TRAVEL GUIDE: THE ISLAND LIFE IN BOCAS DEL TOROJune 9, 2016
If you’re traveling to Panama and looking for the Caribbean reggae vibe you cannot miss out on a visit to Bocas del Toro. Think sandy beaches, crystal clear water, surfing and diving, good food and happy people. Bocas del Toro is an archipelago with a beautiful biodiversity and a melting pot of lovely people with different roots. It is a unique holiday destination as many places are still untouched which makes the island still primitive yet very tourism friendly.
Getting to Bocas del Toro Bocas del Toro should be high on your list when visiting Panama and as you travel around, it’s good to plan your trip to Bocas del Toro a bit. With a small airport on Bocas main island isla Colon you can easily book your flight online with Air Panama as long as the airplane is not full yet of course. The flight only takes about an hour and is the quickest option if you’re traveling from Panama City. It’s also the most expensive option, therefor you might want to consider taking a shuttle bus or the night bus with air conditioning. The shuttle is a more luxurious option and will still be quicker than the night bus or the local bus. If you’re not flying into Bocas del Toro by plane then you’ll need to take the water taxi. Upon arrival at the local port on the mainland called Almirante you will find a few boats waiting to bring you to isla Colon. Once you’re at isla Colon – the main island also known as Bocas – you’ll find plenty of local boats willing to take you to one of the other islands such as Bastimentos.
What can you expect of Bocas del Toro Bocas del Toro won’t be anything too fancy but it will definitely be relaxed – and that’s what we’re looking for here! Flip-flops every day and night, swimwear all day long, Panama hats, local bears, great food everywhere and hot weather with an occasional drop of warm rain. Upon arrival at isla Colon you will be getting a lot of attention from the local boys who want to help you find a suitable accommodation. They do so in exchange for a few Balboa or dollars of course, so it’s up to you if you want their help or not. There is not too much partying going on, but if you would like to go out, drink and dance then you will just have to follow the noise at night on the streets. There are some parties planned and you will probably find the party posters on the walls or attached to the electricity poles to inspire you for the evening. Otherwise, Aqua Loungemight be a good option, however you do need to pay an entrance fee and take a boat from isla Colon to isla Carenero (and probably back if you don’t have the intention to spend the night at the dorms). The beaches are all different and there are plenty to choose from. If you’d like to spot some possible wildlife you could visit the Red Frog beach on Bastimentos by boat or visit playa Bluff at isla Colon itself with a collectivo bus. An amazing beach on isla Colon is the famous Starfish beach also known as playa Drago and Estrella. Don’t expect to many starfish nowadays though as the mass tourism is making them hide and eventually they will disappear. Below you can find a video of my visit in 2014 to playa Estrella.
Most people speak English as this is the Caribbean side of Panama, but if you would love to learn to speak good Spanish than Bocas del Toro is also a great place to do so. With language schools like Habla ya you can combine a great holiday with learning the beautiful Spanish language. Also good to know it that you can expect good WiFi at the main island of Bocas del Toro. Even at the beach, near Paki Point, you will find a great WiFi connection! In Bocas town you will find one cash machine that works, so don’t expect to run into a bank anywhere soon.
At which accommodation should you stay You can find places to stay at Bocas which are super deluxe or backpackers hostels, but there are also places for couples or two friends who want a simple room in a hotel with air conditioning. Prices vary between $8 USD to $150 USD a night, depending on which kind of place you like.
For the backpackers: Hostal Mar Iguana
For friends or couples on a slightly bigger budget: Hotel Cayo Zapatilla
For the fancypants: Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge
What to bring to Bocas del Toro
At Bocas del Toro you’ll need the following things:
- a beach towel
- a camera
- mosquito repellent
- your passport (if you’re flying in or out)
- a good book
What does it cost to spend a few days in Bocas del Toro?
This calculation is based on a 3-night stay with meals (prices per person) in Bocas del Toro:
- Private transfer from Santa Catalina to Bocas del Toro for $60 (there is also an air-conditioned nightbus or flight from Panama City)
- Watertaxi from Almirante to isla Colon is $5 USD
- Flight back to Panama City after your stay in Bocas for $75 USD
- Double room at Hotel Cayo Zapatilla with private bathroom and air conditioning $25 USD per room, so per person $12,50 USD times three is $37,50 USD
- Bike Rental per day at La Buguita $4 USD times three is $12 USD
- 2Tank scuba dive at Diving Pirates (previously known as ‘The Dutch Pirate‘) $75 USD*Breakfast suggestion:
- breakfast at La Buguita for more or less $10 USD each day, so for 3 days $30 USD*Lunch suggestion:
- lunch on the beach at for example Paki Point for more or less $15,00 USD, so for 3 days $45,00 USD*Dinner suggestions:
- a great Asian sushi dinner at Raw Fusion for more or less $20 USD
- a Mexican treat at Taco Surf for more or less $15 USD
- romantic dinner at El Limbo on the sea for more or less $25 USD
TOTAL: $399,50 USD