If you want to get from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, you’re in the right place! As the traveller infrastructure isn’t that great in Panama, getting from A to B can be confusing. Many visitors to the country want to explore the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro but have no idea how to get there.
As someone who has made the journey firsthand, I know exactly how to get from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, both via land and air. If you too are looking at making the journey, this is what you need to know!
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A Guide to Getting to Bocas del Toro from Panama City (And Back!)
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Flying to Bocas del Toro from Panama City
This is the quickest way to travel from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. Air Panama operates between 2-5 flights per day to Bocas del Toro from the Aldbrook International Airport (PAC). Beware that if you are travelling to Panama from Europe, you are likely to be flying into the other airport in Panama City, the Tocumen International Airport (PTY). Don’t get them confused!
Flights can be booked through the usual flight booking engines such as Skyscanner or directly through the airline’s own website. I always recommend booking a little bit in advance as this gives you the best chance of finding a good deal.
The flight from Aldbrook Airport takes around one hour but delays because of weather do happen. The traffic in Panama City is horrendous so you’ll need to account for this when making your way to the airport.
The cost of a flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro tends to cost around $130USD one way, however, this of course, varies depending on when you book.
The Bocas del Toro Airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de Bocas del Toro (BOC), is located on Isla Colon. Once you arrive there, you’ll need to make your way to your accommodation. The cheapest way to do this is to walk. Bocas Town is very walkable and it will likely only take you around 10 minutes to reach your destination on foot, assuming you are staying in the main town.
However, if you are carrying big bags, it may be better to take a yellow cab. These cost around $1USD for the journey and frequently wait at the airport to transport passengers to their island accommodation.
If you are not staying on Isla Colon, you will likely need to take a water taxi. Depending on the accommodation that you have booked, transport may be provided. Many hostels and hotels have their own water taxis specifically for their guests. For everyone else, water taxis depart regularly from the docks and cost in the region of $3-6USD per person, depending on the island you’re headed to.
If you’re returning from Bocas del Toro and heading to Panama City, simply repeat these steps in reverse. It probably goes without saying but you’ll need to make sure you’ve booked your return ticket already!
While flying is of course the quickest way to get from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, it is also one of the most environmentally damaging. Let’s look now at the alternative and more environmentally friendly transport options between Bocas del Toro and Panama City.
Bus from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
TLDR: Panama City Albrook Bus Terminal -> Bus to Almirante -> Taxi to water taxi -> Water taxi to Isla Colon
There are a couple of options when it comes to taking the bus to Bocas del Toro from Panama City. The first and easiest option is a direct bus.
These depart from Aldbrook bus station in Panama City at 6 pm, 7 and 8 pm. There is also a daytime 7.30 am service on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The journey takes between 9-11 hours and will cost around $30USD per person. Sometimes this will include the water taxi on the other end but always make sure to check in advance.
Good to know! If you are taking a bus from Panama’s Albrook bus terminal, you will need a public transport card in order to go through the metal barriers and access the departure area. These cost $2USD each from the machines around the station. They can also be topped up when they run low. If the machine is not working and you can’t get a card, you can always ask a local to tap you through the barrier and then give them the cash equivalent for passing (approx. $0.25USD).
The direct bus overnight from Panama City will arrive in Almirante between 5-7 am. When you arrive at the bus station, you will need to grab a taxi to the area where the water taxis depart. This is always cheaper if there is a group of you and will usually cost in the region of $1-2USD per person. The journey will be around 10 minutes.
It is from here that you will need to catch the water taxi. If the cost of the water taxi isn’t included in your ticket, you will need to pay an additional approx. $6USD per person for the transfer. The journey to Isla Colon by boat takes around 30 minutes. Water taxis leave from Almirante every 30 minutes throughout the day. The last departure is at 6 pm.
If you are staying on another island within the Bocas del Toro archipelago, you will need to first travel to Isla Colon from Almirante and then catch a water taxi to your final destination.
I always recommend purchasing long-distance bus tickets in Panama a day or two in advance. Although you can sometimes get them on the day of travel, the night bus is a popular option and tickets sometimes sell out.
If you miss out on one of the direct buses from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, you can always take a bus to the city of David from Aldbrook bus station. This journey will take around six hours. From David, transfer onto a bus to Almirante. This will take around an extra hour and a half and is a lot more faff than jumping on a direct service to Bocas, so book your bus ticket in advance to secure your seat!
If you’re heading back to Panama City from Bocas del Toro, you can book bus tickets all over the island. Transfers are routinely offered by hostels and offer pretty good value for money. Selina offers a transfer to Panama City from Bocas del Toro which includes the bus ticket, water taxi and taxi to the bus station in Almirante for around $40USD.
Tips for Travelling from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
- No matter whether you are flying to Bocas del Toro or travelling by bus, you should book your ticket in advance. This is a very popular route with travellers of all stripes and seats sell fast!
- You’ll need your passport to book this bus. Take it with you when purchasing your ticket!
- If travelling by bus, wear something warm. The drivers blast the air conditioning at full pelt and it can get surprisingly cold!
- Bring earplugs and an eye mask if you’re jumping on a night bus. Drivers just love salsa music and seem to have no objection to blaring it out around the clock. The lights don’t always get turned off either so prepare for this.
- If you’re heading to/from Bocas del Toro by bus, bring travel sickness pills. The roads are very windy and even those not prone to travel sickness will often go green en route. If you forget pills, these are often available to buy from the rest stops throughout the journey. (I’d also recommend bringing a plastic bag in case the worst happens!)
- Bear in mind that journey times vary hugely. On my return bus from Bocas del Toro to Panama City, we arrived at half four in the morning! Be prepared to wait it out in the bus station if your bus is unexpectedly early – I’d recommend bringing a book.
If you’re trying to work out how to get to Bocas del Toro from Panama City, you have your answer. Just don’t forget your travel sickness pills if you’re getting the bus!
Have you travelled from Panama City to Bocas del Toro? Let me know your experience in the comments below!