Bocas del Toro is a popular destination for travelers in Panama. This province in the North of Panama borders on Costa Rica and has a stretch of main land and nine main islands. The beaches, clear blue water, painted houses on poles and large stretches of jungle and mangrove make Bocas a small paradise. It’s an area to fall head over heels in love with. If you go, consider yourself warned, before you know it you’ll stick around much longer than planned!
Islands with a unique feel
As mentioned earlier, Bocas del Toro has several different islands. Each island is unique, which makes it interesting to visit several of them.
Colón is the main island where Bocas town is located. This is the place most tourists choose to stay overnight. An excellent choice, because it offers the biggest variety in restaurants, bars, tour operators and shops. It also makes a good base camp from which to explore the rest of the area. Something you should definitely do! From Bocas town, you can easily take the water taxi to one of the other islands, for 1 to 5 dollars.
Carenero is the island closest to Bocas town. It has a few small beaches and a really fun ice cream/coffee shop! It’s not big, so walking around the island is easy.
Bastimentos is an island with a unique character. It even feels slightly Jamaican. Most people visit the island for the touristic Red Frog beach, but we recommend taking the water taxi to the closer Bastimentos ‘town’. This small town lets you experience the authentic local life of Bocas del Toro at its best, while you walk through the colorful streets surrounded by reggae music. From the town, you can go on a nice walk through the jungle leading to the other side of the island where you’ll find ‘First beach’. A beautiful beach where experienced surfers take on the waves.
Bambuda lodge is a place where you can truly enjoy Bocas del Toro in a very laid back atmosphere. It’s a unique hostel on a piece of private land on the beautiful Isla Solarte (5-10 minutes by water taxi from Colón). At Bambuda, they know how to satisfy a backpacker. It has a relaxed atmosphere, swimming pool and large hammocks overlooking the sea, as well as good food. Every evening there is a communal meal, with a choice of 3 dishes. The communal meals, as well as the bar, make the hostel a sociable place where you can easily strike up a conversation with other travelers.
From Bambuda lodge, you can hike through the jungle to the other side of the island, where you might come across some sloths in the trees. Gorgeous snorkeling spots surround the island. Or get in a kayak and visit the neighboring cocktail bar ‘The Blue Coconut’. Feel like partying? Make sure you visit Bambuda on a Tuesday when it’s Bambuda-Sangria night and people go out together in Bocas town!
Day trips in paradise
It’s not only great fun exploring Bocas del Toro’s different islands; there are many day trips to be made.
The beaches of Colón
There are bicycles for hire all around Bocas town and biking to Buff beach is a fun day trip. The beautiful bike ride ends on a wonderful beach, where you can chill out for a few hours before biking back to Bocas town.
You can also catch a bus to Starfish beach for only 2 dollars. The bus takes you to the tip of Colón, from where you can walk to Starfish beach. It’s a really beautiful route through a jungle that leads down to the sea. For this reason alone, it’s worth choosing the bus over of a boat trip to Starfish beach. As the name already suggests, you’ll find starfish everywhere if you go on a day when the water is clear. And if you’re lucky, you might even find some large stingrays.
Bounty island and dolphins
One of the best day trips is one where you go dolphin spotting first thing in the morning. You’ll also do some snorkeling on a beautiful stretch between the mangroves, surrounded by water full of coral and colored fish. The trip ends up in Cayos Zapatilla. A true bounty island paradise with white sand beaches where you can relax for a few hours surrounded by palm trees. It makes for a nice, varied day, exploring Bocas from the water.
Red Frog beach
A popular day trip destination is Red Frog beach, located on Bastimentos. It’s an ideal destination for those who want to enjoy sun and sea at the beach. It’s also a good place for snorkeling, zip lining and hiking through the jungle. Just remember, you won’t be the only one visiting this beach as it’s part of many day trips.
Bocas del Toro is a popular destination among surfers. If you go with a group, you can easily charter a water taxi to bring you to the desired surfing location. Selina hostel is where many surfers come together. It’s a nice place for combining surfing and partying, as it has a fun and popular bar by the water.
From fresh, melt-in-your-mouth tuna to spicy cucumber cocktails
If you like good food, Bocas has plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy a great meal.
Breakfast with a poached egg
The bar at dive shop La Buga doesn’t just offer tasty cocktails and live music. It’s also a great place for a nice breakfast with a poached egg, for example, or a great lunch. We weren’t that impressed with the dinner, but other than that it’s a pleasant place to spend some time.
Sushi happy hour
If you’re a fan of sushi, then Raw Fusion is a must-eat for you! And even those who don’t love sushi can get really great food. In fact, the entire menu is finger licking good, just like the cocktails. Some things you just MUST try are the fresh-caught tuna tartare, the sushi roll with tuna and shrimp or the steak salad for those who aren’t big fish eaters. But mentioning just a few of the dishes doesn’t do the restaurant justice. Therefore, if you go with several people, you should all order different dishes and share them. And we’ve got good news; it’s Sushi happy hour between 3pm and 5pm where you pay just $5 for a sushi roll and get a discount on the accompanying cocktails.
Tuna steak at its best
They fish for tuna in Bocas del Toro. This is reflected in the restaurants. Restaurant El Ultima Refugio has the best tuna of the entire island. This is where you can order heavenly melt-in-your-mouth tuna steak with sesame seeds. It’s a cozy restaurant at the end of Bocas town where you can treat yourself to a delicious dinner. Note: it’s closed on weekends.
Coffee and ice cream
Only a 2-minute water taxi ride from Colón, you’ll find Bocas’ nicest ice cream/coffee/cake/jewelry shop on Carenero. The sociable owner has all sorts of things on offer. We ate a gigantic, but really delicious brownie with ice cream and enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee while dangling our feet from the pier, overlooking the water. Pure joy!