Exploring Bocas del Toro, Panama

Things in the land of Hostels and Hot Rollers are picking up speed. With a couple free lance articles due this week, I found myself a little overwhelmed with keeping up ALL of the Panamanian themed blog posts I want to write.

I’m pretty thankful that my fabulous husband stepped up to the plate to write this post about Bocas del Toro in Panama. Shaun’s going to give you a run down about what Bocas del Toro is all about, and clear up some serious confusion about it’s name!

Take it away Shaun.

Bocas del Toro can be a bit confusing at first as it seems to refer to a multitude of places. Translated to “Mouth of the Bull”, Bocas del Toro can refer to a town, a province, and an archipelago of islands.

Bocas Town from the water

Bocas Town from the water

Bocas del Toro, the province runs along the Costa Rican border on the Caribbean side. It includes an archipelago of islands that is, funny enough, also named Bocos del Toro. There are nine main islands in the archipelago, the most developed being Isla Colon which is at times, although rare, referred to as Isla Bocas.

The town of Bocas del Toro is located on southeast corner of Isla Colon. It is also the province’s capital city and often just referred to as Bocas Town. Confused yet? Don’t worry we were too.

An example of some of the cool buildings in Bocas Town

An example of some of the cool buildings in Bocas Town

Bocas Town is sweet.  It has a few main streets and a nice downtown core with numerous bars and restaurants literally right on the water. Much of the buildings on the water side are built on piles and extend out over the water. Most have small docks so boats can just pull right up. We spent a fair amount of time during the afternoons just chilling in the bars enjoying a few beers and watching the ocean and the various boats cruising around.

The buildings are all mostly wood clapboard style built in the early 20th century. There is a distinct colonial look to them. It reminded me a lot of New Orleans, but also like nothing I have ever come across. It has that older well established feel to it that we haven’t seen a lot in our Costa Rican travels. If you are in the area, a visit to Bocas Town is well worth it.

One of the many beaches on Isla Colon

One of the many beaches on Isla Colon

The majority of the water shuttles from the main island go the Bocas Town and then you can take water taxis from there over to the neighbouring archipelago islands like Carenera and Bastimentos. I really regret not spending a night or two on Carenera which is only a short boat taxi from Bocas Town. You can apparently hike around the island in about 1.5 hours. It also has some fairly impressive waves on its Caribbean side.

On Isla Colon, we stayed about a 15 minute walk from the main town in an area called Saigon. It was perfect for us because it was nice and quiet and closer to the beaches and surf spots on the northern part of the island.

Our bike's Dolly, and Ralph. They're in love.

Our bike’s Dolly, and Ralph. They’re in love.

Our stay included bikes so we would bike all over the place. We have done so much walking this trip that the bikes were a welcome change. I loved riding all over the place. We would cruise up and down the main town streets and bike to the north side of the island where it was much less developed.

Bocas Town is only a very small portion of Isla Colon. There is a large beach called Bocas del Drago, on the west side of the island, which can be accessed by taxi or a long bike ride. There is also a road to the north, which is exposed to ocean. This is where the main surf spots of Playa Bluff, Playa Paunch and Dumpers are located.

Enjoying the surf at Paki's Place

Enjoying the surf at Paki’s Place

Kate and I biked out to Playa Paunch, and stopped in at a super chill bar called Paki’s Point. The bar was sweet, there were a ton of lounge chairs and tables facing the surf break right out front. We chilled there for a drink and watched the surf, it was a good time and well worth the trip. I think it only took us about 20 minutes on bike from Saigon. With more time I think we could have spent a whole day there.

Some cool beach art work in Bocas

Some cool beach art work in Bocas

Dumpers and Playa Bluff were further down the road. I rode all the way out to Playa Bluff one morning to check the surf. It is an amazing beach. Surf was bad when I was there, but the beach was impressive. The sand seemed almost orange and the water was so blue.  I was bummed I didn’t have a camera. On a bike I would say its about a 30 to 40 minute ride without stops.

Dumpers was just past Playa Paunch. I never surfed there but it looked like a fun reef break with good lefts. Playa Paunch was the only spot I surfed. It was fun but got fairly busy.

Our time in Bocas del Toro seemed to fly by. With all the different islands to explore, the many surf breaks, the beaches, the snorkeling, all the neat beach bars, and their $1 beers, we could have handled a much longer stay.

Whew! That’s a lot of information, got any questions for Shaun?

Pura Vida!


Follow me on Twitter:@caketress


3 thoughts on “Exploring Bocas del Toro, Panama

  1. Love reading about your adventures. We just spent a couple weeks in Costa Rica – probably just missed you in Manuel Antonio. We found the heat and humidity made us so lazy we didn’t feel like doing much even though wanted to. Of course we’re a “few” years older than you two. Sounds like this part of Panama would be a great vacation destination.

    • Oh isn’t Manuel Antonio amazing! I loved it there. Lots of hills though!

      I completely agree with you about the heat. I don’t think it matters what age you are, I get the lazy beach brain too!

      Thanks for stopping buy!

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