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After our three incredibly beautiful, but also very eventful weeks in Costa Rica (read here my Costa Rica Travel Guide for a road trip through the country!), we moved on to Panama. Today I will tell you how we got from Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro and what I recommend and can not recommend! By the way, after Bocas we headed straight to Panama City. You can read about our time there here!
First: yes, our trip around the world was already a while ago, but somehow I took quite a long time to process our journey and to write new blog posts! This post was also requested quite often on Instagram, so I finally got to writing an article about our time in Panama 🙂
Exciting journey over land from Costa Rica to Panama
We have decided to travel from Costa Rica (Puerto Viejo) overland to Bocas del Toro in Panama and do it ourselves, without a tour or tour operator. We just followed the tips from this backpacker blog post. Of course, you can also pay about three times and you can save the stress of finding your way around all corners, to negotiate and possibly also to be unsure if everything goes this way. But we were backpacking and trying to save every penny (which was well worth it, see our article to our world trip budget) AND sometimes getting ourselves from A to B were some of the best adventures!
We bought the tickets for the local bus in the blue building pictured above.
First we took a bus from Puerto Viejo to the Sixaola / La Frontera border. In Puerto Viejo we boarded the bus at this small bus stop and bought a ticket for the local bus, see above. There is the tourist stop, where all the organized trips depart from, right next to the local bus stop. But we did not want to go with a tour 🙂 That stop looked like this:
(I was just sitting at the wrong stop at first, see me on the left, haha)
Arrived at the border crossing at Sixaola:
Someone wanted to take us to get our passport stamped after we arrived in Sixaola to the left, but we ignored it because the official signs to the border crossing all pointed to the right. And after months of being “on the road” we were now skeptical about everyone who wanted to “help us” 🙂
Actually, everything went smoothly, as in the linked blog post. The only disappointing thing is that when we were there we were, unfortunately, not allowed to walk over the old border bridge. Just past it. But that was a cool sight!
When we arrived in Panama, we only had to show that we have a ticket out of Panama. We had already booked this a few weeks in advance, but there is also a service where you can reserve onward flight tickets, if you need them. That’s what we did for our entry into Costa Rica (but then nobody wanted to see a “proof of onward travel”). Since we were there, you also have to prove that you have a ticket for your return flight to your home country. But I can’t guarantee that they will actually check for this! Inform yourself in advance at official places.
Then we searched for the local bus to Changuinola, as written in the linked blog post. Of course nobody wanted to help us, because everyone wanted to sell an expensive taxi ride or tour. But we wanted to find our own way to Changuinola. At some point we found a taxi driver who drove us to the local bus station in Changuinola for the same price as the bus. No idea how we did it, with very broken Spanish and no real plan where to find it, but it worked 🙂
From there we bought a ticket for the bus to Bocas del Toro, or more precisely to the boat docks. The bus came quite quickly and again, somehow, with very little Spanish knowledge (almost no one spoke English) we got in the right local bus 🙂 This then stopped somewhere on the roadside and the bus driver then told us how we should walk to the dock.
By boat to Bocas del Toro
After our horror boat trip in Cambodia I was so panicked to get into a small boat … but my fear was unfounded. The boat trip to Bocas was super relaxed and there were hardly any waves! We had booked three nights in Selina Red Frog Hostel and got there by island hopping with another boat, as it is located on a different island than the main island of Bocas. But we had read that there are hardly any supermarkets at the Red Frog Beach, so we stocke up on rice, vegetables and other food in Bocas del Toro Town. Luckily we bought a bit too much, but more about that soon.
So we got onto a boat again, this time a smaller boat, to head over to Red Frog Beach. The jetty is in a mangrove landscape and at the reception of a chic resort on the south side of the island and we had to walk about 15 minutes from there to the Selina hostel. So try to arrive during the day, in the evening I would find it a bit scary.
Our relaxing hostel in Bocas del Toro
We chose the Selina Red Frog, a rather expensive hostel option, but we wanted to chill out, enjoy a quiet beach feeling and the reviews sounded really good. And I was very pleasantly surprised! The lounge and bar / restaurant area was very cool, there was even a small pool, and a tap with tap water where we could always refill our water bottle! Very sustainable. In addition, every evening there was always some program organized by the hostel, e.g. Quiz-Night, DJ, etc. By the way, you get a bracelet, so that no strangers can hang around at the hostel.
There is also a nice open-plan communal outdoor kitchen with plenty of space and cooking accessories! At the above-mentioned reception is also the nearest supermarket, but it is mega expensive. So try to buy all the food before you come to Red Frog, even if its on Bocas main island, which is also expensive but cheaper than at Red Frog! I was glad that we had a lot because we spontaneously stayed much longer on the island than planned.
Nevertheless, I think Jesse lost several kilos, especially while we were on Bocas (he lost 11 kilos on the whole trip!), Because at some point we were eating only rice, beans and peppers 🙂 But at least I also had starch, sugar, flour, vanilla, nuts and a few bananas. I made pudding now and then, as well as banana cake. As antisocial and hungry as we were, we ate the whole banana cake in one day and didn’t share with anyone, muahahahaha: D
The standard double rooms are really small and for $50 per night are quite expensive, also because we only had a shared bathroom. But we liked it a lot anyway and therefore the price did not hurt us. We had hardly any expenses on the island, since we had our own food and cooked, and so spent only a few euros here and there for beer and other drinks. 1-2 times we had breakfast and lunch in the restaurant.
There was also yoga on the rooftop for only $5 an hour! The staff was also extremely friendly because in our first room the mattress was a bit weird and after we asked friendly they let us choose a new room! I recommend the rooms in the back, that way you do not really get disturbed by the noise in the kitchen and bar (although it was never really SOOO loud, but you never know. I always had earplugs with me on the world trip).
The only criticism: Unfortunately on the last day the water failed. Somewhere on the island there was a break in the pipe and if something happens on a small remote island, the repair unfortunately takes a little longer than many of us are used. No problem at all, but somehow the hostel did not care enough for the resulting circumstances (did not always provides water for toilet flushing, etc.). But such a pipe break is of course not so common and we saw that they were working around the clock to repair the problem.
Every so often it rained a bit. When it is rainy there is not much to do on the island, but I found it extremely relaxing to sit in the lounge, meet people, work a bit on the computer and cook in peace.
Red Frog Beach
The beach was beautiful and clean. There were some strong currents, but after a few meters the bottom gets really flat again, so that you can be found some solid ground in an emergency short and paddle out to the side. Nevertheless, always be careful! In any case, inform yourself generally what you should do in currents in an emergency, no matter where you go (short version: stay calm, and then swim out to the side, never against the current!). The beach is also quite long with many shady spots 🙂 It is not white, as many imagine the beaches on Bocas, but relatively yellow. But it was so fun to play in the waves!!! And we only went in the water where there were also other people swimming.
We liked Red Frog Beach so much that we stayed there for 7 nights! We were never in one place for that long, but we needed the rest. We were honestly a bit exhausted from the constant back and forth. That was also the time when I became so incredibly brown because we were actually only on the beach the whole time. Almost only in the shade, but now I had a base tan that I only used coconut oil as a sunscreen (the SPF of almost only 3 or 4 was enough for me, on my face I had a cream of 50, so don’t worry). This is environmentally friendly, but of course does not work for every skin type! The beach is accessible via a small path through the jungle. Super cute, safe during the day, as many backpackers from the hostels are on the go, but do not run back alone in the dark!
There was not much to do, which I thought was good! Our days consisted of breakfast in the communal kitchen (if you want you can also have breakfast buffet for $4 in the lounge), hanging out on the beach, socializing by the pool, maybe afternoon yoga on the rooftop, evening activities at the hostel and of course a bit of laptop time. Also, I shot my video of how to pack my clothes while we were there! On the eastern side of the beach there is a small jetty that you can walk to the end of. There you can admire the incredibly powerful sea spray.
Onward journey by bus to Panama City
You can about read this in my second part about Panama City!
Here are a few photos of Red Frog Beach: