Bocas Del Toro famous with backpackers, surfers, and scuba divers looking for an off beaten path destination that feels like paradise. I never heard of Bocas Del Toro until I arrived in Panama City, Panama and immediately knew I had to go. While Panama City was awesome, I knew I had to get out of the city. I loved the thought of a place where I could get the beach, jungle, and island paradise all in one. While some maybe put off by the 10-hour overnight bus ride, or taking another flight I heard this place was worth every extra minute and cent it took to get there.
Many believe that San Blas is the better of the two archipelagos, but I believe they are both special for their own reasons. San Blas is interesting to see the culture of the indigenous people the Kuna, as well as beautiful beaches. However, it is very remote and you definitely will be disconnected from the outside world.
Versus Bocas Del Toro, which is pretty connected to the outside world due to the large amounts of Expats settling there. When you come to Bocas you get more than a backpacker’s paradise of surfing, beaches, and partying, you get beautiful ecotourism, relaxing days island hopping, and for the people that love going out to dance as much as hanging by the beach you won’t ever be bored.
How to Get to Bocas Del Toro?
There are two ways to get to Bocas Del Toro from Panama City, Panama. You can get there by bus or plane. My friend and I chose to go by overnight bus to Bocas Del Toro, since it was the cheapest option last minute.
Be warned you cannot by the bus tickets online and must go to the Gran Terminal Nacional De Transporte (the main bus station). If it is peak season go the day or two before in order to make sure you get on the bus for the day you want. Also, you can make a quick trip to the mall since it is right there as well! Maybe buy a light sweater since the bus ride can be a little chilly.
Things to note: You need your passport to book the ticket. Also, when you get into the terminal the ticket stations are lined up along one side and each one is for a particular destination. So look for the one that has Bocas Del Toro above it. The cost of the bus is about $30 USD to Bocas and is 10- 12 hours long, with two times at night one at 6pm and one at 7pm. Take the later one since you will be waiting at a small-town Almirante for the small boat to take you to Isla Colon, the main island on Bocas Del Toro.
If money is not an issue or you are on a shorter time constraint take a quick hour flight to Bocas Del Toro. Every day there are flights there by Air Panama. One-way flights cost anywhere between $110 USD to $130 USD from Albrook Airport to the airport on Isla Colon on Bocas Del Toro. Flights depart daily around 6:30 a.m., 6:45 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.
Once you are on. Bocas Del Toro, if you decide to continue to explore other parts of Panama, such as Boquete Hostels and Hotels will organize shuttles that will bring you from point A to B. This definitely takes the stress out of traveling!
The Layout of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago
There are three main islands of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago: Isla Colon, Bastimentos, Carenero, and Isla Solarte. Each island has a different vibe depending on what you are looking for. Fancy a jungle escape? Head to Isla Solarte. Want to party with backpackers, expats, and locals? Head to town on Isla Colon. Want to explore a range of beach paradises head to Bastimentos. Want to relax, but go to some great beach bars? Head to Carenero!
There are nine islands in total, but these are the main islands people head to that cater best to tourists. With just two main towns Bocas Town on Isla Colon being the largest, and Old Bank on Bastimentos being the 2ndlargest, you can expect a laidback island feel no matter where you are.
How to get around Bocas Del Toro?
Bocas Town you will be fine by foot. However, if you want to go to other parts of the main Isla Colon there are public buses that leave frequently to other parts of the island for $2 USD. Or you can get a taxi anywhere on the main island from $1-2 USD.
Otherwise, the main transport you will find yourself taking are water taxis! I think this is a super fun way to get around. You can get them early in the morning, and very late at night. We never head an issue getting around or picked up from different islands. They cost from $2 USD- $5 USD depending on where you are going.
Tip: If you book your accommodation online before arrival your hotel or hostel will often have a free water taxi to get you.
What to do in Bocas Del Toro?
You get there now what? Well we decided to go to get coffee and breakfast immediately upon arrival at what would become our favorite restaurant in Bocas Del Toro.
We found our free water taxi that was offered by our hotel. The Bambuda Lodge located on Solarte, like many accommodations on different islands offer free transport from the main island. At first, I debated whether to stay on the main island, but I am glad we had one day in our beautiful jungle hut. Our hut was complete with a lounge bed in the jungle, a large bed, and private bathroom. Also, there was a beautiful pool deck complete with a water slide into the ocean. The view during sunset overlooking the water and the waterslide was calling our names.
Solarte was beautiful. The amazing thing about Bocas Del Toro is every island has its’ own vibe to it. The island felt remote and having a jungle surrounding us there was a constant lovely soundtrack to our stay. A mix of birds chirping, monkeys, and other wildlife created melodic sounds.
From Bambuda Lodge you could rent a kayak and head to The Blue Coconut Restaurant. On the paddle there you can see starfish through the clear calm water. If hiking is your thing, take a short 40-minute hike through the jungle to Hospital Point. Hospital Point is one of the top snorkeling and diving areas of Bocas Del Toro.
After a long day exploring, Bambuda Lodge was great because they would offer a family style dinner for a reasonable price- a great way to meet other travelers. I had some very tasty meals by the pool here from ceviche to a chicken stew.
When all was said in done, I love to check out the nightlife, as much as I like to check out nature and the outdoors. So, we decided to call a water taxi to head to Bocas Town on the main island of Isla Colon (a short 8 minute boat ride). There we explored what Bocas Town’s storied party reputation was all about.
From live music around every turn during the early hours of the night, to a full-on night club experience partying around a sunken ship, Bocas Del Toro lived up to its’ reputation in a good way. The first stop we went to had live music and we were welcomed by the birthday party celebrations of the lead in the Band. Then we headed to a dance party at Selina Hostel, before ending our night at another great club before calling our water taxi to get back to our lodge.
Waking up to birds chirping and the sounds of nature around us was an experience in itself. After a delicious breakfast of eggs, fruit, and a fruit smoothie after a quick swim. We decided to move to a hostel on the main land. Funny thing we booked an eco-lodge, which did not have air-conditioning. So, we decided one day in the jungle was enough and headed to Bocas Town to our next accommodation Twin Fin Hostel. With an edgier vibe with laidback backpackers we found a great home that had the best air-conditioning!
After checking in we decided to grab a local bus from the village green to head to Starfish Beach on the other side of Isla Colon. The ride cost $2 USD and took 30 minutes through windy woods, bamboo trees, and jungle until we reached our destination.
The water taxi dropped us off at the path, leading to Starfish beach,. The short 15-minute walk along the coastline is wonderful. The path was easy to follow and the scenery was beautiful, so I did not mind the walk.
At Starfish beach, we funnily enough did not see Starfish, but we did see SLOTHS! I actually counted 4 sloths high in the trees. I was very excited because I decided to forego the tour to Sloth Island and another island. The tours cost 30 USD, but we decided to go with the flow and chill at a beach. I recommend adopting island time, versus being rushed in a tour group from place to place. It was the best decision in my opinion.
There are 2 beach shack restaurants available where you can eat local cuisine and fresh seafood. Literally, you can pick out your lobster from the trap and have it cooked right away. I decided to stick to spicy chicken with rice, it looked like the fresh catch was delectable as well.
Somewhat a misnomer, I didn’t see any starfish at this particular beach. I did love the beach and the adventure of getting here though. When we finished our time at the beach we took a water taxi back to Bocas Town.
Part of my favorite thing about island vacations, is you do not have to worry about what you are wearing. We went straight from our day at the beach to dinner at Buena Vista Restaurant.
Here I had the best fish tacos! Also, the restaurant offered indoor/ outdoor seating. Don’t want to walk here? Then guests may take a boat and pull straight in to the restaurant. or get dropped off by water taxi.
Waking up to an ice-cold private room at Twin Fin Hostel was exactly what I needed. After a pretty sweaty night the prior night at Bambuda Lodge AC was necessary. Unkowingling we booked an eco-lodge that did not use zircon. We ended up extending our stay in Twin Fin for one more night; solely for the reason of the amazing air-con!
Also, the pancake breakfast in the morning with bananas definitely was a plus! I love banana pancakes so my day was made. We prepared ourselves for a day being beach bums, eating food, and relaxing.
The first stop was the island Carenero, a mere 5-minute ride to a stunning beach. Not far from the beach, Bibi’s beach restaurant and bar was located on a dock out in the water. True paradise is eating fresh seafood, while supping on a coconut, and having the sea breeze combing through your hair.
After stuffing our faces, we took a walk along the beach until we found the perfect spot to plop down to take a nap. The best thing about Bocas Del Toro, is the opportunity to actually relax and be a beach bum in paradise.
Waking up with a possibly one of my first sunburns, we headed to Red Frog Beach to see what all the talk was about. Taking a water taxi we headed to Bastimentos, home to Red Frog Beach and the National Marine Park.
Also, another beach that is great for surfing is Wizard Beach, but it is a 40-minute walk through the jungle and some crime had recently been affecting the area, so I decided against heading there.
After a long day at the beach we decided to have a night in and cook. There is actually an absurd amount of markets to get groceries in Bocas Town. So we had no issues finding something to cook and it was a great option for budget-travelers.
The next day we decided to do a tour to Cayos Zapatilla before heading back to Panama City, Panama. All in all Bocas Del Toro is a place to relax, take in nature, the jungle, and island hop.
Where to Stay?
The main islands people stay on include: Isla Colon, Isla Solarte, Bastimentos, and Carenero Island. Below I broke down by island some places that I would definitely stay in Bocas Del Toro!
Bambuda Lodge- A tropical forest escape, the lodge offers private rooms, and dormitories. With an amazing waterslide into the sea, a pool and deck with sweeping views, along with one of the best hotel restaurants I have experienced in a while this place is worth the money. Be warned there is no air-conditioning because this is an Eco-Lodge.
Palmer Beach Lodge– A glampers paradise, feel surrounded by nature, play beach volleyball, and use the free amenities such as beach lounge chairs, snorkeling equipment, or rent a surf board. Also, an eco-lodge so get ready to get close with nature! Prices range from $10-70 USD depending on how much privacy you want!
Casa Del Mar Carenero B & B– Definitely a luxury option in the Bocas Del Toro archipelago the Casa Del Mar Carenero offers ocean views and terraces from every room. Also, there is air-conditioning! Only a short water taxi ride away from the nightclubs and town of Bocas Town this is a great option to relax by day and party by night!
Budget: Twin Fin Hostel was a laid-back hostel in Bocas Town that also had a tattoo shop. With free pancake breakfast every morning and air-conditioning. Offering private rooms and dorms this quaint hostel is great to relax.
Mid-Range: Hotel Bocas Town – A middle of the road hotel in Bocas Town that offers free continental breakfast, airconditioned rooms, and great wifi this is definitely a top-notch option located on the water.
Luxury: Divers Paradise Boutique Hotel a luxurious hotel by Bocas standards, the Divers Paradise Hotel has terrace view rooms of the water, free paddleboards and kayaks for guests, and an extensive breakfast. With a modern touch this divers paradise offers excursions that will definitely show the beauty of Bocas Del Toro.
Safety on Bocas Del Toro
Safety is always on the back of everyone’s mind when traveling to a new destination. Bocas Del Toro in recent years has had some issues with petty theft, muggings, and also there was a sad situation of a women getting killed here on Isla Bastimentos when she went hiking to a remote beach.
While I was here I never felt unsafe, however I took precautions to not travel to remote areas by myself. I traveled in groups with my travel companion and I did not go hiking a lone. Also, we kept our valuables locked and took all the normal precautions. Never did I feel unsafe, or threatened while traveling there. However, where there is poverty there is also petty crime and you need to be vigilant.
What are you waiting for?
Bocas Del Toro is just one destination out of many that make visiting Panama special. In my first guide of Panama you found out all that Panama City has to offer. I hope this guide of Bocas Del Toro has only cemented your decision to see the jungle, beach paradise, naturally stunning country of Panama.