With tropical weather and a relaxed town catering to surfers and divers, the adventure-filled islands of Bocas del Toro aren’t your typical Caribbean destination. Yes, there are white sand beaches and palm trees, but it’s much less expensive and the vibe is caters more to hippies and backpackers than the jetsetting elite.
In Bocas del Toro, there’s just as much a focus on partying (people start going out after midnight) as there is on wellness (skip the party for sunrise yoga or paddle boarding). Whatever you’re looking for in a vacation, you can probably find it here.
Planning a trip and not sure where to base yourself? Here’s a quick guide to the islands of Bocas del Toro:
Isla Colon will likely be your first destination if arriving by air – you literally fly in over a baseball field, so close that a fly ball might pop a hole in the plane. It’s home to Bocas Town, and probably your best bet if you’re interested in partaking in the area’s youthful nightlife scene.
If the club isn’t your thing, there are some laid back waterfront bars, like The Pub, and highly rated restaurants, like El Ultimo Refugio. There are also plenty of hostels and guest houses in the area for accommodations. And you can find a lot of tour providers and dive/surf shops offering lessons in the town center. However, there are no beaches in Bocas Town.
If you won’t be staying in Bocas Town, you’ll want to make your way over to one of the water taxi terminals so you can hop over to one of the other Bocas del Toro islands.
Likely the second-most populated of the islands of Bocas del Toro, Bastimentos is about a 10-minute boat ride from Bocas Town. This island is a world apart from Isla Colon. In Old Bank, the island’s one village, there are very few bars, restaurants, or shops, and no cars. But what Bastimentos lacks in amenities it makes up for in easy access to beautiful beaches and jungle hiking trails.
If you’re up for some exercise, sign up for a hiking tour with local tour company Bastimentos Alive to explore the island. Or, go directly to the famous Red Frog Beach where you can take surfing lessons, enjoy a cocktail at the adjacent eco-hotel, or simply lounge in the sun.
A bit of a walk away is Polo Beach, an area that is untouched save for one resident, Polo, who has been living there for nearly 60 years. He’s usually open to sharing some of the food he barbecues every day with visitors if they bring him a couple beers (or dollars) – and he’s quite the character!
Located within a stone’s throw of Bocas Town, Isla Carineros is perfect for those who seek a quieter escape without sacrificing the comforts of town. The island is home to several smaller resorts, restaurants, and stores.
Bibi’s on the Beach, located right outside Buccanneer’s Resort, has pretty good food. Another fun place to go is Aqua Lounge Hostel. The bar has entertainment for days, with a rope swing, trampoline, and platforms for jumping into the water and tables to play beer pong.
We visited Isla Carineros for surfing lessons at Escuela del Mar, booked through our hostel on Isla Solarte. The lesson started off with the instructor showing us how to jump onto our boards on land, but it wasn’t long before we were actually surfing waves in the ocean! I didn’t expect to actually stand up on a wave, but thanks to the helpful instructors I was able to experience it a couple times.
What I definitely didn’t expect was how physically exhausting surfing was. Seriously, next lesson I’m going to up my arm workout regiment for a few weeks before I go!
Isla Solarte is one of the quieter islands of Bocas del Toro because it’s relatively uninhabited. Aside from a few private homes and the Bambuda Lodge hostel, there’s no sign of civilization. The island has no stores, restaurants, or other businesses. It does have jungle hiking trails to explore, and nearby coral reefs to snorkel.
If you’re not staying at Bambuda Lodge, you probably won’t visit Isla Solarte. However, you might visit the Blue Coconut, a floating bar right next to the island, as a stop on a tour. Make sure you get the Pina Colada!
Cayos Zapatillas consists of two uninhabited islands in Bocas del Toro, about an hour’s boat ride from the others mentioned above. These islands are worth a visit for their beautiful beaches, snorkeling, and well-maintained jungle trails.
If you’re up for some exercise, you can walk the perimeter of the island on the beach in less than an hour. If not, you can lounge on the beach or go for a swim or snorkel among the colorful fish. We even saw a nurse shark while we were at the beach! Another activity that I didn’t get the chance to partake in, but it looked really cool, is deep boarding. You’re basically waterskiing, but instead of standing on skis, you’re snorkeling. If you see something cool, you can dive deeper as the boat pulls you along. Snorkeling for the lazy!
As you can see, the islands of Bocas del Toro offer something for everyone, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, a party scene, or simply to relax in a tropical setting.
Share this guide on Pinterest:
Wow Anna great post! I’ve been to Panama but never to the Islands of Bocas del Toro it looks absolutely stunning from the pics you’ve posted. 🙂 Being a stand up paddleboard enthusiast I’m looking forward to checking it out on my next trip to Panama.
Mia Dioso recently posted…Stand Up Paddle Board Maintenance And Proper Storage