One of my biggest concerns when preparing for our trip to Central America was crossing the borders between countries. Neither guide books nor blogs made it seem like it would be a smooth operation. I was worried about spending too much money, getting tricked into paying someone who wasn’t an official border agent, and basically just about getting lost!
Because I was feeling nervous about it we decided to book our transportation through Gecko Trail. They picked us up at our hostel in Puerto Viejo and drove us to the border crossing at Sixaola. Here’s what happened:
1.We got out of the van and waited in a short line up to pay our Costa Rica exit fee ($16US)
2.We got our bags out of the van, climbed up a small hill, and got into a line up at the Costa Rican custom building. Here we filled out our exit cards and handed them over along with our passports to get them stamped.
3. Next we walked over a fairly long bridge, and immediately waited in another line up to pay the Panama entrance fee ($6US).
4.Up until this point everything was fairly easy. Once we paid the entrance fee, finding the next stop was a bit more tricky. There were quite a few locals standing around, greeting us and pointing this way and that way. We were a little bit leery about who to trust, but we ended up taking a left and going down a big set of stairs, continuing on in the same direction, and then coming across this:
Here we waited quite awhile to get our passports stamped. When we paid our entrance fee we were given a tiny little piece of paper. Don’t loose this! You will need it when you get here.
5. From here, we went back in the same direction we had come from, back up the stairs again and then down the opposite side to the bus stop. Because we had arranged transfer with Gecko Trail, we luckily didn’t have to wait long before our bus arrived and we were on our way to Bocas.
The worst part of the whole border crossing was probably just dealing with the heat and our heavy bags! Confidence is key, as well as being prepared to ask questions and trust people. Why I would still recommend using a transfer company would be because with a company you do not have to wait for public transport which is sometimes sporadic and unreliable. I wouldn’t have wanted to wait around in the heat much longer than we had to.
The shuttle also ensures that you arrive at the town of Almirante and get dropped off right at a boat dock to take you to the Bocas islands. Public transit would drop you off at a bus stop and you would walk to the docks, having to wait for the next boat to come.
Overall, public transit is a lot more affordable. You will spend a lot of money if you pay a transport company, but it may be worth it if you are looking for piece of mind, reliability, and move from place to place as efficiently as possible.