Bocas de Toro is a must in Panama!
Come with me guys i’ve got something amazing to show ya! And no it isn’t more shots of my ugly mug 🙂
Heading to Panama? How about Costa Rica? Maybe you are doing a long trip through all of Central America. Whatever your plans, Bocas del Toro should be on your list! Just picture those palm tree covered islands and the sparkling blue waters you see on all those Caribbean cruise brochures and that is what you will find in Bocas.
Located near the top of Panama not far from the Costa Rican border and obviously on the Caribbean side of the country (east), Bocas del Toro is the ideal island getaway. We took a bus from Panama City which took about 8 hours to the town of Amirante and from there a short taxi ride to a boat which will take you to the main island (Colón) in the Bocas del Toro district. There are probably also buses from Costa Rica in places like Puerto Viejo. I recommend trying to time whichever bus you take to arrive early in the morning so you can catch a boat and not get caught in Amirante. It is a dive with only one terrible and overpriced hotel. The boat to the island is about $5 US from memory and takes you right to the main part of town where there are many hostels to choose from.
For those of you carrying fat stacks and don’t want to slum it you can get to Bocas del Toro by plane as they have an international airport. There are probably some great hotels around too.
No matter what your budget one thing is certain, you are going to get hassled. Sadly paradise in most places should come with this disclaimer, but it isn’t something that should deter you. Just be forewarned that the people here want your money and will try to overcharge you for tours, bikes etc. Compared to other towns through Central America I did find this place to be one of the worst for it, however the views and beaches more than made up for it.
So now onto the good stuff! Once you get there and set down your bags you can hire a bicycle and cruise around town. The town is small and has one main street where all the good restaurants, bars and tour companies are. There are also street vendors who sell great plates with beans and rice, whole fish and salad. These were part of our staple diet here and for only $6 US they were one of the cheapest options for meals, and delicious too.
What about the beaches? Well the first one to check out is the starfish beach about 20mins. drive out of town. This beach is lined with palm trees and in the shallows of the clear waters you will find hundreds of large red starfish. Make sure you look where you step as they really are everywhere. And to preserve the wildlife for you kids, make sure you don’t touch them and certainly don’t remove them from the water.
Once you’ve seen starfish beach you would be wise to hire a boat and captain with a few other people so you can explore the rest of the area. There were four of us and we managed to get our price down to $20 per person. We set off in a small boat with a canopy, captain and an Esky (for the beers of course). Our captain took us through small islands to where the dolphins frequent, but sadly we were there too late in the day. From there we made our way to an excellent snorkelling spot where we found lots of tiny fish and many different corals in blues, reds and purples. It was actually one of the best small reefs I have been to. After the snorkelling we finished off in our own deserted island paradise where our captain left us to swim and explore the jungle. With warm waters the Caribbean beaches are perfect for just floating in. When our captain picked us up we returned to the main island and town and set off for the bars. The nightlife in Bocas is ok but the drinks are pricier than other parts of Panama.
By the next day it was time for us to move on but if you had the time Bocas del Toro is a place you could easily spend more time. We went at the end of October and had blue skies and sunshine. Wait a little longer and you will be hit with the monsoon season and your Bocas experience will be a lot different so make sure you check the seasons when planning your trip.
Have you been to Boacas del Toro? How was your experience? If you have any tips or prices you’d like to share with your fellow readers please leave a comment. Until next time. Happy travels!