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Costa Rica to Panama: One Week Itinerary

Costa Rica to Panama: One Week Itinerary

Happy Sunday Wanderers and welcome back to another blogpost! In this post I will be sharing with you the itinerary that I created, followed and improved for you guys about my trip from San José, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro, Panama. It was so nice to have some time off of work before the busy nature of my summer schedule began. I had the pleasure of bringing one of my best friends from high school, Sarah, along with me on this trip and we had an awesome time. I hope this is a useful resource for those of you traveling to San José, Puerto Viejo, Bocas del Toro, or all three! It was an easy and exciting way to explore two countries in one week. Enjoy!

Barrio Escalante, San José

Barrio Escalante, San José

Day 1:  San José  

  • Arrive at Juan Santamaría International Airport  (SJO)

  • Taxi, Shuttle or Uber to Hostel Urbano ($15-$30 per car) this will take 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic

  • Stay at Hostel Urbano in San Pedro ($10-$15)

  • Jade Museum ($15 per person) Open 10:00am-5:00pm

  • Grab drinks or food in Barrio Escalante

Veggie Burrito, Café Dreadnut

Veggie Burrito, Café Dreadnut

Day 2: San José-Puerto Viejo

  • 8:00am, Mepe Bus: San José-Puerto Viejo de Limón, Terminal MEPE (Atlantico Norte Terminal)

    • (about $10 per person)

    • approximately 4.5 hour trip and the bus makes one 15 minute stop at the MEPE terminal in Limón for bathrooms and something to eat.

  • Café Recommendation in Puerto Viejo: Dreadnut

    • This is an awesome first stop if you get off of the bus feeling hungry! It was right across the street and had coffee and great sandwiches.

Sarah   , Playa Negra

Sarah, Playa Negra

Day 3: Puerto Viejo

  • Selina Puerto Viejo

  • Bike rentals available on site ($8 per day)

  • Cafe Recommendation: GYPSEA

    • Enjoy delicous breakfast foods and plentiful vegan options. With coconut milk made on site, you can’t beat it!

    • After your meal, cross the street and take the magical path down to beautiful Playa Chiquita

GypSea Café, Puerto Viejo

GypSea Café, Puerto Viejo

Day 4: Puerto Viejo- Bocas del Toro

  • Palmar Beach Lodge (around $17 USD per person per night for 8 person mixed dorm)

    • Check in from 2:00pm

    • Located on Bastimentos Island on Red Frog Beach

The Palmar Shuttle boat leaves three times daily from the Bastimentos Dock on Isla Colon (on the main street next to Bocas Marine Tours) at around 10 am, 12 pm and 4 pm. This service is free for guests and limited spaces are given on a first come, first served basis. If you need any help with your luggage, please make sure to arrive on one of these shuttles. If you cannot make it at these times, hire a water taxi from one of the public docks, and ask to be taken to the Palmar Dock on Red Frog Beach ($8-10 per person).

Please note that if you take a private taxi, you will need to show proof of your reservation with us to avoid paying the $5 entrance fee. They will not ask for proof when arriving with our shuttle. From the dock, follow the trail signs for 10 minutes until you reach Palmar.

Reception is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Check-in time is at 2:00 pm, but we are happy to store your bags if you arrive early. If you are arriving after 6, please make sure to bring a flashlight! Our restaurant is open from 8 am to 10:30 am for breakfast, 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm for lunch, and 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm for dinner. Please plan accordingly if you are going to arrive late or leave early.

Palmar Beach Lodge, Isla Bastimentos

Palmar Beach Lodge, Isla Bastimentos

Day 5:  Bocas del Toro

  • Palmar Beach Lodge: Hang out onsite and enjoy the beach

  • If you are feeling up to it, take advantage of the free shuttle to head the Isla Colon to do some shopping

  • Cafe Recommendation: Falafel Bocas

    • This cafe offered welcomed cover from a rainy afternoon. The staff was friendly, the interior was adorable and the food was on point.

Falafel Bocas, Isla Colon

Falafel Bocas, Isla Colon

Falafel Bocas, Interior

Falafel Bocas, Interior

Day 6:  Bocas del Toro

  • Palmar Beach Lodge Check out by 11:00am

  • Bambuda Lodge (around $20 per person per night for private room with a double bed)

    • Check in from 2:00pm

    • Located on Isla Solarte

  • Bar Recommendation: The Blue Coconut

    • With hammocks in the crystal clear water, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be

    • ($4 per person round trip water taxi from Bambuda Lodge)

The Blue Coconut Restaurant, Isla Solarte

The Blue Coconut Restaurant, Isla Solarte

Day 7:  Bocas del Toro-San José

Lunch stop on Caribe Shuttle

Lunch stop on Caribe Shuttle

Day 8: San José

  • Taxi, Shuttle or Uber to Juan Santamaría International Airport  (SJO)

    ($15-$30 per car) this will take 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic

Map of Bocas with mentioned recommendations

Map of Bocas with mentioned recommendations

Things to know:

Have your flights printed and screenshotted on your phone (especially the return); you may need it at Costa Rican customs and will definitely need it at the Panamanian border both times.

At Costa Rican customs be prepared for them to ask you where you will be staying (Hostel Urbano in Los Yoses, San Jose) and when you will leave Costa Rica. If you can easily answer these they likely won't ask for your return flight info.

Uber is technically illegal in Costa Rica. As the passenger you would not be penalized if your driver is caught however, it is a good thing to be aware off. Always ride in the passenger seat to avoid having your driver pulled over. Uber is the preferred method of transportation from the airport to your hostel or hotel because it is cheeper than taxis or prearranged shuttles and you do not need cash. If the police are at the airport, Uber drivers will prefer you walk down to the bus stop on the main road to order your car.

You will also need to know your destination in Bocas for your customs form in Panama.

Once in Costa Rica you can easily withdraw Costa Rican Colones from any ATM, but you will be able to pay with card a lot of the time. The current exchange rate is 1 Costa Rican Colon= 0.0017 USD.

I recommend bringing a decent amount of USD for Panama. Although there is a local currency, the Balboa, the exchange rate is exactly equal to the USD and USD is widely used. Cash was especially useful for the water taxis and certain cash only bars. I brought about $100 USD in cash.

This trip is not as expensive as you might think. My friend and I each spent $350 in total on this trip excluding her flights to and from San José.

Alternatively to our itinerary, you could take the Caribe Shuttle from Bocas del Toro to Panamá City and fly out straight from there.

If you are looking for vegan food recommendations for San José, check out this post:

If you are looking to take some fun Instagram Pictures while in San José check out this post:

As always, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.

Wander often & Wonder always,

Sugar Charm Donut: Vegan Flavor Release & Review

Sugar Charm Donut: Vegan Flavor Release & Review