Just returned from a great little trip down to Panama. The Caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro are 3 1/2 hours from here, including crossing the terrifying border between Costa Rica and Panama.
Terrifying because the Sixaola river lies between the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders. The river itself isn't so scary, though it does have alligators I hear, what is scary is the old, old, rusty, old wobbly iron and metal 200 yard bridge that spans the river. It's best not to look down as one can clearly see the river (a good 30 feet below) between the ancient wooden railroad tyes, some are rotten and there's places where the boards are missing. At one point officials laid planks perpendicular to the tyes to help support traffic. And by traffic, I'm not talking foot passengers: enormous 18 wheelers thunder across the bridge and when they do the folk on foot have to squeeze themselves against the railings (those old, old, rusty railings) to avoid being squished somewhere on a Central American no man's land. It's enough to make one want to go to Nicaragua instead.
Almost. Because after that ordeal, and an hour in a nervous taxi over a beautiful mountain landscape, and 1/2 an hour by water taxi across a marvelously calm sea, one arrives at Isla Colon, the largest and most developed of the islands.