Getting from Panama to Costa Rica
Central America is a region of fascinating culture and natural beauty. The long and narrow isthmus connecting the northern continent to South America is bordered by two world oceans and lined with rugged mountain ranges, volcanoes, and vast scenic valleys.
In addition to world travel guides, adventure and intrigue novels have written volumes about exploring Middle America. With its ancient indigenous ruins and picturesque Spanish Colonial villages, the region’s mystical past is a huge draw for the romantic adventurer.
So are the hundreds of national parks that harbor miles upon miles of rainforests and tens of thousands of plant, animal, and bird species. Or the vast stretches of coastline with a seemingly endless number of pristine beaches, estuaries, and wetlands.
Getting from country to country
Flying from country to country is undoubtedly the fastest way to travel and also the most expensive. Public busses are another option, but the travel times are much longer. An eight-hour drive by car can take as long as 14 hours by bus, for example. Riders are equally limited to specific destinations and do not have the freedom to explore along the way.
Traveling Central America by car is by far the best way to experience each country. Mainly because of the freedom to choose your own itinerary, time schedule, and choice of destination.
It’s not permitted to take rental cars across the borders, however.
Proof of onward travel and other requirements
Crossing international borders by land isn’t always easy, especially in Central America. Most countries will require proof of travel arrangements to leave the country, such as a pre-purchased plane or bus ticket. And most charge a tourist tax of around $20 upon entry and exit. The fee varies by country and is sometimes referred to as an entry or exit fee.
In Costa Rica, for example, tourist visas are valid for three months. To renew the visa, visitors must leave the country for at least 72 hours. They then need to go through the immigration process again to be issued a new visa extension.
Individuals who exceed the permitted three-month time in Costa Rica without renewing their visas may face serious consequences. First-time offenders will be fined. Repeat offenders or individuals overstaying their visas by months or years may be fined considerably and permanently banned from returning.
Travelers should keep small-bill U.S. dollars handy when crossing the border to and from Costa Rica. Entry and exit fees are in dollars and credit cards are not accepted. On some occasions, travelers will be required to demonstrate a copy of their bank account showing sufficient funds to travel when in the country. The minimum balance should be at least $500.
COVID-19 travel restrictions
Depending upon your country of origin, you may be required to prove having received a COVID-19 or Yellow Fever vaccine. Proof of international health insurance coverage is also mandatory for some destinations such as Costa Rica. Check the following sites for updated entry requirements: Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua.
Car rentals in Costa Rica
Having a car in Costa Rica is the best way to explore the country, hands down!
If you’re looking for a reliable car rental company in Costa Rica, check out Adobe Rent a Car. We’re a 100% Costa Rican-owned business with over 30 years of experience in the industry. We also have 13 full-service offices strategically positioned throughout the country to best serve our customers.
Renting a car when you travel
If you plan on driving from country to country it will be necessary to arrange for a new rental car after each border crossing. Because most border towns tend to be small, you should speak with your rental car agent about where to leave or pick up your car. In most cases, vehicle delivery to or from the border will incur an additional fee.
Travel to and from Panama
As you make your travel plans, consider that Panama is one hour ahead of Costa Rica, and most border immigration offices close at 5:00 or 5:30 p.m.
There are two main border crossings between Panama and Costa Rica. For travellers to Costa Rica wanting to visit Pacific Coast beach destinations, it’s best to cross at Paso Canoas. This is the most direct route to Panama City and the largest of the two border crossings.
Just before Panama on the Costa Rican side of the border is the town of Golfito (1 hour, 48 km). Lodging and restaurants can be found in town, in addition to duty-free shopping for popular household items bought in Panama. Items include everything from perfume and brand-name tennis shoes to household appliances.
The closest Adobe Rent a Car office from the Paso Canoas border is in Uvita. Taking a public bus from the border to Uvita or a taxi car hire are the two most comfortable options for getting to Uvita.
Travelers wanting to visit the idyllic Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica or Panama should cross at the Sixaola border. Puerto Viejo is a famous beach and surf town closest to Panama on the Costa Rican side. It’s easy to arrange for a bus or taxi ride to Sixaola at most hotels or tour operators in town.
The closest Adobe Rent a Car agency to Sixaola is in Limon. Contact one of our professional Adobe Limon agents if you have questions about your rental and plans to travel outside of Costa Rica.
On the Panamanian side, Bocas del Toro is a string of pristine Caribbean islands that are a short drive and boat ride from the border. It’s not necessary nor advisable to rent a car if you plan on visiting Bocas. The islands are small and easily explored by foot or taxi.
To and from Nicaragua
The immigration office between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is in Penas Blancas. Some travelers require a Costa Rica car rental border crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. Rental or personal cars can be parked in a secure parking lot at the border. This is a plus for people entering Nicaragua for a short period to renew their visas.
Our Adobe Liberia Airport office in Guanacaste Province is the best option for renting a car when you arrive in Costa Rica. The Liberia rental agency is a quick 1:15 minute (77 km) bus ride (Grupo Transbasa) from the immigration office at Penas Blancas on the border.
Trans-national bus services
Transportes Costarricenses Panameños, or TRACOPA Bus Company, is the largest transportation provider between Panama and Costa Rica. It’s necessary to purchase tickets ahead of time and confirm that your destination is among the stops the bus makes on its journey.
Tica Bus and Nica Bus are other transnational bus providers with service throughout Central America. Both companies have air-conditioned vehicles with bathrooms. Most long-distance services also include food for sale and entertainment (movies).
Bus tickets can be purchased online or at the main bus stations in San José and Liberia. If your departure is from a small town, ask ahead where’s the best place to buy your tickets.
Essential must-haves for border crossings
- Valid passport: valid for at least six months after the date of entry.
- Proof of onward travel: a pre-purchased airline or bus ticket within three months from the date of entry.
- Proof of sufficient funding: Have a copy of your bank account with at least $500 in available funds.
- U.S. Dollars: Exit and Arrival fees or taxes are in U.S. Dollars. Keep small bills handy if possible.
Is it possible to rent a car in Nicaragua, cross to Costa Rica for and return the next day?
Hello: you can return our car at the costa rican border, as our cars can only be used in Costa Rica.
We are traveling in Costa Rica in one of your cars and want to make a short trip to Nicaragua. As it is not allowed to cross the boarder with the car, could you provide an address of a good and secure parking lot at Penas Blanca? Thank you in advance.
Hi Lukas. We don´t have a place to recommend you, since we have no business in the area.
Is it allowed to cross the border to Panama with a private car (campervan) and return after 3 days back to Costa Rica?
Hi Sasha: yes, it is possible to drive to Nicaragua with you campervan. However, the inconvenience is the fact that you need a permission from our Government and it takes a lot to get it.