Where did three months go? Last week we needed to make a border crossing for John to renew his tourist visa and keep his legal driving status (I was covered from my round-trip to Austin in January). But instead of crossing at Rio Sereno and spending the weekend in San Vito, CR (a MUST – we’ve done it twice and written about it here and here), we decided to try Paso Canoas. We also wanted to check out the dozens of auto parts stores there, in hopes of replacing a taillight that had had a tussle with a tree a few weeks ago.
Friends had told us that it’s now possible to walk across the border, check out of Panama and into Costa Rica, and then do everything in reverse all in a few hours – contrary to the previous requirement to spend at least one night over the border. With limited time and budget, we decided to give it a shot.
How to describe Paso Canoas? Gritty border town, shopping mecca, important port of entry for trucking and tour buses. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Boquete on the Pan-American highway – faster and easier to get to than Rio Sereno. It’s not a pretty place but it does have a certain energy and character all its own. And as border security goes, it’s just as “porous” as Rio Sereno – the main street literally straddles the border and is lined with shops selling everything imaginable. They all have an entrance on each side, so it’s possible to enter one store in one country and then go out in another. People go there just to shop, and they never bother going through the whole check-in, check-out rigmarole.
We, on the other hand, were on a mission – to hear that sweet, sweet sound of our passports being stamped by the Panamanian officials to give us three more months of legal driving, so I could get back home to my desk (it was a partial work day for me). Here’s the step-by-step:
- The first thing you’ll see when approaching the border is a big Panamanian national police checkpoint. Coming through as we left Panama was a breeze, but they were a lot more attentive when we came back in – searching for contraband booze, we think. Good thing we didn’t buy any!
- Just before you get to the actual border crossing, make a right at the last street and drive down about a quarter-mile. There’s a secure lot on the right side where you can leave your car for a buck an hour, across from the bomberos (fire station).
- Check out of Panama at the big Migracion plaza. Then take your next right and go down about five blocks or so to Costa Rican immigration and check in.
- Go have lunch or walk around in the stores – and get a kick out of going in a store in one country and coming out in another country.
- Before you check out of CR, you’ll need to pay the exit tax at the grey van (yes, it seemed a little sketchy but it is legit!).
- Jump into the long line to check back into Panama. With any luck, you won’t get stuck behind a huge busload of tourists.