from Changuinola (45 minutes every 20 minutes, from 5:50am - 9 p.m., US$1.20) leave from the station near to town. With your back to the docks, turn left, and when the road dead ends walk to the right 100 m.
With this option you will be using a company called Mepe (in Costa Rica 2257-8129 or 2758-1572) which departs from the Caribe bus station. This bus takes around six hours and stops in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. The fare is around $12. If you take any later buses (other departure times: 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.), you risk not making all the required connections and might find yourself in an undesirable place to stay the night. In this case, it's advisable to stay in Puerto Viejo or Cahuita for a night instead.
Once you arrive to the border in Sixaola you will have to get an exit stamp from Costa Rica, and then when you cross the border (over a bridge) to the Panamanian side (the town is called Guabito) you will have to get your passport stamped to enter Panama. Keep in mind that you will have to show a valid exit ticket for Panama, and if you don't have one, just purchase a bus return ticket to somewhere in Costa Rica (for more information about Panama visas click here).
In Guabito you can get a taxi or other type of private transportation to take you to Almirante (1 hour) for about $5 per person if you're sharing the ride or $15 - $20 if it's only 1 person. From Guabito you can also just take a bus to Changuinola and from there another bus to Almirante, and finally the boat to Bocas del Toro (in Almirante for $1 you can take a taxi to the docks). Or the bus to Changuinola (a bit more than $1) and then a taxi to Almirante.
Border hours on the Costa Rica side are from 8 a.m. -to 5 p.m. On the Panamanian side hours are the same but there is a time diferrence between Costa Rica and Panama and it is 1 hour less in Panama.
If you're traveling to Bocas del Toro from Costa Rica, the only reason you'd want to travel through the southern border with Panama (Paso Canoas) is because you're planning to visit Boquete before (as this way it's a lot longer to get to Bocas del Toro).
In which case you can find information about making the journey from San José, Costa Rica to David by bus here...