How to get from Bocas Del Toro, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica

Bocas Del Toro to San Jose

The trip from Bocas Del Toro to San Jose consists of:

  • Water taxi to Almirante
  • Taxi van or bus to Changuinola
  • Bus to the border
  • Cross the border on foot
  • Meet the bus on the other side of the border and continue to San Jose

Please note: there is only one bus a day from Changuinola to San Jose and it leaves at 10am. So make sure you leave Isla Colon on an early boat (like 7am).

From Isla Colon to Almirante

Travel time: 20 minutes. Get yourself to the dock on Isla Colon, there are a couple of places you can catch a water taxi, if you have bought a return ticket from Almirante make sure you go to the right dock for your return journey. We had the option of $4 one way or an open return for $7.

Almirante to Changuinola

Travel time 20-30 minutes. Once you arrive in Almirante you will be accosted by many persistent drivers shouting about going to Changuinola. You can either share a taxi van for about $8 or catch a bus. The taxi van is more convenient and the bus is slightly cheaper. To get a bus walk 5-10 minutes or take a $1-2 taxi to the bus stop they leave every 30 minutes.

Changuinola, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica

Travel time 6 hours. In Changuinola the bus stop is marked with a small sign hanging above the pavement. If you are lucky you may meet the charismatic Simon who volunteers his time to meet travellers and make sure they get the info they need. If you have the benefit of his services make sure you give him a tip!

The bus (approx $10) will take you first to the border, where you leave your luggage on board and walk to the immigration office for exit procedures, then cross the bridge on foot and voila! You are in Costa Rica, complete entry procedures there, and then walk back to meet the bus.

Once everyone is through, the bus which will head to San Jose with a couple of short stops for food along the way.

Note: Although we had no trouble, we have heard that Costa Rican airport immigration can be tough on entry if you don’t have a flight booked out. Many travellers have had to buy a ticket on the spot even if their plans are to leave overland.

To be on the safe side it helps to print evidence of your onwards journeys or buy an open Tica bus ticket. If you find yourself in this position think about buying a fully refundable ticket. They cost a lot more but you can get your money back!

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8 thoughts on “How to get from Bocas Del Toro, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica”

  1. In regards to your note: when you say costa rican airport immigration can be tough on entry, do you mean that at the panama border you can have troubles or do you mean that when flying into the airport in san jose you can have trouble if you do not have proof of onward travel?

    • Hi Emily, actually both. As far as airport immigration goes, you often have to prove onward journeys at your place of origin as well as upon entry into Costa Rica.

      Certain airlines (like Spirit) will not let you board a plane from the US to certain Latin American destinations without proof of your onward travel.

      If you are flying in you have a much greater chance of having hassles upon entry if you have no proof of a flight out.

      If you are crossing borders overland, it seems to depend on who you get at the immigration counter. No one asked us when we crossed, but people we met who travelled the day before were forced to buy a refundable ticket on the spot before entering.

      So, to play it safe, have something you can show that proves you intend to leave – we have gone through the process of booking a flight online, then printed the confirmation before paying. This is usually enough to keep them happy.

  2. Hi, was just wondering what company this bus from Changuinola to San Jose is? Is it TicaBus? And did you have to book your tickets in advance or did you just buy them at the terminal before departing?

    • Hi Rhiannan, it was not TicaBus, just a regular local bus. You don’t have to buy in advance, you buy them on the bus from the driver. But I don’t think there are many each day (maybe only one) so just ask in advance so that you get there early enough. If you are coming from Bocas Del Toro all the tourists head there at the same time in the morning.

    • Hi Ally, when we did it the bus cost about $10. I can’t tell you if it is still running, but I don’t see why not as people want to take that route daily. Just ask around when you get to Bocas Del Toro – everyone seems to know the times there.


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