Because I’m not Panamanian, I have to cross the border every 6 months otherwise I’m an illegal immigrant or something. Normally when people cross just to get the stamp, they go to Puerto Viejo, a small town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. People say it has a lot of reggae culture, and my 6 months in Bocas before I had to cross was running out, so I decided the other week to book 3 nights in a hostel in Puerto Viejo, and tonight will be my first night here (I arrived in the hostel a few hours ago).
I booked the cheapest hostel I could find on HostelBookers and paid $50 for a private room with shared bathroom for 3 nights. Loads of people (backpackers) make the journey between Puerto Viejo and Bocas because they’re both popular places for that crowd, so there’s a bus called the Caribe Shuttle which costs about $30 one way to take people between the two towns. Even though this is the easiest way to do it, I decided I didn’t want to be a tourist and I’d rather do it the “local” way, so last week I asked my friends how.
They said you take a boat to Almirante, then a bus to Changuinola, then a taxi to the border, then a bus from the Costa Rica border to Puerto Viejo. Obviously it would work out cheaper than the Caribe Shuttle, and if I got lost/confused I could just ask people.
I took a boat from Bocas Marine Tours to Almirante at 12:30 for $6 (no need to book in advance, just turn up half an hour before you want to leave). This took half an hour.
I’d been to Changuinola before so I already knew where to walk to get the bus there in Almirante. Don’t go in a taxi, it takes 5 minutes to walk. Leave the boat-house, turn left and walk til you get to the road. This is the path just as you’re coming up to the road:
When you get to the road, cross it so you’re on the pavement then walk to your right for a few minutes and you’ll see the bus stop on your left. It’s really obvious, you can’t miss it. At the bus stop there are men shouting “CHANGUINOLA, CHANGUINOLA”, so get on the bus that they’re standing next to. The ride to Changuinola costs $1.45 and takes about 40 minutes. It ends opposite the big shop called Wolf Mall, so get out there and then walk through the market thing that’s next to you (don’t cross the road). You’ll come out at a big bus terminal but you don’t need to walk anywhere, the taxi will be parked in a bus space near where you come out of the market. Just open the door and ask him if he’s going to the border (“vas pa’ la frontera?”) and if he says “si”, get in.
It was less than half an hour to the border (called Sixaola) and I paid $1.45. I was a bit confused when I got out because I could see the bridge but didn’t know where to go to deal with my passport etc. A man pointed me in the right direction (if you’re at the start of the bridge, go down teh stairs on your right and keep walking) and I got to this place:
Thankfully there wasn’t really a queue and the man just looked at my passport and did something on a computer. I went back to cross the bridge but a man in a little office shouted “lady” as I was walking past so I went in there and had to pay $3 for a little sticker for my passport.
It took about 10 minutes to cross the bridge:
At some parts you really have to be careful with the floor:
At the other end of the bridge I had to queue up and fill in a form with my passport number and destination etc but I only had to wait about 5 minutes. A local guy seemed to like me and when he asked me for my number I decided to give it to him so that he’d have to show me where to get the bus to Puerto Viejo. It worked because he walked me there. If no man fancies you, just go by yourself, you go down the slope/steps (can’t remember) which are to the right of the passport place then you just walk for 2 minutes and it’s on your left. Go to the ticket office and tell them you want to go to Puerto Viejo. It costs $4 and the bus goes every half an hour. Luckily for me, it was already there and left a few minutes after I got on.
There was no air conditioning on the bus and it took quite a long time, over an hour, so it wasn’t the nicest part of the journey. There was a piece of string running along from front to back above the seats and you pull it when you want the bus to stop. It became obvious when we were in Puerto Viejo because of the black sand (I’d read online there was a black beach here) and because of all the hostels, so I looked out for mine and pulled the string when I saw it.
I haven’t done anything since I’ve been here except buy water and write this blog. In the shop they said they accept $US notes but not coins, so I’m going to end up with loads of coins after these 3 days. Their currency is called Colones.
The hostel is 5 or 10 minutes walk from the main part of town and the receptionist told me it’s probably not a good idea to do that walk in the night because there are no lights etc and a taxi in the night will cost $3 or $4.
I’m in the communal area of the hostel right now and I can’t see any likely people to go out with tonight so I’m going to go to town in a minute, find something to eat and maybe ask some friendly-looking rastas where the best reggae party is tonight in the hope that they’ll invite me to go with them. If not, I don’t really care, I’ll just go by myself.