photo by Gobi Kim
The islands of Bocas del Toro are the essence and the mirror of Caribbean Panama. They are located in the extreme western part of the country, only 40 kilometers from the Republic of Costa Rica. This archipelago has the perfect combination of nature and historical and cultural traditions, with a charming variety of aquatic species, coral reefs, mangroves, tropical forest, beaches with crystal clear water, undisturbed jungles with all the flora and fauna you can imagine. Without any doubt, the most famous visitor that arrived at this piece of paradise was the Admiral Christopher Columbus, the 6th of October of the year 1502 on his fourth and last trip. He entered with his two vessels into a wide bay that the indigenous people used to call “Carabaro” (nowadays called “Almirante Bay”), took in provisions on the present “Bastimentos” island and careened a ship in the vicinity of “Carenero” island. At the beginning of the 19th century, the brothers “Knapp” arrived from Jamaica with their slaves , at the same time with the “Shepherd” family that inhabited “Shepherd” Island. A few years later various Scottish and English families emigrated from the “San Andres” and “Providencia” islands, also together with their slaves, in order to evade tax payments. An important commercial exchange started with the settled Indians of the region, the once that traded alive turtles, turtle shell, cocoa and mahogany, especially with the English people that came from Jamaica. For all of this, Bocas del Toro possesses a rich, ethnic culture that is reflected in its traditions, customs, gastronomy, music, dances and other afro- Antillean manifestations; combined with the indigenous culture that still stays intact and that leads us magically to the roots of the American continent. Bocas del Toro its name. It is not known for certain where the name of this incredible, forgotten by time, comes from. Various attributions exist, one more interesting than the other. It is being said that Christopher Columbus when he landed at one of the paradisiacal beaches, saw various waterfalls in the form of “bocas del toro” (mouths of the bull). It is also said that Columbus distinguished a large rock on Bastimentos Island (easily to recognize nowadays) that has the form of a bull that is lying down. It is also being said that the sound of the immense waves that hit the large rock that has volcanic origin and that you can find on Bastimentos Island, makes a sound similar to the roaring of a bull. On the other hand, there is people that assure that the last “cacique” (= chief) of the region was known as “Boka Toro”.