Clear sea perfect for swimming, shacks serving cold cerveza and sandy shores covered in starfish are waiting in the Bocas del Toro, where you spend three nights on Isla Colon.. Head to the coffee plantations, waterfalls and caldera hot springs of Boquete, a highland town so beautiful you won’t miss the beach one bit.. Ride some of the region’s best breaks in Santa Catalina. If you’d prefer to stay dry (or horizontal), there’s a hammock with your name on it.. Cycle around the quiet streets of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca with your leader, the best way to get your bearings in this relaxed town.
Come on a zig-zagging adventure through the jungles, beaches, islands and villages of Costa Rica and Panama. From San Jose to Panama City in 13 days, this laidback Lonely Planet Experience will introduce you to some of the most beautiful spots in two Central American cultures, then give you the freedom to explore them however you want. With your local leader to steer you in the direction of the best bars and surf breaks, plus a small group of adventurers to enjoy them with, you can’t go wrong on this carefree Caribbean journey.
Breakfast Included: Lunches Included: Dinner Included:
Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! Welcome to Costa Rica! Make your own way to the hotel where you adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. As this trip spends very little time here, we recommend arriving a day or two earlier to see the sights or take an Urban Adventure with an expert local guide. The Gold Museum has an amazing collection of indigenous gold art. If you're in the mood for a bit of shopping, head to the outdoor market in the Plaza de la Cultura or the city's Central Market, where you can buy anything from handicrafts to seafood.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Today take a 5-hour local bus to Puerto Viejo. On arrival, get to know this laid-back jungle town during a bicycle ride with your leader, then the rest of the day is yours to explore. Small and coastal, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has a lively main street featuring dancehalls, reggaeton bars and modern restaurants. If you’re after something more relaxed, you'll find great surf beaches and rainforest fruit farms. At some point today, your leader will take you through some must-have phrases during an informal Spanish lesson.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Enjoy a free day to ease into the vibes of the Caribbean coast. If you wish, take your time to explore Cahuita National Park, which is easily accessible from Puerto Viejo and home to sloths, monkeys, raccoons, snakes and a great variety of birds. Want to see adorable animals and support an organisation that’s helping the vulnerable among them survive? Maybe check out the Jaguar Rescue Centre, where sick, orphaned and injured animals are rehabilitated. If the waves are calling but your footing isn’t so sure, surf lessons are on offer in town. Alternatively, of course, you can always find a cool spot and relax with a beer in hand.
Bocas del Toro/Isla Colon
Take a 1-hour local bus to the border, then walk across an old railway bridge into Panama. Continue by taxi or collective minivan to Almirante, where you'll take a short boat ride to Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Rapidly becoming a Caribbean favourite, Bocas del Toro has it all – palm-shaded beaches with crystal-clear water, spectacular snorkelling and lots of wildlife. Culturally, Bocas is home to West Indians, Latinos and expats, resulting in diverse music, nightlife and food scenes. For the next three nights, you'll stay on Isla Colon, the main town in Bocas del Toro. It's a great spot to start your exploration of the archipelago from, with most bars, restaurants and local activity operators just metres from your hotel.
Bocas del Toro/Isla Colon
Today is the first of two free days to explore this tropical archipelago. There are several beaches within reach from town, lying between 8 and 14 kilometres from your hotel. With azure waters, pristine coral reefs and a rollicking nightlife, it’s easy to see why these islands are a favourite haunt for so many travellers. The safest beaches are Starfish, Sandfly and Big Creek. Be aware others may have strong riptides. When the sun goes down, why not head into town and check out the local bar and restaurant scene. Ask your leader about the best place to grab a drink.
Bocas del Toro/Isla Colon
Enjoy another free day in the Caribbean sun. Maybe take the opportunity to do some surfing or snorkelling, to rent a bike and explore the main island, or simply soak in the chilled-out vibe while enjoying a cold one on the beach.
Travel by boat and local bus to Boquete, a lengthy journey that will take 8–9 hours. Be sure to have a book, podcast or daydream to keep you occupied just in case you get tired of swapping stories with your fellow travellers. Boquete is a picturesque town located in the highlands of Panama, surrounded by mountains, crystal-clear creeks and rivers, forest reserves, and colourful wildflowers, as well as coffee plantations and orange groves. Head out on an orientation walk with your leader on arrival. Tomorrow will be a free day, wide open for exploring. Most optional activities can be organised directly from the hostel, though it’s a good idea book them on arrival tonight if you know what you want to do.
There’s tonnes of ways for you to experience Boquete today, so be sure to chat to your leader and hostel front desk about the stuff you’re interested in. You could discover the secret waterfalls only locals know about on a walking tour in the jungle. Or maybe you’d prefer to soak it up in the caldera hot springs. If you’re a coffee lover, consider taking a visit to a plantation or simply kicking back in town with a cup of the local brew – some of the best coffee in the world is grown and processed right here in Boquete.
Catch an 8-hour bus to Santa Catalina, situated on the Pacific coast of Panama. Remote and somewhat undeveloped, this region offers some of the best surfing in Central America, as well as relaxed vibes. Enjoy free time upon arrival. It’s going to be late afternoon or early evening by the time you get in, so perhaps find a spot to share a drink and fresh seafood dinner with your fellow travellers, or head to the beach for a sundown swim.
Aside from surfing, the main way to pass the time in Santa Catalina is relaxing, preferably in a hammock. Enjoy a free day around the area and hunt down some activities in the process. Keen for something active? Perhaps take a trip out to Coiba National Marine Park, where you can snorkel with turtles, angel rays and schools of colourful fish. Alternatively, half-day fishing trips or surfboard hire is available in the town. Lessons are readily available, so there's no reason to fear the waves.
Trade in the beach for the city and travel to Panama City, Central America's glitziest capital (about 6 hours). Arrive late afternoon and head to the city’s gorgeous waterfront promenade, the Cinta Costera, for a walking tour with your leader. Take in great views of the historic Casco Viejo (Old Town) and the Panama City skyline as you stroll past crowded waterfront soccer fields, running paths and food carts. Stop at the nearby Fish Market, and perhaps grab some fresh ceviche. Afterwards, enjoy free time to sample Panama City’s thriving nightlife.
Today is free for you to discover Panama City. Perhaps explore the historic Casco Viejo (Old Town), which features an unusual combination of restored buildings, low-income housing, churches and ruins. You may also like to visit the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal, or take a stroll through the rainforest in the Metropolitan Nature Park. Panama City is also famous for its shopping centres, the biggest being Albrook Mall. For more traditional souvenirs, head to the National Artisan's Market.