The archipelago is located on Panama’s North Eastern Caribbean coast and is only a few hours from the Costa Rican border. The two easiest and most common ways to reach the islands is by flight or bus/boat combo. There are of course other options for getting to the islands. We have visitors that make their way via cars (you can leave your car on the mainland in Almirante and take a cheap water taxi over) and of course, many travelers often arrive in sail boats. Bocas del toro has MANY marinas for docking services. This place was made for sailors!
From Panama City via air: (FASTEST WAY)
Multiple flights arrive daily to Tocumen International Airport (airport code: PTY) in Panama City. Once you arrive in Panama City, you’ll likely be spending the night or a few days exploring. From Tocumen airport to most places around the city, the standard fare is $30-35 USD for the entire vehicle. Find out the price before getting into your taxi. Uber is operating in Panama but we’ve noticed that the app often doesn’t work in the airport.
Once you get settled in the city and you’re ready to fly to Bocas, your next step will be to get to the Panama City Domestic Airport which is called Albrook “Marcos A. Gelabert” International Airport (airport code: PAC). We call it “Albrook” for short. Uber and taxi can both take you here. It’s located in very close proximity to Casco Viejo, a very cute and hip part of the city, which we highly recommend checking out.
To book flights to the International Airport of Bocas del Toro, Isla Colon (airport code: BOC), check out airpanama.com, their website has a function to switch over to English if that’s easier for you. These flights are typically around $100-$125/one way and will get you to the island in less than an hour! We’ve found that their website sometimes doesn’t always work great on all computers. Don’t give up! Try a different browser as well. There are often at least 2 flights to Bocas a day, sometimes even 4! During busier times of the year (think Christmas and holidays), these flights can sell out. If you know when you’ll be coming to Bocas and you’ll be flying, definitely book these tickets in advance!
Insider tip: Sometimes the flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro will make a stop in Changuinola, on the mainland, to pick up other passengers and bring them to Bocas. Make sure you don’t get off here as it’s not your final stop!
From Panama city via land: (CHEAPEST WAY)
Panama is not a large country which means you can get from one side of it to the other in one day! SWEET! If you’re on a budget or don’t like flying on small-ish airplanes, this is your best way to get to the islands. Once you are settled in the city and decide to head to Bocas, you’ll go to the Albrook Bus Terminal. (All taxis and Uber’s will know how to get you there.)
Link to Albrook Bus station: https://www.grantnt.com
The bus ride from the city to Almirante (the closest port to Bocas, where you’ll eventually be getting onto a boat from), is around 10 hours and costs around $30 USD. The bus leaves from the terminal starting around 5-6pm. We recommend getting a ticket during the day and finding out about the exact time. Sometimes there are multiple buses that head to Bocas, sometimes there is only 1. Leaving in the evening means you’ll be traveling overnight! The bus is VERY cold. Bring warm layers for this. They will make a stop in Santiago for the bathroom and food in the middle of the night. This is a great spot to stretch your legs, grab a water and eat a full meal in the middle of the night if that’s your thing.
Insider tip: Currently, travelers have said that they are arriving in Almirante in the middle of the night. (These buses tend to drive fast, so the trip could be shorter than 10 hours.) If you find yourself in Almirante and you’re feeling uneasy, grab a yellow taxi from the bus stop with other travelers and head straight to the boat docks. This taxi will cost $1 per person. The water taxi boats to Bocas start around 6am, therefore you might have a few hours to kill if you arrive via bus. Stay with your bags and get to know some fellow travelers that might be on the same route as you.
The final cost for this trip is $6 for the boat ride to Bocas. This will take 20-25 minutes. It’s a GORGEOUS boat ride once you hit the open ocean. Enjoy it! It’s one of the most beautiful ways to arrive to the island. Sunrise, ocean air and selfies!