Getting from Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro cheapest way possible
There are several web pages regarding the trip from Puerto to Bocas that we found online, but what we also found is that not all of them show the cheapest solution and it looks not all have been updated with latest information. Some things changed but also it looks like some people compromised with a “not so cheap but direct” bus from the border to Almirante. It is a fairly easy trip and it will save you around 20-25$ per person, we did it with a 3 and 1/2 years old boy and a baby + stroller and 5 backpacks.
Complete list of busses/walks/boats you have to take is next:
- Puerto Viejo – Sixaola (bus)
- Border (walk)
- La Paz – Changuinola (bus)
- Changuinola – Almirante (bus)
- Almirante – Bocas (boat)
Getting to the station and buying tickets
It seems that some people think this bus goes from Lemon or Manzanillo, important is to know that it doesn’t pass on the main road, it goes from the main station in Puerto Viejo.
Bus goes hourly and the schedule changes frequently so its best to go one day earlier and to check what exact time it leaves for Sixaola. Bus ticket price at the time of this blog is 1835 colon per person (3.2$). Bus company is called MEPE and the ticket office doesn’t take debit card payments only cash in colon, so since you are leaving Costa Rica just plan to have this much money in colon on you for the ticket as it is likely it will be your last Costa Rican expense.
From PV to Sixaola and passing the border
When you arrive at the border bus will leave you pretty close to the bridge. On the left side you will have a small counter that says tax and it will have a sign 9$ on it. We read on several places it is 7$ and that you can pay with the card for additional 1$ but it is not, it is 9$ for cash only, so don’t get surprised. 8$ goes to the government and 1$ goes to the retailer. There is no way paying it differently or directly and saving that extra buck (we are family of four so it is actually 4$) I have asked several policeman and border officials. You will get a receipt and with that piece of paper you go to one of several immigration boxes that will be on your left – around 20 meters down the road, on the beginning of the bridge. There you will get a stamp, there is no special room to take your baggage to inspection, like on exit from Panama to Costa Rica in Paso Canoas, I guess if you look suspicious the officer will ask to show your bags content, but nobody asked us to show content of ours. There was no waiting on immigration, but we did wait for around 10 minutes to pay the tax, as there was a bit of a queue. In any case you will pass this fairly easy. Once you get your stamp you just continue further as there is around 200 meters of no-mans land on the bridge over the Sixaola river. It is an easy walk, don’t listed to the spoiled little backpackers online stating its a “difficult walk in the sun”.
Once you pass the bridge first you go to the customs officer, he is on the left, everything is on the left side of the road. There you will fill a form basically declaring you are nor entering any food , diseases and large quantity of money into the country. There was no queue and it took 5 minutes to finish this. If you are a family like us you will only sign one for for all of you. Important thing to know is that there is no 4$ tax on the Panama side, I am not sure when was this cancelled but we didn’t have to pay anything. After the customs you just go 50 meters down to the immigration. This was the only place where there was a bit of a queue and the waiting time for us was 15-20 minutes. You get your stamp and you move on. Some people get asked about duration of stay and some similar information but we haven’t been. We just showed the passports, got stamped and moved on. The place on this Panamanian side of the border is called La Paz
La Paz to Chinguanola
After you get your stamp you will have a group of driver jumping you and offering a “direct shuttle” to the Almirante, price is 10$ to 20$ depending how many of you are there. If you are true low budget traveller like us you will just move along and just across the main road that continues from the bridge there is a place the local bus for Chinguanola will stop. I read online people call it “chicken bus” and “not very comfortable” which is very… well let me call it misleading. Bus is ok, not high class but pretty comfy with A/C working. There are a lot of indigenous people in the bus, a lot of their beautiful children, so it is actually a very positive experience not another way around. Bus driver will be kind to put your things into a trunk (which is actually back side of the bus). Ride to Chinguanola lasts around 45-50 minutes and it costs only 1$! Cheap, cheap, just the way we like it! Also the bus frequency seems to be every 10 minutes, we didn’t wait at all as if left immediately.
Changuinola to Almirante
There is no more than 50 meters of walking and no waiting, this bus also goes every 10 minutes or when full. It is a smaller bus, more like a minibus but it is also possible to put your luggage in the back, just be kind and don’t be cocky with the steward 🙂 Price of this bus is 1.5$ and slightly longer ride – up to an hour. We left immediately upon arrival. What is cool to know about is that the shuttle to Almirante costs 25$ or 32$ with the boat included. We payed total 5.7$ which is almost four times less! And we came faster to Almirante because the shuttle bus had to wait for the whole group to pass the Panama border as it was on person at the time. Also what is good to know is that in Almirante there are two terminals, one for Chinguanola and David are not the same. Terminal for buses from Chinguanola is close to the taxi boats, you don’t need a taxi cab to drive you there. You have to go back the way you came 200m and then turn left. There are several boat companies that will take you to Colon Island at Bocas del Toro
Almirante to Bocas
One way is 6$ and the round trip is 10$. I am not sure all the companies offer this, one that we took offered, the “guy” (there is always a “guy” right?) said they are the only company with the deal but I am pretty sure they all offer the same. In any case you can buy the round trip ticket because the boats go at half an hour. The ride to Bocas Town is around 30 minutes. The last boat to go to Bocas is around 6pm so be sure you leave for Sixaola 10/10:30 max in order to make the whole deal without being stressed if you will make it. In Bocas Town, if your accomodation is not close, ours was 20 minutes walk you can pay a cab – pickup taxi, it costs 1$ per person. Same price locals and foreigners.
For us it was around 5 hours 30 minutes door to door so its doable in half a day. You can start early like us (we took 8:15am bus) and still make it to one of the beaches. Our suggestion for day 1, especially if you are in old town or close, is to take a taxi boat to Carenero Island – its just across the way 1 minute ride costing 1$. Then you can walk around the track for 15 minutes to get to the beach. That way the day is not lost.