Costa Rica and Panama both have Caribbean and Pacific Ocean coasts, as well as rainforests. While Costa Rica does a great job at preserving its natural beauty in its numerous national parks, Panama is more of an idyllic destination for those looking for beach getaways and a more bustling capital for those looking for partying.
Panama City, the capital of Panama , is definitely more exciting than San Jose , the capital of Costa Rica. Travelers to Costa Rica can extend their vacation and also include Panama in their plans.
If you need to travel between the two capitals – San Jose and Panama City- then the cheapest and easiest alternative is to travel by direct bus. It takes 16 hours and the single fare is US$35.
Flights from Costa Rica to Panama
There are two major airports serving Costa Rica:
- Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO), located close to the capital of San Jose, the main airport serving the country. It is hub for TACA/LACSA and a focus city for Copa Airlines.
- Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR), located close to Liberia on Nicoya Peninsula, and is the second busiest airport in the country.
Panama is also served by two major airports:
- Tocumen International Airport (PTY) , located about 24 km from Panama City , and is hub for Copa Airlines. It is the busiest airport in Central America in terms of passenger traffic. Direct flights from San Jose are operated by Copa Airlines and TACA Airlines. The flight time is 1h 16 min.
- Enrique Malek International Airport (DAV), located in the city of David. It receives direct flights from San Jose operated by Air Panama and Sansa Airlines. The flight time is 1h 45 min.
Single fares from San Jose to Panama City start at US$306 on Copa Airlines or LACSA, regardless on when you travel during the high season. Return fares start at US$487.
Single fares from San Jose to David start at US$125 on Air Panama.
Buses from Costa Rica to Panama
On Tica Bus, an economy ticket costs US$37 one way and US$74 return. Buses depart Costa Rica at 12 p.m. and arrive in Panama at 4 a.m. the following day.
Expreso Panama offers two departures per day, at 12 p.m. (arrival at 3p.m. or 4 p.m. in Panama) or 11 p.m. (arrival at 3p.m. or 4p.m. in Panama). A single ticket is US$35 while return tickets are US$70.
Should you decide to see more of Costa Rica while you are traveling to Panama, you can take two alternative routes. The northern route starts in San Jose, from where you can take a bus to Sixaola, on the Atlantic coast (about 6 hours). Cross the border to Changuinola (Panama) and then take a direct bus to Panama City.
Another option is the southern route which also starts in San Jose. Take the bus to Ciudad Neily (about 8 hours) and from here take the 30 minute bus across the border to Canoas in Panama. From here, take a direct bus to Panama City.
Driving from Costa Rica to Panama
You can rent a car in San Jose, Costa Rica and drive to Panama City, Panama, stopping along the way to enjoy the views and rest. The total drive time is about 12 hours (800 km) and a large part of the road is right by the coast line.
Just for general reference, the route highlighted in the map below is between San Jose and Panama Canal (close to Panama City)
You can also drive from San Jose to David , which is located on the Pan American Highway. David is a popular stop for those interesting in gambling as it is home to some casinos. You can also take a day trip to some hot springs.
There are 350 km between San Jose and David. The drive time is about 5 hours.