Roadmap to Bocas del Toro’s most amazing places
Bocas del Toro, the archipelago
The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is a must for all travelers who are crossing Panama. You will reach Isla Colon, the main island of the archipelago, from Almirante by boat for $6 US Dollars one way (30 minutes boat ride), or even by plane. From here you can enjoy all kinds of recreational activities such as surfing, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, diving, zip-lining, partying or trekking through the jungle… or simply relax on a beautiful unspoiled white sandy beach. Yes, this area is truly blessed with a wide variety of fun activities. We will give you an insight into the five not to be missed highlights in Bocas del Toro, the archipelago.
If you want to have an unforgettable day or even night (if you have a tent) at an unspoiled beach, you have to visit Polo Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Isla Bastimentos, owned by a hermit. We spent three nights camping there and had unforgettable memories with amazing night skies, cosy camp fires and great conversations. Polo who is also known as “Crazy Polo” has been living there in a small house right on the beach for over 50 years. At the beginning he was very shy, but after a few beers he will tell you his story of how he got there at the young age of 14 and some other funny tales. Shouting around and talking to himself is one of his favorite activities, so don’t be afraid if he gets boisterous sometimes. He will cook anything from the sea or his land for you for only $5 US Dollars. If you bring your own food you can cook it up at Polo’s place and share it with him, most times he will charge you nothing for it. He speaks Wari Wari, the Panamenian Creole English some people are still speaking in Panama, so it will sometimes be difficult to understand him, but it will add to the fun for sure. You can also help him by collecting some weeds or picking up some breadfruit. If you want to stay there overnight, just bring your own tent and Polo will show you where you can set it up. He charges nothing for camping there, but make sure that you bring enough water and something to eat with you. There are no toilet or shower facilities, but you can have a refreshing rainwater shower under the moon or ask Polo if you can use his rain water if it is not raining in the evening. And don’t forget your flashlight!
How to get there
You have to get a water taxi to Red Frog Beach on Island Bastimentos which will cost $10 US Dollars per person return. Furthermore, you have to pay a $3 US Dollar entrance fee when you arrive at the island for the 10-minute forest walk from the dock to Red Frog Beach or Palmar Hostal (depending on which pier the boat takes you to). From Red Frog Beach, you have to hike through the jungle and unspoiled beaches for about 30 minutes. If you are lucky and the sea is calm you can get a water taxi to Polo Beach which is a turbulent but adventurous trip. The costs is around $15-20 US Dollars for person.
Zapatilla is a group of two uninhabited islands in the archipelago. These islands are the most beautiful beaches of Bocas. The islands are part of the Bastimentos National Marine Park. You will find a trail where you can walk around for about 45 minutes through nature where we even saw mini crocodiles. The water is crystal clear and there is a coral reef around, so its a great pot to snorkel. As there is nothing on either island, you should make sure to bring enough food and water with you, if you go to the islands on a private tour. The entrance to Zapatilla is $10 US Dollars per person, as it is a protected area. It will take around a 45 minute boat ride from the main island Colon to reach the islands.
How to get there
The only way to get there is by boat and the cost depends on how many people are in your group. The easiest way to get there is to book a tour from one of the tour companies on the main street in Island Colon. It will cost you around $45 to $50 US Dollars by Catamaran or normal boats, but the tour also includes lunch and some drinks during lunch time, a tour to Dolphin Bay where you have the chance to spot dolphins, see Sloth Island, go deep boarding, and snorkeling with equipment included. Your other option is to hire a local boat for around $25 US Dollars per person to take you directly to Cayos Zapatilla. There is a minimum group size of 8, but you can pair up with other travelers to make it happen.
This day started off with a navigation and deep dive for my advanced open water. I can dive to 30 meters now! Everyone piled into a water taxi and after a 40 minute boat ride we stopped in Punta Vieja and dropped off some of our stuff and food, so an indigenous man could cook it for us. Then we went to Zapatilla Island to dive and then returned back to Punta Vieja where our food was ready. We had a delicious lunch and chilled out while playing games and drinking all day, making it a really special tour surrounded by good people and pristine waters. The tour organizer also arranged wakeboarding for an extra $5 USDollars for those who wanted to try it on the way back to Island Colon. Our tour guide spotted a fisherman and called him over so we could buy fresh lobster and fish for a reasonable price and made dinner at our hostel together with our tour guide. The evening finished at Barco Hundido with a lot of dancing, bouncing around and jumping into the water…
Note: This tour is not provided by any local tour company but you can hire a boat for about $150 or $200 USDollars for the whole day, so just get some fellow travelers to share the expense and the experience. Also, rent a wakeboard yourselves if you want to have fun on the way back to Bocas Town.
Getting around the main island Colon – by ATV
Get ready for the most adventurous trip of your life! Driving an ATV through the jungle of the main island Colon means getting out of the town, getting dirty with time for adventure and chilling. First, you will get instructions on how to drive the ATV, but its pretty easy, more or less like driving a car. After starting the trip in the town, you will soon reach the sandy and more tranquil part of the island. The drive is nearly all along the coast, so you will see the sea until you get into the jungle. During the drive, you should make a stop at Bluff Beach and relax in the hammocks. You can also have a swim, but be careful as the currents are very strong. On your way, you can also have a drive to Blue Lagoon for a nice view to Bird Island or Swan’s Cay, a designated bird sanctuary where you can find the only known nesting place in the Caribbean of the Redbilled Tropic Bird and other birds aswell. Then you will get to the Famous Monkey trail and the real fun will start. Be prepared for a real jungle adventure!
I would recommend you rent the ATV at Flying Pirates because the Famous Monkey trail is in their ownership, so if you decide to rent it from another company around the island you have to pay an entrance fee to enter the private jungle area of Flying Pirates. ATV rental costs around $80 USDollars for 3 to 4 hours or $100 USDollars and $10 USDollars for an additional person for the whole day. As you can use one ATV for two persons, the costs will be shared. And at the end of your trip you will get a free beer from Flying Pirates. Salud!
Note: You can also rent bicycles for $7 to 10 USDollars a day, but it is nearly impossible to cycle through the Monkey Trail, so you should lock up your bike and hike through the jungle and pick up your bike later. The cycle to the Monkey Trail will take you around 1 to 2 hours depending on how fast you are.
Blue Coconut or Casa Verde?
Relaxing, playing drinking games or enjoying live music… Casa Verde is the meeting and hang out place for most travelers. Casa Verde is at the end of the main street on the main island Colon. It is a hostel, but at the same time a restaurant, a bar and a dive center (Bocas Dive Center), so you are welcome even when you are not staying there. They often have live music evenings with tasty chicken wings (the best on the island). After meeting other travelers, we arranged a boat drive to Blue Coconut by catching a boat as they passed on their way to Bocas Marina.
Blue Coconut is a ten minutes boat ride from the main island Colon where you visit for $10 USDollars round trip. It is located on Island Solarte, another part of the archipelago. On the way to Blue Coconut, you can spot dolphins and enjoy the pristine water. The Blue Coconut is a restaurant right on the sea from where you can enjoy good snorkeling, do some paddle boarding or enjoy beautiful sunsets. So it is your choice if you prefer to stay on the main island or hang out in the middle of the sea or even enjoy both!
Video introduction to Bocas Del Toro by Jubril