Costa Rica & Panama's



Description : A wild & remote border crossing

Comments : This is an off-the-track border post that sees little visitors. All formalities are therefore pretty straightforward and relaxed. The below processing is from Costa Rica to Panama. 

What to do ?  Spend your last Colones in the shops & supermarkets (this is for example the place to buy plastic boots !) / Change your remaining colones into dollars (bad rate at the supermarket : 240 to buy dollars, 420 to buy colones, normal rate 326.5) / Keep C300 however to buy the exit stamp worth C200. Get it at the supermarket or pharmacia (they buy them at Banco Agricola in San Jose) / Then proceed to the Costa Rica immigration office : fill up the exit form and get your passport stamped (there is no entry fee into Costa Rica and you should be given 90 days) / Cross the metallic old bridge and say hello to Panama / Say also hello to the immigration officer and get your passport stamped (you should be given 90 days) / Then proceed to the custom officer and fill up the entry form. If unlucky like me, get your bags and belongings meticulously inspected for 15mn (the guy stopped when reaching my dirty socks only) / Eventually, board the minibus toward Changuinola ($0.7, every 20mn) / Add one hour to your watch : Panama is, as it is obvious, ahead of time in Central America !

What you may not like ?  The few pushy touts (for direct buses to David at a whopping $18 !) / The stamp business / The bad exchange rate (the first good bank in Costa Rica is at Puerto Limon only !) / The old bridge with moving wooden planks / The confusing visa requirements for Panama (see below) / Being selected by the custom officer for the "routine" strip of your bag

How long ? Except if you are stopped at the custom, everything should be done within 30mn. 

Do you need a visa ? In theory, people from the The States, Canada, New Zealand , Australia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan as well as most developing countries need a visa or tourist card to enter Panama. This document is however not available at the borders and must be obtained in San Jose (Costa Rica) for US$5. What happen if you show up without one ? Absolutely nothing ! You will still get your 3 months stamp. And will you need one to exit the country ? According to the immigration officer when I was there, no !  Check "how to go" for more details.

 << Discover an old bridge & a charming pier

Backpacker's Tips : Renee, USA (August 04)
at the border crossing office in guabito, the person who handles tourist cards has a desk right next to the person who stamps your passport so obtaining a tourist card is hassle free. it cost $5.
at paso canaos, the panamanian immigration office is on a side road and blends in with the surroundings so it's a little tricky to locate, not difficult though. the locals can point you in the right direction if you need help. the person who sells the red cross stamp that you need for your passport to exit the country had a table set up right next to the immigration officer's window. just an fyi, on the bus ride to paso canaos near the costa rican border, we were stopped at a road block and the police checked tourists' passports and tourist cards.
bus ride from almirante to paso canaos via david is pretty scenic, views of mountains and small waterfalls along the way. small buses so more comfortable than the big ones and less crowded. bus ride took about 5 1/2 hours.

Leaving ? Direct buses to San Jose (Costa Rica's capital, 6 hours) leave at 5, 7:30, 9:30 & 14:30. They all stop at Bri Bri (1 hour), Puerto Viejo (C425, 1.5 hours) and Cahuita (C600, 2 hours), except for the 5am that does not stop at Puerto Viejo. Local buses may also be available

The trip to Bocas Del Toro via Changuinola & Almirante : SSS then SSSSS / L & R / $0.7 + 1 + 3 / 30mn + 1 hour + 25mn / Minibus + speed boat

Minibus leave the border when full and take 30mn to reach Changuinola.  If you go to David, you will be dropped a bit before the regular stop. The 4 hours trip should cost $8. There really isn't much to do in Changuinola but changing TC at the nearby Banco Nacional could be a good option. 

The trip toward Almirante was a nicer adventure with a few panoramas and the crossing of an old metallic & wooden bridge with one lane only. We waited a bit for our turn and also waited for the worker to fix the wooden planks so that we could proceed "safely". Rather weird... After the bridge, the road was paved nearly all the way and this gave our driver the opportunity to demonstrate how crazy he was. Hold on to your seat ! 

There is nothing much to do in Almirante as well and a few travelers who spent the night there reported hearing shootings... The pier is 200m away from the bus stop. Young touts welcomed me and showed me to the working water-taxi company (they usually make turns) : they all cost $3 and leave rather frequently. On the paper, every 30mn as soon as they have 5 passengers. In practice, we waited a good 45mn and left only when the boat was full. 

Anyway, it was not an unpleasant place to spend some time : the pier is charming with houses on stilts and fishermen at work. Leaving the pier at slow speed gave us a good sightseeing of the shore life and the mangrove. But then, the power was turned on and the boat became a rocket ! Too bad for the enjoyment of the scenery... Being close to the driver would be the best spot to possibly see some of the marine life : I spotted a ray jumping out of the water ! You could also choose to take the more relaxed ferry that leaves Almirante on Mond, Wed, Frid & Sund at 9am and takes about 1h30 (and $1). 

See also the trip from Puerto Viejo (Costa Rica)