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Crossing the Costa Rica/Panama Border

Many of the people heading down to Costa Rica want to know what the trip is like either crossing the border in Nicaragua or Panama. This trip in most cases is to renew someone’s tourist VISA which is what perpetual tourist are required to do every 90 days. If you are just travelling through Central America you might also be doing this trip.  Let’s here one of our writer’s personal experience with this.

Bridge at Panama BorderHi my name is Rose and I travelled to Bocas de Toro, Panama this past week. It was quite the adventure to say the least. I hope that my experience will help with people wanting to find out more about this travel between Costa Rican and Panama.

After searching internet and talking to friends, my good friend and I decided to head south to Panama upon hearing many wonderful stories about this country. Only having a week for the trip, we decided to stay closer to Costa Rica and decided on Bocas del Toro and save the trip to Panama City for a later date.

Tuesday morning I woke up and was out the door by 8 am. My friend and I took the bus to San Jose from Pavas.

We took a 5 minutes taxi ride to the Mepe bus station and bought tickets to the bus to Sixiola which is on the frontera (the border) of Panama for 6500 colones, about $13. It was a long ride but sandwiches, chips and a good nap helped make it go by fast. Arriving in Sixiola, we walked up to the border gate wherein the security guard informed us it was 5:15 and immigration had just closed at 5. We along with 4 guys from Buenos Aires, Argentina could hardly believe it and after all day traveling.

Yes, we are all frustrated with this tried to figure out if there was any exception to this rule or if there was any way we could cross. My friend spotted a local police officer nearby and went to speak with him. This officer was very kind to us and informed us that we should catch the Mepe bus back to Puerto Viejo for 1600 colones (about $3) and get a hotel for the night.  The border would re-open the next day at 7 am.

So off we went to the small town of Puerto Viejo, which we loved and knew very well.  Having had made several trips there we knew Mr. Palmer a local business owner would have a cabina waiting for us to get a good night’s sleep and a hot meal.  Anyone wanting a couple nights at the beach, this small town is known for a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere on the southern Caribbean coast. There are lots of delicious restaurants, hostels, beaches, and friendly natives. So althoughBoat to Bocas del Toro we were disappointed at the border we made the best of the situation.

We awoke next morning at 6 am and caught the bus back to the frontera to cross the border when it opened. After Costa Rican immigration stamped our passports, off we went. We walked slowly across the railroad bridge that had many boards used as walking paths across Rio Sixiola to Guabito, Panama getting a helping hand from a small boy who wheeled our luggage along and lead the way.

We had one small mishap, one of the Argentinians dropped his camera through the wooden planks on the bridge, where it landed oddly on a pile of brush debris at the base of the bridge. Upon reaching the other side, we found a man with a boat who helped go “fish” the camera out of the debris. We realized then the boy who helped us with our luggage was in the water with another swimming to the camera and retrieved it before the boat got there. All was well, as the camera was back with its owner. We were thankful for those that go the extra mile in helping a stranger.

Back to the border crossing experience, we found another line to get our passports checked by Panama immigration and finally were going to be on the way to Bocas….. but not so fast. It is required to show that you are going back to Costa Rica and had to run down the road get a return bus ticket for $14 USD from Changuinola, Panama to get this proof of return. (A tip – carry US dollars since it’s almost impossible to change colones into $s once on the Panama side.)

Finally getting our passports stamped, we found a taxi van where we took an hour long ride to Almirente to catch a water taxi to Bocas del Toro.  This only costs $4 each and it was a lovely 1/2 boat ride to our destination. Greeted by friendly locals wanting to help us find a place for the night and the bright, hot sun we walked until we found a hotel for the night. Leaving our bags in the hotel, we immediately went in search of the beach to go for a swim in the warm waters.

Stay tuned for part 2, Spending Time in Bocas del Toro.

By Rose Wolf

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