You can reach Bocas by air from either Panama City, or San Jose, Costa Rica. You can also reach Bocas by land through the port town of Almirante. Almirante is connected to other parts of Panama & Costa Rica by taxis & private shuttles.
Fly into Panama City:
Panama City is a Central American hub and has tons of flights going in and out from all over the world. Major carriers fly into PTY, the international airport in Panama City. Copa Airlines is the Central American branch of United and has direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Once in Panama City, you must take a taxi to the domestic airport (the smaller airport 35 min away) to get to Bocas Del Toro.
Flights leave for Bocas (Airport code Bocas Del Toro: BOC) out of Marcus A. Gelabert Airport, commonly referred to as Albrook Airport, the smaller, domestic airport 35-40 min away from PTY. The taxi ride across town costs $30-35. Please verify with the driver before you get in the taxi.
Flights typically depart Panama City everyday at 6:30am and 3:30pm with multiple flights added throughout the day in high season. The flight is about 45 minutes and is operated by Air Panama. www.airpanama.com Sometimes the flight will make a stop in Changuinola before Bocas. Don’t get off there. **Note: In high season, AirPanama tickets sell out VERY quickly. Be diligent in checking the site if the tickets for your month aren’t yet for sale. If you are having difficulty buying tickets online with Air Panama, contact Jose Palm at Palm Travel, firstname.lastname@example.org . He has amazing connections to the airline and can get it done quickly. He also does not charge a fee for booking your flights. He will ask for your passport info so have that handy.
When flying to Bocas, please note that you must arrive in Panama City by noon/12:30 in order to make the afternoon flight (3:30pm) to Bocas. Otherwise, you must stay the night in PC. (we can recommend places to stay in the city, see links below). You must take in to account an hour in customs/immigration and then 40 minutes drive into the city to get to the domestic airport you will fly out of to get to Bocas-Isla Colon.
Once you arrive at the Bocas Airport on Isla Colon, make your way to the taxi boat docks by heading out on the road straight from the airport. Taxis are usually at the airport to drive you to the docks ( 2 min drive and cost $2 per person) but the walk is about 10 minutes if your luggage is light or roll-able.
SIDE NOTE:DO NOT BOOK TOURS AT THE AIRPORT! Those trying to get you to book a tour right away are only after your money. If anyone there says they work for us and wants to help you with transport, kindly decline. We DO NOT have anyone at the airport that works for us. You will just end up paying way more than you should. We can help you plan everything you want to do and for less when you arrive.
The Bastimentos boat docks are very easy to get to from the Bocas airport. If walking, you will see a two story, yellow & teal building ahead in the distance (Selina Hostel). The road before you get to that building is Calle 3 or Main St. Turn right onto Main St. (Don’t go all the way down to the two story building, you’ve gone too far) The park will be on your left, hostels on your right. Walk a few minutes to the middle of town and look for Bocas Marine Tours on the left next to RAW Fusion Restaurant. The Bastimentos boat dock is a Green and Yellow building, next door to Bocas Marine Tours, across from Munchies Burger. At the boat docks, tell the boat captains you would like to go to The Firefly on Bastimentos. (Our dock is also referred to as “Cholo’s Dock” and you might need to mention that as well as not all the drivers know which dock we use). Our dock is the 4th one in from The Point and looks like this…
The price to Bastimentos is $3 (day time) a person and less than 10 minutes. $5 p/p after dark. We are unable to meet guests at the airport as our presence is required on site. If our local Basti helper, Rene, sees you coming off of Cholo’s dock, let him help you with luggage. He will be glad to escort you. This is Rene…
We will be ready to greet you in our bar with a complimentary welcome cocktail. **Please note: boat drivers/taxis do not carry change. Be ready with plenty of singles or small bills.
From Costa Rica….by air
Another option is flying Nature Air from San Jose, Costa Rica. The flight to the islands is slightly shorter than from PC, but more expensive and only flies on Tues, Thurs and Sat. www.natureair.com
NOTE: Nature Air has restricted or canceled flights due to recent events. Visit their website for details.
Air Panama will begin service out of San Jose in October 2015. Check the Air Panama site for details.
By land from other parts of Panama & Costa Rica:
If you are on the caribbean side of Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo, you can arrive by land. The best, no hassle way is by taking the Caribe Shuttle www.caribeshuttle.com to Bocas. Or do it yourself…….Take a taxi/bus to the Costa Rican/Panama border in Sixaola, which is about a 35 minute drive from Puerto Viejo. You then cross the border into Panama by walking over the bridge paying the fee & getting your passport stamped. After crossing into Panama, hire one of the many taxis waiting to take you the one hour drive to the boat docks in Almirante. Once at the boat docks in Almirante, there are two taxi boat services, Boca Marine Tours and Taxi 25. The 35 minute boat ride cost $6 a person to Bocas. (We recommend Bocas Marine Tours as it puts you next to the boat docks heading for Bastimentos on arrival.) You arrive at the Bocas boat dock where you take a boat directly across to Bastimentos which is less than 10 minutes and $3 per person. Tipping is not expected.
If coming from Boquete, the Mamallena shuttle is the easiest way & departs from the Mamallena Hostel. www.mamallenaboquete.com
If already in Panama and have rented a car, there are secure lots in Almirante to leave your rental car. Go to Bocas Marine Tours for the 30 minute boat ride to the island.
In Panama City, our favorite neighborhood is Casco Viejo. The Casco is experiencing a refurbishment as many of the old Colonial buildings are being turned into hip hotels and restaurants. The area is very walkable and has great restaurants. Casco is also very close to the Albrook airport making it a great place to stay the night before you head to Bocas. We recommend:
Casa Sucre http://www.casasucreboutiquehotel.com/ The owners, Rich and Alyce, are very sweet at this B&B, the rooms are comfortable and we love the location. $120 and up
American Trade Hotel www.americantradehotel.com or www.acehotel.com/panama The American Trade Hotel in Casco is part of the super hip Ace Hotel brand; with locations in Los Angeles, Portland, Palm Springs and NYC. They also have a rooftop pool & a jazz club. This is our pick for the upper price range. $189 & up
Tantalo www.tantalohotel.com Tantalo is priced in the mid to upper range ($150 plus) They have a hip design concept and an awesome rooftop bar. However, it can get loud if you stay on the weekends due to their rooftop parties.
Casa Nuratti is next to Tantalo. Smaller rooms with a hip design and a lower price point. Breakfast included. Super nice staff & our pick for the price but can also get very loud. www.casanuratti.com $80 and up
Magnolia Inn has simple, private rooms in Casco Viejo that are really decently priced for their excellent Casco location. $80 and up www.magnoliapanama.com
The Panamericana Hostel has affordable rooms with a very simple design. Private rooms with a bathroom are $35. This hotel is totally no frills if you just need a place to crash. www.panamericanahostel.com
In Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, we recommend:
Banana Azul: slightly out of the center, this is a tranquil spot with a pool that sits on the beach www.bananaazul.com
La Kukula Lodge www.lakukulalodge.com A modern, sustainable design, great owners and a quiet, jungle location located across the road from the beach.