We skipped Boca de Toro in Panama to catch a last-minute yet really cheap flight from Panama City to Colombia. So although we didn’t get to see or do much in Panama (we’ll be back!) what we can share is a quick and cheap way to travel from Puerto Viejo to Panama City.
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Puerto Viejo to Sixaola:
The bus leaves Autotransportes Mepe every 30 minutes, costs 1,670 colones (€ 2.50) pp and takes an hour. Catch the bus that leaves no later than 11.30 am for any travel contingency and remember Panama is an hour ahead.
Time: One hour
Exit the Sixaola bus station towards the main street and, faced with a large bridge, head up the stairs towards it.
NOTE: If you need a bathroom don’t pay at the bus stop, there are free toilets at Immigration.
Unless you have a credit card, the small shop facing the bottom of the ‘bridge stairs’ only accepts cash payments. They may tag on a $1 charge.
Armed with a credit card, we went straight to the immigration office, filled out our entry forms and paid the Costa Rica exit fee of $7 pp, using the self-service machine, inside the office on the left-hand side.
Once stamped, head straight across the bridge.
Nope, it’s no longer the cool, old, ruin-down bridge you’ve probably seen displayed across so many Instagram profiles.
Now, lays a newly paved, less adventurous one. But still, crossing a border by bridge is a new one to add to the list.
As directed by the border patrol, at the end of the bridge, take the immediate right, to find another ticket office.
Here, they make you pay a $3 fee for a small sticker on your passport. Unfortunately, after much research, we can conclude this is a scam, even more unfortunate is that you will have a hard time trying not to pay for it. In the end, we reluctantly parted with the $3 each.
Once you receive the most pointless sticker, take the stairs down and pop around the corner on your left.
Across from where the minivans are parked, you will find the Panama immigration office.
Note: Don’t forget to visit here to have your passport stamped. We nearly missed this office, as it’s annoyingly hidden.
We heard of and, on the day, witnessed others being asked for proof of onward travel. Thankfully we were prepared, fortunately, I wasn’t asked but Luke was.
Here’s our guide on how best to secure onward proof of travel.
After flashing our passports, scanning some fingerprints and posing for a photo, we were stamped in and sent off in our merry way.
Overall, immigration took us nearly 45 minutes to get through. Offices on both sides of the border are extremely small with only two members of staff, so do expect queues. Give yourself at least an hour and a half.
Time: One hour
Guabito Frontera to Changuinola:
Exit immigration and head back towards the stairs you originally came down. Here you will find a number of yellow collectivos.
For $1.50 pp, any of these collectivos will bring you directly to Changuinola. The drive takes 20 minutes.
Alternatively, there are buses that leave every half hour for $1. To get back on the road as quickly as possible, we forked out on the extra $0.50.
Remember: Once again, Panama is an hour ahead of Costa Rica. Time to change the clocks! Unless you have data, your phone won’t update automatically.
Time: 30 minutes
Changuinola to Panama City:
The taxi and/or bus will drop you at the main bus station in Changuinola.
The first thing to do on arrival is to book your seat on the direct overnight bus to Panama City. There is one that leaves at 6 p.m. for $29. Pricey indeed, but it is the quickest and cheapest way we could find. The alternative option below means more time and more buses, just to save $1.
Just be sure to buy your tickets as soon as possible, these buses fill up fast.
Alternatively, if you miss the last overnight bus or if it is fully booked. Don’t fret.
From the same station, ask for a bus heading to David. Buses to David leave every hour, cost around $10 and take 4-5 hours to get there.
From David, you will need to get a bus to Panama City. Buses leave every hour, take 4-5 hours and cost around $16. Usually, buses go directly from David to Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City.
Time: 10 hours
Panama City to Pacifico Int Airport:
Thanks to the low season and the fact we were constantly watching flight prices, the cheapest option for us was Panama City to Bogota with Viva Colombia Airlines at €64 pp.
To avail of cheap flights, start the search early on and try to be flexible with dates and arrival airports.
Using Viva Colombia, whatever online rate you secure, if booking for two people, you will notice the price increases.
To avoid additional costs, book seats separately.
For example, our flights to Bogota came in at €64e pp (not the euros!). When booking for two people at the same time the price jumped to €92 pp. Damn your taxes and charges.
Book separately knowing that worst case, you won’t get to sit beside each other on the plane. The plane was half empty so this wasn’t an issue for us, and sure it’s only a 1.5-hour flight.
Just like in Costa Rica and Panama, proof of onward travel is required before boarding the plane. You will need to show it at check-in.
Flights with Viva La Colombia depart from Panama Pacifico International Airport (previously known as Howard Air Force Base).
There is a direct bus to this airport from Albrook Bus Terminal, Buses do not always leave from the same gate so ask at any information point.
It costs less than €1 and takes around 40 minutes.
Sidenote: In Bogota airport, exchange money and use ATMS after the exit. Less fees and charges.
To book your transport online, check out Bookaway.com
Safe and happy travelling guys!
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