BOCAS DEL TORO | Panama
One of our favorite spots in Central America! Bocas del Toro is a collection of tropical islands off the coast of Panama. There's one main island (Isla Colon), called Bocas Town, surrounded by many smaller islands. Bocas Town is quaint, full of Caribbean style, friendly locals, clapboard houses on stilts, tropical vegetation, and tons of fellow travelers from around the world. The main streets are filled with restaurants, tour companies, small stores, and dive/surf shops. The waters are turquoise and crystal clear and the islands are surrounded by coral reefs. There are endless activities in Bocas del Toro! Surfing, yoga, snorkeling, diving, beaches, fishing, biking, etc. We spent five days exploring Isla Colon and the neighboring islands.
To get to Bocas Town we took a water taxi from the port in Almirante, a very small town on the mainland. Local teenage kids swarm the port selling snacks, playing soccer, and hoping to earn a dollar from the tourists. Ron gave them the soccer ball he’d bought previously and had tied to his backpack. The boat ride was beautiful and took us through the somewhat primitive area- mostly uninhabited islands surrounding Bocas. Almost like a postcard! A couple times we speedily approached a tunnel of mangrove trees, unsure whether the boat would actually fit through. It was a fun ride! Approaching Isla Colon the colorful clapboard huts line the islands' coast. There aren't any five star or mainstream hotels in Bocas del Toro, just charming hostels and hotels. We spent one night at the Selena Hostel. It's the highest rated hostel in Bocas Town and it was easy to see why! It's a waterfront, boutique hostel with an incredible atmosphere and outdoor deck. You can rent paddleboards, kayaks, etc…we were ready to move in! But, were crushed to find out they only had one night available. Hotel Max ended up being a great place for the duration of our stay.
We spent everyday exploring the islands and I found my favorite yoga studio, Bocas Yoga. I was there everyday, sometimes twice! It’s also a great town to rent beach cruisers and explore on your own! The bikes are cheap for the day and the views are scenic along the coast.,. just watch out for dogs, chickens, and sometimes drunk locals crossing the road! We started out on the paved roads of Bocas Town, took on the winding dirt roads surrounding by cow fields, and ended up at Paunch, a famous surf spot. Delicious, waterfront restaurants are scattered everywhere. We enjoyed happy hour at Raw and dinner at Om frequently. There was something for everyone!
One of our more action-packed days we took an Island Tour - it picked us up on the dock next to Selina at 9:30AM and took us to Dolphin Bay, Starfish Island, Isla Zapatillas, Crawls Cay, Sloth Island, and lunch at a tiny hut over the water- Restaurante Jasmin. Dolphin Bay is bordered by mangroves and is filled with bottlenose dolphins that we saw jump out of the water in the wake of boats. Near Dolphin Bay is Starfish Island, famous for the HUNDREDS of starfish you'll find underwater beneath the mangroves. We weren't able to exit the boat here because of sea urchins, but held one of the starfish underwater. Next we headed to Isla Zapatillas, considered the most beautiful beach in the region. The beach itself is located on the southeastern corner of Basitmentos National Marine Park and is absolutely stunning! Our group spent two hours here swimming and enjoying the drinks we brought. We’d planned to explore the national park during the two hours, but we couldn't pull ourselves out of the water! The white sand and crystal waters were like nothing we've ever seen. After Isla Zapatillas we headed to snorkel Crawls Cay, with a quick pit stop on the way to order our lunch so it would be ready after snorkeling. There are so many snorkeling spots, but Crawls Cay is the most popular in the area. It's full of beautiful coral gardens and the clear water was perfectly calm because it was the dry season. Restaurante Jasmin, a wooden hut on stilts over the water, was picturesque and the fresh seafood was incredible! We spent lunch chatting with the other passengers on our boat. Sloth Island was the last stop of the day and was just as rewarding as every other excursion that day. We were lucky enough to spot two wild sloths hanging from the trees!
Another day we rented a taxi and visited Starfish Beach (different from Starfish Island). Starfish Beach is located on the opposite side of Isla Colon from Bocas Town. This side of the island is much more remote, with two huts selling drinks and food and huge palm trees lining the coast. It’s possible to ride bikes, but we opted for a quicker option. It’s a thirty-minute taxi ride, followed by a ten-minute boat ride from Bocas Town. Despite the decline in the number of starfish according to the locals, within minutes we’d spotted so many from the beach! We spent the day wandering the coast looking for starfish, relaxing in the sand, and drinking cervezas. At the end of the day we flagged down a boat to taxi us back to Bocas Town. The Spanish-speaking captain told us he’d take us to Bocas after making one stop for the other passengers (a large family). Because we ‘hablo poquito Espanol’, we assumed he meant we had to drop them off first. Turns out we spent the next two hours riding deep boards over the reef and a sunken ship off the coast of Bocas Town. Deep boards are slowly pulled behind the boat and allow you to dive underwater and view everything beneath you. It was an amazing and spontaneous afternoon!
Our final day in Bocas Town was an escapade as well! At 8AM we attempted to depart from Bocas and make our way south to Santa Catalina, Panama. Little did we know, we’d be spending another night on the island. We arrived at the mainland from Bocas and took a taxi to the bus stop, but were unable to make the trip because of a small protest held by the countryside locals thirty minutes down the road! There’s only one highway. The locals had rolled huge cement piping onto the only highway stabilizing the piping with rocks. Once we returned to Bocas Town that afternoon, I was able to attend another class at Bocas Yoga while a local tour guide (we think his name is David) took Ron to all the popular surf spots around the islands. I say that we think his name is David because he ended up selling us two fake bus tickets for our trip to Santa Catalina, gave us a fake phone number, fake email, and fed us a heap of lies. The next day we hopped onto bus and headed for Santa Catalina unaware of our fake bus tickets until hours into the trip. Other than our experience with ‘David’, we had an amazing experience in Bocas del Toro and would recommend the islands to everyone! Hefners out!
Leaving the port in Almirante headed to Bocas Del Toro.
The ride to Bocas.
Arriving to Bocas Town/Isla Colon.
The incredible waterfront back deck!
Our quaint room for a night.
The mangrove trees at Starfish Beach.
Using the GoPro underwater.
Arriving at Isla Zapatillas.
Pulling up to Restaurante Jasmin.
The protest that kept us from leaving Bocas Del Toro.