Ready to escape your daily routine and immerse yourself in island life? Look no further than Bocas del Toro, Panama, a popular destination for eco-travelers, backpackers, surfers, divers, and anyone seeking relaxation and adventure.
Located on the Caribbean coast of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro is an archipelago comprised of several islands, including the largest and most developed one, Isla Colón, as well as Isla Bastimentos, Isla Cristóbal, Isla Solarte, and numerous smaller islands and cays.
There are 7 reasons why you should add Bocas del Toro, Panama to your travel wish list, which I’ll share shortly. Honestly, it’s a fantastic destination, although I’m not sure I’d swim across the ocean to get there when San Blas is just a stone’s throw away. But it all depends on what floats your boat!
Let’s dive into what makes Bocas del Toro so special.
How to Get to Bocas del Toro
First thing first: how to get there. Don’t worry, there are a few options that you can choose from to make your journey smooth.
Best Time to Go to Bocas del Toro
Wondering when to pack your bags and head to Bocas del Toro? Well, don’t forget to bring your raincoat, as this tropical island has an equatorial climate. But don’t worry, you can rock your shorts and t-shirts all year-round!
For those seeking extra rays, the best time to visit is during the “drier season” from January to April. This way, you can soak up all the sun without getting rained out.
If you’re feeling adventurous, why not check out Bocas del Toro in September or October? Locals say it’s their favorite time of year, and who are we to argue with the experts. We went in September and had a blast, even with a few gray days. Just keep in mind that July is typically the wettest month.
Bocas del Toro is a popular tourist destination, and the high season (December to April) can get pretty crowded and pricey. So, if you’re looking to save some cash and avoid the crowds, try visiting during the shoulder season from May to June or September to November.
Is Bocas del Toro Worth Visiting? Yes, Yes, Yes!
1. Beach Lovers Unite
If you’re a beach lover, Bocas del Toro, Panama is a dream destination. This tropical paradise in Panama is home to some beautiful beaches in the world, each with its own unique charm.
- Red Frog Beach (Isla Bastimentos): One of the most popular beaches in Bocas del Toro is Red Frog Beach. With its wide stretch of golden sand, crystal-clear waters, and towering palm trees, it’s easy to see why this beach is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Red Frog Beach is also known for its surfing, so if you’re looking to catch some waves, this is the place to be.
- Starfish Beach (Isla Colón): Another must-visit beach in Bocas del Toro is Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella). This idyllic spot is known for its calm, shallow waters and, as the name suggests, starfish. You can wade into the water and find dozens of these creatures scattered along the sandy bottom.
- Playa Bluff (Isla Colón): For those looking for a more rugged beach experience, Playa Bluff is the perfect choice. This long, windswept beach is located on the eastern side of Isla Colón and is known for its powerful waves and rocky coastline. It’s a great spot for beachcombing, surfing, or just taking in the stunning natural scenery.
- Bocas del Drago (Isla Colón): a picture-perfect beach that lies on the northwestern side of Isla Colón, perfect for a relaxation day.
- Cayo Zapatilla: a group of two uninhabited islands located east of Isla Bastimentos and surrounded by a beautiful coral reef.
And trust me, there are many more beaches to discover!
2. Live the Boating Life
If you’re wondering how to visit all of these beautiful beaches and coves, the answer is simple: take a water taxi. Water taxis connect all the ports and islands together, making it easy to travel between them. A short water taxi ride can cost as little as $1, with a trip from Bocas Town to Bastimentos costing around $3-5 for example.
Bocas del Toro is a paradise for boating enthusiasts, with its many waterways, coves, and islands just waiting to be explored. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or just looking to try something new, there are plenty of options for getting out on the water. You can rent a boat and explore the islands on your own, or take a guided tour that will take you to some of the best spots in the region.
And let’s not forget about the unique infrastructure in Bocas. Many of the bars, houses, and other buildings are constructed on wooden piloti or stilts, creating a visually striking and distinct look. Not only does this serve a functional purpose, allowing for easy access to the water and protection from flooding, it also makes it easy to hop on and off your boat as you explore the area.
3. Island Hopping
And if you’re already on the water taxi or renting a boat, why not make the most of it and go island hopping? This brings us to reason number 3, a must-do activity in Bocas del Toro, with its many idyllic islands and beaches just waiting to be explored.
You can spend a whole day or even several days hopping from one island to another. A boat tour can take you to some of the most picturesque spots such as Zapatilla Cay. You can also visit the famous Bird Island, home to hundreds of red-billed tropicbirds and other seabirds.
I personally didn’t know this before going – not that I am a pro surfer anyway – but Bocas del Toro is a paradise for surfers. The area boasts some of the best surf breaks in Panama, with consistent waves almost all year round. Some of the most popular spots for surfing include Paunch Beach, Dumpers, and Bluff Beach. If you’re new to surfing, there are also plenty of surf schools and rental shops where you can get lessons and gear.
If you are not that much into surfing, you can try other water activities. You can explore the coastline and mangrove forests by kayak, or go paddleboarding in the calm waters of Dolphin Bay. Snorkeling and scuba-diving are also must-do activities in Bocas del Toro, with crystal-clear waters and a diverse marine life to discover.
5. Small Town, Big Vibes
Bocas del Toro may be a popular tourist destination, but it hasn’t lost its small-town charm and laid-back vibe. The town of Bocas is easily walkable, with colorful Caribbean-style buildings, street art, and a plethora of cafes and restaurants to explore. The locals are welcoming and friendly, creating a sense of community that is hard to find in more touristy destinations.
If you’re a long-term traveler who craves some Western food, here are some foodie insider tips.
- JJ’s at Bocas Blended, a little restaurant on the north side of Isla Colón where you can find healthy wraps, smoothies, and salads.
- Skully’s, a pirate bar and beach restaurant. They offer their own strip of beach, a pool, pingpong tables, a slackfline, a fire pit, and comfy beach chairs, making it the perfect place to relax during the day.
- OM Cafe, if you’re craving some delicious Indian food, with great views.
- Toro Loco, a sports bar with great options and cold beers. We went back several times during our stay!
6. Green is the New Black
Bocas del Toro is not just a beach destination; it’s also a paradise for eco-tourists. With some of the most extensive rainforests in Central America, as well as islands, cays, and thousands of islets, Bocas del Toro is home to designated UNESCO World Heritage sites and the first marine park in Panama.
This means that there are plenty of eco-tourism activities to choose from, such as exploring the region’s many nature reserves, hiking through the rainforest, or visiting indigenous communities. You can even take part in turtle conservation efforts or go on a dolphin-watching tour. For a unique experience, visit the Bat Caves, where you can see thousands of bats in their natural habitat.
Bocas del Toro’s commitment to sustainability is evident in the many eco-lodges and resorts built using sustainable practices. The region also emphasizes reducing plastic waste and protecting the local environment, making it an ideal destination for environmentally conscious travelers.
7. Party in Paradise
Bocas del Toro has a well-deserved reputation as a lively party destination, with a variety of bars and clubs that cater to both locals and tourists. Many of the bars have an open-air design and a laid-back vibe that is perfect for relaxing with friends and meeting new people.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the Floating Bar, a small bar located on its own platform just outside the Bocas Marina. With delicious tacos, refreshing drinks, an upper deck, and plenty of sunshine, it’s the ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon or evening.
Bocas del Toro’s nightlife scene also includes tons of parties organized in hostels, such as Selina, or on pirate ships in the middle of the water! How cool is that!
One of the most popular parties is Filthy Friday, where you can island-hop while sipping your favorite drink and dance the night away with locals and tourists. Make sure to book your ticket online in advance to secure your spot.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the Filthy Friday island-hopping adventure wasn’t being organized when we visited. However, we heard great things about it and it’s definitely worth checking out! It’s a bit like Sunday Funday in Nicaragua – another popular party destination. You can find out more about that here!
Final Thoughts on Bocas del Toro, Panama
So these are my top 7 reasons why Bocas del Toro, Panama should be on your travel radar. I actually started out saying it didn’t make my list of top favorite spots in the world, but after writing about it and reminiscing on all the fun memories I’ve had there, I have to admit I’m feeling some serious FOMO right about now.
Bocas del Toro has stunning beaches, epic surfing, island hopping, small town charm, boating adventures, eco-tourism, and a party scene that just won’t quit. Who wouldn’t want to experience all of that? At the end of the day, travel is all about creating memories and enjoying life, and Bocas del Toro is definitely a place that delivers on both counts.
Anyway, the best way to know if this place is for you is to experience it firsthand. So why not see for yourself? And when you do, be sure to come back and share your thoughts in the comments below.