Costa Rica is a rich country. Well, not rich the way you may be thinking, but in other ways.
Rich in biodiversity, beauty, culture, smiles, and in the Pura Vida style of life. Those are the things the other kind of rich just can’t buy.
And what’s more, Costa Rica is bordered to the north and south by two other countries who are similarly rich.
I’ve written about my Nicaragua experiences numerous times in the past. But, what about Panama? Panama is our neighbor to the south and it is also a super great place to visit.
Panama is the “land bridge” of the Americas. Driving from its border with Costa Rica to as close as you can get to the border with Colombia (you can’t get all the way because there is this little obstacle called the “Darian Gap” that will impede you) is a very, very long haul. Even getting halfway to Panama City will seem to take a lifetime.
But the good news is that if you want to experience a little of Panama, you can do so in a very enjoyable way by either of the two methods for a Costa Rica to Panama border crossing.
There are two land-based ways to do a Costa Rica to Panama border crossing. Yes, you can certainly do it by air as well. And these days Nature Air, one of Costa Rica’s domestic airlines, offers round trip flights from San Jose to Bocas del Toro at a very affordable price (around $200 one way with all taxes and fees).
But crossing by land you have two interesting and adventurous options, one on the Caribbean side and the other on the Pacific side.
Option 1: From Sixaola to Bocas del Toro.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is a great place to visit. And some of Costa Rica’s best beaches are just north of the Costa Rica-Panama border. So, if you want to do a Costa Rica to Panama crossing, I would recommend doing it in the following manner.
Days 1 — 2: Fly in to the San Jose international airport.
Spend the night, or if you arrive early enough, you can head east immediately. It will take you about 4 hours to get from San Jose to a great beach like Puerto Viejo, or Cahuita on the southern Caribbean coast. Spend a couple to a few days there soaking up the sun and enjoying the laid back Caribbean vibe.
Days 3 — 5: Today you will head for the border.
You can’t take a rental car across the border, so best to take a bus or some type of tourist transportation. Just like the Nicaragua border, crossing will be an intense cultural experience. But be patient, smile a lot and do as you’re told and you’ll eventually make it over.
Your destination in Panama is the beautiful area known as Bocas del Toro, only a couple hours from the Costa Rica border. Bocas del Toro (meaning “Mouth of the Bull”) is actually a province of Panama. Its area is 4,643.9 square kilometers, comprising the mainland and nine main islands.
The province consists of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Bahía Almirante (Almirante Bay), Laguna de Chiriquí (Chiriquí Lagoon), and adjacent mainland. The capital is the city of Bocas del Toro (or Bocas Town) on Isla Colón (Colón Island). Other major cities or towns include Almirante and Changuinola.
The entire area is a crystal clear watery paradise. I highly recommend that you stay at the Punta Caracol Aqualodge. It is a 5-star boutique lodge with cabinas that are actually over the water.
Bocas is a great place to just kick back and do nothing. However, for you active types there are plenty of water related things to do, like diving, snorkeling, fishing, and frolicking.
Days 6 — 7: Back across the border and on to San Jose.
You will probably arrive back late, so plan on spending the last night in the city and flying out the next day.
Option 2: From Paso Canoas to Boquete.
The Pacific side crossing will be at Paso Canoas. This is a long way from San Jose, so I really recommend breaking up the trip to Paso Canoas with a stay on one of Costa Rica’s great central to southern Pacific beaches, like Manuel Antonio or Dominical.
Days 1 — 2: Fly into San Jose and assuming you arrive early enough, make a b-line to either Manuel Antonio or Dominical.
These days with our improved Costanera (coastal) highway, Manuel Antonio can be reached from San Jose in about 3 hours and Dominical is only another 30 minutes south. Let’s have you spend a couple days at either of those locations, enjoying the National Park at Manuel Antonio, or the great surf in Dominical.
Day 3: You can either take a bus or some tourist transportation to the border at Paso Canoas.
Crossing again will be an exercise in patience, but believe me, it can be done (thousands do it daily and some of them really should NOT be allowed to).
Once you get across, you will head into Panama with your initial destination being the city of David. But you won’t stop there.
It will take you around an hour from the border to David and then from David around another hour to reach our final destination of Boquete, Panama. The recommended place to stay will be the quaint and cultured Panamonte Inn.
I like to think of Boquete as sort of Panama’s version of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Boquete is a small town on the Caldera River, in the green mountain highlands of Panama, in western-most Chiriquí Province, about 60 kilometers from the border with Costa Rica.
Because of its altitude, some 1,200 metres above sea level, its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands (which in Panama, are friggin hot!). Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it extremely popular tourists from all over the world.
Day 4: Spend the day getting to know Boquete.
Days 5 — 6: Head back to Costa Rica.
You will definitely want to break up the long trip back with a stay somewhere along the midpoint. I suggest my current hometown of San Isidro del General in the delightful province of Perez Zeledon. Then head towards San Jose on the Pan American highway over Cerro de la Muerte and down to the Central Valley.
Day 7: Adios as it’s time to head back to the States (or, wherever you are from).
One thing I should mention is that the devil is certainly in the transportation details. Getting from one place to the other is not that easy, especially when border crossings are involved.
There are public transportation lines that you can take that will get you there, across and beyond. But that type of transportation takes a lot longer generally than the times noted above.
So, which Costa Rica to Panama border crossing option is best?
Ah, you see, that’s “American” style competitive thinking. Why does there always have to be a best?
Neither is best and both are different. If you are looking for an intense beach experience, then maybe the Costa Rica-Panama Southern Caribbean option will work best for you. However, if you want to mix things up a bit, with a little mountains and beach, then the Costa Rica Pacific to Boquete option will probably best float your boat.
It just depends on what you want and Costa Rica (with Panama) can deliver!
Travelling From Costa Rica to Panama.
Article/Property ID Number 9100
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