What is Bocas Del Toro?
Bocas Del Toro is a large province in Panama covering an area of roughly 4600 square kilometers. Its literal translation is “Bull’s river mouths” and is essentially a group of 9 islands and its mainland. Historically it is said that Bocas Del Toro was visited in 1502 by the famous explorer Christopher Columbus. The province is beautiful and a tourist attraction and houses the La Amistad International Park and the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park.
The country’s economy depends on tourism, and estimates say almost 90% of its economy runs on tourism alone. Bocal Del Toro is a 3rd world destination that is slowly getting developed. It’s a wonderful place where eco-tourism has evolved so well, and incoming tourist numbers have not spoiled the natural beauty. The jungles’ raw beauty, national parks, beaches, the 9 islands, hundreds of islets, the coral reefs, and marine life have been all wonderfully preserved.
How to reach Bocas Del Toro
Bocas Del Toro has an airport where you can reach via flights from Panama or San Jose in Costa Rica. Though flights are expensive, they save crucial time if you are on a short tour. Other options are by bus and by boat. No matter where you come from, you have to de-board at Almirante city on the coastline. From here you can take one of the several water taxis, which will take you to Bocas Del Toro. Busses are available even from Costa Rica.
You will have to change busses at the border and go through the exit immigration at Costa Rica and entry immigration on the Panama side. You can take a bus or a shared taxi till Almirante from the border town. On the Panama side, you will get busses from Panama City that go directly to Almirante. Similar busses run from all other major cities in Panama. At the most, you will have to change a few busses to reach Almirante.
Bocas Del Toro
Bocas town is the center of the province and is where all the action happens. The town is also quite small, and you will be able to walk around it in just a few minutes. If you want to hail a cab, you will be pleased to know that they are pretty cheap, usually costing under a dollar. If you’re going to leave for another island, you can catch a boat taxi or the water taxi. They will charge you around a few dollars to take you from the Bocas pier to another nearby island.
Always catch the water taxi from the public pier in Bocas to travel like a local and also travel economically. There may be other options like speed boats and yachts, depending on their availability. You can rent scooters, ATVs for more adventure, bicycles, or even four-wheelers to explore the island.
Best time to visit Bocas Del Toro
To be frank, Bocas Del Toro is one of the few places where the weather and temperature do not change. The temperature, on average, will be in the range of 28-32 degrees Celsius maximum during daytime and a pleasant 18-22 degrees Celsius at night. This is the range for the entire year. That’s how stable the temperatures are in this part of the world. That being said, do remember that this is a tropical destination and is therefore natural that it will rain any time of the year.
September and October are the low seasons, and you will find really good prices, some excellent deals, and also very little rainfall compared to other times of the year. The high season is December to March, but don’t forget to bring a rain jacket. The wet season brings in rough seas, which will be ideal for the surfers.
Things to do in Bocas Del Toro
Cycling across the landscape is the best and quickest way to do it. This way, you will have fun and do some casual sightseeing to help you explore the island quickly. You can find hidden spots for photographs, some nice sightseeing, and an opportunity to tread off the beaten path. Some of the best beaches and sights can be further away from the Bocas town, and cycling will get you there and ensure you conserve your energy for the beach. Even the locals ride bicycles.
Rental bikes can be obtained for as low as 5 USD for the whole day, and these rental shops are everywhere. Most bicycles are single gear due to the flat terrain and ease of riding anyways. Due to scams everywhere, we recommend you check the bike’s condition, the brakes, air pressure in tires and take a short test ride. Get the best bike and do not that to brake. Just pedal backward (something that will need getting used to).
Beaches are the best-kept secret of Colon Island and are the prime reason why most people flock to Bocas Del Toro. The waters are crystal clear, and the waves are not too harsh. With sunny weather and clear skies, it’s an absolute beauty to take some tan while lying on the sands or take a dip in the sea. Playa Boca del Drago is the most famous beach on Colon island and is located towards the island’s opposite tip. You can conveniently and easily get here by using public transport. Even the Playa Bluff, known as the Bluff beach, is very nice.
The quality of snorkeling and the beauty you will experience underwater will surprise you. You can take a boat tour to the Cayo Coral. This place has several species of colorful fish and also really well-preserved reefs. However, for any snorkeling activity, you need really good sunshine and clear blue skies. It’s the sunshine that makes the sea even more clear and objects underwater clearly visible. So check the weather before you take any such tour. Snorkeling is excellent, and if anyone has been complaining, it’s only about low visibility in bad weather. If you enjoy something like this, you can even go on longer tours, taking you to 3-4 diving spots where you can have even more fun when snorkeling. The best tours are around the Zapatilla islands.
Though Bocas is well known for its nature reserves, islands, and beaches, it’s still largely unknown as a dive location. But trust us, when we recommend it to you as a dive spot, we have done our research. Even if you are not a pro-diver and only an enthusiast, there are still so many things like the variety of marine life, corals, etc., that you will enjoy on a dive. Since it’s an archipelago consisting of several islands, it has provided marine life a wonderful ecosystem to thrive in.
The resulting diversity of marine life and the beauty of corals will leave you amazed. Due to consistent weather all year round and calm seas, this is an ideal diving spot and a good place to join a certificate course and complete the beginner PADI or SSI certifications. You will be taken to 3-4 dives. The certifications are usually just 3-5 days long and not too intensive.
Like we said earlier, Bocas and its islands are largely undiscovered on the tourist maps for their true potential. Though it’s getting wide attention and is becoming increasingly popular for its waves, it’s still not crowded with surfers. So you will have sufficient space to do your bit in the waves. If you are a beginner, you can use the surf schools that will teach you and hone your skills in no time but beware of the rip currents.
There are several different types of waves like beach breaks, reef breaks, etc. If you are keen on surfing, you should head out there in the summers or from November to April. There are several surf spots for beginner to advanced levels on the islands, and the region is also host to international surf competitions.
Fishing in Bocas Del Toro is exceptionally good but can be a hit or a miss. It all depends on how good your captain is. There will be two types of fishing trips. Bottom Fishing (get to catch Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Dolphin, etc.) and Trolling (mostly catch snappers and groupers), both catching entirely different species of fish. Overall this should be fun.
With so many islands to explore, it is but natural that you would want to get on a boat and explore them all. And yes, indeed, they are worth exploring, each being different and beautiful in its way. It’s one of the most popular activities here as most tourists take one of the boat tours to head outside the Bocas Town, leaving the town empty and devoid of travelers, almost a ghost town. Among the several boat tours on offer, the best one is the one which takes you dolphin watching first.
After you are done watching the dolphins playfully swim the seas, you head to Zapatilla Island to enjoy the lovely beaches, the white sand, snorkeling, sloth watching, and finally looking for starfish in shallow waters. Usually, these tours are 5-6 hours long and cost anywhere between 20 to 30 USD. You can bargain the rates, and it’s an even better deal if you are a group.
What to Pack
Since it’s a beach destination, travel safely and protect yourself from the sun. Though it does not get too hot, direct and prolonged exposure to the sun may damage skin damage. We have listed a few items that you should be carrying to Bocas.
- Swimsuit or trunks
- Lots of sunscreen or sunblock (you may not be able to buy more on the island or maybe fake)
- Mask and Snorkel (best to carry your own rather than rent a used one for hygiene purposes)
- Flip Flops and beach shoes
- Sarong for the ladies. Lots of linen or cotton long sleeve wear for males as well as females.
- Beach quick-dry towel
- Mosquito, Bug, and insect repellent.
- Come prepared for the rains. Carry a small umbrella or a rain jacket to keep you dry.
- Carry zip-lock bags to keep electronics and other valuables safe should you get stuck in a downpour.
- Always buy travel insurance to keep you safe anywhere you travel. It will cover you for all medical and other expenses if something goes wrong.
- Isla Colon is a backpacker zone. So if you love backpacker vibes or want to head there just for a bit of fun, you know where to head to. This place is a party place and very happening.
- If you are willing to spend, you will find some of the best boutique hotels there. Even some really good AirBnB options.
- It’s a slow-paced town. So everything will move at a leisurely pace. You will get used to it soon.
- Though drugs are freely available, stay away from anything that’s remotely drugs to keep you safe. There are also a lot of drug-related scams.
- For your boat, island, snorkeling, or fishing tours, ensure you connect to a good captain; otherwise, you will stand to get scammed. Check online for reviews and ask around for a good captain, especially at the place where you are staying.
- There are a few ATMs on the island, but credit cards will be accepted only in restaurants. Cash is king. So carry US Dollars which are widely accepted here.
Bocas Del Toro is a beautiful tropical destination with so much to offer you will be short of time. A leisure destination, it’s meant for laid back and slow travel, while are the same time you can indulge in a couple of adventure activities as well. I hope the information will help you plan your trip and make your trip a grand success. Here’s wishing you happy and safe travels.