There are different ways to get to Bocas del Toro depending where you are coming from.
From Panama City:
To go from Panama City to Bocas del Toro there are a few options.
By Plane: You can fly directly from Allbrook airport to Bocas International airport. This is by far the fastest way to arrive as it only takes 45 minutes. At the time of this writing, AirPanama is the only airline offering flights between Panama City and Bocas del Toro.
By Bus: Getting to Bocas by bus is the most affordable option but takes the longest. The bus ride from Panama to Almirante can take around 11hrs. After arriving in Almirante you need to take a water taxi to Bocas Town, which costs $5-$6 and takes 30 minutes to arrive.
Renting a car: Bocas town is small enough to walk or ride a bike, a car is not really needed, but If you will be traveling a lot around other parts of Panama, it may be a good option to rent a car.
If you decide to rent a car and then travel to Bocas, our best advice is that you park your car in Almirante and then cross to the islands without the vehicle. There are a few paid parking lots where your car will be safe.
From San Jose, Costa Rica:
By plane: During season months (Dec-April) you can find direct flights between San Jose and Bocas. At the time of this writing, NatureAir is the only airline offering this route.
By bus: To go from San Jose to Bocas by bus, you first need to catch a bus from San Jose to one of the tree border crossings; the Sixaola / Changuinola border is the closest to Bocas and most widely used by tourists. After crossing the border, you need to catch another Bus from Changuinola to Almirante and then a water taxi from Almirante to Bocas.
An alternative and a most convenient way is to take a direct Shuttle from San Jose to Bocas del Toro which takes around 8 hrs.
By car: If you wish to come to Bocas by car from Costa Rica keep in mind that there will be additional border crossing requirements for the vehicle and associated expenses. Do your research before deciding to take a car across the Costa Rica / Panama Border.
By Plane: During high season you can find direct flights from Medellin and Cartagena, Colombia directly to Bocas del Toro. At this time AirPanama is the only provider of flights between Bocas and Colombia, check their website for pricing and availability.
By Road: Coming to Bocas (or Panama) from Colombia by road is not a very feasible option. Even though the Pan-American Highway is one of the longest road networks in the world (30,000km), there is a small section (100km) between Colombia and Panama where the road ends, called the Darian Gap. This small section between the two countries is considered one of the most hostile (and dangerous) places in the world.
By Boat: At the time of this writing, there are no commercially available options or ferries to go from Colombia To Bocas del Toro. The good news is that there are endless options for private charter boats, yachts and sailboats to go from Colombia to Panama and even directly to Bocas del Toro. A simple web search (“Boat Cartagena to Panama”) should reveal abundant options.
To learn more about immigration requirement at the time of crossing: read our blog post: Important information for a trouble-free border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama
We hope you found this post helpful.