I was excited to go the Islands of Bocas del Toro, the tropical islands with white sandy beaches in the blue waters with palm trees wherever you look. That sounds like paradise isn’t it!! And that is what it is, the touristic, crowed, accessible and party version of the San Blas Islands. Bocas del Toro is also a surfing spot, you can find your waves here as well. Besides the surf you can do more S words like snorkeling, sailing, sunbathing, but also cycling, fishing and hiking.
Transport to and from Bocas del Toro
To get to the Islands of Bocas del Toro you need to go by boat from the mainland Almirante. That boat ride was included in my transfer from Boquete, which was easy and well organized. Check the Hello Travel Panama site for information on all the shuttle services within Panama.
On the main Island Colón you use the bike, bus, taxi or feet. Between the islands the boats in all sizes will get you around. In the main town of Bocas you can find stops with people to get you to the different islands for a couple of $/B, depending how far you go.
Tip: Ask you hotel/hostel in advance how much the boat ride will be on average, so you don’t pay too much, after a couple of rides you know the drill.
Isla Colón has an airport, which makes it good accessible. I took the plane back to Panama City with the airline Air Panama; this saves a lot of time, rather than taking the boat and bus.
You can reach the Bocas Islands from Costa Rica as well, there is a good bus and shuttle connection with Puerto Viejo.
Islands & Beaches in Bocas del Toro
The Archipiélo de Bocas del Toro, or shorted Bocas del Toro, are a group of islands in the north east of Panama. The main island is called Isla Colón with the main town that is called Bocas Town. The other accessible islands are Isla Bastimentos, Isla San Cristóbal, Isla Carenero, Isla Solarte and the uninhabited Island Cayo Zapatilla. I will describe the islands below:
Isla Colón: Starfish beach
A perfect and amazing daytrip you can organize by yourself is: “Starfish Beach or Playa Estrella”. Take the minibus that waits for you at Parque Simón Bolívar at Calle 3A and they drive you to Playa to Boca de Drago. It’s a nice drive all the way to the other side of the main island of Colón. When the bus drops you off, you still have to walk for 1.5 km to the beach, via a small path along the beautiful picture perfect coast with palm trees everywhere.
You realize that you reached the beach when you see the small restaurants and places where you rent a sunbeds. Find your place which is most comfortable for you, some places have loud music; depending on your taste choose your spot. Have a fresh caught fish for lunch at one of the Caribbean restaurants and drink a fresh coconut or cocktail of course!!
The beach could get busy with people and boats arriving and departing. It is a tropical beach where indeed you can swim among the orange creatures the Starfish in the water. Perfect day to hang out and enjoy the tropical scenery of Bocas del Toro!! At the end of the day you can take the boat back to Bocas Town, that will cost you about 12$/B
Isla Colón: Bluff Beach
As a Dutchy I like my bike of course. From Bocas town you can cycle all the way to the biggest beach on Isla Colón called Bluff Beach. The route is very easy to find, make sure that the ocean is on your right hand side. Some parts of the road are not paved and you have to walk through the sand, which makes it adventures. Along the way, you pass several nice surf spots and breaks with restaurants, see Paunch Beach below. The route is so green with tropical flowers, lizards, birds and other animals you run into; that I kept on smiling, even cycling up hill.
Tip: Bring sufficient water with you, you definitely get thirsty due to the combination of the warm weather and cycling!
Arriving at Bluff Beach there is a nice restaurant where you could have lunch called “Playa Bluff Hotel/Lodge” The restaurant has a view at the wild and heavy ocean, so different than the Playa Estrella side! Perhaps this dependents on the season and weather, while I was there I had some showers, but they were nice to cool off a bit. There were surfers and body boarders in the water as well, surfing this powerful shore-break.
Tip: Be careful when you enter the ocean on this side, there are relatively strong and dangerous riptides here; you are warned!!
Isla Colón: Paunch Beach
On my bike tour to Bluff Beach from Bocas Town, I passed Paunch Beach. This is a popular surf break here you can see the “pro-surfers” catching some waves. I did not surf at Bocas due to my ear infection, but the waves were too intense for me on this side anyway.
Before (or after on your way back…..) Paunch Beach there is a nice hang-out place called Paki Point. It is a colorful place with a small pool and beds and a nice bar. I stopped here on my way back for a drink. Chill place to hang out for a while, to see the ocean moving. This Paki Point is almost half way between Bluff en Bocas town, so perfect stop to catch some breath.
This island Canerero with the Playa Canerero is the perfect getaway for a chill beach day. It takes only short boat ride from Isla Colón to “Bibi’s”, where they drop you off. From here you walk right (ocean on your right hand side) and you will find the picture perfect beaches with turquoise waters and nature all over the island. You can bring your surf board with you because there is a nice mellow longboard surf spot right in front of the beach. A little bit further you can find a hollower wave at the point break.
It is very nice to walk further along the coast it is less crowded and you really become one with the nature of this beautiful island, I even saw a sloth!! If you walk up the hill you have a great view on both sides of the island. If you bring the right tools you can crack your own coconut!! 100% back to nature feeling here!!
If you are hungry I recommend you the restaurant where the boat drops you off which is called “Bibi’s on the beach“, it is not actually on the beach but on a wooden jetty. The ceviche is delicious and the view makes it even more perfect.
On this Island you can’t find a beach, this island consist of mainly mangroves. So why go to Isla Solarte? I will tell you, there is a very chill place to hang out, which is called “The Blue Coconut“.
Tip: Be in time to get a good spot, they open at 12:00PM till 18:00PM, boats will bring you back to Bocas Town for about 5$/B.
The place has good food and excellent cocktails. Jump into the water to cool off and snorkel around to see the many fishes and coral. The underwater hammock is perfect. I love this spot!!
Isla Bastimentos is told to be the favorite Island of Bocas del Toro for many tourists. Unfortunately I didn’t go there and I tell you why. The day that I arrived at the Bocas islands, an American girl traveling alone to the island was murdered. At the time a lot of police were around the islands and I was warned not to go there by myself. All stories went over the island about, drunken locals harassing tourist and so on. But Bocas del Toro has more beautiful islands to go to, I didn’t miss anything!
Tip: Be careful traveling by yourself to remote areas on the islands. Book tours instead that will guide you and give information about the nature and surroundings!
Tour around Bocas del Toro
I booked for 35$/B the Adventure 1 tour at the Total Adventures company. The tour started at 10:00AM untill around 5:00PM and stopped at several spots:
Dolphins Bay at Isla San Cristóbal: here you can spot the dolphins in big numbers. Magical feeling with my favorite animals so close in their natural habitat.
Cayo Coral: time for some amazing snorkeling. The tour provided snorkeling gear and after 45 min that we had lunch close to the snorkeling spot. The lunch was not included in the price, you can choose to bring our own, I ate the fish for 12$/B at this place in the mangroves.
Cayo Zapatilla: This island with the pristine white-sand beaches and virgin forest was the scene for the TV programs Survivor or Expedition Robinson. That will say something right!! With this tour you could choose to say at the beach or do a walk with the guide on the island.
I chose the latest and I will recommend you to do the same. After the tour there is still time to chill at the beach and swim in the marvelous water. The guide explained and let us tastes the fruits that grow here in the wild. Drink a fresh coconut!! Perfect day!!
Sloths Island: On the way back we stopped at a sloths island; beautiful lazy animals. The guide really took his time to spot one and looked further to see more.
Hollywood: The last stop was called Hollywood; here you can spot the orange starfish in very shallow mangrove waters.
Back to the Bocas Town, after a perfect diverse tour!
Accommodation and Restaurants in Bocas Town
Stay Bocas: This Dutch owned well managed “Boutique Hotel” is located next to the airport at Av. E. Nrte. The hotel is comfortable, luxury, clean and relaxed. The breakfast is simple and healthy with fresh fruits. And a big plus, what else do you expect from the Dutch, you can take the bikes for a free ride! They help you out to explore the islands and give you tips on the good restaurants. Perfect base to discover the Islands of Bocas del Toro!!
Lyra Coffee House: On my way to my hotel I passed this small Coffee shop (Avendia E and Calle 4ta). The service and the vibe is amazing. The owner and locals played music every time when I was there. I even had to join with the tambourine! Great stop to start the day with a good Panamanian Coffee with a smile!
Raw Fusion: You have to go to the Sushi Happy Hour from 3:00 to 5:00PM daily for 5$/B per menu. Good tasting sushi and a great view over the ocean.
Capitán Caribe: This hot spot at Calle 1ra is so nice and the food taste even better! You have to be patient at this popular place but it’s worth it. You sit at shared tables, which made it for a solo traveler like me very nice to meet other people. It is a food truck Caribbean vibe that made the cocktails taste even better!! Enjoy your Fish Burger!
Laylow Rooftop bar: A good place after a tour just before the sun goes down, have a cocktail here with a perfect view over the island. Great atmosphere and cocktails tasted delicious!!!
Le Petit MK Restaurante: is owned by a Fresh couple, and as you know the French are known for their cuisine. I was recommend by locals to eat the lobster here, which is very common to eat here in the Bocas Islands. (Calle 1ra).
El Ultimo Refugio: This top pick Caribbean Style restaurant at Calle 6a, is well organized and professional. It’s one of the best restaurants on the Island and could get crowded but the service remains good. The looks of the food and taste were delicious.
OM Cafe: This Indian Restaurant is located at Calle 3ra. The restaurant is not open in the weekends so take that into account. The waiter seated me together with another solo traveler which was very attentive, we had a great evening with even greater food. I chose a platter with all different Indian selections, perfect choice!!
After a great week back to Panama City and then back home! Panama you are amazing, friendly and so beautiful!!! Gracias!!