The jungle lushness, endless beaches and idyllic islands continue as you transit from Costa Rica to Panamá, or vice versa. While there are similarities between the countries they both have unique elements. A huge draw card to Panamá is the archipelago of islands on the Caribbean side, Bocas Del Toro. Inland there are more volcanoes and national parks to explore before heading to more beaches on the Pacific side or to the “big smoke” of Panamá City, a city of old and new. Transiting through Panamá and Costa Rica is easy as both countries have reliable and smooth bus services. There are two main borders to get between the countries, and here’s how it’s done.

Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panamá

Depending on where your last stop is in Costa Rica will determine which border to use. The Pasos Canoas border is best if travelling from the Pacific Coast side of Costa Rica this includes Tamarindo, Jaco, Monteverde, La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio to name a few of the popular tourist towns. The other border, Sixaola, is on the Caribbean side and is best used if your last destination in Costa Rica is Puerto Viejo or Limon and if you want to travel to Bocas Del Toro in Panamá.

People waiting at the bus stop in Puerto Viejo

People waiting for the bus in Puerto Viejo.

Bus from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro (Sixaola border)

The last main town in Costa Rica before the Sixaola border is Puerto Viejo, a quaint Caribbean town where the jungle meets the Caribbean Sea. From Puerto Viejo catch a bus to Sixaola, they come every hour and it takes 1.5 hours to reach the border town. It’s important to note that the border closes at 5:30pm and Panamá is one hour ahead of Costa Rica. Once at the border complete the exit out of Costa Rica (exit fee US$8 in 2019) and entry into Panama. Make sure you have proof of onward travel out of Panama as often tourists are asked for these details. Once in Panama the fastest, easiest and recommended way to get to Bocas Del Toro is by colectivo. There are plenty of people asking for your business and the van will drop you to Almirante where the boats heading to Bocas del Toro depart. The other option is to take a few buses, the first one from Sixaola to Changuinola and then change to the bus heading to David and ask to be dropped in Almirante. From there either walk or catch a taxi to the boat terminal, where you can catch the 30 minute water-taxi to Bocas Town.

Bus from Manuel Antonio to the Panama border (Pasos Canoas border)

There is a direct bus that goes from San Jose to David, crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panamá. This bus can be intersected along the road, which helps travelers in the Pacific coastal towns of Jaco and Manuel Antonio get the southbound bus without backtracking to the capital. What’s involved is getting a bus to Quepos, purchasing a ticket for the bus to David and taking a taxi to the highway outside the hospital. The buses traveling from San Jose will pass this location and pick up passengers. It is suggested to purchase this ticket ahead of time. Once at the border, exit Costa Rica (exit fee US$8 in 2019) and enter into Panama, the bus then continues to David. Most travelers then continue their journey from David bus terminal direct to Panamá City (6 hours travel time), Boquete (1 hour travel time) or Bocas del Toro (3.5-4.5 hours travel time).

People enjoying drinks on the rooftop at Selina Casco Viejo Panama City

Guests enjoying the night at Selina Casco Viejo Panama City.

Where to stay in Panamá:

Explore and enjoy all that Panamá has to offer, from #islandlife in Bocas Del Toro, epic waves on the Pacific Coast and a diverse capital city of old traditions and architecture effectively pieced together with the modern world in Panamá City. Whether you’re a digital nomad, a curious backpacker or holiday-maker, Selina’s Panamá accommodation is sure to give you the atmosphere and facilities you’re seeking.

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Heading from Central America into South America?

Does your travel plans include traveling from Central to South America through Panamá and Colombia? Unlike other border crossings in Central and South America continuing through these two countries is unique. Check out our guide on how to get from Panama to Colombia, or vice versa, the most economical way.

How to navigate around Costa Rica

Costa Rica has so many desirable destinations – an abundance of beach towns, chilled mountain towns and a buzzing capital. Knowing how to get from beach to beach, or the mountains to the beach is necessary to have a smooth journey through this diverse country. Check out our guide.

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