The transport to the islands is by water taxi, ideal to visit a secluded beach or to do any of the neighboring islands
Boats departs frequently from the towns of Almirante and Changuinola. If you re coming from the Costa Rican border it is faster to take the boat in Changuinola (7 US$), if you re coming from David, it will be cheaper to take the boat from Almirante (4 US$).
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Sailing and Boating
Getting from BDT to Costa Rica
I signed up over the internet for a shuttle to take me from the island to the mainland, then to the border. THey walk you thru the border stuff, then pick you up on the other side and take you to your hotel in Puerto Viejo area, Costa Rica. If you buy a ticket at the office in Bocas, it's even cheaper. They go the other way too. $25-$34.
Plane or bus?
There are daily flights from Panama city with Air Panama and Aeroperlas. I took the second one because it was cheaper. It costs 93$ one way, 120$ return and takes you to Bocas in 45 minutes to one hour. The plane starts at Albrook Airport where Aeroperlas has an office (315 7500). I, personally, was directed to the famous Hotel El Panama, on Via Espana, where there is a little desk of the company. (223 2804).
The airport on Colon island is four blocks from the main square or 10 minutes on foot. But you can still use a taxi which shouldn't be more than 1$ for such a short distance.
The flight is pleasant because it is low enough to have a map-like overview of the Panamanian topography.
There are no buses to drop you at Albrook airport. You should take a taxi. Don't give them more than 2$ for a day ride and 3 $ for a call and night ride! The official price is 1.50$-1.75$. It's only a 15 minute ride.
If you decide to take that long bus ride you will first arrive in David, then in Almirante. There you will take a taxi to the pier where the boats for Colon island are waiting. The boat (lanza) from Almirante to Bocas costs 4$ and finally you will arrive right at the center of action. The whole journey from Panama city is more than 12 hours.
From Bocas the boats to Almirante run often from 7:00am to 6:00pm. At Almirante pier the taxis for the bus stop should not cost you more than 2$. It's only a distance of 2 kilometers to the junction where the bus for David stops. It is a small overpacked local bus so keep your valuables in your small pack, because your big bag will probably end up on the roof... This one cost me 7$ as far as David terminal (terminal telephone 775 0268 ) and it took us 4 -4.30 hours. If you are heading to Cost Rica or coming from there it is more convenient to stop over to Changuinola and not Almirante.
U.S. to Panama
Have yet to make our trip - we are leaving on the 20th of June for the states (Newark NJ) - I spent 3 or 4 months watching airfares go up - (foolish I know), originally we were going to fly Spirit to Costa Rica but got priced out of that trip, so turned our attention to Spirit flights to Panama - but were unable to get a cheap one for our family (mom/dad - 6 kids) - So with perserverance and constant checking found that Continental had the best fares - even better than Spirit and the flights are non-stop from Newark. 313/ RT including taxes and fees. I was unable to find that fare on the regular internet travel sites (Expedia, Orbitz, etc - I went right to the airlines website - however Kayak did have the fare listed, so they are a good option).
Good luck and enjoy your trip.
When are you going? We are going from the 20th of June until 4th of July. We will let you know how it goes. We are ending our trip in Bocas as well.
Noel and Susan
Across the island by bus
One of the best places to visit in Isla de Colón definitely is the beach at Boca del Drago. Here you have a great white beach with cristal-blue water, corals just a few metres out of the coastline and the best thing: you have a good chance of having the beach (almost) all for yourself alone!
The reason why this beach is so quiet is because it is pretty far from Bocas del Toro: it is exactly at the other side of the island. And since a lot of people tend to walk to one of the nearest beaches from there, they forget about Boca del Drago. Getting there by taxi also is no option: that would be too expensive and there are no taxi's to take you back.
A good way to get there anyway is by taking a local bus. This bus is mainly used by the local people and it is definitely to cheapest way to cross the island. It departs every two hours right in front of the Parque Central and takes you to Boca del Drago in about 45 minutes. 15 minutes later it departs from there again to drive back to Bocas del Toro. The price for a one way trip is 3 dollars, for a return it is 5 dollars/
The trip takes you through the inland of the island: very different from what you see at the coast. Here you see the thick forests that cover the biggest part of Isla Colón, the local villages where the people live completely different from the people in the tourists centres, and everywhere you see huge hotels being built at some great locations.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
From Changuinola to Bocas del Toro
Because Bocas del Toro is a group of islands there are only two ways to get there: by airplane or by boat. By far the cheapest way is going there by boat. There are two places from where boats departs to the islands: Almirante and Changuinola. The first has a faster connection to the islands and a slightly cheaper one, but when you come from the north (like I did) Changuinola is closer and therefore the best option.
When you are in the harbour of Changuinola, you can buy your ticket there at the ticketoffice. For the 60 minutes trip to Isla Colón (where the town Bocas del Toro is located on) you pay 5 dollars. The boat is a semi-open one and it takes about 20 people at a time. Make sure that you are there an hour on forehand to make sure you'll get a seat. Departures are there every two hours between 7:00 AM and 6:00 PM.
The trip TO the islands for me was one of the highlights of my stay ON the islands. The first part of the trip goes through the Río Changuinola: a river in between green forests and with some small wooden houses at the banks every once in a while. And after this you enter the Caribbean Sea towards the islands and all of a sudden you see the water changing from brownish in the river into beautiful blue: the way you see it on the TV and in the magazines! Close to the islands you can see the corals from above the water already and the view of the islands is breathtaking as well.
Even if you have the money to fly to Bocas del Toro, I would always recommend: take the boat and enjoy the 60 minutes "trip trhough paradise".
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
From the border to the boat
To get to Bocas del Toro, it is the easiest to get a boat departing in the bordertown Changuinola in Panama. This is the fastest connection to the islands when you come from Costa Rica. When you come from more southern parts of Panama, Almirante also has connections to "Bocas" and it might be worth considering this option.
But since we came from Costa Rica, we had to take the boat from Changuinola. After crossing the border coming from Costa Rica we had to find transportation to the small harbour where you can catch the boat. More information about getting to the border coming from Costa Rica can be found on my Cahuita-pages. When you arrive in Panama you have two options of getting to the harbour: look for a minibus getting there and be lucky that is will get full fast enough, or take the easy (but more expensive) option: take a regular taxi.
We took the second option. Directly after crossing the bridge and passing customs the taxi-drivers will already offer you the transportation to the harbour. After a little bit of bargaining we agreed on a price of $ 10,- for two persons for the 30 minutes trip from the border to the harbour. Too much, I know, but we just wanted to get there asap.
The ride to the boat is a beautiful one. You pass through the gigantic banana-plantation of the Chiquita company which makes the trip a very green (and light blue because of the plastic bags) one. And then, all of a sudden, right in the middle of the plantations, there is the tiny harbour at the Changuinola River.
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
To Bocas del Drago by Bus/bushtaxi from Bocas Town
The best beach on Isla Colon is Bocas del Drago. It's on the other side of the island and you can get there by bus ($1.50 each way) or by collectivo van ($2.00 each way) and both are caught near the bocas town square. the buses go several times in the morning and several times in the late afternoon. Sometimes they do not run as scheduled. When the bus missed a time, i just caught a collectivo. you can rent a bike if you want a decent hump. There is some topography.
Water Taxi to Bocas
If you are traveling by land to Bocas from Costa Rica you will cross the border at Sixoala. There you will need a taxi to take you to Changuinola, about 45 minutes southeast. Some of the road is paved (if you want to call it that) but it is in really bad condition with enormous potholes and ruts and so most taxis are 4x4 pickups, cost is negotiable and about $4/person for 4 people.
The water taxis to Bocas del Toro leave from Changuinola about four times daily. The dock is actually located about ten minutes from town. The cost is about $5/person. Trip is about one hour, arriving in Bocas Town on Isla Colon. It may take a few minutes longer if it stops to drop off passengers further north on the Isle.
There is also a water taxi and a vehicle ferry that leave from the town of Almirante, south of Changuinola. At times in the pass the vehicle ferry only ran on certain days but may be running daily I've heard, due to all the construction taking place on Bocas.
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
Bus/taxi/foot bridge to Panama from CR
It is common to get to Bocas del Toro via the Sixaola/Guabito border crossing in Costa Rica and many people come down after staying a while in the Puerto Viejo area.
Buses leave Puerto Limon at 5 am and go all day long leaving every hour arriving in Sixaola just after 8 am or so. The bus stops in Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Bribri. Then you get off and walk up to the border. Sign out of Costa Rica, cross the bridge into Panama on foot and then sign into immigration.
Many nationalities, including Canadian and American, have to pay $5 for a tourist visa. Many Europeans, such as French, do not have to pay the fee.
For both countries, make sure to have proof of funds (Credit card will suffice usually) and a copy of your onward/return ticket to show them if asked.
From Guabito, you can take a bus into Changuinola and then catch a taxi to Finca 60 where the water taxis are OR you can save yourself the hassle and pay $5 (each person; a bit pricey) for a taxi straight to the water taxis. This was a good option for us as it was safe and comfortable and the driver called ahead to hold the boat for us. On the way back, we thought we were going to die since the driver was going SO fast and driving so reckless on very bad roads. YIKES!
Changuinola Water Taxi
There are two main water taxi ports from mainland Panama to Bocas. Almirante is further from the Costa Rican border and less scenic but travels more frequently (every 40 minutes or so between 6am-6pm) and is cheaper ($1).
The Changuinola water taxi costs $5 and takes about 1 hour. From the boat you go through canals and then into the ocean on the way to the islands and you may see wildlife, banana plantations, small canoes and little houses along the way. It is only about a 30-45 minute taxi ride from the border. If you take a taxi, ask if he can call ahead to see when the next launch leaves. Our taxi driver kindly asked them to hold the boat and we were able to leave right away once we arrived at the dock (Finca 60).
Local Boat Taxis
One requires a boat to visit most of the worthwhile sights throughout the archipelago. You can pay for an organized tour, but there are also many locals who will take you to places of your choosing. At the time, my Spanish was rather limited, but I managed to get a boatsman to take me to a place to snorkel and a nearby island with a fantastic beach. He also provided me with some snorkeling gear.
The $25 he charged me was a little steep, but for me it was worth it not to negotiate, which I guess in entirely possible.
It should be noted that this method might not be for the timid. The guy I hired basically dropped me off at a location with no other person around, and then we arranged a pick-up time. He was very punctual, and I was never worried, but the experience of being left in the middle of nowhere might be a little unnerving to some. Again, I was dropped off twice in this manner, and I never had any problems, so I would not worry.
Unless you fly into Bocas (a not unreasonable proposition) one must access the island by boat. This is done by water taxi from several points along the shore to the south. I left Bocas by watertaxi, and very much enjoyed the trip, which took me along a river, through the jungle to a border town where I could catch the bus into Costa Rica. The scenery was fantastic, and it was a great complement to my overall Bocas experience.
getting towed, brilliant
One day a few of us decided to rent a private boat and driver to take us to a far away island, about 1-1.5 hrs from Isla Colon (the main island). On the return, about 30 minutes away from Colon, our boat stalled as we were out of gas. Fantastic thinking on our driver's part eh?
Luckily, a boat of 2 guys motored by, and seeing us in our desperation decided to help. Mind you, this help was much appreciated but as they were in a 15 hp dinghy, it was a long and arduous journey home. They threw us a rope, we held on tight, and somehow this boat managed to slowly but surely tow all 15 people in our boat home.
- Sailing and Boating
- Budget Travel
From PTY to Bocas -- by land
We took a bus from Panama City all the way to Bocas. This is a very long bus ride, and not suitable for people who are impatient...
First, in Panama City go to the Bus Terminal and buy an express coach bus ticket to David. We decided to travel overnight to save time, and upon arriving in David, we had to walk a little from where the bus dropped us off to the David Bus Terminal. Arriving there, we bought tickets to Almirante -- the bus was a mini-bus filled mostly with locals carrying goods. Your bag will go to the rooftop, unless it's small and unintrusive, so make sure you have your valuables with you.
This mini-bus will stop to anyone who flags it down on the road, so don't expect an express service. Early in the morning, it will make a pit-stop for breakfast and for you to stretch your legs and go pee-pee, etc.
Once you arrive at Almirante, you need to hire a car (or a pick-up truck in our case) to take you to the ferry port -- this ride takes about 15 minutes by car.
When you get to the ferry, be prepared, you will be bombarded with people trying to get your bags -- the competition between the boats to take people out is fierce. It was a bit distressing, since as soon as our truck pulled up, our bags were taken from the back -- my friends went after the bags while i paid for the car ride. The driver assured me that this was normal and not to worry, that our bags would be inside safely. We get inside the "ticket office" shack, and this lady has 3 tickets ready but is waiting for our passport numbers. It all worked out well at the end, but on our way back, we kept our bags glued to us and let no one handle them.
On our way back, when we got to David, the bus was sold out, so we had to wait for a couple of hours in the terminal for the next one. We traveled overnight again... so, as soon as you get to David, go buy your tickets (pee later) -- apparently a lot of peole take that midnight bus back to Panama City. :)