If you’re visiting Panama, you should definitely come to Bocas del Toro. This underrated destination has beautiful nature, lovely people, great food and decent prices. There are so many things to do that one trip isn’t enough!
Panama as a whole is underrated. I know some friends who visited Panama, and they told me it was an amazing country, but after seeing it for myself their words fall short when describing how incredible this country is.
Without doing any research, apart from knowing the hostel I was staying at and how to get there, I started my trip to Panama. In all honesty, I was only supposed to visit for two weeks – because I wanted to continue with my travels to Costa Rica and the rest of Central America. But, to cut a long story short, I ended up staying just in Bocas del Toro for almost two months!
I stayed for a week on the main island of Colon, and immediately fell in love with the beautiful bicycle/car rides along the coast to Bluff Beach and Boca del Drago. I also visited Starfish Beach, took boat tours around the stunning islands of Bocas del Toro and checked out other less touristy places like these caves called Cuevas y Santuario La Gruta – which are located in the middle of a nature reservation on Colon Island. It was such a fun time!
10 Things To Do in Bocas del Toro
1. Take a Boat Tour to Bird Island
This is a beautiful rock formation and tropical bird sanctuary, situated right in the middle of the sea! If the weather is good you can ask the captain to go snorkeling around it, but if not, it’s still an amazing place to witness. After this, the tours take you to Starfish Beach where you can do some more snorkeling to see starfish, stingrays, fish and if you’re lucky turtles.
2. Discover the Paradise of Zapatilla Island
Again, you need to take a boat tour here but it’s worth it: golden sands, coral reefs, exotic vegetation and crystal-clear waters await! On a boat trip, you also get the chance to spot dolphins – which is a bucket-list experience for many. Zapatilla Island is one of my favorite places in Bocas del Toro.
3. Relax on the Tranquil Red Frog Beach
Just 10 minutes away by boat from Colon Island, you can reach Bastimentos Island where Red Frog Beach is located. Here, you’ll be greeted by a long beach with lovely turquoise waters perfect for disconnecting, reading a book or having lunch at one of the nice beach-view restaurants. You can also go snorkeling when it’s not too wavy and pratice some sunset yoga from a viewpoint at the end of the beach.
4. Snorkel at Polo Beach on Bastimentos Island
The beaches here are so peaceful, and the clear and warm water is ideal for a snorkel. You can see fish, stingrays and small sharks if you’re lucky. I could spend the entire day in the water admiring the biodiversity of the beaches.
5. Venture on a Night Walking Tour in the Jungle
If you stay at Selina Red Frog on Bastimentos, they offer this wonderful night walking tour in the jungle conducted by a passionate local biologist. He will teach you about frogs, spiders, snakes, sloths, monkeys, lizards and every living animal in this area. It’s a highly recommended experience to learn about the tropical rainforest on Bastimentos Island.
6. Book a Bioluminescence Tour in Bocas del Toro
Bioluminescence is a breathtaking natural phenomenon that can only be seen in Bocas del Toro during specific nights of the year. Seeing the light created by organisms is so uniquely special that it almost feels like magic!
7. Visit Cueva de Murcielagos (Cave of the Bats)
For those looking for adventure, this is something I would say you must do! Cueva de Murcielagos is a protected area owned and managed by a local family, one of whom will be your guide when you visit the cave.
The tours here cost around $50 USD per person with transport, rental of headlamps and water shoes, entrance to the caves, plus a guide, included in the price. You get the opportunity to see bats, whip scorpions, spiders and perhaps caimans (although that’s not very likely). If you suffer from claustrophobia, this probably isn’t the best tour for you.
8. Explore Boca del Drago and Starfish Beach
The walk on the beach and through the palms of Boca del Drago, to get to Starfish Beach, is fantastic. The sound of the palm trees, ocean, birds and wind make it a perfect setting. This is another favorite experience of mine!
9. Scuba Dive in Bastimentos National Marine Park
Bocas del Toro is home to Bastimentos Marine National Park, Panama’s first marine park established in 1988. Being a protected area makes this place the perfect location to see marine life with superb visibility and variety. This is a great option if you want to get your scuba diving certification or just go for a recreational dive. Another interesting thing to do is that once a month you can volunteer at Bocas Dive Center and do an ocean clean up for free.
10. Party With Other Travelers on Filthy Friday
If you’re a party person, Filthy Friday is an iconic island-hopping party not be missed! You’ll have fun, dance, meet new people and of course drink a lot of alcohol. It starts on the main island of Colon and then takes you to three bars in total. Transport by boat to bring you to each bar is included.
Solarte is the second island on the crawl which, in my opinion, is the best. The final bar is located on Carenero Island where you’ll continue dancing, maybe jump into the natural pool and enjoy the sights of a fire show after sunset. A lot of people actually plan their Bocas del Toro trip around this day of the week, so be aware of it when booking accommodation.
Why Stay at Selina in Bocas
I stayed at Selina Isla Colon and Selina Red Frog because I felt that the CoLiving Program would be perfect for me, since I needed a good Internet connection. They are usually located in beautiful areas, with nice common rooms, plus offer wellness activities and tours. It’s easy to make friends this way because most other travelers are also working remotely.
They also offer different activities at night that allow you to make connections such as jam sessions, game nights, art painting, live music, and pool and poker tournaments. If you’re a digital nomad, I highly recommend staying at either of Selina’s accommodations in Bocas.
Best Way to Reach Bocas del Toro
In my case, it was pretty easy to get to Bocas del Toro by bus. I first arrived in Panama City and stayed in Casco Viejo for a few days. From there, I took a taxi to the bus terminal in Albrook for $5 USD. Once there, I bought my ticket to Almirante for about $25 USD and finally took a boat to Colon Island ($6 USD). Of course, you can also reach Bocas del Toro by plane. The airport in Colon is small but it has daily flights for around $160 USD.
When to Visit Bocas del Toro
I feel like Bocas del Toro has perfect weather all year round, however I’m someone who loves rainy days in tropical places. Of course, sunny days are beautiful too. But if you’re visiting on vacation or a short trip and want to make the most of it, you should know that the rainy season starts in October and ends in December. Although, during this time, you can still have the sun out all day. The dry season runs from January to mid-April.
Tips for Visiting Bocas del Toro
- What to Pack: Keep in mind that the weather in Bocas del Toro is sometimes unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to pack for rain regardless of the season. Other things I would recommend packing are mosquito repellent, sunscreen, water, a hat and any snorkeling gear.
- Language Barrier: People in Bocas del Toro, and Panama in general, are very friendly and welcoming. Many of them can speak good English, or at least try to, and they will always help you if you need anything.
- High Season Considerations: High season for tourism takes place between November and April, with the busiest times being the end of December through to the middle of April. The high season is when the islands experience their influx of tourists from all over the world. Prices for accommodations are higher, the towns, beaches and restaurants are busier, and there’s an overall higher energy permeating the islands.
- Food Options: Since Bocas is in the tropics, most of the dishes are prepared with local ingredients like plantains (patacones), rice and beans, and tropical fruits like coconut, pineapple, papaya and mango. You’ll also find international food such as Italian or Mexican. Another common thing is food trucks or street vendors selling carne en palito (grilled meat on a stick), plantintas (plantain tarts) and chicheme (a sweet corn drink).
I hope you find this information useful and motivating for your trip to Bocas del Toro! Panama has so much to see that two whole months weren’t enough for me. I’ll be traveling more around Panama soon, so if you wish to follow my adventures, find me on Instagram at @dainedd. Pura vida!