Earlier this week, we decided to leave the heat of Red Frog Beach and Bocas Del Toro, and head up into the mountains, to check out Boquete, the cool, quaint town in the mountains of the Chiriqui province.
We heard so many different things about how to get from Bocas Del Toro to Boquete, that at times, it felt quite overwhelming. In this blog post, we’ll break down your different options from getting from Bocas to Boquete, share with you what we chose to do, and also provide you with some information about the fun things that we did on our journey.
(NOTE: we did this trip with our two children, ages 3 & 4. If you are traveling by yourself, of there are only adults in your party, you might have a different perspective, so please note that we had a party of 4, of which two of them were young children).
We started researching our trip shortly after we booked our hotel: we got a killer deal to stay at The Panamonte, one of the oldest and most famous hotels in all of Boquete (Teddy Roosevelt stayed there back in the day). The great deal we got came from one of our favorite travel sites: JetSetter. JetSetter focuses on high end, luxury properties, and then sells rooms for them, at a large discount! The catch is that you have to prepay (and you can’t get a refund, so you’re locked in), but we ended up saving over 40% off of the hotel’s published website.
Once we knew that we were staying at The Panamonte, we contacted them directly about transportation. Their quote proved to be far too expensive ($214!) so we started exploring all of our other options. In detail, we’ve covered all of your choices below when traveling from Bocas Del Toro to Boquete.
- The Public Bus: This is without question the cheapest way to travel. However, with 2 small children, we decided to pass on this option, especially after hearing that the public buses are quite cramped. This was also quoted to us as being the longest driving travel time (5 hours?!) because you have to go through David
- Shuttle Bus: There are several tour companies in Bocas Del Toro offering a shuttle bus to Boquete. We saw prices ranging from $25-35 per person. Some of these fares may or may not include your boat ticket from Bocad Del Toro to Almirante ($5 per adult). More on this segment of the journey below.
- Private Taxi: You can hire a private taxi to take you from the dock once you arrive in Almirante straight to Boquete. Prices were all over the board when we were doing our research for the trip. As we mentioned, The Panamonte quoted us $214, which seems exorbitantly high. We heard other quotes of $180-200, from other Bocas “locals” as well, but again, this seemed excessive to us. Upon arriving in Almirante, there were plenty of people offering transportation to David & Boquete. However, we already had our transportation sorted out at this point, so we never inquired as to the cost.
- Airplane: Unfortunately, earlier this year, Aeroperlas (a Panamanian airline) went out business. Before they did, however, they flew a couple of times a week from Bocas Del Toro directly into David. Once in David, you still had to travel 41 kilometers to get to Boquete. Since this flight is no longer available, if you were dead set on flying (to avoid the long drive), could still do this. However, you’d need to fly from Bocas to Panama City (Albrook airport), then take ANOTHER flight from Panama City (Albrook) to David, then drive the final 41 kms. Not exactly efficient, certainly the most expensive (over $150 per person after taxes), but you would spend the least amount of time in the car.
- Take A Tour: This is ultimately what we decided on, because we knew that part of the fun of heading to Boquete was the adventure travel in and around the area. We booked our tour after seeing a poster and researching a hostel that is on the way, called Lost And Found Lodge. This hostel actually offers a number of tours, and the prices vary depending on what type of tour you want to do with them. We booked a “custom” tour, because we had our children with us, and we also weren’t interested in doing a coffee. Lost And Found put together a great package for us, and it cost us less than the quote from the Panamonte, and also included lunch! (More on the tour below).
So we were to be picked up by our tour guide Nico, at 8:30am in Almirante. This meant leaving Red Frog at 7:30am, taking the 20 minute water taxi over (from our usual boat driver, Cholo, who also takes our kids to school on his boat), and arriving at Bocas Marine Tours just before 8am.
Bocas Marine Tours runs a boat from Bocas to Almirante every 30 minutes. The cost for adults is $5 one way, and we were charged a total of $12 for all 4 of us.
The boat left about 10 minutes late, but if you’re familiar with the water taxis in and around Bocas, this was a much smoother ride. The journey to Almirante takes 30 minutes, but as I said, it was a nice smooth ride. As we came into Almirante, we were even lucky enough to see one of Chiquita Banana’s huge ships!
When we landed in Almirante, Nico was there to great us. (Side note: the locals will grab your baggage out of the back of the Bocas Marine Tour boat and then expect a tip for carrying your bag for you. Normally I really don’t like this, but at the time, we had a HUGE bag (we packed a single bag for all 4 of us), and my back had been acting up again, so I was fine with paying the $1. However, I have traveled in other parts of the part where the locals do the same thing, and I know that it can be annoying, so consider yourself warned).
We got into the car and headed out, driving for about an hour before we arrived at our first stop, which was the La Celestina Waterfall, located in the Palo Seco National Park. The waterfall is actually bid hidden, and when we pulled over the car, Sebastian, our son (3) had fallen asleep. Knowing that we still had a quite a bit of driving left to do, Nico (our guide), myself and our daughter Stella (4) got out of the car to check out the waterfall.
At this point in the day it began drizzling, so Stella (wisely) put on her coat. Being a guy, and from Vancouver, I opted for no rain coat, and we set off to view the falls.
The only hiked in for about 15 minutes, but a note of caution: the rocks are wet and slippery. Half of the time we were walking on slippery rocks, the other half of the time we were walking through water (although it never came up higher than my calves).
By now the rain was really pouring down, and we were getting soaked. We didn’t make it the entire way to the base of the waterfall, as Nico said we’d actually have to swim to accomplish that. On a warmer, drier day we probably would have went for it, but once the waterfall came into view, we decided to turn back around and hike back out.
As we returned back to the car, we began the portion of the journey entering the mountains, and the rain picked up. We were high in the “cloud forest”, and drove on for another good hour. As we began our descent from the mountains, it was time to stop for lunch, at a small town named La Chichicosa, where we had a great lunch (fried pork with beans & rice) next to a rodeo! The seats at the bar were actually saddles:
After lunch, we headed to part of the tour which I was going to be the most excited about: “Los Cangilones”, the river canyon in Gualaca where you can go cliff jumping:
After a half a dozen jumps into the clear, deep blue, refreshing canyon water it was time for our next stop: the Caldera Hot Springs.
(NOTE: if you’re traveling with small children, the hike into the hot springs is about a mile in each direction. We didn’t realize this, and didn’t bring our camera, or anything else…just some water).
The hike went over a bridge, up a down a few paths, and past plenty of wildlife (a pig, some cows and horses, and the local monkey) until we arrived at the farm. The family that owns the farm has a 99 year lease on the land from the government, and “manages” the hotsprings. There are 3 different hot springs, one “medium” and two “hot”. The kids were free, while adults paid $2 each.
Getting into a hot spring when it’s hot and humid out is sort of strange, but it was still nice to sit back and relax in the hot water.
After soaking ourselves, it was time to head out, band hike back out to our car.
From the hot springs, it was about 45 minutes until we arrived at the town of Boquete. Before we pulled into town, we stopped at one of their famous coffee shops, for a photo before we actually pulled into the town of Boquete:
It was a long day, but arrived at the Panamonte safe and sound, and ready for a hot shower!
All in all, we were very happy with the route that we chose to get from Bocas to Boquete, and the tour with Lost And Found Lodge. As a side note, on the return portion, we secured a private cab (straight shot, only 1 bathroom stop) in a nice car for $140 one way (obviously a lot cheaper than what The Panamonte originally quoted us).
We secured this ride from Boquete Safari Tours, who also took us on a mountain tour in Boquete. We also have much more information on our time in Boquete (activities, meals, etc) in this blog post, so be sure to read it as well!