When I came to Costa Rica, I didn’t have any plans of visiting Panama as I had only 24 days there and I really wanted to relax and not to rush from one place to another like I always do. But then I heard about Bocas del Toro, paradise islands very close to the Costa Rican – Panaman border and just some 3 – 4hours from the Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica where I was staying. So I decided to take a chance and visit Bocas del Toro (in English – Mouth of a Bull) which are simply called Bocas (mouth).
I took a Caribe Shuttle van that picked me up at Congo Bongo Beach Rental Houses in Manzanillo and after picking up all the other passengers, we made our way to the border (less than an hour). There another guy from the shuttle was waiting for us and showed us what we had to do at the border.
inside Caribe Shuttle van
After stamping our passports at the Costa Rican border, we had to walk the bridge over the river to get to Panama. I have to admit I have never seen a bridge like that. At least not where I had to walk myself with 30 kg of baggage. It has been raining so the bridge was slippery. It was half wooden and half metal, with a big truck driving through the wooden part of it and the passengers the metal one. I m not sure which one of them was more destroyed. I even slipped when walking and then had a bruise for 2 more weeks. Just be careful when walking through the bridge, especially after the rain.
bridge between Costa Rica and Panama
Once in Panama, you have to pay $3 to enter the country and afterwards they give you a stamp saying you did pay. Usually you need to show your ticket out of Panama for them to let you in the country. They can be very picky with this.
Fortunately, everything went just fine for me so after a couple of minutes at the border (it can take up to 1 hour at the border depending on the amount of the tourists) we could get another van waiting for us there and drive to Changuinola port. There we just registered writing down our names and the nationality and hopped on a boat. The boat ride took us around 40 minutes and it was very interesting.
stilt houses in Changuinola seen from the boat
boat trip between Changuinola and Bocas del Toro
First we got to see all the stilt houses around the port and how the people live in there. Then we rode through the sea in between the islands until we got to Isla Colon, the main island of Bocas del Toro. There was another guy waiting for us from Caribe Shuttle in case we needed some help with accommodation or any advice.
After 5 days in Bocas del Toro, I had to come back to Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica so I took Caribe Shuttle again. The meeting point was this time in the port in Bocas as from anywhere in the town it is just a couple of minutes walking to get there. A guy from Caribe Shuttle was waiting for us in the port at 8am and then we took a boat back to CHanguinola. Being a huge lover of boats, I really enjoyed the ride saying the last goodbye to the islands. The way back was the same like the way there, a van to the border, first the Panaman border to get a $3 stamp into it, then the bridge (which I survived this time without any harm as I knew what to expect) and then a van back to Puerto Viejo.
I have to say that if you are in the Caribbean of Costa Rica and you have some time, you should go to visit Bocas del Toro at least for a couple of days. Or when you are in Bocas, you should seriously consider visiting Costa Rica. Definitely the easiest and the best way to do so is by Caribe Shuttle which is from $32 to $38 one way and you don’t have to worry about anything as it takes you from point A to point B.
My Caribe Shuttle was a press trip. All the thoughts in this article are my own.