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Travelling Costa Rica & Panama - 2 Week Itinerary

2 Week Itinerary - Costa Rica & Panama in 2 weeks (without flying).

Having been to Mexico (which I loved), I wanted to explore more of Central America. We had two weeks off work so wanted to next venture somewhere where we could possibly do two countries within this timeframe.

We were recommended doing Costa Rica and Panama as the popular destinations of Puerto Viejo de Salamanca (a beach town in Costa Rica) and Bocas del Toro (a group of islands in Panama) are close to each other and you can do both by road, without having to fly.

From London we flew into San Jose's Juan Santamaria Airport in Costa Rica which was an 11 hour flight, direct. We were recommended not to spend any time in San Jose as it is quite dangerous and not a lot to do. We wanted to get straight out and to our first stop in Costa Rica.

Here is a 2 week itinerary for travelling around Costa Rica and Panama without flying:

STOP 1: Arenal Volcano & Lake, Costa Rica - 2 days

The first stop on our trip was Arenal Volcano and lake situated in the Northern Highlands of Costa Rica. Arenal is about 2.5 hour drive from San Jose airport and there are various ways you can get there (we did a private transfer organised in advance).

We spent 2 days here by the lake, exploring the rainforest and swimming in the hot springs. The Arenal area is so beautiful, green and tranquil, it's the perfect first stop after a long flight. A lot of our trip to Costa Rica and Panama was on beaches, so we wanted to experience a different vibe and would recommend Arenal as a great starting point.

Arenal Volcano Costa Rica

Everything in Arenal is quite spaced out so we hired a car to get around. We dropped the car back before we left, getting a public transfer (a mini-bus) to our next stop, Puerto Viejo. We booked this the day before in Nuevo Arenal (the main town in Arenal).

View my full blog post on Arenal here with a full list of recommendations of what to do there.

Arenal Hot Springs Costa Rica

STOP 2: Puerto Viejo de Salamanca, Costa Rica - 3 days

Our next stop in Costa Rica was Puerto Viejo de Salamanca (but mostly known as just Puerto Viejo). Puerto Viejo is in south-eastern Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea. It is a laid back village set on the coast with loads of stunning beaches lined with palm trees. Nestled amidst lush rainforests, Puerto Viejo captures the essence of 'Pura Vida', the country's relaxed way of life. The town boasts a unique blend of Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous, and European influences, reflected in its cuisine, music, and vibrant street art. We stayed here 3 days, exploring the different beaches, eating local food and swimming in the sea.

This was our final stop in Costa Rica before we went to Panama.

Puerto Viejo de Salamanca, Costa Rica

How to Get from Costa Rica (Puerto Viejo) to Panama (Bocas del Toro) without flying

There are various travel agents in Puerto Viejo that you can book transfers to Bocas del Toro through. You can do a private (for just you/your group) or do a public transfer (which we went for as it was cheaper).

Crossing the border is really easy. From Puerto Viejo we got a shared transfer to Bocas with a transfer company (there are loads of places offering transfers in Puerto Viejo so it's fine to book it when you're there - Caribe Shuttle is one of them). The transfer (which was a mini bus) picked us up from a Puerto Viejo to take us to Bocas.

Costa Rica Panama Border

Overall the journey is about 5 hours as it takes quite a while to cross the border as you need to fill out forms and have your passport checked etc. The journey includes a minibus to the Costa Rica/Panama border (where the transfer company help you do the crossing), a bus, as well as a boat to Isla Colon (in Bocas) and costs around £35 USD / £29 for one way.

The journey is comfortable with air conditioning and we got a shared transfer but there was hardly any people on it which was nice as meant there was lots of room.

You can see the costs and times here: 

STOP 3: Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama - 3 days

Isla Colon (Colon Island) is the most populated and developed island in Bocas del Toro and it's a great starting point for your time in Bocas. This island is the busiest and I would say has the most going on out of all the islands in Bocas. In Bocas Town you can find loads of great restaurants, cafes, clubs, bars, shops and also ATMs.

If you base yourself in Bocas Town, it is very easy to get to all other islands in Bocas del Toro which you can visit to stay, or go to for the day.

Bocas Town, Bocas del Toro

STOP 4: Urraca Private Island (Bocas del Toro), Panama - 2 days

Next up we decided to go to Urraca private island which is an eco-resort built on the mangroves in the middle of the ocean. The island is tiny with just a few huts and you go off the grid with no internet or signal, spending your days relaxing on the decking, doing watersports or getting a massage by the sea.

We spent 2 nights here and that was the perfect amount.

Urraca Private Island Panama

STOP 5: Bambuda Lodge (Bocas del Toro), Panama - 1 day

As our final stop in Bocas del Toro we decided to book in at Bambuda Lodge hostel which is on Isla Solarte. We wanted to stay somewhere different for a night.

Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro

We decided here as the hostel is at the top of a hill on the island, with magnificent views over the ocean as well as having a slide which goes from the hostel to the sea at the bottom (which is terrifying, but a great experience)!

STOP 6: San Jose, Costa Rica - 1 day

We needed to fly back to London from San Jose, so we decided to travel back the day before as it is quite a long journey back from Bocas del Toro.

We booked the transfer back to San Jose in Bocas Town when we first arrived there. The journey was similar to that of coming from Puerto Viejo but took around 10 hours.

We stayed 1 night in San Jose so it was easy to catch our flight the next day.

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