How to get to Bocas del Toro?
The most common ways travelers come to Bocas del Toro are:
- By airplane from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
- By airplane from San José, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro
- By bus from Panama City to Almirante, then a water taxi or the ferry to Bocas del Toro
- By bus from San José, Costa Rica through Sixaola (northern border) to Almirante, then a water taxi or the ferry to Bocas del Toro
Flying from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
You can fly into Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City and from there, Air Panama will take you to Bocas del Toro via Albrook Airport (PAC, also known as Marcos A. Gelabert Airport) in Panama City to Isla Colón International Airport (BOC) in Bocas del Toro. Online reservations can be made at: www.airpanama.com.
Tocumen International Airport is located in the outskirts of Panama City, while Albrook Airport, the domestic airport, is located within the city. It’s about a 35 minute commute without traffic between both airports, and 1 – 2.5 hours with traffic. A taxi should cost around $35.
Air Panama has multiple daily flights from Albrook Airport to Bocas del Toro. Flight times vary depending on the day of the week and the season. During certain times of the year, flights may be completely full, so be sure to book in advance. If you have a flight into Tocumen Airport that lands early in the morning you can still make it to Bocas del Toro in the same day via Albrook Airport, providing there aren’t any delays or major traffic jams in Panama City. Air Panama has a 14 kg baggage allowance; people tend to pay between $5 – $20 for any additional luggage.
Flying from San José, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro
For many parts of the world, flights to Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San José, Costa Rica are cheaper than tickets to Panama City. As well, Nature Air (www.natureair.com) flies into Isla Colón International Airport (BOC) in Bocas del Toro from the same airport, making it considerably easier. Nature Air has multiple daily flights that vary depending on the day of the week and the season, but if you find an early flight into San José you can definitely make a flight into Bocas del Toro for the afternoon.
Another Nature Air terminal is located at Tobias Bolaños International Airport (SYQ), about 5 miles west of downtown and about 10 miles away from the Juan Santamaria International Airport if no acceptable times are available to you in SJO.
Don’t forget that you will have to pay a $29 international departure fee from Costa Rica as well as showing a valid exit ticket via plane or bus to get into Panama.
Bus from Panama City to Almirante, then by Boat to Bocas del Toro
If you want to save some money, then taking the overnight bus from Panama City to Almirante (10 – 11 hours), and then a water taxi or the ferry from Almirante to Bocas del Toro is the way to go.
You can take a taxi from Tocumen International Airport ($35) or from your hotel in Panama City to Albrook Bus Terminal (Gran Terminal de Transporte, www.grantnt.com). From there you can get the overnight bus to Almirante, passing through Davíd (approximately $30). The bus leaves at 8pm, 9pm and 10pm each night. In Almirante you can take a water taxi (30 minutes, $6) or the ferry (2 hours, $2) to arrive in Bocas del Toro. Boats run every 30 minutes each day from 6 am to 6 pm.
The only times when you will not be able to easily catch a bus are on national holidays or when there is a school break (3 times a year and dates constantly change). On these days you are better off booking a flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro because buses can get chaotic.
Bus from Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro, Crossing through Sixaola
In San José, Costa Rica you can take a private shuttle (www.caribeshuttle.com, www.costaricajust4u.com) through Sixaola at the Costa Rican border to Almirante in Panama (about 7 hours plus border crossing time). Shuttle prices should include water taxi fare to get to Bocas del Toro.
You can also take a bus from San José to Sixaola, do the immigration procedures, cross over to the Panamanian side, do the rest of the immigration procedures, and then take another bus for 20 minutes to Changuinola ($2). You will change buses in Changuinola to go to Almirante (45 minutes, $1.50). From Almirante you can take a $1 taxi ride to the boat terminal and hop on a water taxi (30 minutes, $6) or the ferry (2 hours, $2) to Bocas del Toro. Boats run every 30 minutes each day from 6 am – 6 pm.
At the border in Sixaola you will have to get an exit stamp from Costa Rica, and then when you cross the border to the Panamanian side you will 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.