Exploring Isla Carenero, Bocas del Toro, Panama

On our third day in Bocas del Toro, Shaun and I got up extra early to embark on an all day snorkel adventure.

We rode out bikes downtown, and marched up to the tour company booth to check in. We knew something was up when we presented our voucher, and the women looked at us like we had rocks in our head. She explained that the tour was at 9:30, and had already left. They had waited for us as long as they could.

We were baffled. Shaun looked at his watch…9:07. We showed it to her, and she laughed. “ahhhh, Costa Rica time,” she exclaimed.Yes my friends, we were unaware that there was a time difference between Panama, and Costa Rica. In fact, we had been living in the wrong time for two full days. It certainly explained why we were always to late for Happy Hour!

Those look like pretty rainy clouds overhead!

Those look like pretty rainy clouds overhead!

We were thankful that the company was kind enough to honour our voucher for the next day, but in the meantime, we had an entire empty day ahead of us.

We decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and head over to the small island of Carenero, right across from our island.

Shaun, hard at work, with our "light station" on Carenero

Shaun, hard at work, with the “light station” on Carenero

We asked a local if he would take us over, and we hopped in his boat. We actually felt pretty fortunate that we had postponed our tour, as the clouds overhead were looking fairly ominous.

From shore, Isla Carenero looks pretty busy. Several building dot the shoreline, and by looking at it, you imagine there would be a little town to explore. Wrong again! The few buildings you can see from the shore is really the extent of the activity on the island. That being said, it is still a pretty funky place.

Checking out my first barrel waves

Checking out my first barrel waves

We pulled up to the dock just as the rain started. Luckily, being from Vancouver Island, a little rain didn’t phase us, and we forged ahead.

The buildings on Carenero are mainly vacation rentals, and hostels, with a couple little restaurants scattered about. Unlike the busyness of the main island, Carenero is much more relaxed. People who stay there often find they have no need to go to the main island, unless they need to go to the bank or the store. It’s got all the basic amenities, with less of the hustle.

Wandering the path around the beach

Wandering the path around the island

We slowly winded our way along the shoreline, stopping to explore the little cove’s and beaches we discovered along the way.

During our walk, we certainly figured out where all the surfers had been hanging out. We spotted several reef breaks with tons of surfers in them. I saw my first barrel waves, and even saw a long boarder ride a wave while doing a hand stand. I may not be that interested in watching surfers, but even I was impressed!

Pretty busy surf spot

Pretty busy surf spot

Although we were told we could walk around the entire island, after about an hour we ran into barbed wire crossing the path. We figured we could have passed it at low tide, but decided to take it as a sign to turn back.

Before heading back to the main island, we stopped in at Bibi’s for a coffee, and a beer. Enjoying our beverages over the water was a perfect way to end our impromptu morning adventure.

Nothing like a beach side bar to top off your morning jaunt

Nothing like a beach side bar to top off your morning jaunt

It’s funny how things have a way of working themselves out. Had we not missed our tour, we would likely never have visited Carenero Island. Now that we have, we know that if we ever come back to Bocas del Toro, this is the island we would stay on.

Do you have any travel time change stories?

Pura Vida!

Kate

Follow me on Twitter: @caketress

Advertisements

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!

Kate

Follow me on Twitter:@caketress