Written by Pete Scott

Boundless Beauty: Costa Rica to Panama Travel Adventure!


In the heart of Central America lies an enchanting journey waiting to be explored – the cross-border travel from Costa Rica to Panama and back.

This adventure unveils the boundless beauty of two neighboring nations, offering a plethora of experiences for international travelers.

Costa Rican Beach Sunset

From lush rainforests to pristine beaches, from vibrant cultures to historical wonders, this detailed guide is your key to unraveling the wonders of Costa Rica and Panama.

Planning Your Journey

Before embarking on this captivating voyage, it's essential to plan meticulously.

Here, we'll delve into the logistics, travel options, and essential considerations for international travelers.

Visa and Entry Requirements
: To ensure a seamless transition between Costa Rica and Panama, you'll need to understand the visa and entry requirements.

For most travelers from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, both countries offer a tourist visa waiver program, typically allowing stays of up to 90 days.

However, always check the latest requirements with the respective embassies or consulates.

Travel Documentation: Keep your passports, visas, and other important travel documents secure.

Secure Your Travel Documents (Panamanian Flag + Passports)

Make copies of these documents and store them digitally and physically separately for added security.

Vaccinations and Health Precautions: Prioritize your health by staying informed about required vaccinations and health precautions before traveling. 

Consult with your healthcare provider at least six to eight weeks before departure to ensure you're up to date on any necessary immunizations.

Currency Exchange: Understanding the local currencies and exchange rates is crucial. 

While both countries use their own currencies (Costa Rican Colón and Panamanian Balboa), the US dollar is widely accepted in Panama.

You'll find ample ATMs in major cities and towns for currency exchange.

Language: While Spanish is the official language in both Costa Rica and Panama, English is widely spoken in tourist areas. 

Do You Speak Spanish?

It's advisable to have a basic knowledge of Spanish phrases to enhance your travel experience.

Travel Insurance
: Investing in comprehensive travel insurance is a smart move.

Ensure your policy covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings.

Starting in Costa Rica

Costa Rica, known for its breathtaking landscapes and rich biodiversity, serves as the perfect starting point for your journey.

San José: The Capital City: Begin your adventure in the vibrant capital city, San José.

Explore the heart of Costa Rican culture as you wander through historic neighborhoods like Barrio Amón and Barrio Escalante.

Visit the National Theater and the Gold Museum for an enriching cultural experience.

Arenal Volcano National Park: From San José, embark on a scenic journey to Arenal Volcano National Park.

Arenal Volcano - Costa Rica

Witness the majestic Arenal Volcano as it looms over the surrounding rainforest. 

After a day of exploration, soothe your senses in the natural hot springs, like the Tabacón Hot Springs or Baldi Hot Springs, nestled in the lush surroundings. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest: Next on your Costa Rican adventure is the mystical Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This biological gem boasts an incredible variety of flora and fauna.

Take a guided hike through the cloud-shrouded trails, where you may spot the elusive quetzal bird and various species of monkeys.

Quetzal Birds - Costa Rica

Guanacaste Province: As you make your way to the Pacific coast, you'll discover the stunning beaches of Guanacaste Province.

Places like Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Conchal offer clear waters, perfect for snorkeling, surfing, and relaxation.

Explore the nearby Rincon de la Vieja National Park, known for its hot springs, waterfalls, and hiking trails.

Manuel Antonio National Park
: Continue south to Manuel Antonio National Park, home to pristine beaches and abundant wildlife.

Hike the park's trails to encounter capuchin monkeys, sloths, and vibrant tropical birds. Don't miss the panoramic views from the Punta Catedral hike.

Corcovado National Park
: For adventurous souls, a visit to Corcovado National Park is a must. Located on the remote Osa Peninsula, this untouched rainforest is teeming with biodiversity.

Hike through dense jungles and along untouched beaches, and you might encounter jaguars, tapirs, and scarlet macaws.

Puerto Viejo
: Wrap up your Costa Rican leg of the journey by exploring the laid-back Caribbean vibes of Puerto Viejo. 

Costa Rican Beach Near Puerto Viejo

This coastal town offers an array of water sports, including surfing and snorkeling.

Enjoy the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean culture and savor delicious dishes like rice and beans with coconut.

Crossing the Border

As you venture into Panama, be prepared for a smooth border crossing experience. Ensure you have all necessary documents and permits in order.

Sixaola-Guabito Border Crossing: This border crossing, connecting Costa Rica's Sixaola and Panama's Guabito, is the most common route for travelers between the two countries.

Welcome To Panama!

It's essential to know the operating hours, regulations, and entry fees for a hassle-free transition.

Boquete: Your first stop in Panama is the charming town of Boquete, nestled in the highlands of the Chiriquí Province.

Known for its pleasant climate and coffee plantations, Boquete is a paradise for nature enthusiasts.

Explore the scenic trails, visit coffee farms, and unwind in the natural hot springs.

Bocas del Toro Archipelago: From Boquete, make your way to the stunning Bocas del Toro Archipelago, located in the Caribbean Sea.

Red Frog Beach - Bocas del Toro, Panama

This group of islands offers a unique blend of Caribbean charm, pristine beaches, and vibrant marine life.

Snorkel in crystal-clear waters, explore the colorful coral reefs, and indulge in fresh seafood.

Exploring Panama

Panama offers a unique blend of modernity and natural beauty. Here are some must-visit destinations and experiences:

Panama City: Explore the bustling metropolis of Panama City, where skyscrapers coexist with historical landmarks like Casco Viejo.

Start your journey with a visit to the Panama Canal Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, where you can witness the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal in action.

Panama City, Panama

San Blas Islands: Experience the untouched beauty of the San Blas Islands, home to the indigenous Kuna people.

These pristine islands boast white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a chance to immerse yourself in the unique culture and traditions of the Kuna.

Pearl Islands
: Another island paradise awaits in the Pearl Islands archipelago.

These islands offer a quieter and more exclusive experience, with luxury resorts and opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and whale watching.

Darien Province: For the intrepid traveler, the remote Darien Province is an adventurous destination.

Explore the untouched rainforests, encounter indigenous communities like the Emberá, and discover the untamed beauty of this region.

Emberá Hut - Darien Province, Panama

Cultural Experiences: Throughout Panama, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture.

Attend traditional festivals, taste authentic Panamanian cuisine, and interact with friendly locals who will welcome you with open arms.

Chiriquí Highlands
: Explore the Chiriquí Highlands, known as Panama's "Land of Eternal Spring."

Visit the charming town of David and take in the stunning scenery around Boquete.

Don't miss the chance to hike the Sendero de los Quetzales, a trail known for quetzal sightings.

Gulf of Chiriquí: Head to the Gulf of Chiriquí for incredible marine adventures.

Snorkel or dive in Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its pristine coral reefs and diverse marine life, including sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles.

Crocodile - Coiba Marine Park, Panama

El Valle de Anton: Discover the picturesque town of El Valle de Anton, nestled within the caldera of an extinct volcano.

Explore the colorful local market, hike to the "India Dormida" mountain, and soak in the therapeutic mud baths.

Portobelo: Explore the historic town of Portobelo, known for its well-preserved forts and colonial architecture.

Visit Fort San Lorenzo and the UNESCO-listed San Felipe de Portobelo, both offering insights into Panama's rich history.

Guna Yala (Formerly San Blas Islands): Delve deeper into the Guna Yala region, formerly known as the San Blas Islands.

Learn about the Guna culture, which is rich in traditions and artistry. Enjoy island-hopping, snorkeling, and the opportunity to stay in overwater bungalows.

San Blas Islands, Panama

Emberá Indigenous Village
: Immerse yourself in the Emberá culture by visiting an indigenous village.

Learn about their traditions, crafts, and way of life, all set against the backdrop of the lush rainforest.

La Amistad International Park
: Explore La Amistad International Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site shared by Panama and Costa Rica.

This pristine wilderness is home to diverse wildlife, including jaguars, tapirs, and quetzals.

Historic Churches: Panama boasts beautiful historic churches, such as the Church of Nata de los Caballeros and the Church of San Felipe de Portobelo. These architectural gems offer a glimpse into the colonial era.

Local Cuisine: Savor the flavors of Panama by indulging in local cuisine. Try dishes like "ropa vieja" (shredded beef stew), "ceviche" (marinated seafood salad), and "patacones" (fried green plantains).

Sancocho - Traditional Panamanian Chicken Soup

Exploring Panama (Continued)

Your exploration of Panama continues with even more exciting destinations and experiences:

Isla Taboga: Escape the hustle and bustle of Panama City with a day trip to Isla Taboga.

This peaceful island offers beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and a glimpse into the island's history.

Volcán Barú: Conquer Panama's highest peak, Volcán Barú.

The challenging hike to the summit rewards you with breathtaking views of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea on clear days.

Volcán Barú Sunrise - Chiriqui Province, Panama

Santa Catalina: For surf enthusiasts, Santa Catalina is a hidden gem.

This coastal town is renowned for its consistent waves and laid-back vibe, making it a popular destination for surfing and beach lovers.

Isla Coiba: Explore the pristine Isla Coiba, which was once a penal colony.

Today, it's a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site, offering opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and wildlife encounters.

Panama's Diverse Flora and Fauna

Panama is a biodiversity hotspot, and several destinations are ideal for experiencing its rich natural wonders:

Soberanía National Park: Explore the lush rainforests of Soberanía National Park, home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including sloths, howler monkeys, and vibrant bird species.

Wild Capybara - Soberanía National Park, Panama

Pipeline Road
: Birdwatching enthusiasts should not miss Pipeline Road, a renowned spot for observing colorful avian species like toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds.

Barú Wildlife Refuge: Discover the Barú Wildlife Refuge, where you can spot endangered species like the jaguar and the resplendent quetzal, thanks to its protected habitat.

Chagres National Park: Immerse yourself in the untamed beauty of Chagres National Park.

Navigate the Chagres River to reach Emberá indigenous villages and explore the rainforest's secrets.

Panama's Cultural Heritage
Delve deeper into Panama's cultural heritage with these enriching experiences:

Museo del Canal Interoceánico: Visit the Museo del Canal Interoceánico in Panama City to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Panama Canal's history, construction, and significance.

Panama Canal, Panama

Folklore Festivals: Plan your visit around Panama's vibrant folklore festivals, such as Carnival and Diablos y Congos, where you can witness traditional music, dance, and costumes.

BioMuseo: Explore the unique BioMuseo, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

This museum showcases Panama's incredible biodiversity and ecological importance.

Returning to Costa Rica

After your Panamanian escapade, it's time to return to Costa Rica for the final leg of your journey.

Bribrí: Visit the indigenous Bribrí community and immerse yourself in their traditions and culture.

Participate in cultural exchanges, learn about their sustainable way of life, and appreciate the richness of their history.

Cahuita National Park
: Explore the coastal beauty of Cahuita National Park, known for its coral reefs and diverse marine life.

Beach at Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Snorkel along the vibrant coral formations and spot colorful fish in the clear waters.

Tortuguero National Park: Conclude your Costa Rican journey with a visit to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast.

This park is famous for its sea turtle nesting grounds, and you can witness these incredible creatures during the nesting season.

Costa Rica's Hidden Gems

Before concluding your journey, uncover some of Costa Rica's lesser-known treasures:

Pacuare River: For adrenaline seekers, embark on a thrilling white-water rafting adventure down the Pacuare River, surrounded by dense rainforest and cascading waterfalls.

Pacuare River - Costa Rica

Tapanti National Park: Discover the tranquility of Tapanti National Park, where you can hike through misty cloud forests and follow scenic river trails.

Las Hornillas: Visit Las Hornillas, a unique geological wonder where you can walk inside a dormant volcano's crater, observe bubbling hot springs, and enjoy a relaxing mud bath.

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge: Explore the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, a pristine wetland area renowned for birdwatching, boat tours, and the chance to observe diverse wildlife.

Tips and Recommendations

To make the most of your Costa Rica to Panama travel, consider these additional tips:

Transportation: Opt for reliable transportation options, such as buses, domestic flights, or organized tours, for comfortable travel between destinations.

While road conditions in Costa Rica are generally good, be prepared for varying road conditions in Panama.

Local Cuisine: Delight in the gastronomic offerings of both countries.

Savor traditional dishes like "gallo pinto" in Costa Rica and "sancocho" in Panama. Don't forget to sample fresh tropical fruits and locally caught seafood.

Panamanian Ceviche

Respect Local Customs: Show respect for the local cultures and traditions you encounter along the way.

Learn about the customs of indigenous communities and follow any guidelines or requests they have for visitors.

Sustainable Travel
: Embrace sustainable travel practices by reducing your environmental impact.

Support eco-friendly accommodations and tour operators that prioritize conservation efforts.

Weather Considerations: Keep in mind that the weather can vary greatly between regions and seasons.

Check the climate and pack accordingly, including rain gear for potential downpours in rainforest areas.

Local Currency: While the US dollar is widely accepted in Panama, having some local currency on hand is still useful for small purchases and transportation.

Costa Rican Money


Crossing borders from Costa Rica to Panama and back is a voyage that promises boundless beauty, diverse experiences, and unforgettable memories.

As international travelers, you have the opportunity to immerse yourselves in the natural wonders, cultural richness, and warm hospitality of these two enchanting nations.

So, pack your bags, prepare your documents, and embark on a journey that transcends words – an expedition filled with the vibrant tapestry of Costa Rican and Panamanian beauty.

Tropical Rainforest - Panama

With this comprehensive guide, your adventure awaits, ready to unveil the countless treasures of Central America.