From the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Panama City to the lush green mountains of the Anton Valley, Panama is a country that offers travelers immense variety within its borders. There are many attractions to be found here but perhaps one of the best regions for a chilled out vacation is Bocas del Toro with its rugged Caribbean beauty and funky overwater bungalows.
Bocas makes for a wonderful stop-off point for backpackers traversing the country from top to bottom or for holiday-makers who want to pick one region and relax there for a lengthy stay. Straddling the border of Costa Rica to the north and a chain of stunning Caribbean islands to the east, Bocas del Toro boasts natural beauty from corner to corner – and a laid-back atmosphere that will put even the most stressed mind to rest.
The main islands that tourists gravitate towards are Isla Colon, Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos – all worth visiting in their own right. But for a truly untouched paradise that is slightly off the beaten path you have Isla Solarte as well. This island is situated off the coast of Isla Bastimentos and is only 8 km² in size. A lush tropical island where rainforest, beaches, coral reefs and birdlife combine to paint the most beautiful of Caribbean canvases.
Just imagine being nestled in an eco-luxury overwater bungalow in the middle of Isla Solarte’s nature, like the ones at Sol Bungalows, and exploring the surrounding archipelago at your own pace. For beach-lovers there are over 20 beaches less than a 45-minute boat ride away from Sol Bungalows and for the jungle-junkies you can immerse yourself in a world of trails that take you up close to birds, sloths, monkeys and frogs.
These two experiences (beaches and hiking) are just the beginning of what is on offer from the doorstep of Sol Bungalows. The bungalows themselves are perched on the western tip of the Sunset Coast of Isla Solarte and offer uninterrupted views of the Caribbean sea. With water to your front and tropical rainforest to your back, the connection with nature here is divine.
Why Stay in Bungalows at Bocas del Toro?
Bungalows are amazing for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is that the glass floor and thatched roof architecture blends seamlessly with the environment. Rather than hotel chains that stick out and become “eye sores” on the environment, the lodging at Sol Bungalows is designed in a way to create minimum human impact and maximum experiential impact.
The bungalows are powered by nature. Solar power will warm your showers in the morning, water is sourced and filtered from the rain, and who needs air-conditioning when you’ve got rooms that cleverly capture the cool sea breeze? Downtime is best spent marveling at the sunset, reading books or playing cards – with no TV or technology in sight to distract you. Bungalows such as these provide the perfect opportunity for a phone/Internet detox.
Sol Bungalows offer two accommodation options but they are very similar. The only difference is the size. Bungalow 1, known as “Papaya”, is equipped with two glass floors while Bungalow 2, known as “Piña”, has just one glass floor. You can book either of these bungalows or request to book out both if you are traveling with your family or with a small group of friends. The best part about that is you will have the whole overwater hotel to yourselves!
How to Spend your Time at Sol Bungalows
Sol Bungalows acts as your own private oasis in Bocas del Toro where you can relax the days away while also venturing out to explore the paradise that is located on your doorstep. At the hotel itself, guests will be pampered in luxurious rooms with the option of booking a massage from Tamara – one of the owners. Breakfast is included in the stay and consists of several healthy options such as smoothie bowls, oatmeal bowls and omelets.
After you’ve settled in, and enjoyed some rest and a few creature comforts, the time will come to experience the best things to do in Bocas del Toro! A colorful coral garden awaits snorkelers right in front of the bungalows and kayaks, paddle-boards and other water gear is all provided by the hotel to ensure that you can adventure in total safety and comfort. The waters are so inviting in this region of Panama that you won’t be able to resist.
Water taxis are available to take you further afield. You might want to go beach-hopping, surfing, scuba diving or fishing in the islands. Hiking is another fantastic activity in Isla Solarte. The island is renowned for having some of the best jungle trails in Panama. Wildlife enthusiasts will especially appreciate this experience as it’s almost impossible not to see a variety of animals such as tropical birds, poison dart frogs and slow-moving sloths.
For something totally different, you could opt for a horse riding or bicycle trip. In Isla San Cristobal one finds these incredible rainforest covered hills that are ideal for horseback riding. Alternatively, you could jump on a bike and explore the beautiful Isla Colon. Cycling along the Caribbean coast – from one epic vista to the next – makes for a fun day full of memories.
Whatever your preferences, the owners of Sol Bungalows (Drew and Tamara) can help you realize your travel dreams. They are passionate about this little corner of the world and love nothing more than helping others experience it to the fullest. Bocas del Toro is not a straight-forward destination when it comes to planning your adventures, so having their local guidance will definitely help you experience the best version of Bocas.
You can check out their blog which is a great resource for insider travel guides about Bocas del Toro. The archipelago is made up of nine islands and hundreds of small islets and cays, so there is a lot of research that goes into planning a trip to this beautiful region of Panama. Drew and Tamara have lived in Bocas since 2015 and have ample experience exploring the islands in detail. Read through their blog to get all the tips you need!
10 Tips for Visiting Bocas del Toro
- Getting to Bocas del Toro is Easy: The best way to arrive is to fly into Panama City and then take a connecting flight to Bocas del Toro. Make sure you have ample time between your international flight and domestic flight to Bocas. You could always spend a few nights in Panama City first if you would prefer to travel slower and also see the sights of this city.
- Learn a Few Phrases in Spanish: While English is spoken widely in the area, it’s still a nice idea to learn a few phrases in Spanish that will help you immerse yourself in the culture of Panama a bit more. Even though most of your time is spent in nature, there will still be plenty of opportunities to meet and talk with local people. It’s fun to practice a new language.
- Expect Some Rain but not Much: Jungle-draped islands need rain to produce their lush green ecosystems and so it sometimes does rain in Bocas del Toro. However, you don’t have to worry too much about the weather conditions. For the most part, you will get beautiful sunny days with just a small interruption each day of about one hour of rain.
- The Nightlife in Bocas is Decent: Although you’ve probably come to Bocas to relax in peaceful nature, there might be some itching to have a night out while you are here. The nightlife ranges from party clubs, to chilled live music bars, and everything in between. Speak to the owners of Sol Bungalows upon your arrival and ask them where you should go.
- Panama is a Safe Country: Central America can have a bad reputation depending on your news sources. But the truth is that Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Apart from standard precautions (that you would take in any country) you don’t have to worry about your safety. This is especially true in the sparsely populated Bocas area.
- Bocas del Toro is Affordable: The price of accommodation and activities all depends on your preferences. There are ways to travel on a tight budget, mid-range budget or in pure luxury. Some overwater bungalows are expensive. However, Sol Bungalows in Bocas del Toro prides itself on affordability – perfect if you want luxury that won’t break the bank.
- Everything is on “Island Time”: Don’t expect people to always be on time or everything to work smoothly like clockwork in Bocas del Toro. “Island Time” is a real thing in these islands and there is never a requirement to rush. But that is a good thing because you will want to slip into this way of life while traveling around Bocas del Toro. Go with the flow and take it easy!
- The Surf Here is Awesome: Surfers from all corners of the globe come to Bocas del Toro to find big waves. The main season runs from December to April and also from June to August. For the biggest swells, you want to aim to arrive in the months of December, January, February and July. If you haven’t tried it yet, this is a great area of Panama to learn how to surf.
- Pack for all Types of Weather: Days of sunshine mixed with the occasional downpour means you should pack a variety of clothes for Bocas. Even something like a lightweight poncho raincoat is a good item to bring just in case you get stuck in a shower. Make sure you take some sun protection too like a wide brim hat, sunglasses and eco-friendly sunscreen.
- Apply for a Visa if Needed: Most passport holders of the world can travel to Panama visa-free for 90 days. These nationalities include Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, New Zealand and the UK. Some nationalities such as Canada and the United States can stay visa-free for up to 180 days. Other countries have 30 days, or they will need to apply for a visitor visa.