Bocas del Toro has been a quite a pleasant place to quarantine; with curfews, lockdowns and all. Though Panama had been opening up gradually for international tourism since October, the Ministry of Health announced some unexpected new restrictions for December 18, 2020 – January 4th, 2021. This follwowing is a guide to help you navigate the new rules put in place and how it will affect travel to the islands.
Effective December 18, 2020 – January 4, 2021
– 7pm-5am curfew (restaurants open for delivery until 10pm)
– Dry Law 7pm-5am (No alcohol sold after 7pm, which applies to delivery)
-Total Quarantine: December 25, 26, 27 and January 1, 2, 3
Zero movement unless its an emergency or you need to get to a flight or hotel:
7pm December 24th – 5am December 28th
7pm December 31st – 5am January 4th
-Shopping at retail stores and supermarkets restricted by gender
Women can shop December 21, 23, 28 and 30
Men can shop December 22, 24, 29 and 31
-Closed beaches Dec 23 – Jan 3
Can you fly to Panama right now?
Yes, the Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is receiving commercial flights. There are restrictions on flights from England and South Africa and passengers who have traveled there recently. Other than that, anyone can fly to Panama City with a negative PCR or antigen test that was taken within 48 hours of your arrival time to Panamanian customs. Otherwise you will need to take a $50 rapid antigen test at Tocumen. The results are generally available in 30 minutes. Read all the pros and cons, with some tips on testing before your Panama trip here.
Are there flight restrictions from Panama City to Bocas del Toro? Do you need a COVID test to fly domestic in Panama?
Air Panama flights are scheduled as usual and there are even flights on the lockdown days: December 25, 26, 27 and January 1, 2, 3. As far as we know, you do not need a COVID test to fly domestic from Panama City.
Though it has been announced that it is not required to have a negative COVID test to fly domestically in Panama, we did observe personnel from the Ministry of Health performing nasal swab COVID tests on passengers on the morning flight of December 23, 2020, however this was only one of the two flights during the course of the day. If this testing in the Isla Colon airport becomes the norm, we will announce it.
On December 18th, 2020 a 7pm-5am curfew started. Days of “total quarantine” were also announced for December 25, 26, 27, January 1, 2, and 3. Total quarantine is a stay at home order, or in the event you are visiting, it is a “stay at your hotel” order.
If you have an emergency, you are of course allowed to leave where you are staying. If you have a flight scheduled or a hotel reservation, you will also be allowed to travel about. The national government recently published a list of approved service providers that can circulate during the total quarantine, which airlines, airline personnel, public transport, maritime transport and restaurant deliveries are included on that list. This way there are ways to travel to Bocas, to get to your hotel and to order food; even on the days of total quarantine.
The first total quarantine will start on Christmas Eve, 7pm on December 24, and last until 5am on December 28th (effectively a lockdown for the days of December 25, 26 and 27). The other total quarantine scheduled will begin on New Years Eve, at 7pm on December 31, and will last until 5am on January 4th (effectively the days of January 1, 2, and 3).
The following questions will apply to the total quarantine (December 25, 26, 27, and January 1, 2, 3).
My flight is on one of the days of total quarantine. What do I do?
International tourists are allowed to circulate on during the days of total quarantine for the reasons of traveling to their flight or to the place that they are staying.
If you are stopped by the authorities, you need to be ready to show your flight ticket, itinerary, hotel reservations or any reason to justify the reason that you are not in your residence or hotel during the lockdown day.
Bocas del Toro police have said that there are no longer special permissions (“salvoconductos”) being given out, and that the salvoconductos are no longer necessary. If you are stopped during the total quarantine, they said that you need only to “justify your reason for being out.”
Will there be taxis operating in Panama City during the days of total quarantine for transport between airports or a hotel?
Yes. There will be taxis and Uber drivers operating and ready to serve the passengers on the incoming flights. The Uber app works great in Panama City. With your flight ticket, itinerary and hotel reservations in hand, you should not have any problems with the authorities.
Panama City taxi: Omar Gordon +507 6537-5035
Will there be taxis operating in Bocas del Toro during the days of total quarantine in order to move from the airport to a hotel, or between two different hotel reservations?
Yes. While it’s possible your hotel will have permission to send someone to receive you, there will also be taxis operating. You can contact Daniel De León who can arrange airport and hotel rides, either with him personally or by dispatching another taxi working during the lockdown.
Isla Colon taxi: Daniel De León +507 6504-4611
Will there be water taxis operating in Bocas del Toro during the days of total quarantine in order to move from the airport to a hotel, or between two different hotel reservations?
Yes. Again, it is possible your hotel will have permission to pick you up with their own boat and we have confirmed at least one independent water taxi service that will available on those days: Captain Ricki of JG Tours, located at the Bocas Paradise Hotel on 1st street, Isla Colón. If you are moving between two hotel reservations, be ready to present a printed or digital copy of your reservation to the police if you are stopped.
Boat: Captain Ricki +507 6667-0143
Carenero Boat Co-operative: +507 757-7083 (These boats are not scheduled to run at this time, but this number is helpful in general, and especially in the event they do decide to run on those days.)
Will there be regular water taxis running from Almirante on the days of total quarantine?
No. The only regular water taxi service between Almirante and Isla Colón since October has been Transporte Maritimo Valencia. At the time of this publication, they are not scheduled to be running on the lockdown days, however, it’s always better to call and confirm as things are changing all the time:
757-9040 (Isla Colón) / 758-3161 (Almirante) / +507 6744-5943 (Management)
Captain Ricki is also available for private Almirante to Bocas del Toro islands transportation: +507 6667-0143. He is the only boat captain confirmed to be working on the days of total quarantine that we are aware of at this time.
Will there be buses from Panama City on the days of total quarantine?
No. If you plan to arrive on one of the days of total quarantine and you are traveling from Panama City, it is preferable to fly. You may travel by bus on December 28, 29, 30 and 31, and from January 4 on. There are morning buses leaving from Panama City on those days when the curfew is 7pm-5am. The buses leave in the morning 7am, 7:30am or 8am, and the amount of buses vary depending on demand. If you bus from Panama City, it is likely you will arrive after the last boat to Almirante has already left, so you will need to find accommodations in Almirante.
Tranceibosa (Panama City-Bocas bus company) +507 758-3278
Accommodations in Almirante:
Hostal Cristobal Colón: +507 758-3924 $15-$25 a night a simple room to crash for the night and take the boat the next day.
Hotel 888 is another place to stay in Almirante. +507 758-3318
Will there be buses from David on the days of total quarantine?
No. At first, the bus company SERVIDCHANDA, S.A. had announced that they would be running between David and Changuinola on the days of the lockdown, however on the morning of December 25th they announced that they will not be operating for the days of of December 25, 26 and 27. Whether or not they will run on January 1, 2 and 3 has not been specified yet, though at this point it seems more likely they will not. Updates can be found on their Instagram account @rutachanguinoladavid.
The following is their schedule for December 18-23, December 28-31, and from January 4 and onward:
– Leaving *David for Changuinola 5:25am – 3:10pm
– Leaving Changuinola for David: 5:00am – 2:45pm
*If you are leaving David to be in Almirante to get to the islands, because of the current roadwork Valle de Hornito, it has been recommended to leave before 12pm in order to be able to arrive to Almirante in time for boat to Isla Colon.
Can you drive to Bocas del Toro on days of total quarantine?
It is not recommended, but it seems possible. If you are coming from Panama City, there will be police checkpoints, or cerco sanitarios (“sanitary fences”), where you will need to justify your reason for being out during the lockdown. In this case, that would be a hotel reservation in Bocas del Toro. Once you get to Almirante, there will be no ferry on the lockdown days. Ferry Bocas is only operating December 28-31 and from January 4th on. In Almirante, you will have to park your car. We recommend Leiza Secure Parking. We are not sure if they will be operating on these days and there is no contact information for them. There is also Gia’s Garage +507 6658-8914. Another obstacle will be that there are currently no regular scheduled water taxis on those days, so you will have find a private boat captain to get to the islands. This is less than ideal, but if you are on a mission, it’s possible.
Will restaurants be open during the total quarantine for delivery service?
Yes. Delivery food is one of the services that was published by the national government as an approved activity for during the total quarantine. We have found two pizza delivery services that will be operating on the lockdown days:
Tropical Birds will be open for delivery on January 2 and 3, from 11am to 5pm. They will be serving up pizza, spaghetti, seafood specialties and big rice and beans plates with various accompaniments.
Cell/WhatApp +507 6774-7073
Bacro Hundido Pizzeria is open 5pm-10pm every day during the holidays, except for December 24 and December 31 (which are not lockdown days). They will be available for delivery on all of the lockdown days. On the days that are not lockdown, you can visit them at their location on 1st street, Barco Hundido.
Cell/WhatApp +507 6753-3491
Renny Pizza is open every day for delivery during the holidays, including all of the lockdown days. Their normal hours are 12-10pm, which they will operate with these hours everyday with exception of December 24th, where they will be available from 12-5pm.
Cell/WhatApp +507 6390-1666
What else can be done for food during the total quarantine?
Stock up with Super Gourmet goodies! The Super G is an wonderful spot to get prepared salads, sandwiches and all sorts of specialies from the store and their super deli. They always have an amazing variety of food products from businesses right here on the island such as Indian food sauces from the Om Cafe, veggie burgers from Leaf Eater’s, dumplings from Mama Panda and a rebooted version of old school Bocas freezer find: The Flying Burrito.
Super Gourmet will be open 8:30am – 5pm on December 21-24 and December 28-31, Monday through Thursday on both weeks.
Also check with your host wherever you are staying. They may have a creative ideas for your lockdown nutritional and gastronomical pursuits.
Are the beaches open? Can you surf?
This is the big question for Bocas del Toro. The answer is: no, not until January 4th, 2021, or whenever the Ministry of Health decides to open the beaches again.
On December 15th it was announced that all beaches, rivers and all public swimming areas in Panama will be closed for all activities from December 23rd until January 4th.
During the first quarantine, there had been a special permission for surfing and other physical activities that involved beach access. At first the Bocas del Toro Ministry of Health had motioned to approve beach access for surfing again, officially as an authorized form of physical exercise, however that special consideration was vetoed at the national level. Beaches and surfing will be off limits until January 4th, 2021 at least.
Is The Border for Costa Rica Open?
The land border had been scheduled to open on December 31, 2020. It is all but certain that this opening will be pushed back another month. This border has been scheduled to open the last day of every month for a many months now, and it continues to get postponed to the next month each time.
If you need to travel from one country to the other, flying between Panama City and San José is an option. There are flights on Copa Airlines.
Skyway is a great new airline that started operating just before the pandemic hit. They were running direct flights to Isla Colon airport from San José. When they reactivate that route again, we will announce it.
Don’t cancel- POSTPONE!
There have been mass cancellations and the community understands. After all, there is no surfing, no beaches, no restaurants after 7pm and multiple days of being confined to wherever you are staying (which depending on where you stay, it could be a place you wouldn’t want to leave anyway).
If you still plan on coming, that’s great! Bocas del Toro welcomes you, and will do its best despite the circumstances. On the days that are not total quarantine, restaurants will be open and super eager to host you. Believe it or not, there are tours and activities that are not 100% beach related. Kawi Voyage offers a variety of unique tour experiences. They should have something interesting to do that is still in line with the Ministry of Health safety protocols. If your accomodations are in Bluff, Drago, Red Frog, or any of the more remote places of the archipelago (out of Bocas Town), you typically have a lot space and some freedom. It is the opposite of being locked down in a major city.
However, if you need to make a change of plans, it is totally understandable. Change your trip until later in 2021. Postpone. Don’t cancel! Bocas del Toro and its hard-working tourism economy wants to welcome you when there are more ideal circumstances for the country of Panama to recieve guests.
The virus has ravaged the 95-99% tourism-dependent local economy of Bocas del Toro. If you have love for this Caribbean island community, and want to contribute directly, consider donating to any of these fine non-profit and volunteer groups that we wrote about last month for “Giving Tuesday.” They benefit the eco-system, health care, education and community development, and many of them right now are working directly to helping families who have been out of work since March, with very little assistance from the state.
We love your interest in Bocas del Toro! Feel free to write us with any questions or concerns about your trip or life on the islands in general. On Instagram @thebocasbreeze or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured cover image courtesy of Alfredo Jurado Photography, 2020.