Depending on your starting point, airfare can be cheaper when arriving to San José, Costa Rica than Panama City, Panama. For this route, you’ll take a public bus or private shuttle to get to the islands.
Insider tip: There currently are no flights from San Jose, CR to Bocas del Toro.
Our favorite way to come from Costa Rica to Bocas is with the Caribe Shuttle (Link: https://www.caribeshuttle.com/daily-shuttles-puerto-viejo). Their shuttles have WiFi and air conditioning!
From Puerto Viejo (very close to Bocas, funky beach town):
The shuttle will pick you up from a specific Puerto Viejo hotel. They will drive you to the border and help you get across. (Fun fact: you’ll actually get to walk from one border to another!) Once in Panama, you’ll load into another shuttle and arrive to Almirante to hop on the boat. This route takes about 4 hours and is $34. Bring small bills for the border for tips if you need help carrying your bag or want to buy small snacks. In Costa Rica, they use the “Colones” so try to use them up before you cross over to Panama.
From San Jose (capital of Costa Rica):
The shuttle will pick you up from the Denny’s restaurant right by the airport. This route takes about 8-10 hours and is $78.
Price includes lunch at Banana Azul in Puerto Viejo, a guide to help you cross the border, and boat transportation to Bocas Town. The shuttle departs daily at 6:00 a.m. from the Denny’s restaurant but get there 15 minutes early. Border fees are not included and cost $8 to exit Costa Rica.
PUBLIC BUS: It’s easy enough to go this route, but it’s not air-conditioned. A little more confusing if you don’t understand Spanish, but definitely a cheap option!
Link to Costa Rica bus terminal: http://www.mepecr.com