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A Guide to Bocas del Toro, Panama

A Guide to Bocas del Toro, Panama - Tattered Passports
A Guide to Bocas del Toro, Panama

Because a place is touristy, does that mean it should be avoided? Not necessarily. We were warned that Bocas del Toro is over run by tourists and, therefore, over rated.

Yes, Bocas hosts many tourists but its for good reason, the islands are beautiful! And luckily, you can choose your own level of quiet depending on which island you stay on. We encourage you to spend a few days in Bocas, keeping in mind our tips below to stay on budget and avoid the tourist traps.

When done right, Bocas del Toro means days lounging on white sand beaches, watching surfers and scarfing down cheap, delicious seafood.



Bocas del Toro


Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of islands off the Caribbean coast of northern Panama. It’s known for its wild beaches, untamed islands, and perfect surf.

Expect inflates prices as the area is common on the “Gringo Trail” of Central America but don’t let this keep you away. Bocas is absolutely beautiful and there are plenty of opportunities to find your own private stretch of beach.



How to get to Bocas del Toro


*Option 1: Fly into Bocas del Toro. For around $100-125 one way on AirPanama, you can fly from Panama City to Boca’s main island, Isla Colon.

*Option 2: Overnight bus from Panama City (10-11 hours) or David/Boquete (4-5 hours).

  • -Step 1: Buses depart from Albrook Bus Terminal at 7pm, 8pm, and 8:30pm. Ask for the bus to Almirante (port town) or Bocas del Toro. These buses are comfortable and air-conditioned. The total cost from Panama City to Almirante should be around $30.
  • -Step 2: Arrive in David and transfer to a smaller bus to Almirante. This will be a smaller bus and a BUMPY ride. You will arrive in Almirante around 6-7am, depending on your departure bus.
  • -Step 3: Arrive in Almirante. Walk (5-7 min) or take a taxi to the water taxi dock ($1 per person).
  • -Step 4: Water taxi to Isla Colon. I encourage you to buy a one-way ticket ($6), in case you decide to book a tour that includes your return taxi.
  • -Step 5: Arrive in Bocas Town. If you’re staying on Isla Colon, you can walk or catch a taxi ($1 per person) to your accommodation. If you are staying on another island, ask for a ride at the arrival dock. It should only be $5 to the other islands.


*Option 3: Bus from Costa Rica. You can easily take a bus to Bocas from San Jose, Cahuita, or Puerto Viejo.

  • -Depending on your departing city, there will be buses to Sixaola (the boarder town) every half hour or hour.
  • -Costa Rica charges a $7 exit tax and Panama charges $3 entry fee, so make sure you have enough cash. Panama REQUIRES proof of onward travel. FlyOnward allows you to rent a ticket for $10. Check out this site for more info.




Where to Stay on the Islands


Isla Colon– Most visitors choose to stay on Isla Colon, the main island, and home of Bocas Town. This is where most hostels, hotels, and AirBnBs are located. If you choose to stay on the outskirts of town, you will need a bike ($5/day) to get around. Or a taxi ride to “downtown” is about $1 per person.

  • -Be aware that most hostels in Bocas Town will be “party” hostels. If you like a quieter atmosphere, choose something off the beaten path. We stayed at Panama’s Paradise Saigoncito. Peaceful, quaint, and $20/night for a private room.

Isla Bastimentos– This is the 2nd most popular island. Being the home of Wizard Beach and Red Frog Beach, Bastimentos boasts an incredible amount of natural beauty. AirBnB has the best accommodations, like this jungle bungalow!

Isla Solarte / Isla Cristobal – These two islands are more remote, with only a few accommodations. Check out AirBnB for the best places!


What to Do

Playa de Estrella on Isla Colon was our favorite spot! Clear, warm water full of starfish!

  • For $2.50, you can get on a collectivo bus that will bring you 20km to a small village. From there you can walk 20 minutes along the beach or take a speedboat for $1.50.
  • Be aware that chairs on the beach are $3 to rent for the day. Snorkel equipment was $2/hour. DON’T TOUCH THE STARFISH!!!
  • Bring enough cash for lunch on the beach. The seafood is cheap ($5-10) and crazy fresh.

Bike to Playa Bluff and watch surfers along the way. The ride to the beach takes over 40 minutes and is quite bumpy. Stop at Playa Paunch and grab a beer to hydrate.

Surfing lessonsMono Loco Surf School is run by a super chill, awesome guy. (And he makes AMAZING tacos). $50 for a full day of lessons.

Tour the IslandsBoats are around $5-10 for a ride to Bastimentos with wild beaches:

  • Red Frog Beach
  • Wizard Beach


Where to Eat

Bocas is full of restaurants but we were disappointed in a majority of the food and the prices. Here are our favorites:

Hungry Monkey– THESE TACOS WERE INSANELY GOOD. We went there THREE times. Tacos: Chicken satay, octopus, brisket, seared tuna. $3.50 for heaven in a tortilla.

Capitan Caribe– Good burgers (for Bocas) at a reasonable price. It took forever to get our food but we left satisfied.

Cafe del Mar– This is THE spot for breakfast (or lunch). Cafe del Mar offers up delicious pancakes, omelets, and burritos with your morning coffee.

Honorable mention: Om Cafe – We didn’t get a chance to try Om Cafe, as it was closed while we were visiting. However, the reviews are glowing and I’m a sucker for good curry and large portion sizes.



Budget Tips


Don’t buy drinks- Drinks are pricey and usually watered down. We bought beers for $0.85 and rum for $9 at the local market.

Do make a meal at your hostel- If you’re able, make yourself at least one meal a day. Try the fruit- its cheap and delicious!

Do barter- This should be a given but barter for everything! You might get turned down, but we saved a few bucks off taxis, souvenirs, and shuttles this way.

Don’t pay for unnecessary tours- We did Playa Estrella for $9 per person. We didn’t think going on a dolphin cruise for an extra $15 was worth it.



Have you been to Bocas del Toro? What was your favorite activity?

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