Are you planning a trip to Panama or Costa Rica? Or maybe both? Well, either way, Bocas del Toro probably is (or at least it should be) on your travel plan and itinerary. Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama in the Caribbean Sea compose by 9 main islands, a few “Cayos” and several small islands. The good thing about Bocas is that you can experience a Caribbean Island that it has a lot of nature (you won’t find a resort or fancier restaurants) with just the right amount of infrastructure so you are comfortable and can stay there as long as you want.
How to get there?
Bocas del Toro is very close to the border between Costa Rica and Panama, so I’m going to tell you how to get there from Panama City, although I believe it’s very easy to get there from Costa Rica as well. From Panama City, you have two options: airplane or bus + boat.
Airplane: If you choose to take an airplane, the company that does this route is Air Panama, with a daily flight every day of the week. It’s definitely the fastest way to get to Bocas, if you don’t have too much time to waste, this is the way to go! The trip it’s going to be around 1h and it costs usually around $200 both ways. You will leave from Albrook Airport and arrive at Colon Island, that is the main island in Bocas.
Bus + Boat: If you are traveling on a budget, the cheaper way is to choose the bus. The trip is going to take around 10h and it costs about $27 each way, you will need to buy your ticket at least a few days ahead to make sure the bus you want isn’t full. The bus leaves from Albrook Bus Station (the same place that the tickets are sold), every day of the week. You will need to get out at Almirante, from there you will take a taxi to the port ($1 per person) and there you will board a boat ($6) to Colon Island. Something you should know is that the air-conditioner on the bus is set very cold (VERY COLD), be prepared! I know that you are traveling to a tropical country and probably planning to pack only summer clothes, so if you choose to go by bus, remember to bring something warm to wear on it. Another thing, it’s a 10h trip, bring with you water and something to eat.
Where to stay?
Bocas has a few Island that you can stay in. A good idea is to plan what you want to do before you choose an island, keep in mind that the supermarkets, most of the restaurants and bars are in Bocas Town (in the main island, Colon) and all the tour leave from there too. But this you can manage talking to the people that sell the tours in the island when you arrive and set it up for them to pick you up on your hotel, for that you will need to know what you want to do and when.
I’m going to talk about the islands that I already been in, but there are a lot of other options in Bocas.
Bocas Town is great if you want to enjoy the infrastructure of the city and don’t want to depend on taken a boat all the time. It has a large option of hostels and restaurants, even some shops and nightclubs. The first time I went to Bocas, I stayed in Colon island at Selina Hostel which I totally recommend, it has a good location, the rooms are very comfortable and the restaurant/bar beside from having very good food, it has an incredible vibe! Now if you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy the nature, I would say to choose a different island and book your tours in advance. Or even stays in a hotel at Colon Island but far from the town, like Bluff and Paunch Beach.
Carenero is the island closer to Bocas town, depending on where you are in the island the boat to the towns is $1 per person. Carenero has beautiful beaches and is ok to stay there or just to spend a day at the beach. I already stay at Aqua Lounge in Carenero Island and I don’t recommend it if you are looking for a more relaxing place to stay in.
Solarte is an island with a lot of nature, but it doesn’t have a lot of beaches. I only talking about this island because I stayed at Bambuda Lodge, which is a hostel there and it is amazing! Everything about the hostel was great, the food, view, infrastructure and it was a very nice place to spend a few days relaxing. The boat to the main island was about $6.
Isla Batismentos, where the Red Frog beach is, is an island a little bit further away, it has a lot of nature, beaches and a few options for hostels and hotels. It is a good option if you want to relax in a beautiful scenario.
What do to?
The good thing about Bocas is that it has a lot of things to do. You can choose to be on the beach all day long and there are a lot of possibilities, probably in the island that you are staying or in an island close by, it’s not difficult to take a boat to another island any time of the day.
The tours usually leave in the morning, that’s why you need to book them ahead. A few of the tour are: Bocas del Drago and Isla Pajaros that you can do on the same day; Cayo Zapatillas that is a more distant island where the blue water is incredible, and you can do snorkeling on your way back at a beautiful coral reef; Playa Estrellas; and you can also rent a bike and go to Playa Bluff, it’s a surfing point and the view on the way there is awesome.
Bocas Town has a few options if you want to enjoy the night. Besides of the many bars that offer a happy hour option, there are a few nightclubs as well, for example, Summer and Iguana. The bar of the hostel that I mentioned before – Selina – turns into a party after the happy hour as well. And if you are in Bocas on a Friday, you can experience the Filthy Fridays Bocas that is an island-hopping day party experience, the ticket includes a t-shirt, entrance to 3 bars on 3 tropical islands, the transportation between islands and the party.
Besides all that, you should: pack light, remember there is a good chance that you will board a boat with your luggage; take with you: light clothes, swimsuit, sunscreen, sunglasses and insect repellent (lots of it); but most important of all, just enjoy yourself at this wonderful place!
Have a nice trip!