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Many visitors feel they haven’t had enough of Panama when their tourist visa expires. A great place for a quick three-day vacation, which is also the minimum requirement to return to Panama as a tourist, is Puerto Viejo, located just 45 minutes from the Costa Rican border. Depending on choices in transport, accommodation and restaurants, this trip can cost between $150 to $500.
The bus from the Albrook terminal to Bocas del Toro costs about $27, a taxi or bus can be taken to the border from there. Alternatively, one can fly from Albrook airport to either Bocas del Toro or Changuinola for $117 one-way including taxes. Changuinola airport is closer to the border but many choose to fly via Bocas and spend a day or two there before crossing the border. A taxi from the bus station in Bocas is $20 or about $5 in a “collective” taxi. At the border, after checking the passport and payment of a $3 tax, one will pass a bridge and enter Sixaola, Costa Rica. The bridge, previously used by both motor vehicles and pedestrians, is now exclusively for pedestrians since an additional traffic bridge has been constructed.
Upon entering Costa Rica, a form needs to be filled in and a ticket leaving Costa Rica, either by land, sea or air must be shown. A flight ticket from Panama to another country is accepted, as well as a bus ticket from Costa Rica to Panama that can be bought close by for $12.
Puerto Viejo is about 45 minutes by taxi ($35) from Sixaola, the bus takes about two hours for the same distance but is much cheaper. Rocking J’s is a popular hostel where young people from all over the world meet to enjoy beaches and parties. A dorm room costs $12 a night, a single room with shared bathroom and showers costs $26 a night. There are, however, hotel options that offer more tranquil rooms at $30 with en suite bathroom.
In Puerto Viejo, most destinations can easily be reached by riding a bicycle and tours are offered for most other destinations. The Cataratas de Bribri waterfall is a spectacular view and a great place to swim. It is strongly recommended to go to the waterfall with a guide, although the hike is easy, some ascents are very slippery and treacherous.
The Jaguar Rescue Center ($15 entrance) makes two guided tours a day, at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. giving an introduction to local snakes, birds, sloths, monkeys, frogs and much more. The absolute highlight of the tour is entering the monkey cage, where tourists can touch the monkeys and play with them.
Two great reefs for snorkeling are Manzanillo and Cahuita. The reef in Cahuita is more tranquil but a little further from Puerto Viejo than Manzanillo, where the waves are sometimes rough.
The Cahuita National Park, located 9 miles from Puerto Viejo can easily be reached by bus or taxi. Throughout the whole park, the howler monkeys can be heard and sometimes spotted.
To re-enter Panama, firstly a stamp is needed from the Costa Rican border. After you cross the bridge, the Panamanian border may inquire motive of entrance and requires a document of exit from Panama.