Bocas Province Offers
More Than the Island
If you like 5 star
vacations, then stop reading. If you like places
where no other tourists ever go, keep reading.
We started our trip with the last bus ride from Terminal Caribe in San
Jose to Sixaola, CR at 3:30 pm for 4.930 colones each. We could only
buy one way tickets as the company is not setup to sell round trip.
When we arrived in Sixaola at 9:30 pm, it was a dark and lonely night
in most of town. Fortunately, we had asked the bus driver where Cabinas
Sanchez was and he showed us the Hotel Imperio and we were dropped off
at Bar Yeleski (owner Urietta). Everyone in this small border town
We went to Bar Yeleski for a token drink to say hello to Urietta and
found someone there who would walk us to Cabinas Sanchez in the dark
(bring a small plastic flashlight). We woke the lady who owns Cabinas
Sanchez and she handed us the key in exchange for 5.000 colones. This
location had hot water supposedly, but we could not get it to work the
following morning. The mosquitos were pretty much kept at bay by the
large bats that flew in and out of the "bat hole" in our room. We were
grateful for them and they were a treat to wake up to in the morning.
Next time we might investigate Hotel Imperio to see if their hot water
works. That is where the BUS MEPES drivers sleep overnight.
Then we awoke Saturday morning with the bats kind of early and walked
with our carryon duffle bags to the only restaurant open that early. It
is owned by the daughter of the taxi driver and he also cleans her
front porch for her with a broom. The food was good, plentiful, cheap
and very near the border crossing. (Remember this restaurant as this is
where you will catch the bus heading back to San Jose, but you have to
stand in front and wave your arms when it approaches – 7 am, 8 am, 9:30
am, 11 am, 15:30 pm).
We next walked to the CR Migration office to get "stamped out" of Costa
Rica. We did not have to pay the 200 colones exit fee. Then we walked
across the supposedly rickety bridge (in my opinion, it is very sturdy
and I would easily drive my semi-truck across it).
On the Panama side, we showed our passports to the migration office
(the window before the tourist card window). We then had to walk to the
tourist card window and buy our tourist cards for $5 USD and take them
back to the migration office window. TIP: go to the tourist card window
first and buy your tourist card for $5 USD.
After that you should simply walk away as no one will tell you what to
do. After walking 30 seconds 4 or 5 people will say "taxi" in your
face. I recommend you keep walking and go "down" to the yellow bus that
leaves every 20 minutes for 70 cents. This bus will take you into
Changuinola bus terminal where you can connect to the BOCAS boats in
FINCA 63 or the Rio Teribe boats in EL SILENCIO.
We walked the street looking for a hotel that took credit cards, had
hot water and air conditioning. There were many hotels to choose from
(at least 6). We entered Hotel Carol and tried their "hot water" and it
never got hot. We entered Hotel SemiRami and their prices were to high
(over $35). So we eventually ended up with Hotel Alhambra. Boy was I
sure happy we chose this location. It was on a second floor above the
supermarket that took credit cards. Alhambra took credit cards, had
very hot water with great pressure and an air conditioner that blew ice
cubes. This was the perfect choice! We paid for the first night only as
we were not sure what we would find during this 4 day adventure, but we
ended up staying there every night as Changuinola is the perfect "base"
for doing anything in the area, including Bocas.
Oops, let me back up, we did not take the yellow bus from Guabito into
Changuinola direct. We got off at the half way point on the bridge over
the Rio San San. You should DEFINITELY do this! Enter the
office of AAMVECONA upstairs and tell the guy in Spanish that you want
a boat to take you to the PLATFORM. He will wake up the boat
captain (as they only get 2 or 3 requests per month) and charge you
$70/boat plus $5/person with a maximum of 10 people per boat. Please
email the office in advance if you know you are coming on a specific
day at fdeLeondeLbarrio@.... You will put on your life jacket and enter
the boat to go down the Rio San San into the San San Pond Sak HUMEDAL
(wetlands area). On this river there will be crocodiles, but also the
largest population of Manatees (72 of them) in Central America. The
Captain and your guide will take you down river to their cabin on the
Caribbean (mouth of San San) where you can watch several 20 year old
volunteer females digging in the beach for eggs that didn't hatch and
escorting the baby tortoises as they hatch to the water (with the shade
from their body). These babies are so cute and I have some pics of them
if you want. You can also buy but the only drinks they have are:
coffee, warm water and fresh Coconut water from the coconut.
After a brief stop here to visit the tortoises on the beach, you will
reboard your boat to go to THE PLATFORM. This deep jungle patform is
very cool. The boat guide will hang fresh Bananas and banana leaves
from overhanging branches so they are below the platform and at the
water surface. This will become Manatee food in about 30-60 minutes.
Then the Captain of your motorized canoe will drive under some
overhanging branches and place you at the ladder to the platform (deep
in the jungle so bring tons of mosquito spray and sunblock). Once the
captain turns off his motor, the Manatees will circle around for a
while and eventually come to eat your Bananas. On the day we were
there, the rain had flooded the river 2 days before so the river was
very high. Thus the water was dirty and we only saw noses and branches
being tugged on. But usually, the water is clear and you can see their
bodies while they eat.
After that we returned to the main office and said goodbye to the boat
captain and guide to reboard the yellow bus toward Changuinola on the
bridge for another 70 cents.
Now, back to where I was, after we got our stuff dropped in the hotel
rooms, took a shower and changed into non-sweaty clothes, we were ready
to HIT THE TOWN! We walked up and down looking for a restaurant or bar
that took credit cards. There was only one and becz of the rains 2 days
earlier, the town was without cell phone and cable tv for the week, so
they could not use their credit card machine. Fortunately, I planned on
coming to Changuinola with $100 USD in my pocket for our 4 days, so we
had cash to purchase food. I was amazed
at the very cheap prices. Excellent food for $4.50 for 2 of us. Beers
were only 60 cents. All the restaurants had fans and so the dining was
pleasant on the patios. All the banks had very cold air conditioned ATM
machines that spit out the countries money (dollars).
After dinner, Stephanie went to sleep early and I went in search of the
local Lions Club meeting (Saturday nights at 7 pm) with Paul. The taxi
there was only about $1 and we found it, but the club of 8 members had
decided to not meet that night, so followed some music and found a huge
drum and bugle corps practicing in the street in front of the Ministry
of Education building (Changuinola has about 2,000 people). We would
discover the next night that this same group was going to walk down
main street playing their drums and bugles as loudly as they could. It
was quite a treat to watch them march proudly down the street. As you
might imagine, any town with 2,000 people in it and no tourists might
get boring for the youth.
On our second morning we walked next door to the bus terminal and
boarded the EL SILENCIO bus to take us to the end of the road where we
could get the colectivo boats up the Rio Teribe and visit the 11
communities of Indians who sell handmade chocolate.
This particular day will offer you NO TIENDAS for buying anything
throughout the day. You should carry liquids with you and a sandwich.
Don't overload yourself as the canoes that take you upriver a very
small. Probably no more than 6 people per canoe (and that includes the
captain and the stick man up front). You will get wet on this trip. And
your shoes will be very muddy/dirty/wet. Bring the mosquito spray and
the sunscreen. The colectivo boat upriver costs $5/person and only runs
on M-W-F, but on any day, you can probably
convince anyone coming up or going down to take you as an extra $5 is
better than nothing if they are going anyway. We went on a Sunday and
there were at least 10 boats that went up and down the river. I
recommend you take the boat to the last community (their capital) to
view the unused Kings Palace. Be careful about asking about the king.
There are 2 of them and the community is split for the last 2 years.
The Nephew who was king, now has moved from his palace to Changuinola
to live in exile bacz he struck a deal with an electric company to
build a dam. The Uncle Valentin Santini led an overthrow and assumed
leadership, but he stayed in his house closer to the CR border and does
not occupy the palace. King Valentin is 70 years old, and I suppose
that King Tito is just waiting. The Rio Teribe moves too fast for
Crocodiles and so you will be able to fresh water swim in this river
near the shore.
On our third day (Monday) Stephanie wanted to swim, so we took the 70
cent bus to FINCA 63 (the sign says Finca 60, but it does the whole 60
series) and rode the $7 boat to the beach in Bocas Island. They will
stop wherever you want on the island and we chose the starfish beach so
we could see the starfish (there is no food here and they will pick you
up at 12:30pm, 2:00 pm, or 4 pm). We spent 5 hours in the water just
swimming (bring a lot of sunscreen and mosquito spray). The speed boat
picked us up on time and took us back to FINCA 63 in Changuinola. The
channel used from FINCA 63 to Changuinola is quite interesting. You
will see primitive families living along the channel (children loading
wood for the family day, kids sleeping in hammocks, etc).
When we returned to our hotel, we realized that we had been going
through 2 t-shirts per day because of the sweat, so we either needed a
laundry or something to have travel clothes back to CR tomorrow. We
also realized that very good t-shirts could be bought for $1.49 across
the street in the department store mall on the sidewalk. So being
cheaper to buy new rather than wash old, we went there and ended up
buying to excellent pair of blue jeans for $12 USD for both. Again,
Stephanie was quite happy. We decided that for our final night in
this paradise vacation spot town, we wanted to visit the most expensive
restaurant we could find. Although we tried hard, we couldn't find any
restaurant that would take more than $10 for our meals, so we had to
sacrifice and eat cheaply again, but the food was plentiful and great
tasting. Afterward we walked to the POLLO RICO next to the bus station
and bought slices of cake and cream filled something or others. They
went great with the $3.50 bottle of wine we got from the supermarket.
For our return in the morning, we simply went to the bus terminal to
board the yellow Guabito bus that leaves every 20 minutes for 70 cents
back to the border. Crossing back was easy. Remember Panama is one hour
later than Costa Rica in time, so change your watch as you walk over
the bridge. Just stamp yourself out of Panama and into CR. TIP: walk
past the CR migration office to purchase your $7 USD bus ticket to
prove you are leaving the country someday as they migration officer
will require you to show proof of departing the country.
After getting stamped back into CR, walk down to the restaurant owned
by the daughter with the TAXI driver father and eat breakfast while you
wait for the bus at 8 am, 9:30 am or 11 am, or 15:30 pm. Pay the driver
on the bus 5.000 colones each and you are back in San Jose in 6 hours.
It is a 2 block walk from Terminal Caribe to the Heredia bus station in
San Jose. By the way, the foodstand in Terminal Caribe next to platform
#6 is VERY CHEEP and has good Empanadas.