If you’re looking for a few lazy days spent at the beach with a glass of rum punch in your hand as the sun goes down, then head to Bocas del Toro, Panama’s premier destination for sand, sun and snorkeling. Situated on the Caribbean coast just 32 kilometers away from the Costa Rican border, this ideal beach destination draws thousands of travelers on budgets big and small annually.
The archipelago is made up of three primary islands for tourists consisting of Isla Colon, where the town of Bocas is located, Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos. However you arrive to the islands be it either plane or boat, you’ll land in Bocas town first. This is the primary base for most tourists with hotels, hostels, eateries and basic shops lining the streets. From western food to local specialties, several full grocery stores and more than one bakery, you’ll find everything you need here for your stay. Given its remote destinations, prices here are higher than elsewhere in the country and reservations are recommended for peak season. One thing to note is that while most accommodation options located in the town, the beaches on Isla de Colon are actually situated several kilometers away and can be reached by bicycle or local bus.
Fortunately the other islands are only a quick boat ride away and offer more than enough stunning beaches to sun yourself at a different one daily. Boat rides to Isla Carenero, located just a stone’s throw across the channel are $1US per person and any local boat man will run you over. A stunning path wraps around the shoreline as you pass beach after beach along the coast. The farther you walk the more likely you’ll find a stretch of beach all to yourself. There are several good restaurants on the islands as well as a dozen or so places to stay. The ever popular and strategically located Aqua Lounge is a rustic, matchstick hostel that attracts mostly young 20-somethings looking for a good time. Whether it’s your scene or not, it’s worth a peak and a jump off its aquatic trampoline and swing set. The picture really says it all.
Beware the hidden curse of the sand flies on Isla Carenero. These pesky creatures resistant to most strands of bug spray come out at dusk and dawn and will repeatedly bite your feet and lower limbs. Thankfully a good slathering of coconut oil, never is short supply around here, will keep them off of you.
Farther out from Isla Carenero is the postcard perfect island of Bastimentos. Less developed than the other islands, this beach retreat offers quiet stretches of yellow powdered sand with minimal intrusion along its beach breaks. Most tourists from Isla de Colon head straight to Red Frog Beach with a round trip boat transfer for $7 US a person, although a few accommodation options have now popped up on the island itself. Entrance to the beach is another $3 US which goes to maintenance of the area to keep its pristine conditions intact. Once you’ve paid your dues and walked the 10 minutes down the path, prepare to set your sights on perhaps one of the world’s most stunning beaches. With a seemingly endless stretch of sand and crystal clear waters gently rolling over the shoreline, it might just be a little slice of heaven. Bring a camera, some sunscreen and enjoy a lazy afternoon dreaming up plans for tomorrow.
Getting to the archipelago is easy with daily flights from Panama City available as well as easy bus/boat transfers to the islands. Whichever island you decide to base yourself on, you’ll easily be able to access the other two. Snorkeling tours and surfing when conditions are right are the two main watersport activities in the area and there are more than enough tour operators to choose from on the islands. However you decide to spend your time in Bocas del Toro, you won’t be disappointed.