Bocas del Toro is a collection of islands in the Northwest of Panama. It’s one of those places that you hear travelers raving about as you move through the area. You get all giddy inside and can’t wait to visit, so much so that you want to speed through the rest of wherever you are just to get there faster.
At least, this is how I felt and it turned about to be everything I wanted and more. 3 days turned into 5 which turned into a week + countless new friends.
Here is the Best of Bocas del Toro
This beach is accessible by a 45 minute bike ride from Bocas Town. The rip tide and current are very strong and the waves are always massive, so I don’t suggest actually swimming here. But it’s quiet and beautiful and a trip to Oasis B&B for lunch makes for a great day.
The town itself is the hub for all grocery shopping, errands, nightlife, and transport. To be honest, it’s not the cleanest and having a local bother you to buy a boat tour every 10 ft gets a little annoying. I’d suggest only staying in town if you want a crazy night out or if you have a super early boat the next morning.
I DON’T suggest booking into the Selina’s. It was the most awful service and value for money of anywhere I’ve stayed. Stay at Twin Fin or Calypso hostel if you need to be in town.
Eat at Hungry Monkey for breakfast/brunch
Drink at Summer (one of the stops for Filthy Friday) or Green Iguana.
Easily the most popular beach because of the starfish, this beach has actually had a steady decline of the residents. While there are still starfish, their numbers have vastly diminished because of tourists picking them up for photos. People don’t realize that picking them up out of the water kills them and the oils on your hands can harm them. Another sad effect of tourism.
PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE STARFISH
Also, there’s been a strange occurrence of small, clear, needle-like deposits in the sand that stab your feet and are nearly impossible to get out. It’s very recent and no one could tell me why. It made for a very unpleasant beach day and I actually suggest picking a different beach.
I LOVE Bibi’s. It’s easily accessible, chilled, and beautiful. While there are a few places to grab a bite, the best is by far the pizza stand run by the nicest Italian man. He’ll lay out in his mankini with his dogs until a customer approaches. Then, he’ll run up to take your order, make your customized pizza, and deliver it to you right on the beach with a special table for eating in the sand, then go back to sunning himself on his floatie.
This hotel/bar/lounge is the last stop for Filthy Friday and generally a really fun place to be. There’s a high dive, trampoline, indoor/outdoor bar, and DJ’s playing music ranging from House to Reggae.
The Blue Coconut
This bar on stilts sits in the ocean and is only accessible by boat. It’s the first stop for Filthy Friday and it’s by far my favorite.
This is easily one of my favorite hostels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a wooden lodge up on the hill overlooking the water. It has 2 12 bed dorms, private rooms, a full restaurant, pool, hammocks, and of course… a SLIDE into the ocean! They run on a tab system which means you don’t have to pay until the end of your stay, making it easy to pop up for a happy hour drink from the pool.
The only downside is that they don’t offer a kitchen to cook or store your own food/drinks. This monopolizes meals and the dinners can get pretty pricey – up to $15 a plate. Their servings are HUGE and amazing quality, so I can’t complain about that. However if you’re on a budget, it may be stretching your wallet.
All of this island is absolutely breathtaking. It’s truly the picture perfect island you see in travel magazines. There are tons of coves to explore, white pristine beaches to wander, and clear blue water to float in. You can hire a snorkeling tour or just take a boat over. Hire kayaks for the day to explore the hidden parts of the island.
If you’re traveling through Central America for any length of time or have spent even just a few hours in Bocas, you’ve probably heard of Filthy Friday. It’s a day long, bar hopping party that takes place every Friday and it gets crazy. You visit 3 bars and get sufficiently crazier by the end of the evening. If you’ve been in Bocas longer than a few days, you’re likely to see tons of people you know, which I loved because it just felt like a big bar crawl with all my new friends.
Arriving from Almirante
You’ll arrive into Bocas town by plane or ferry boat from Almirante. From here, you’ll have to catch a boat to whatever island you’re staying on or you can walk to you accommodation in Bocas Town.
Boat is the primary means of transport from island to island and pricing ranges from $1 to $5 usd. There’s minimal room to bargain and pricing is usually written up on a board, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. Often you can get a deal if you’re a large group
Renting bicycles is cheap and easy in Bocas Town. It’s the best way to get to Bluff beach, but be sure to lock your bikes up if you’re leaving them for any length of time.
Bring: Bathing Suits, cover-ups, sandals, sunscreen, sunglasses
Money: There’s only 1 ATM in the whole area and it’s in Bocas Town. Make sure to have some extra cash in case your card magically doesn’t work like mine didn’t.
Many Places Don’t Accept Card: Because of how simple the islands are, many places only accept cash. Again, make sure to bring a good supply