Tips for Traveling to Bocas del Toro, Panama

bocas del toro
Courtesy of Dronepicr/Flickr

Beautiful Caribbean tropics paired with exotic wildlife and a pirate-themed bar scene, Bocas del Toro, Panama offers a little bit of everything for travelers of all interests.

Popular for its international party scene, Bocas del Toro has so much more to offer than a Filthy Friday of boating between floating bars followed by a wild night of crawling from waterfront hostel to buccaneer-ridden cantinas.

World-class scuba diving, empty surf spots, bizarre (but alluring) native wildlife, and even a village made entirely of recyclables all lay waiting to be discovered for those brazen enough to inspect the archipelago to its fullest.

bocas del toro
Courtesy of Marissa Streniste/Flickr

However, to reach these amazing islands, you must first do a bit of traveling. But do not dismay, the journey is relatively easy and can be an adventure in itself if you’re open to it. The quickest way to get there is by domestic flight once you’re in Panama. From Panama City, flights to Bocas del Toro Isla Colon International Airport will make the trip fast and friendly (most flights come with free alcohol) for any traveler willing to spend the extra buck.

A cheaper route will require both bus and boat before the destination is reached, but for the right person this cost-effective option can offer memorable experiences such as wildlife sightings, new friends also on the road, and authentic interactions with locals along the way.

When traveling by bus and boat you will find plenty of options from either Panama City or the border of Costa Rica to take you to the port town of Almirante, but once you are in Almirante you will inevitably reach Ferry Palanga terminal that will issue round-trip tickets for the duration of your trip out to the islands of Bocas del Toro.

Once you hit the water, your time in Bocas has officially begun. Some of the best wildlife sightings in the area take place by boat. Scuba tours are offered by the dozen around Bocas, and for obvious reason: the emerald-green water and bountiful sea life is absolutely breathtaking.

bocas del toro
Courtesy of Dronepicr/Flickr

Look into the wildlife tours by boat to see everything from the permanent resident pods of dolphins splashing around Dolphin Bay to cruising beneath the overgrowth of Sloth Island to see the slow swingers.

Pit stops to empty beaches like Red Frog or Starfish can be arranged, but the best far away options are the natural pools created by reef formations. For this, though, you will have to find a local to learn the location – some things simply aren’t suitable to share by any other means.

bocas del toro
Courtesy of Aelx Schwab/Flickr

If you’d rather stay on land you can rent a bicycle on almost any street corner in Bocas Town – the pirate-themed downtown area of Isla Colon – to take your trip into your own hands, and feet. By bike you can find empty beaches all around the island that are loaded with coconut-bearing palm trees and occasional empty surf spots (or quite the opposite) with a hostel outfitted with boards for rent.

bocas del toro
Courtesy of Dan Lundberg/Flickr

Beyond the sand you can spot some of the worlds most beautiful birds, including the infamous nostrils of a toucan, perched in papaya trees. Another notable stop for your peddle around paradise, the plastic bottle village (a.k.a. Castillo Inspiracion). Not only will your bicycle ride around the island give you a meandering glimpse into a different world, it will also expose you to a refreshing, much slower-paced way of life.

Castillo Inspiración is a tourist-friendly eco-mansion made from recycled plastic.

Once you’ve built up an appetite, stop by Casa Surf for some tacos that will make your tastebuds dance. The upstairs balcony seating offers an atmosphere fun for a family or a first round of drinks with friends. If you’re searching for something super fresh first thing in the morning, find your way to Amaranto Bocas for pressed juices and coffee to start your day strong.

At the day’s end, depending on your interest, finding a place to stay should be the least of your worries. If it is a hostel-type experience you are after, hit the streets and find one next to your favorite part of town or simply stay at Selina. Selina in Bocas offers the international party scene at night and waterfront relaxation during the daytime – both of which are world-class and near impossible to top.

However, if it’s peace and quite you’re after, across the tiny stretch of water to the island of Caranero lies a secret surf-friendly sleep away by the name of Los Balacones Over the Sea. Water taxis take you to and from this comfortable option for only a dollar per trip, but the privacy at this place is practically priceless near a burg like Bocas Town. You may even find your way into a private surf session by boat if you can buddy-up the friendly owner, Jerry.

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