My Coolest Border Crossing: Panama

Panama Border Crossing

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.

Panama Border Crossing

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.

Border Crossing

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.

Border Crossing


What has your favourite border crossing been while travelling? What made it your favourite? Please share in the comments below.

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20 Comment

  1. That is indeed cool. And I was lured in by the post title,…

    1. David says:

      Glad to hear, thanks for reading Lydia!

  2. Ruth says:

    The infrastructure in Costa RIca is so bad. I took a bus from San Jose to Quepos (to visit Manuel Antonio) and the bus driver left us 10 miles before the final stop because he didn’t want to cross a particular bridge in a really bad condition. We had to cross the bridge on foot while traffic was still passing by. It felt like we were all going to the river at any moment.

    1. David says:

      That sounds horrible Ruth. I know the bridge from my photos doesn’t have any vehicles cross it now and I’m glad, as it would be quite unsafe. We were fortunate that we were with an organised tour group and so problems with transport were kept to a minimum.

  3. What a fabulous travel story! Walking across that bridge would be challenging for some, but I guess you’d know that before you arrived there (if you do your research). I don’t have any interesting border crossing stories, except maybe when we travelled from Italy into Switzerland and they just waved us through without checking passports or anything. We were astounded – we could have been anyone!

    1. David says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Lyndall. I was oblivious before hand, so it was both surprising and and exciting – for me at least. I agree, crossing borders in Europe these days is quite bizarre when you think about the total lack of monitoring – it always feels like you’re forgetting something.

  4. Anisa says:

    That is fascinating! I haven’t crossed the borders of many countries because I normally travel by plane. I do remember crossing a state line in India where we waited in the car while our driver paid the fee. While he was gone guys with snakes and monkeys trying to make money surrounded us! Anyways, thanks for sharing your story on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. David says:

      I guess it really depends on what part of the world you are visiting and how, when it comes to crossing borders by land. In some countries, crossing state lines still feels like a big deal and your story from India certainly qualifies. Thanks for reading Anisa.

  5. Lolo says:

    Boy that bridge looks sketchy! I dont know if I’d have the guts to cross it! The most interesting borders I’ve ever crosses are perhaps between Croatia and Bosnia or even taking the boat across the Channel into England. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. David says:

      It does look a little sketchy but it was mostly safe as long as you watched where you were going. Crossing the Channel would have been quite a nice time I imagine, just having some nice scenery can make all the difference.

  6. Upeksha says:

    That’s certainly an interesting experience, but as you say beats going by bus. I crossed the border at Niagara falls between USA and Canada. In addition to being a border crossing bridge, it double up as a great view point for the falls! #theweeklypostcard

    1. David says:

      The Niagara Falls crossing is something I think would be really cool, as I often forget that it’s actually a border. Plus, bonus points for a view of the falls!

  7. Anna says:

    My conclusion after your post: even border crossing can be adventurous! Normally I travel by plane, so have never experienced anything like this! Enjoyed reading! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. David says:

      Glad to hear it Anna. Plane travel can also be interesting or unusual, but you generally want it to be as uneventful as possible.

  8. I love the thought of crossing a rickety bridge looking down at the water below but I know my husband would freak out as he has a fright of heights and not being on stable ground. What an interesting crossing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. David says:

      Ah yes Annette, I would imagine a fear of heights causing some issues when you can peer through gaps to the waters below. Still, I’m sure he’d feel relief and a sense of achievement for crossing.

  9. Now that is what we think of when we say “travel adventure!” It seems to have become very hard, in today’s modern world, to find that sort of atmosphere. It’s easy to imagine you were crossing that border in a time when international travel was reserved for rugged explorers in remote corners of the world. When just crossing a border could be an adventure. Fun stuff!

    1. David says:

      You make a great point Rob that things today have become a bit more straightforward, but there are still places that operate more like they did back then. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a rugged explorer haha, but it was a fun and unusual experience.

  10. Anna says:

    Very cool indeed! In fact, I kind of appreciate that is nothing like the squeaky clean border crossings at the airport. Would like to do this route one day, it sounds like a great region.

    1. David says:

      Thanks Anna, sometimes its nice to find places where things aren’t perfect and there’s no sheen to everything. Highly recommend exploring Costa Rica and Panama.

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