Bocas del Toro or otherwise known as “Mouths of the Bull” is an archipelago located off the Eastern coast of Panama. This beautiful archipelago is compromised of the mainland and nine surrounding islands along with 52 cays and countless islets. Bocas del Toro is one of the most biologically diverse islands on earth and it considered the “Galapagos of the Caribbean.” It is home to Panama’s first National Marine park and UNESCO World Heritage site. Whether you enjoy spending your time relaxing on Starfish Beach or scuba diving with vibrant corals and spectacular sea life, you’ll be sure to enjoy your time on the many islands.
Bocas del Toro offers a variety of accommodation options for any traveler’s budget; from boutique hotels, vibrant hostels and even beachside eco-lodges. If you’re a young traveler that enjoys a good party hostel then look no further. Aqua Lounge is a great party hostel that attracts social travelers from around the globe. Not only have they created the “Holy Book of Drinking Games” but also have sea swings overlooking the water and dive towers to backflip from! Dorm beds will set you back around 13-15 PAB ($13.00-$15.00 USD) and private rooms are 30-75 PAB ($30.00-$75.00 USD).
Traditional Panamanian meals typically include meat, rice and beans with locally grown fruits and vegetables such as yucca or plantains. Sancocho, empanadas, tamales and carimanola are great traditional meals that can be found across the country. Plantains make great snacks and are grown throughout Central America and are served either baked or fried. Throughout the islands you’ll find tasteful upscale restaurants, vibrant bars and delicious street food.
One of the best ways to explore Bocas del Toro is by foot! The streets in this city are fairly narrow as are the sidewalks. It is a great way to experience these beautiful islands and you never know what you’ll find along the way. To get between the islands you’ll need to hire a water taxi. Depending on which island you are going to, some islands will cost more than others. Typically, water taxis will charge between 1-4 PAB ($1.00-$4.00 USD). Be cautious when traveling to Isla Bastimentos. Locals may try to charge double since it’s a popular island for tourists being home to the famous Red Frog Beach. If there are any festivals or holidays such as “Basti Day” locals may try to charge anywhere from 20-30 PAB ($20.00-$30.00 USD) one way! If you aren’t sure, ask your hotel or hostel what the typical fare is between islands.
One of the most cost effective ways to get to Bocas del Toro is by water taxi from Almirante. The ride from Almirante to Isla Colon is approximately 30 minutes and will cost around 6 PAB ($6.00 USD) that leaves every half hour until 6pm. If you’re short on time or prefer to fly, Air Panama offers flights from Panama City starting around 100 PAB ($100.00 USD).
The Bus Schedule is a great resource for planning your travels between cities or countries throughout Central America. Enter which cities you are traveling between, departure dates and desired time and it will provide information with the transportation company, type of bus, and estimated time of arrival.
Like any island, taxis are almost always going to be the most expensive transit option, but will get you to your destination in a timely manner. Always negotiate the fare before getting into the vehicle! As a tourist, some drivers will try to charge a ridiculously high fare and get the most money they can get from you. If you have good haggling skills, you can reduce your fare by almost half the asking price. If you do not come to an agreement, you can always find another taxi.
If you’re looking to scuba dive or snorkel while in Bocas del Toro, go with La Buga Dive & Surf. They dive all through the main islands but most of their dives sites are between Isla Colon and Isla Bastimentos. There are over a dozen different dive sites that offer shallow reefs and wrecks as well as deep reefs for all levels of divers. They offer guided dives as well as PADI instruction. Their boats and rental equipment are well maintained and in good condition. Tony and his staff are very friendly and helpful. The dive shop is located on Isla Colon in Bocas Town on Main Street.
Points of Interest
Red Frog Beach
Finca Los Monos Botanical Garden
Bastimentos National Marine Park
La Amistad National Park
When To Go
High season is December through March and you can expect the best and driest weather during these months. Low season is April through November and you can expect occasional rain showers. Panama is a great destination to travel year round.