Travel Tips: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Boquete, Panama

If you’re traveling through Costa Rica, you have two border crossing options, though only one is really feasible if you’re coming from Puerto Viejo.  While the Paso Canoas border is the largest and is located only an hour from David, you’ll need to instead pass through Sixaola in the north, a whopping five hours from David.  The ride, however, is extraordinarily beautiful through the Panamanian highlands so it’s not quite a torturous as it sounds. 

Puerto Viejo to Guabito/Sixaola: CRC$1,590 ($3) each, 90 minutes

First locate the bus station in Puerto Viejo.  It should be approximately the same spot you were dropped off on the way there.  Considering Puerto Viejo is so small, it’s easy; all you need to do is find the main street that runs along the beach.  The bus stops right in front of the large red roofed structure with open walls.  You can buy bus tickets at a tiny office across the street.  Ask the man at the café right there if you can’t find the office because it’s a little difficult to see.

Because it’s a long journey up to Boquete, get an early bus.  We hopped on the 8:30am and still didn’t get to Boquete until well after dark.  The earliest bus starts at 5:30am and they run every hour.

Gaubito/Sixaola: $8 each, 30 minutes

The bus will drop you off in an empty dirt lot. Walk to the road and turn left.  Almost immediately, you’ll come to a small office on the left where you need to pay $4 exit fee to leave Costa Rica.  Apparently, it’s not enough to charge you when you enter.  From there, walk up the loose dirt hill onto the paved road.  A little farther ahead uyou’ll see a clear immigration office on the right side.  Go inside and pick up a customs form, go back outside to fill it out, then back inside to get your passport stamped.  Then cross the bridge next to steel frame one, or cross the steel frame one if you really want to take your life in your hands.  I’ve read about other travelers doing it and the border officials don’t really seem to care.

Immediately after the bridge, veer right and get in line a dinky little window where you’ll pay a $4 entrance fee to Panama.  You’ll get a stamped piece of paper proving you paid this.  Hang on to it because you’ll need it to get stamped.

This is also where we screwed up epically.  Once you pay your entrance fee, there is no clear next place to go.  The Panamanian immigration office is tucked off to the side down an alley with virtually no signage pointing to it.  Because of that, we got immediately on the bus to Changuinola and it wasn’t until we had practically reached the next town that we realized our mistake.  We then had a choice: continue on into Panama illegally and hope to God they didn’t check for an entry stamp on the way out, or go all the way back to get the stupid stamp and waste precious time in what was already a long day.  We decided entering the country illegally would be a stupid move and decided to go all the way back to the border to get our passports stamped. 

To save yourself this hassle, make sure you go down the stairs to the right as soon as you finish paying your entrance fee.  Going down the stairs to the left will take you to the lot where the buses stop.  At the bottom of the stairs, go to the very first buildingon the left and walk straight down the road going past it.  You should see a sign for immigration at the end.  With no lines at the office, we walked right up and got our passports stamped.

Sixaola to Changuinola: $1 each, 30 minutes

Boy, are we experts on this route, having traveled it three times.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t require much expertise.  Get on the bus in the dirt lot opposite the side of the street where the immigration office.   Buses depart every thirty minute or so.

Changuinola to David: $10 each, 5 hours

If you tell the bus driver ahead of time that you need the bus to David, he’ll drop you off at the terminal where those buses leave.  If you don’t tell him, he’ll got to the main terminal, which is a scant two blocks up the mina street from the terminal you need.  Either way, it’s easy enough to find the hourly bus or minibus to David.  This bus ride is long and windy, but it’s a really beautiful route through the lush and misty Panamanian mountains.  If you’re early enough, it won’t get dark on you and you’ll have the view the entire way. 

It’s also an exciting ride, to say the least.  At one point, we saw another minibus passing us nearly get nailed head-on by a charter bus coming around a blind corner.  Then, about an hour outside David, our bus blew a tire, which was perfect because I was already nervous that I wasn’t going to make the last 9pm bus from David to Boquete.  The tire took about 40 minutes to change with the help of a stranger who had a better ratchet for removing the bolts. 

David to Boquete: $1.75 each, 1 hour

David’s main bus terminal has two parallel sides and if you just ask where the bus to Boquete is, someone will point you in the right direction.  The drivers will be yelling “Boquete!” and name will be printed on the bus.  Note that the last bus leaves at 9pm so make sure you’re on it unless you want to spend an impromptu night in David.