Border crossings usually aren’t very much fun. They’re generally stern places, home to queues and bureaucracy. And tedious! I just want to get that passport stamp and get excited about venturing into the next new country.
They’re even less fun in Central America, with unclear procedures, varying “taxs/visa costs” and often people trying to scam you, be it with transport, exchange rates or unnecessary documentation. So when you have a good border crossing experience, it tends to stick with you.
The border in question is between Costa Rica and Panama at Sixaola, the easternmost border crossing between the two and only a few kilometres from the Carribean Sea. While I did do several border crossings on my own in Central America, this one was with the tour I had taken which started in Guatemala. Going with a tour through this region does often simplify the border crossings, but not completely, and there are many people that manage to do it on their own.
Now what made this border crossing special had nothing to do with procedure. It was still clear as mud. The exit fee was paid in some small hidden kiosk. There was an entrance fee on the Panamanian side that we had been warned was ‘variable’. There was plenty of queueing and it wasn’t even particularly busy when we crossed. (FYI, if you are looking for more detailed info on using this crossing, I would suggest looking here at Along Dusty Roads).
No, what makes this border the coolest I’ve crossed is the setting. To cross this border between Costa Rica and Panama, you must walk on foot across a rickety, old bridge. A bridge – that once may have been a rail bridge – that is now covered in scattered wooden planks and has many, sizeable holes. Holes big enough to fall through.
You may be asking, “How is this cool?” or “Isn’t it unsafe?”. To the latter – yes a little, but you’re fine if you actually look where you are going. To the former – it’s cool because it oozes atmosphere. You are instantly reminded that at that moment, you are in the middle of Central America crossing a rickety old bridge over a gorgeous river. You’re not just waiting in a bus at a dull border station with nothing to see other than other cars and coach buses. This was one border crossing (maybe the only?) where I was happy to take my time and take it all in.
What has your favourite border crossing been while travelling? What made it your favourite? Please share in the comments below.