One of the most famous tourist destinations in Panama is the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, located on the coast of Panama at the Caribbean Sea. Bocas has options for everyone: backpackers, traveler on a budget and also those seeking for more comfort. Among the attractions of the archipelago are corals, uninhabited islands, abundant fauna and vegetation. In addition, some beaches are quiet and crystal clear, ideal for diving and snorkeling, and other suitable for surfing. You can read in this article how to get there, where to stay and what to do in Bocas del Toro.
How to get there
If you are going to travel as a backpacker like us, you will need to take a night bus + taxi + boat to get from Panama City to Bocas.
The buses from Panama City to Almirante (main city to get to Bocas) leave from the bus terminal at Albrook Shopping Center. The trip takes around 9hrs30min. That is the reason why the buses are overnight buses. Arriving in Almirante, taxis (usually vans) will already be waiting for the passengers to take them to the pier in Changuinola, from where you can take the boat to Bocas City.
It’s a tiring trip, but it’s a lot more economical than a plane, and it saves about one night of accommodation.
The option, for those who are not on a tight budget and want to save time, is to go by plane. The company Air Panama has flights to Bocas del Toro via Isla Colón and Changuinola (necessary to catch the boat). The flight from Panama City to Isla Colon is only 1 hour and usually leaves early in the morning.
The choice of accommodation and on which island you want to stay, will depend on the style of your travels and your budget. The main island where Bocas del Toro is located is Isla Colón (Island). It is the location with most options of accommodation, restaurants, bars and also to go hiking.
We stayed at Panama’s Paradise Saigoncito in Bocas City. We split our cottage with two very nice Canadians. We became friends and still keep in contact until today. The cottage has a good size, very cute decoration and has a well-equipped kitchen. It also has a very spacious terrace with a table and hammocks.
What to do
Bocas has dozens of beaches and sightseeing options. In Isla Colón are the beaches of Bocas del Drago, Playa de las Estrellas (Beach of the Stars), Playa Bluff and Playa Pauch. You can get to these beaches by bus, leaving at various times (check in your hostel or hotel) from the central square of Bocas City. Otherwise you can also rent bicycles, quadricycles or go by taxi.
Several agencies or cooperatives of fishermen (more economical option) offer tours to the Zapatillas Cays (Cayo Cangrejo), Coral Key, Cayo Coral, Isla Carenero, Isla Pájaros, Bahía de los Delfines (Dolphin Bay), Playa Red Frog and Isla Bastimentos.
In Bocas City are plenty of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. One restaurant which we fell in love with and went to almost every day was Taco Surf Bocas, which is across the main square, and has delicious Mexican food.
As we traveled to Panama in July, it was rain season in the Caribbean. We caught quite rainy days in Bocas del Toro and in the end, we didn’t visit everything we wanted. Indeed it is important to check the weather for the time you want to visit the archipelago.
The travel costs in Bocas del Toro will depend a lot on the budget and chosen travel standard. But as the official currency Balboa (PAB) is 1:1 as the US-dollar and Bocas is one of the country’s favorite tourist destinations, it won’t be a cheap trip.
Translation to English by Juliane Boll