Let me tell you how we travelled from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro as well as a few other ways
We made this exact journey while on our backpacking trip through Central America. Getting from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro is actually one of the simplest journeys we made on our trip, and you will see why in this post.
I am glad you are planning to make this trip because Bocas Del Toro was the only place in Central America where as soon as we arrived my heart felt at home. I remember thinking to myself, I could definitely live here. I’m not sure what it was exactly but I loved it there.
The small Island life, lack of road traffic, sea air and colourful buildings all thrown together on some of the most beautiful Islands I have seen. Yep, that was probably it.
So now that I’ve proclaimed my love for Bocas Del Toro let’s jump straight into the best way to get there from Puerto Viejo.
How to get From Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro
The simplest, fastest and most efficient way to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro is with a Tourist shuttle bus and boat. The best company to book the journey with is Caribe Shuttles and you pay one fee but it includes both the shuttle and boat to the Island.
Let’s break down the journey so you know exactly what to expect;
Book your shuttle ticket online
It is wise to book your shuttle at least a few days in advance to make sure you can get the date and time that you want. However, keep in mind that when you enter Costa Rica you are required to show proof of onward travel.
Due to this, we booked our shuttle before we even arrived in Costa Rica, about a month in advance. We got reminders from Caribe a couple of days before the trip to make sure we were ready for our journey.
The booking process on their website is really straightforward. You select the date and time option that you want to travel. You can select to depart at 6 am, 8 am or 12 pm each day.
A ticket costs around $40 per person including taxes.
Make sure you are ready and waiting on the day of your trip
On the day of your journey, you will need to be up and ready with all your bags packed roughly 30 minutes before your expected pick-up time. They will collect you from your hotel or hostel so you don’t need to travel anywhere. There is an additional fee of $12 if they need to collect you from
Our pick-up was surprisingly bang on time but some people are collected a little earlier and they will only wait 5 minutes for you if you aren’t ready.
You will also need to make sure you have your passport and some cash to hand for the border.
Take the Shuttle to the border at Sixaola
The first leg of the journey is a shuttle to the Border at Sixaola. Here you will have to jump out and go through the immigration checks on foot.
This first part of the journey takes around 45 minutes.
What to expect at the border
When you get to the border at Sixaola the driver will show you where to go to have your passports checked. You will need to take all of your bags with you because you will not be getting back on the same shuttle bus.
There are some men with trolleys who will take your bag across for you for a tip but it is totally up to you.
You will join the queue at the immigration office and they will stamp your passport for you. You will also have to pay a $9 exit fee at Costa Rica Immigration. This must be paid in cash. This whole process did not take too long but it will depend on how busy the border is on the day you travel.
Once you have had your passport stamped and paid your exit fee it is time to walk across the Sixaola bridge. Hopefully, your bags are not too heavy because it is a big bridge.
You need to cross the river and enter into Panama.
Once on the Panama side of the bridge, you will be directed to the left to go through Panama Immigration and Customs and get your entry stamp.
Take another shuttle to the boats in Almirante
Once you are all done with immigration your second driver of the day will be waiting to collect you. Don’t worry they are usually walking around with a list and asking everyone in the queue for customs for names so he will already know who they need to take with them.
They are very well organised like that.
The second shuttle will depart when everyone is present and take you directly to the boats at Almirante. The drive takes around an hour.
Take a boat across to Bocas del Toro
Once you arrive at the boats the driver and men working the boats will transfer all of the bags into the boat and everyone will pile in. You are given a life jacket to wear as a precaution but it is a very smooth journey.
The boat crossing takes no more than 30 minutes and we thoroughly enjoyed the views along the way. You go past all the banana shipping containers being filled and ready to set sail around the world.
When you arrive at Bocas Del Toro you are in the centre of town and can easily walk on to your destination or grab a taxi boat across to the neighbouring island.
The whole journey from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro takes around 4 hours and really is that simple.
Alternative ways to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro
Although you now know the simplest way to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro, there is of course always more than one way to get from A to B. Here are some other options you could also consider.
By Public Bus, Taxi and Boat
It is possible to catch the public bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola. Cross the border and either take 2 buses or take a Taxi to Almirante. Then of course jump on a boat across to Bocas Del Toro.
This way will likely work out around the same price as the shuttle but will take longer.
The bus will only cost around $3.50 but will take around 90 minutes in total. They leave every hour from 6:30 am from Puerto Viejo. Once in Panama, you can either take a bus a bus to Changuinola and then another to Almirante or you can take a taxi the whole way.
The boat crossing should only cost around $5 from any of the docks. They tend to leave once they are full so do not stick to set timetables.
By Taxi and Boat
You can of course skip the buses altogether and take Taxis in Costa Rica and Panama. You will have to switch and cross the border alone and find a new taxi but this way will likely be the fastest.
How To Get From Bocas Del Toro Back To Costa Rica?
If you plan to make a return journey back to Puerto Viejo you can do the exact same journey but in reverse. Book a shuttle journey again with Caribe shuttles and do the whole thing backwards.
The journey from Bocas Del Toro to Puerto Viejo costs the same amount but if you book a round trip all in one go they give a discount.
You can of course make the journey back to Costa Rica using public transport too and this site is a great guide to follow for bus times in Central America.
More Routes To Get To Bocas Del Toro
As it may also be the case that you plan to travel from either San Jose in Costa Rica or Panama City, I will also give you some information on how to make those two longer journeys to Bocas Del Toro.
San Jose to Bocas Del Toro
To get from San Jose to Bocas Del Toro you will want to do the same journey that I have just explained but you will need to take one extra bus first to get from San Jose to Puerto Viejo.
The bus we took would be the best one for this journey.
You will need to head to this bus terminal in San Jose and catch the bus to Sixaola. The buses leave each day at 6 am, 8 am, 10 am, 2 pm, 4 pm, and 6 pm. It is best to go to the terminal the day before to buy your ticket to make sure you get a seat. A Ticket will cost around $14.
You just need to make sure you jump off the bus in Puerto Viejo if you plan to take the shuttle from there. Otherwise, continue to Sixaola to do the entire journey by public transport.
Panama City To Bocas Del Toro
To get to Bocas Del Toro from Panama City, you have 2 choices.
You can either fly or take a night bus.
To fly to the islands will be with Air Panama leaving from Albrook Airport so keep that in mind as your international flight may land in Panama City’s other Airport.
To Take the night bus you will need to head to Albrook bus terminal and catch the bus heading to Almirante. The buses leave each day around 6.30/7 pm from terminal 6. A ticket costs around $35 and the entire journey should take about 12 hours.
You will arrive in Almirante where you can then take a water taxi across to Bocas Del Toro. The first boats leave at 7 am.
Where To Stay In Bocas Del Toro
When it comes to the best places to stay in Bocas Del Toro, I highly recommend staying on the main Island, near or in the town so you can be close to all the fun. These are my top recommendations for places to stay;
Budget Option – Surfari Bocas
This is where we stayed and it was perfect for what we needed. A clean room, nice beds and a working shower. Check! It was also in a really great spot right near the centre of town so we never had to walk far.
Luxury Option – Eclypse de Mar Acqua Lodge
If you didn’t think you could get luxury overwater bungalows in Panama then think again. These stunning bungalows are located in a secluded bay on an Island a short boat ride away from the main town and surrounded by nature.
The water is beautifully turquoise and just waiting for you to dive in!
If you are travelling on a budget then check out our guide to the best hostels in Central America.
Best Day Trips In Bocas Del Toro
While in Bocas Del Toro I can highly recommend hiring a Scooter or ATV for the day and getting out to explore some of the island.
We spent a day out exploring Starfish Beach.
This was such a special beach thanks to the hundreds of starfish that call it their home. You read our guide to visiting Starfish Beach here.
You can also take a taxi boat across to Red Frog Beach to try and spot some of the little red frogs that live there. Or get out and explore any of the amazing beaches around the islands.
However, we think the best way to spend a day out on Bocas Del Toro is on a diving or snorkelling trip. We did several dives while on the Island and the corals are some of the most colourful I have ever seen.
The sea is warm, it’s clear and it’s full of life which all comes together to make this a perfect place to jump in and explore under the surface.
Puerto Viejo To Bocas Del Toro – FAQs
Hopefully, now you are feeling confident ahead of your journey from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro but just in case here are a few more questions people frequently ask.
Can you fly to Bocas Del Toro?
Yes, you can fly directly to Bocas Del Toro from Panama City.
How far is it from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro?
It is not far at all, the whole journey takes around 4 hours. That includes the shuttle to the border, the border crossing, the shuttle to the boats and the boat to the island.
Is it worth it to go to Bocas del Toro?
Absolutely! We loved the time we spent in Bocas Del Toro and would highly recommend everyone to go and spend some time on these beautiful islands.
How Long do you need in Bocas Del Toro?
I believe the ideal amount of time is 5 days to a week but as a minimum, I would say no less than 3 days.
For inspiration on how to organise your time in Panama check out our 8-day itinerary.
Puerto Viejo To Bocas Del Toro – Final Thoughts
Travelling from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro is quick and easy, especially for Central America. Whether you are visiting Panama or Costa Rica or on a bigger trip, I can’t recommend a visit to these Islands enough.
They are perfect for diving, enjoying island life and even partying if you want to.
I hope you have the best time and as always, feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions.