Panama: Discovering Bocas del Toro islands
January 1, 1970
by Allen GCO
Even when our time in Panama was short, we had enough time to discover some of the secrets around this paradisiac and beautiful place. Panama is a small country, so you can move from one place to another pretty easy and always in company of the great tropical views and landscapes.
Panama is located in central America, and just like the other countries in this area, it has the best weather and the beauty of the Caribbean beaches, the markets are always colorful, they have all kinds of fruits and vegetables, they can basically throw a seed of anything and it will grow, so prepare yourself to take some awesome pictures and to taste some new things. The people are kind and if spanish is not your thing, you can easily find someone who speaks english, they are used to the tourists and you can have information almost everywhere.
Bocas del Toro is known as the holiday destination for foreigners and locals, they live of the tourism so, we were told that this is one of the most expensive places in Panama. As backpackers and low budget travelers we were a little bit scared, but we were also curious and exited, so we went.
HOW TO GET THERE
Well, Panama is a small country and well connected so it´s really easy go from one place to another. Bocas del Toro Is a group of islands, some of them more touristic than others, but all of them have something special. The main one, and the one that has all the services and tourist activities and information is Colon Island, in order to get there you have to take a Taxi- Boat from Almirante.
In Almirante you have 2 options to get to the dock, once you arrive to the bus station, which is in the middle of the streets, there are going to be a lot of taxis offering their services to the dock, they are about 1 or 2 dollars per person, or you can take a 20 or 25 min walk to there if you want to save some money, it´s not far away from your arrival. We didn´t know this, so we took the taxi. Once we arrived to the dock, we bought our tickets to the Island (6 USD each), ant took a nice ride into the ocean.
Here is a little secret, when we came back from the Islands, we discovered that you can get to Colon Island for just 1 USD. Cars, mailing, and some other things are constantly going and coming from the Island to the rest of the country, and they do it using the ferry, and guess what, you can get in as well. They have only 2 rides a day, and they don´t have a formal schedule, so ask for them, probably you can save some money, It takes about one our instead of the 20 min that the little 6 USD boats do, but you get free coffee an d a really nice view.
Unless you are carrying a big luggage, or you are travelling with kids or something like that, once you arrive to the dock in Colon Island, don´t take a taxi, even when they are 1 USD per ride, the island is really small, and you can walk to everywhere.
WHERE TO STAY
In Colon Island there are tons of options and prices of places where you can spend the night, from luxury hotels to small and groovy hostels. Just take a walk around, look at the options, compare some prices and take the best one, as I said, the place is really small, probably the average is around 10 or 12 USD per night. We were looking for a nice camping site, and turns out there are not a lot of places to do it. But we find the correct one, we spent our days in “Hostel camping la Y griega” they are about 1.5km away from the
main square, on the way to the beaches, so it was really calmed and quiet. As a reference, if you bring your own tent It´s 5 USD per night and each person, but if you don´t have it, you forgot it or whatever happens, they can assign you one and it would be 7 USD a day. They have kitchen, shared bathrooms, and a really nice terrace where everyone is always having fun. The place has a really interesting details. During the night we had the chance to listen to the howler monkeys that walk around the place.
WHAT TO DO
The main attraction in Bocas del Toro is to relax and enjoy the beautiful beaches, just in Colon Island you can visit some cool ones and they are just a nice walk away. Here are some things you can do in the island:
Playa Estrella. This is a magic one, it´s also the farthest one but totally worth the ride, it´s located in the north part of the Island. Once you arrive there, take out your shoes, and walk into the ocean, but be careful, is full of starfish so don´t step on them, try not to bother them. If you want to have a snack, a beer or a nice meal you can choose one of the several options that are around there. We walked early in the morning from our hostel to here (you can take a taxi if you want), it was a 13km walk and it was amazing, we had the opportunity to watch some birds, monkeys, and all kind of animals. And once you arrive to the beach is even better.
- Playa Bocas del Drago. This beach is just next to the starfish show that happens on the other beach. So on your way back home you can stop here and spend some time enjoying the nice view that Pachamama has for you.
- Playa Bluff. For those adventurous surfers looking for nice waves. But if you´re not into surf, you can just bring your things for a sandy picnic and enjoy the natural and wild beach, sun and the ocean. What else can you ask for?
- Big Creek. This is a small lagoon where you can spend the morning and then walk to another beach, there’s not much to do here but to enjoy the view and watch some birds.
Out of Colon Island, there are some other places to discover.
- Cayo Zapatilla. 2 beautiful wild islands that are just perfect for snorkeling and swimming, there is literally nothing there, well, there is a small house, is the one of the forest ranger that takes care of the place. There are just a few companies that take people here, so ask for them in downtown.
- Playa Rana Roja. This is in Bastimento Island, there are only 3 beaches here, and this is the one you want to visit. Its name comes from the small red frogs that are all over the place, and it´s just amazing. If you´re in a lucky day you can see some sloth bears and caimans.
- The full package. There are some boat companies that offer this great and complete tour to red frog Island, Cayo Zapatilla, on the way the look for some dolphins and they end the day in a really nice bar where you can have a beer while you´re snorkeling on the ocean. It´s about 35 USD.
As you can see, Bocas del Toro is all about relaxing and enjoying what nature is, the Caribbean paradise makes everything in the trip, just waking up in the morning with the sound of the birds, the intense blue, and the hot weather worth the taxi boat ride.