to see in Bocas del Toro
Where have 12 countries filmed their Survivor
series including France, Spain, Italy and
Russia? The answer is the exotic Bocas del
Toro Archipelago de Bocas in the Caribbean
of West Panama near the border with Costa
Rica. Classic Caribbean aqua blue water fringed
beaches washing up against nature dense rainforest
and a low key friendly town- these are some
of the unique attractions of the islands of
Panama's Bocas del Toro archipelago.
Bocas is one of Panama's top tourist attractions
and with good reason. Where else can you enjoy
beautiful beaches with scarcely a soul in
sight and rainforests so fine they're called
"a biologists fantasy".
Bocas town itself has a rich history,
a lively nightlife and a friendly, mostly
English speaking population. Like
the rest of Panama Bocas is even blessed by
nature- no hurricanes ever touch these shores,
as they do the Central American neighbors.
Add to that relatively low prices and you've
got the "Boca's Boom". The first person to
anchor in these peaceful waters was Christopher
Columbus in 1502. He repaired his boats onCarinero
Island, named by him. Later, English pirates
found Bocas the perfect safe haven and later
in the 1800's it it became a dynamic commercial
center for trade in cacao and bananas. Immigrants,
mainly from Jamaica, made Bocas an English
speaking province in a Spanish speaking nation.
Even today, most adults speak English.
At the turn of the century,
the town of Bocas del Toro was the first headquarters
of the United Fruit Company.
Boasting of 25,000 inhabitants, it had six
consuls and five newspapers. A banana blight
in the l920's put an end to this vibrant commercial
center, but historical buildings and a stately
park still stand.
the last few years, Bocas has been experiencing
a real estate boom. Prices of land have skyrocketed.
Still, they represent some of the best
buys in the Caribbean. Who is buying in Bocas?
Mostly American "baby boomers" who are snapping
up $25,000 beach front lots with an eye to building
a vacation/retirement home in the near future.
Even on a retirement income, in Bocas you can
enjoy "the good life" in safe and beautifull
surroundings. Hotels are economical and range
from $5 a night for the pack backer crowd, lots
of attractive middle range hotels in the $25-60
range and a few fine upscale island resorts
Aeroperlas and Turismo
Aereo have several daily flights
from Panama City and David in West Panama
near the border with Costa Rica.Round trip
tickets from Panama City are around $120.
Or you can take a bus or car to Almirante
and take a ferry to Bocas, on the main island,
Isla Colon. In Almirante, there is a safe
place to leave your vehicle for the duration
of your stay in Bocas. The drive between David
and Almirante is very scenic.
beaching, island tours, snorkeling, diving,
surfing, dolphin observation, sea kayaking,
wind surfing, laid back nightlife, ecotourism/rainforest
tours, birdwatching, vacation/retirement homes
on Isla Colon where most of the hotels are.
You can take a taxi or bicycle a few miles
to Bluff Beach, the easiest one to reach and
the first really pretty beach. Just before
Bluff Beach is Punch Beach , a less scenic
beach but one with a reputation for great
surfing. Neither of these beaches are safe
for swimmers- just for getting wet.
Drago: Another beautiful
beach on the main island and a bit farther
away. When the seas are calm, the snorkeling
On Isla Bastimientos, this is Boca's most
beautiful beach. And you won't miss the red
frog with black polka dots who calls out to
you as you walk through the rainforest. Isla
Bastimiento is the only place in the world
where this scarlet creature lives.
Another lovely beach on Isla Bastimientos
and if you camp out you may see the famous
Beautiful white sand beaches lined with palms
and away from it all.
Many Bocas beaches have strong undertows at
times and can be dangerous for swimming. Before
you swim out into the waves consult your tour
operator and/or the locals regarding the safety
of swimming at a particular beach.
Things to do:
Diving and Snorkeling:
The best places for diving are Hospital Point,
Coral Key, Dark Wood Reef and Punta Juan buoy. For
snorkeling, the Garden near Cayo Nancy, Hospital Point
and Punta Juan buoy are excellent. Go with a diving
tour operator or hire a water taxi and go on your
When diving in Bocas you will be able to see some
of the best preserved hard and soft coral in the world.
You will also have the opportunity to see sting rays,
lobsters, many species of crabs and a countless variety
of tropical reef fish.
Bocas Water Sports offers PADI scuba courses from
Discover Scuba, open water including certification
in Advanced, Rescue, First Aid or Dive Master courses
that cost a lot less than similar courses in the United
Boat Rentals :
Careening Cay Marina has 15 and 20 foot boat launches
for rent. Tel: 757-9242
Flora is everywhere- mangroves and jungles line the
coast. Exotic Bird Island has birds seen only on that
island. You need a nature guide to enjoy more than
just exotic scenery and so we recommend you take a
tour with a tour operator.
Bocas is a low-key and friendly town where
it is easy to meet with fellow travelers and the local
people. In some places, every night it's a party.
Start with the Barco Hundido bar and the Buena Vista
Deli & Bar, known for good times and good food.
Near the end of Bocas' Main St. as you walk
towards the sea on the right is Bribri, a marvelous
handicrafts store. Friendly owner Manuel has a wide
selection of fine local Indian crafts and is happy
to explain about the work and culture of the Indian
On the opposite end of the main street, on the right
just before the end, walking away from the sea, is
a streetside display of molas attended by the Kuna
Indians. Panama is famous for its molas-colorful reverse
applique cloth designs. This humble stand has the
best selection of molas we have seen anywhere. You
have the added satisfaction of purchasing directly
from the Indians and knowing your dollar will go a
long way to helping these worthy people.
Bocas restaurants are easy on the budget and
have a surprising variety of offerings. For seafood
we recommend El Pecado on main street for dishes that
will satisfy the sophisticated palate but reasonably
priced. The lobster is especially good. Across the
street from El Pecado, La Laguna Hotel offers mostly
Italian dishes including a yummy pizza, has street
side seating making it the best place in town for
people watching.It also offers a fun all-you-can eat
Sunday brunch for $5. Bahia Hotel has a good Italian
restaurant with some of the best pizza in town. For
gringo food, we recommend the Buena Vista Deli.Two
other popular and good restaurants are Om for East
Indian food and Mondo Taitu for vegetarian fare.
Outside the town of Bocas: For seafood in incomparable
surroundings take a water taxi to Restaurant Coral
Cay, perched on stilts over the sea. Your lobster
will be picked live from a sea cage and you will enjoy
gorgeous seaviews all around as you wait for your
dish to be prepared.
Special Treats Not
to Be Missed:
Some of the best cinnamon rolls in the Americas are
baked in a Bocas bakery. You can buy them at the Laguna
Hotel restaurant and in The Gourmet Shop near the
The best way to learn a language is to be in a place
where the language is spoken. Take advantage of your
Bocas stay by taking a Spanish course at Spanish-By-The-Sea,
an excellent place to learn Spanish. See their listing
Panama Tourism Board
(IPAT) Information Center:
Panama's Board of Tourism offers a handsome visitors
center right downtown. Designed in wood in a lovely
Caribbean style, typical of Bocas, it has an excellent
exhibition in both English and Spanish of the natural
history and the rich human history of the Archipelago