It is no secret that we love the island life. There is something magical about that slowed pace, that greater intention of enjoying your daily life outdoors that captivates us. The simplicity of the lifestyle that islands bring can be so freeing and that is what we love the most about Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Tucked away into the north eastern Caribbean coast of Panama is a small archipelago. This chain of islands is a haven for backpackers, expats, surfers and divers alike. It is known by most as a surfing destination, pumping out world class waves at certain times of the year, and there has always been a draw to this location for those looking for adventures and experiences. What a lot of people don’t know is that Bocas is also rich in culture, offering exposure to a diverse array of local and traditional food and also a unique mixing of languages. The indigenous community is still very large and active out on the islands and it helps keep the islands’ charm intact.
We have spent lot of time in Bocas, even living there for periods at a time. It functions perfectly as a retreat for us, a place where we can take a breath and relax from the busyness that comes with our travel photography. This is a place where we can still casually produce content while being able to do all the things that we love just a few steps from our front door. Bocas has hostels, small hotels, and local restaurants but it also offers luxury accommodation, boutique shopping and fine dining options which can make this place a paradise for almost anyone.
When we are in Bocas we love to stay on Isla Colón (Bocas Town) and then we take day trips out to the other islands when we want specific experiences or a change of atmosphere. On Isla Colón we have immediate and quick access to surfing locations, scuba diving and freediving excursions. This is also where you find all the grocery stores and restaurants that we spoke about earlier. It is also where you will make your first stop, whether you travel into the islands by boat or by plane. Isla Colón really gives you that Caribbean island life and that is what we love about it. On the main harbor all of the hotels and restaurants are built out over the water and you can swim from almost any ocean front deck or dock, with snorkeling abilities right within reach.
While out on the archipelago we definitely recommend staying on Isla Colón and then taking day trips out to the other islands. From here you can hire water taxis to take you to any of the surrounding islands in close proximity. You can travel in minutes to Carenero, Bastimentos and Solarte. Carenero offers beach, surfing and and nightlife. Bastimentos offers a Jamaica-esque environment with delicious Caribbean cuisines and also some of Bocas del Toro’s largest beaches. Solarte offers jungle hiking and also where you will find the small, over the water restaurant known as The Blue Coconut.
Aside from the closer island options that you have for daily exploration we definitely recommend that you take one of the full day boat tours that brings you out to Islas Zapatillas, out in the well-protected Bastimentos National Marine Park. These islands are absolutely gorgreous and house some of the pretties water in the area. They are both very small islands with lush jungle in the center and sand all the way around, encircling the island interior. No one is allowed to live on these islands and that is what keeps them in such incredible condition. From Isla Colón it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to reach them, depending on the water conditions. A lot of these tours make some stops along the way to see dolphins, go snorkeling and even to visit sloth island so that you can see some sloths in the wild.
The diving and freediving in Bocas del Toro is one of our favorite places to go if we want to have an easy, laid back day in the water. The visibility here isn’t anything to brag about but the diving is very simple. Most of the reefs here sit at a depth between 8-14 meters, allowing divers of any experience to enjoy the underwater scenery. There are a few shipwrecks to dive and even some pinnacle dives on the outer edges of Bastimentos and Islas Zapatillas.
Arriving in Bocas del Toro is simple, but it does require a few steps. You can arrive either from Costa Rica or from Panama, but getting in from Panama is definitely faster. Upon arrival in Panama you can get a taxi from Tacumen International to Albrook Airport where you can take a 45 minute flight directly to Isla Colón. You have the option of taking a bus as well but truthfully the price difference doesn’t make the uncomfortable ride worth it so one time on the bus was enough for us. If the flight is not in your budget we recommend taking the bus to Boquete where you can spend the night and take a shuttle van out to water taxi launch in Almirante the following day. This helps break up the trip and means spending less time on the overcrowded commuter bus.
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