The (only) Insider’s Guide to Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Sunset from The Firefly

Sunset, Oceanside, Bastimentos

Where I live & work, The Firefly, Bastimentos

Where I live & work; The Firefly, Bastimentos

UPDATED 12/2016

I am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world so naturally, I get to explore. Owning a B&B and dealing with guests also makes me a pretty excellent concierge if I do say so myself ūüôā I have been to all of the restaurants on the 3 main islands and then some, been to the hidden beaches, snorkeled in unmarked coves, been on tours, and know most of the other hotel owners. Planning a trip to the islands of Bocas Del Toro can be tricky if you don’t know the lay of the land but I am here to steer you in the right direction. Check out my tips & advice and come say hi over on Bastimentos! I have provided a ton of general info below, if you want to know more about a specific place, use the ‘ol Google.

The Firefly deck

The Firefly deck

Busy Season: December through late April ( December-January are rainy. Feb-April can be very dry) Busy season is also the main surf season with waves from Dec to April.

Low Season May- early November (although surf can pick up again in June/July when it becomes very rainy again).  August-October are usually dry and the water is FLAT and calm. November tends to be the rainiest month and the surf picks back up)

Bocas Del Toro is a group of islands in the Caribbean off the coast of Panama. It is a 50 minute flight from Panama City on Air Panama out of Marcus A. Gelabert Airport (commonly referred to as “Albrook Airport”) There are usually 2 flights a day, morning and afternoon with more flights added in high season. Flights can be purchased here www.airpanama.com

If you arrive after noon or 1pm to Panama City, chances are you will have to stay the night in PC as you will miss the afternoon flight to the island. Flights to the island leave from a smaller airport about 40 minutes away from PTY and customs at PTY can be unpredictable. Allow yourself a decent cushion of at least 3+ hours between flights.

You can also travel by land. A 10 hour bus ride leaves PC in the morning and the evening (overnight). You will arrive in Almirante and take a 25 minute water taxi out to Bocas. From other points in Panama if you have rented a car, you can make your way to Almirante. There are secure parking lots near the water taxis to park your rental car while you are on the island. Two water taxi companies, Bocas Marine Tours & Taxi 25 run every half hour and cost about $5 to get to Bocas.  Shuttles are also available from Boquete (mamallena shuttle) or Puerto Viejo (Caribe shuttle) http://www.caribeshuttle.com . **UPDATE Mamallena Hostel in Boquete now runs a shuttle to the Pacific side of Panama making the trip from each coast much easier!

Another option is coming from Costa Rica. Flights from San Jose to Bocas run three times a week on Nature Air. Check out the current flight schedule on their site . www.natureair.com

OR by land from Costa Rica’s caribbean side…Make your way by taxi or rental car ( you cannot drive the rental car to Panama so it must be left in a secure lot. This obviously only woks if you are going back through Costa Rica) to Sixaola, the border town not far from Puerto Viejo. From there you will cross the border on a bridge, show your passport on either side and get stamped. You will then need to be transported to Almirante. This take about an hour. There are taxis or group tour buses waiting to transport tourists to Almirante. Then go to either Taxi 25 or Bocas Marine Tours to head to the islands. Note that water taxis stop running at 6pm. If you don’t catch the last one, you will have to stay in Almirante and that’s not super pleasant.

Bocas snorkeling

Bocas snorkeling

OK! SO now you are in Bocas Del Toro. There are many islands but three are inhabited and have amenities. The main island known as Bocas Town, or simply just “Bocas” is called Isla Colon. The next island is Carenero, a 1 minute, $1-$2 water taxi away. Lastly, Bastimentos, a ten minute, $3 water taxi away from Bocas Town. There are water taxis that go between the island all day long and well into the night. Hop around, see all the islands, they all have a different vibe with unique scenery.

P1010851Bocas Town is the hub. Main St (3rd St) is lined with restaurants, bars and hostels. There are a few decent hotels directly in Town but Bocas Town is a party and can be noisy during the high season. The beaches are not in town but out of town sooooo you must take a taxi or a boat to reach them. I’m going to give you info by island; beaches, restaurants and places to stay…..soak it all in ūüôā

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one of the many beaches on Isla Colon

Beaches on Isla Colon in order : 

La Cabana Beach: La Cabana is a very local area. It is about a 5min taxi ride out of Bocas Town. The locals have their bars along the road usually with very loud music. It can be a fun place for a cheap, cold beer and some mingling with the locals. There are a few local restaurants here as well, the best being Beso Del Dragon. The beach isn’t known for its beauty but its a decent place for a very beginning surfer to get in the water. (Note: there are only waves in high season) Bocas only Brewery is here as well. If you enjoy craft beer, head out to The Bocas Brewery and enjoy beer brewed in house and in Panama City.

Tiger Tail:

You’ll find this beach about 10-15 minutes out of town where the road ends and becomes dirt. This beach is beautiful but the rocky reef doesn’t allow for easy swimming. This is a popular beach for surf in the high season. There is a bar/restaurant here with sun loungers called Paki Point.

Paunch Beach:

Sometimes hardly a beach at all just more of a break. This is best left for the experienced surfers. However there is one of our new favorite daytime hang spots here, called Skully’s and operated by Steve & Rhonda from The Flying Pirates. Hang out in a hammock and indulge in the rum. Last time I went in October, they had changed over to a Mexican menu. Food was good.

The Beach Bar at Bluff Beach

The Beach Bar at Bluff Beach

Bluff Beach:  

The Beach Bar on Bluff beach

The Beach Bar on Bluff beach

Perhaps the most beautiful beach on Isla Colon, and a 30 minute taxi ride away from town. This beach is always uncrowded but¬†the waves pound very close to the shore making swimming here difficult and at other times, not at all possible. The are two restaurants open to the public here, The Hummingbird and Bluff Beach Retreat. The Hummingbird has an Argentinean bbq on Saturdays, its pricey but worth it. Bluff Beach Retreat is under new owners, the new look is cute, haven’t tried the food yet. The Beach Bar may or may not be open to the public as it keeps changing.The photos above are a few years old.¬† It belongs to the hotel “Island Plantation”. They put out a statement saying they only cater to their guests but occasionally they have flyers online that say” join us”. Go check it out, see if you can get a drink. It’s the only bar truly on the beach and not across the street.

On the other side of Isla Colon, there are two other popular beaches, Starfish & Drago Beach.  In Bocas town, at the park,  there is a collectivo shuttle that leaves about every hour to go to Drago. The ride takes about 40 minutes. Additionally, you can take a boat to Starfish and walk over to Drago.

Starfish Beach:

Starfish Beach

Starfish Beach

I’m conflicted about this beach. It is one of the only places where the water is always calm, allowing for easy swimming and just hanging out with a beer in the shallow, clear water. The beach itself is very narrow but beautiful. In low season, it can be a dream. There are a few local fish fry stands that are set up to sell tourists platters of whole fish, patacones and cold beer. During high season however, the tour boats come in droves to what was once a hidden spot and this beach becomes spring break for months on end. The techno music blares from the large speakers at the makeshift bars and the locals sell lobster even during the lobster ban ( March-August) to tourists that don’t know any better. The tiny beach gets overwhelmed with people who inevitably leave trash, cans and bottles behind. Because of the recent influx of tourists here, the starfish are sadly disappearing from being handled. If you see starfish, do not touch them. Let them be…it was their home first. You don’t need that photo for Instagram.

Drago Beach:

Just a short walk away from Starfish…there is a local restaurant here called Yaris Nori. ¬†The beach is very small but gets wider where the beach connects to Starfish. And usually there is no one here.

To Eat on Isla Colon:

In Town there are tons of choices for food in every budget.

Not Pricey $

For decent local food, the cheapest option is Chitre (now they have two locations!) . It sits right in the middle of main st and $5 can get you the plato del dia. Plate of the day usually consists of chicken, rice and beans or patacones (fried plantains). No atmosphere, but who cares when the food is cheap and decent.  Another local spot is Tropical Birds, next to club Barco Hundido for inexpensive plates. Locals and expats alike tend to frequent Restaurant Tom, where Main St ends toward the road out of town. It sits in a 2 story building on the second floor overlooking the water. Food is  yummy but a bit pricier than the previous two but with more atmosphere & a nice view.

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The best lunch spot is Taco Surf. (They have moved locations and above photo is no longer accurate) UPDATE 12/2016 Taco Surf has been sold and then CLOSED. The new owners couldn’t keep it open. Sad we lost this spot.

Another spot for lunch is a bus permanently parked in front of The Bocas Surf School and Hostel. Its called Bocas Blended or referred to as the “batido bus”. They do a few different wraps, thai style and buffalo chicken are popular, and of course fresh juices and batidos. Open for breakfast until about 6pm. You order at the bus and grab a seat over the water on one of the picnic tables. The bus has a great vibe.

Vegetarians can head over to Leafeaters on¬†Carenero facing Bocas Town. This cute little hideaway/coffee shop/cafe sits over the water and has a small menu of vegetarian deliciousness. The veggie burger is great as is the brown rice “hippie bowl” with or without a fried egg¬†and tahini. Open until 6pm.

If you are going out island hopping and want a sandwich to go or the fixins to make one, Super Gourmet is the island’s best grocery store. They have awesome snacks and fresh, locally made chocolate items. Super Gourmet is Located next to Palma Royale on Main st.

Dinner & Pricier $$

For dinner, here are our favorite spots….

Raw Fusion

Raw Fusion

Raw Fusion sits smack in the middle of Main st so you can’t miss it. Fresh sushi rolls, japanese food and awesome martinis make up their menu. Their happy hour (4-6) snack menu can’t be beat.¬†P1030869

Om is a funky, colorfully decorated Indian restaurant. The butter chicken is excellent and the appetizer sampler gives you a taste of samosa, lamb kabobs and chickpea “nachos”. The outdoor deck is great for people watching. Photo below is their old location, they are now out over the water on Main St.

Om Restaurant

Om Restaurant

El Ultimo Refugio is the most popular restaurant on Isla Colon for good reason. They do modern caribbean food and it’s all delicious and beautifully plated. They are closed on Sat/Sun and reservations in high season are recommended. This is by far my favorite place to get a steak.

La Italiana

La Italiana

For pizza, there are tons of places selling it but only a few places you want to eat it. The best two are La Italiana, on Main St &¬†Alberto’s on 5th st in the Cala Luna Hotel. La Italiana is a hip spot with topping choices such as arugula, proscuitto and ricotta or thinly sliced potatoes and pesto on a thin crust, wood fired pie. They also do large salads. Alberto’s is also wood fired on a slightly thicker crust. Their hours in low season are sporadic as they go away for a few months. The third option for pizza is Los Delphines across from Mondo Taitu Hostel. Anywhere else and your pizza may not be so yummy. Guari Guari is a set 6 course dinner where reservations are necessary. Food is creative but can be hit or miss. You will not be ordering here as the menu is set every night. Let them know ahead of time if you have dietary restrictions. It is located next to the gas station on the road out of town. No real ambiance and it can be buggy so bring repellant. Ozzi, one of the owners is a great guy. Reservations are a MUST as they must prepare for you.

For bar food, hit up¬†El Toro Loco…Wings, mozz sticks, subs etc for watching the game on their flat screens.Word is they have a new Italian chef so maybe try a pasta.

MUNCHIES

MUNCHIES

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Munchies burger

If you have the late night munchies, Munchies does an awesome burger. Open 6pm ish to about 2 am, they sit next to Starfleet Scuba in the hut. Munchies also opened a second location in the center of Main St across from the dock to Bastimentos. They have a larger menu than the original location and a full bar. Second floor location is fun for people watching.

For a super affordable dinner of rotisserie chicken,

Kiosko Rostizando

Kiosko Rostizando

head to Kiosko Rostizondo on Main St. You can get a whole chicken, patacones and fries for about $11 and I bet you’ll have leftovers. ¬†If you are walking around and want a cheap dinner, look for the $5 falafel cart on Main st and of course the meat on a stick and hot dog carts are good bets when you need to soak up the rum. The cart in front of The Bocas Bookstore is a favorite.

Another fun spot is The Pub. They have a great overwater location next to La Casbah. Food is good and  reasonably priced. Open all day and into the night.

There are tons of other spots to eat, some good some really not so good, places open, places close. Ask around.  People are usually willing to share their experiences.

Drinking in Bocas Town:

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Hotel Bocas Del Toro’s pina colada

El Toro Loco is the gringo sports bar for watching the game with cheap drinks and live music (sometimes). Raw Fusion has a small bar on main st in the front of their restaurant with creative martinis. Hotel Bocas Del Toro has a small front bar on Main St with an awesome happy hour. Drinks range from $2-$4 and they do a really good pina colada. The Pub has a great overwater location. Munchies has a fun, second story bar great for people watching. My favorite, the dive-y Bocas Books also known as Loco Dave’s or¬†Booze, Books & Beyond¬†but usually just The Bookstore, is a hole in the wall with cheap drinks, ping pong and a very large Jenga. . And yes, they also sell books. If ya feel like shakin’ your ass, there are two clubs in town. The better one,¬†Iguana Surf Bar has ladies nights and occasional live music. The dj here is the best for popular music, hip hop and reggae and the ladies behind the bar are super awesome. The other option is Barco Hundido known as “the wreck deck” due to the sunken boat the bar was built around. ¬†The dj here varies from techno music to hip hop, dancehall and reggae. The crowd can get huge and ladies hang onto your purses. Both places start around 10pm and go late.

Places to stay on Isla Colon:

Isla Colon has a wide range of places to stay for every budget. Main Street is lined with hostels where the budget traveler can score a bed for about $10 in a dorm style room.¬†¬†Of course you can also have a room with ac, a flat screen and private balcony if that’s more your style.

$=budget (under $30)

$$flashpacker ( $40-80)

$$$livin’ it up ($90-150)

$$$$baller status ($150 & up)

Posada Isla Chica¬†($) is a cute, budget friendly hostel in Bocas Town set in a pretty garden.¬†Cocomo on the Sea¬†($$) is on the fringes of Bocas Town with a nice, overwater location…great budget b&b. Our fav is Lula’s B&B¬†($$) just out of Bocas Town. The owners rock and location is quiet but walkable to town. Another b&b option is The Sand Dollar¬†($$$) which is located across the road from a pretty little beach a 5-10 min drive outside of Bocas Town. In town, if flat screens and ac are your thing, The Palma Royale¬†($$$) sits directly on Main St. The 25-30 minute taxi ride out to Bluff gives you a few options, Island Plantation ($$$$), The Hummingbird B&B ($$$) & Tesoro Escondido ($$)¬†. Island Plantation is a Bali inspired resort with chic rooms and is on the higher end of the spectrum price wise ($150 and up)¬†Tesoro Escodido is a more moderately priced option with funky, rustic, artsy cabinas. The Hummingbird is a cute property with a great restaurant.

Isla Bastimentos: 

Bastimentos

Bastimentos

We may be biased but we think Basti is the most beautiful island in Bocas. The people on Bastimentos are “Afro-Caribbean” having been brought over from the West Indies to work on the banana plantations in the early 1900s. This gives the island a true Caribbean feel and a unique patois is spoken by the locals. 75% of Bastimentos is also part of the Marine Reserve which means development will always be slow here keeping the island uncrowded and natural. The boat taxis will most likely drop you off at the public boat dock in “Old Bank”, the name of the little town. There are no roads in Bastimentos, just a sidewalk running through Old Bank with paths out to Oceanside and out to Wizard Beach. In Old bank, there are a few local restaurants and bars, a few convenience stores, a police station and a small clinic.

Old Bank, Bastimentos

Old Bank, Bastimentos

Bastimentos Beaches:

Wizard Beach also known as First Beach:

From Old Bank, you can hike through the jungle to Wizard if you are feeling adventurous. The walk is beautiful although it can be extremely muddy in the wet months. There have been reports of theft along this walk so do not take anything valuable with you such as iPods or cameras. After a 30 minute walk, you will be rewarded with a beautiful beach with a jungle backdrop. There are no amenities on this beach and hardly any people. Just a perfect beach for the adventurous.

Red Frog Beach: 

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog in May

Red Frog in May

Red Frog is probably the most popular beach in Bocas for good reason. The beach is gorgeous. You can hike to it ¬†from Wizard beach although the path can be very difficult to find. Most people take a water taxi. The water taxis drop you off on the other side of the island (the non beach side) so you must walk 10 minutes through to get to the beach side. Although all beaches in Panama are public, Red Frog charges a $3-5 fee because it is privately maintained. Red Frog is a wide expanse of white sand and always has people on it but because of its size, it never feels really crowded. Punta Lava Beach Bar¬†(skip the food) & Palmar Tent Lodge both have bars and serve lunch. There is also Nachyo Momma’s next to Palmar Tent Lodge. Thy have the best fish tacos. Eat there.

Turtle Beach:

Turtle is next to Red Frog¬†yet not many people know about it making it virtually empty. If you keep walking on the paved road just a few minutes past RF, you will see Turtle Beach. It’s just as beautiful but with no amenities.

Polo Beach:

This beach is a postcard. It’s perfect. It’s hard to get to and therefore uncrowded. It can be accessed by boat only certain times of the year since when the waves get big, boats can’t get in.

Long Beach or Playa Larga:

People rarely go to this beach as it is super far out and very hard to get to. It is known certain times of the year for its surf break.

The Zapatillas:

These are two beautiful uninhabited islands just off the coast of Bastimentos (a 45 minute boat ride from Old Bank). These islands are turtle nesting grounds and make up a huge part of the Bastimentos Marine reserve. There is a $10 entrance fee that must be paid to the guard for entry onto the islands. There are no amenities on the island so bring snacks and water. Due to ocean conditions, the Zapatillas can only be reached comfortably when the sea is calm.

Punta Vieja Beach

Punta Vieja Beach

At the opposite end of Bastimentos from Old Bank toward the Zapatillas, is a beach called Punta Vieja and an indigenous Indian Village called Salt Creek. At this end of Bastimentos there are only a few all inclusive, eco friendly resorts such as Al Natural and Casa Cayuco & a few vacation rental houses but no stand alone restaurants. This area is totally off the grid. Now there is a resort called Azul Paradise which caters to high end families. They have the flat screens and ac and kid’s activities and all that. I believe their restaurant is open to the public but at $15 for bland chicken fingers, I was left a bit shocked. The beach however, is beautiful and the water clear. Survivor was filmed here and they left the sign to prove it.

To Eat In Basti…

Dining at The Firefly

Dining at The Firefly

The Firefly is one of the top restaurants in all of Bocas and sits on the oceanside of Basti, a 10 minute walk from the center of Old Bank. This is my restaurant so I think it’s the bee’s knees, naturally ūüôā We serve tapas style, thai caribbean food. Our location directly on the water can’t be beat and the glow from the tiki torches at night makes for a romantic setting. Dinner reservations are essential so we may prepare for you. Have your hotel give us a call a day ¬†before.

Seared tuna with wasabi yogurt at The Firefly

Seared tuna with wasabi yogurt at The Firefly

The Firefly

The Firefly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up in the Hill is an organic farm & cafe that makes their own chocolate and body products. They make best brownies around.

CARIBBEAN VIEW RESTAURANT

CARIBBEAN VIEW RESTAURANT

Caribbean View restaurant has good local food and some american dishes. Their fish filet in garlic sauce is a go to. Really good food for great prices. But beware….service is Slllllllllooooowwwwwwww. There are two locally known spots for getting your fried fish or creole chicken, rice, beans and patacones fix:¬†Roots & Alvin & Kecha. Roots used to be better as the quality has gone down and the prices have gone up. Alvin & Kecha is a good option on the water in Old Bank. Kecha’s fried chicken plate cost about $5. Mom’s Place (she used to work for us so we love her!)¬†¬†has a menu that changes but usually includes tacos, sometimes pizza and panamanian dishes. Our favorite besides The Firefly is Chavela…yummy elevated local style food, huge portion s and low prices. The Burger Leon is spicy and delicious as is the fish and chips.

Drinking in Basti:

There is a local spot called the Blue Bar. It sits out over the water in Old Bank and usually has the loud music coming out of it. They have a big outside deck and a stage and pool table inside. Drinks are dirt cheap. If you like to party with the locals, have a drink here. The Firefly bar has craft cocktails made with ingredients from our garden and fresh juices. It’s a great place for a sunset cocktail as our sunsets are amazing.

Places to stay in Basti: 

Old Bank, Bastimentos

Old Bank, Bastimentos

Bastimentos has a wide range of accommodations.

The Firefly¬†B&B ($$$) is the hippest spot in Bocas with a lounge deck complete with daybeds, a pool & and yoga/spa pavilion. It’s mine, so of course I think it’s the best ūüôā We also sit on the ocean side, making our spot at least 5 degrees cooler than places in town. Our breeze off the ocean keeps us cool and keeps the bugs away.

Firefly Daybed

Firefly Daybed

Hostel Bastimentos¬†($) is a three level hostel with dorm beds and private rooms set in the jungle with views of the bay in Old Bank. Caribbean View¬†($-$$) has simple, private rooms in Old Bank. The Point¬†($) has 4 rustic, ocean front rooms that are solidly priced at less than $30 (. Eclypse De Mar¬†($$$-$$$$) has overwater Tahitian style bungalows that are beautifully appointed. La Loma Jungle Lodge¬†($$$$) is a 20 minute boat ride from Old Bank and is set in the jungle. La Loma’s prices include all meals and it is a magical place. Casa Cayuco & Al Natural¬†($$$$) are worth checking out if you want to be on the secluded, off the grid end of Bastimentos. Prices are all inclusive and the beach is beautiful. Palmar Tent Lodge¬†($$) is a unique “glamping” set up just off the beach at Red Frog. Red Frog Bungalows¬†($$$$) neighbors Palmar on Red Frog, has private bungalows an all inclusive set up and is popular with pro surfers. Up in the Hill¬†($-$$) is a 15-20 minute hike up the hill from Old Bank. They have a few rustic cabins in their garden. The Sea Monkey ($$$$) recently re opened in Old Bank after being closed for almost a year. Owners are a young couple from Atlanta that know the island well.

Isla Carenero: 

Carenero

Carenero

Carenero sits between Isla Colon and Isla Bastimentos and is the smallest of the three islands with crystal clear water. Carenero has no roads, just a charming footpath where you can walk around the island. There is a small beach just past the very large rental home on the side of the island that faces Bastimentos. It’s a good spot for swimming. If you walk around the footpath, you can usually find a place to lay a blanket and get in the water. Carenero is stunningly beautiful however this island is known for its population of sand fleas. These little buggers can ruin your vacation if you are susceptible to getting bit. They are especially bothersome at sunset so if you happen to find yourself on Carenero as the sun sets, be sure to have some spray or coconut oil on hand.

To Eat/Drink in Carenero:

A Bocas (and my) favorite is BiBi’s. Bibi’s is know for their seafood. Fish, shrimp, lobster…it’s all good. Their happy hour from 4-7 has super cheap drinks that can’t be beat. And now they have a new sun deck to enjoy those cocktails!¬†The Pickled Parrot is next to Bibi’s and exudes that perfect, thatched hut, island bar vibe. However, you never know who is running it these days or if it’s even open. Apparently, it has been classed up with daybeds added and has a new name……If it is indeed open, go for a drink and the view. The Cosmic Crab has a huge cocktail list. Visit for a drink. The hottest spot for the younger, partying set is on Carenero and is called Aqua Lounge. The only spot with a cover, the music thumps until the early morning. If you enjoy your sleep, make sure you are not staying near this club as music can go until 5 am in high season. Leafeater’s, Bocas only dedicated veggie spot moved here recently.

To stay on Carenero:

If you want a hostel right on the beach, The Grand Kahuna ($) is a fun space. Casa Aquario ($$) & El faro Del Colibri ($$-$$$) are built over the water but can be noisy from passing water taxis. The Cosmic Crab ($$) has a variety of rooms, some built over the water and some set back in the gardens.

To Do in Bocas:

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There’s a ton to do in Bocas. If you are interested in diving, contact La Buga or Bocas Dive School in Bocas Town. On Bastimentos, Scuba 6¬†Eco Diving is reputable. Diving is best in August/September and Feb/March when the rain is minimal. ¬†Snorkel trips can be arranged through your hotel or just by walking down Main St. If you prefer to be on your own time and not with 10-15 other tourists, private boat tours can be negotiated. You can decide where to go and make up your own itinerary. A great snorkel, island tour is though Bocas Sailing ($45 a person all day). They have two large catamarans and provide lunch. They go to the more hidden spots not filled with the panga tour boats. Another fun boat trip is on the unique Jade Dragon. Sometimes they even have live music aboard making this the best booze cruise.

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Bocas Sailing Catamaran Tours

A good way to see Isla Colon is to rent a bike (about $6 a day)  and bike all the way out to Bluff Beach. Hiking can be done on Bastimentos to Wizard Beach or to the organic cafe called Up In The Hill. Reward yourself with their fresh smoothies. On Carenero, there is a lookout point along the footpath on the side facing Bastimentos. The best fishing guide is Scott with Sportfishing Bocas Del Toro.

Mono Loco Surf School

Mono Loco Surf School

 

Surf lessons and board rentals can be had at Bocas Surf School¬†on Isla Colon or at Escuela Del Mar on Carenero. Bastimentos has Bocas only zipline. The canopy tour is high above the trees and well worth it. Reservations must be made for the morning or the afternoon slot. Horseback Riding can be done through Dave Hopper who rehabilitates horses¬†and employees the indigenous locals. Renting an atv can be an awesome way to see areas you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. There are two companies,

Dave Hopper

Dave Hopper & his horseback riding tours

flying pirates

flying pirates

The Flying Pirates being the best and most responsible. ¬†The Flying Pirates also have the best trails. They have leased land deep in the jungle and created paths that will get you to hidden spots like The Blue Lagoon & La Piscina. It can be an adventure but worth it to see the hidden beauty of the island. Don’t even rent atvs from anyone else. For yoga lovers, The Firefly has classes. Check the schedule for the week on their Facebook page or head to Bocas Yoga in Bocas Town for their class schedule. ¬†If you want to know more about the island’s ecology, head to the Smithsonian Institute about 15 minutes outside of Bocas Town. They do tours once a week.

One of our favorite excursions is the Bastimentos Bat Caves.

Boat ride to the Bat caves

Boat ride to the Bat caves

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bat caves

The boat ride down the Bahia Honda River is amazing in itself. You then walk through the jungle to the mouth of the cave. You will be walking deep into the cave (or as far as you want) and at points the water is waist high so wear a swimsuit and water shoes.

If you are looking for a tour focused on education and the history of Bocas, check out Banana Republic tours for something a bit different. When out on a boat tour for the day or if just wanting to go someplace different for lunch, head to the overwater restaurant called The Blue Coconut on Isla Solarte (15 min from Bocas Town). You can snorkel off the dock and they rent SUPs. It’s a great place to spend the day eating, drinking and swimming. If staying with us, we have local drivers we use and can get you set up with whatever you want to do for the day.

If you feel like being pampered, there are two spas in Bocas Town; The Lil Spa Shop and Starfleet Spa. The Firefly also has an in house massage therapist & if you are not staying with us, you can still make an appt and have a massage to the sound of the waves. ¬†If you want to view the turtles nesting during the season, make sure to stop by the Turtle Conservancy for their guides. Sometimes a local may tell you they can take you but their practices often times, are not in line with the turtle’s best interests.

Random Art & Supplies

Random Art & Supplies

TIPS & other shiz you need to know:¬†Bocas is a cash island and very few places accept credit cards. Panama uses the US dollar as currency so bring cash money! There is one ATM in Bocas Town and in high season it frequently runs out of cash. Come prepared. Have exact change for the taxi boat drivers. Most do not have change. Bocas is a safe place however keep your wits about you and use your common sense. Just because you are on a beautiful island doesn’t mean you get to forget how to be responsible. As in any tourist destination, there is petty theft. Do not take valuables to the beach or leave them unattended. You might come back from a swim to find they now have a new owner.

Here in Bocas, sadly the lobster are being overfished due to tourist demand. There is a ban on the catching, buying and selling of lobster every year from March-August so they may reproduce. DO NOT buy lobster even if it is on the menu at a restaurant. Most restaurants take it off and comply during the ban however there are still always a few restaurants trying to make a buck off the tourists. Support those that support the growth of their natural resources.

Trash, particularly plastic, is a huge problem here as on most islands. A recycling program has not yet been firmly implemented and we need the help of every tourist to do their part. Here’s how you can help by not contributing to the trash problem….There are water re-fill stations all over Bocas Town, such as Super Gourmet & The Bocas Brewery. On Bastimentos, Tio Tom’s Hostel has a refill machine and here at The Firefly will refill your water bottles. ¬†If you have your own water container, refills can be had for much, much cheaper than buying a new bottle. Or if you must buy one bottle, continue to get it refilled. Take it on your boat tour & the beach with you instead of buying a new one every time. ¬†Ask around if you need to locate a refill station. Support the restaurants that do not sell water in plastic bottles. Restaurants such as Raw, Refugio, Om, and The Firefly will sell you a carafe or pitcher of filtered water instead of the plastic. Bring a canvas bag if you plan on shopping. The Chinese owned grocery stores want to give you a plastic bag if you buy a single banana. Deny the plastic bags. Super Gourmet sells tote bags and they make a fun souvenir to use when you get home. When deciding between a soda in a plastic bottle or in a can, always go for the cans as there are some locals that will recycle cans. Beer and soda in glass bottles gets recycled.

Please do not bring anything to the island that will end up as waste and try to create the least amount of trash possible. Tourists unaware of the problems here unfortunately contribute to the problem. Being aware and doing your part helps keep our island beautiful. Thank you for being a responsible tourist and enjoy your time in Bocas!

4 responses to “The (only) Insider’s Guide to Bocas Del Toro, Panama

  1. Great details,..Im staying on Basti for the month of February… any tips and local guidance is appreciated!

  2. Hi Lauren!

    I absolutely LOVE all the info in this post — as well as everything you include in your bio — I’m also a fellow former Maryland-er and lover of tequila, whisky, and all candies sour and chewy…although I don’t require them to be blue ūüėČ

    My boyfriend, Will, and I are coming to Bocas in February for Braden Istas and Philip Huynh’s wedding (they’re both good friends of ours and Will is also in the wedding party), and I’m in the middle of trying to sort out our hotel accommodations. I’ve narrowed it down to four different options at the moment (three of which are in your post: Up in the Hill, Caribbean View, and Lula’s B&B). The fourth is one called Hotel Olas. Ever heard of it? Can you give me anything in the way of an insider’s perspective that I wouldn’t find on their website? Any info would be appreciated!

    Thanks – looking forward to meeting you (?) and celebrating love at the Dragonfly in a few months!!

    Best,
    -Amanda

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