Enjoy this guest post by Drew Berger, a Bocas Expat since 2015, avid surfer, and owner of Sol Bungalows– a new overwater bungalow experience located on Isla Solarte in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Bocas del Toro, Panama, is many things…
It’s the Venice of the Caribbean because its shores are lined with overwater buildings, the primary mode of transportation is by boat, and island hopping is a daily occurrence.
It’s the Galapagos of the Caribbean because it’s one of the most biodiverse regions in the world; home to a UNESCO world heritage site, a national marine park, a sea turtle nesting ground, and a uniquely evolved bottle-nose dolphin species.
Bocas del Toro is also, as Condénaste Traveller puts it, “the seductively sleepy islands,” in, “the Caribbean that time forgot.”
For us, Bocas is home; where we rent overwater bungalows, pursue our passions, and raise a family. The words above are just a few of the things we love about it!
This is The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bocas del Toro, Panama
We wrote this guide because we know Bocas del Toro is a challenging destination that requires research and guidance in order to achieve the best experience.
You need to understand the geographical layout of the islands, how the areas and islands differ, and what activities are best for which areas. Choosing the right time to come is also important, as is knowing the best places to stay. Discovering insider travel tips and how to save time and money is also cool.
Our Ultimate Guide aims to educate you on everything you need to know about Bocas del Toro so that you can make the most informed decisions for your trip. We also feel that you deserve to hear this information from someone who understands the islands on a deep level, and not just based on a few weeks of visiting! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us in the comments! Enjoy!
In this guide:
- Quick Facts
- Where is Bocas del Toro, Panama?
- How to Get to Bocas del Toro
- COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
- Best Times to Visit
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- Things To Do
- Bocas del Toro Surf
- Bocas del Toro Scuba Diving
- What to Pack for Bocas del Toro
Quick Facts about the Bocas del Toro Islands
- English Translation of Bocas del Toro: “Mouths of the Bull”
- Capital City: Bocas Town on Isla Colon
- Population: Around 16,000
- Languages: Spanish, English, Guari Guari, Ngäbere
- Official Website: bocasdeltoro.com
- Bocas del Toro News: thebocasbreeze.com, Bocas TV
- Bocas del Toro Travel Blog: bocasdeltoroblog.com
- Panama Travel Blog: PTY.life
- Location: Northwest corner of Panama, Central America
- Popular Activities: Surfing, Scuba Diving, Hiking, Nightlife, Cultural Tours
- Popular Destinations: Starfish Beach, Red Frog Beach, The Zapatilla Islands, Nivida Bat Cave
- Popular Islands: Isla Colon, Isla Carenero, Isla Bastimentos, Isla Solarte, Isla San Cristobal
Where is Bocas del Toro, Panama?
Panama is located in Central America and borders Colombia to the South and Costa Rica to the North. Panama has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. There is a mountain range that transverses the country and dissects the northern and southern regions called the Cordillera de Talamanca.
Bocas del Toro Province
Bocas del Toro is a province located in the Northwest corner of Panama. The province of Bocas del Toro borders Costa Rica to the North and has a long coastline along the Caribbean Sea.
The province includes a large mountainous region on the mainland filled with cloud forests and banana plantations, as well as an island filled archipelago along the Caribbean Sea. Much of the Bocas del Toro Province is designated reservation land, called a, “Comarca,” for the Indigenous Nägbe-Buglé tribes.
Bocas del Toro Island District
The island district of Bocas del Toro is what the majority of people are referencing when they talk about Bocas del Toro. This area includes the most popular tourist islands of Isla Colon, Isla Carenero, Isla Bastimentos, Isla Solarte, and Isla San Cristobal.
Tourism in Bocas del Toro is centered around these 5 main islands with Bocas Town on Isla Colon being the heart of the action.
How to Get to Bocas del Toro
The first step to get to Bocas del Toro is to fly into Panama City, Panama, or San Jose, Costa Rica.
From Panama City or San Jose, there are several easy ways to get to Bocas del Toro:
- Fly to Bocas del Toro on one of the daily, 1-hour flights, from either city.
- Take a 10-hour bus ride from Panama City and a 30-minute water shuttle.
- Take a 10-hour bus or shuttle ride from San Jose and a 30-minute water shuttle.
- Fly to David, Panama, and then take a 4-hour taxi ride and a 30-minute water shuttle.
Airport and Bus Terminal Information:
The Bocas del Toro Airport is called Aeropuerto Internacional de Bocas del Toro, Isla Colon (Bocas del Toro International Airport, Colon Island).
- The Bocas del Toro Airport Code is BOC (International Airport of Bocas del Toro, Isla Colon)
- The San Jose, Costa Rica Airport Code is SJO (Juan Sanatamariá International Airport)
- The Panama City International Airport Code is PTY (Tocumen International Airport)
- The Panama City Domestic Airport Code is PAC (Albrook “Marcos A. Gelabert” International Airport)
Book a flight to Bocas
- MEPE Bus Caribe Station for the Bus from San Jose to the Sixaloa Border crossing into Bocas del Toro
- Albrook Bus Station (Located near Albrook Mall & Airport) for Panama City to Bocas del Toro
Insider Travel Tip
- There have historically been more direct flights from around the USA to San Jose, Costa Rica, than to Panama City, so check San Jose first if you are coming from the USA!
- This can save you time & money during your travels, just make sure your international flights line up with your flight from San Jose to Bocas.
Let’s talk about all the options to get to Bocas del Toro:
Flying To Bocas del Toro from Panama City
- Flying to Bocas del Toro from Panama city only takes 1 hour but this is the most expensive option.
- Flights leave from the Albrook International Airport (PAC) and not the Tocumen International Airport (PTY). Be sure you are selecting the proper airport code when buying your flights.
- You should leave 3 hours in between your international flight arrival to Panama and your domestic flight to Bocas del Toro. This time will account for immigration lines and the sometimes heavy traffic in Panama City.
- Air Panama usually operates 4 flights per day: 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. Bocas Air is a new airline set to compete with Air Panama (which will hopefully drive down the high flight prices).
- To find flights to Bocas del Toro from Panama City check on AirPanama.com or BocasAir.com.
Money Saving Tip
- Use an UBER to get around in Panama City and for your transfer from the international airport to the domestic airport. This is the cheapest option.
Getting To Bocas del Toro from Panama City by Bus
- This takes 10 hours and costs around $40 for the whole trip.
- The bus ends in the town of Almirante; the nearest mainland port town to the islands of Bocas del Toro. From here there is a 30 minute, $6 dollar water taxi ride to arrive in Bocas Town on Isla Colon.
- Buses leave frequently between the hours of 8 AM and 11 PM. Just show up at the bus terminal and ask for the bus to Bocas del Toro. There you can buy your ticket and await the next departure.
- Check out the bus terminal website for more information: https://www.grantnt.com/
Money Saving Tip
- You can take a night bus to Bocas del Toro and save yourself from paying for a night in a hotel room in Panama City.
- The night bus really is the best bus option, as you can sleep the whole way and still have an entire day in the islands once you arrive.
To Bocas del Toro From San Jose, Costa Rica by Plane
- You can fly to Bocas del Toro from San Jose, Costa Rica with Aerobell or Skyway CR. This is also a 1-hour flight that leaves around mid-day.
- It is equally as expensive as the flight with Air Panama. However, you may choose this option because the times line up better with your international flights (which may be cheaper in the end!).
To Bocas del Toro from San Jose, Costa Rica by Shuttle
- Caribe Shuttle has a $60 guided shuttle service from San Jose to Bocas. It leaves early in the morning to arrive in Bocas in the late afternoon (about a 10-hour trip).
To Bocas del Toro from San Jose, Costa Rica by Bus
- The public bus is the cheapest option but takes more effort and knowledge as you have no one guiding you through the border crossing or bus stations. Check out more information on this option here.
Read the Complete Guide:
Discover more detailed information about how to get to Bocas del Toro in our complete guide! Read More
COVID-19 in Bocas del Toro
Check up to date travel information and travel restrictions for COVID-19 on the Ministry of Health of Panama Website, or the US Embassy of Panama (English) website.
These regulations are bound to change frequently so you will be best served to check their websites directly.
Bocas del Toro Weather
One of the most talked-about aspects of Bocas del Toro throughout the internet is the weather. Specifically, the rain. Nobody wants it to rain their entire vacation.
And the truth is… it will rain at least once during your trip. Bocas del Toro is in the rainforest, after all! The good news is that the average storm in Bocas only lasts 1 hour!
The best way to prepare is to pack a rain poncho and a positive attitude. Be ready to go with the flow! Take advantage of the sunshine and bust out that good book you’ve been wanting to read if it rains! Plus, over 200,000 people vacation in the islands each year, so can the weather really be that bad?
Insider Travel Tip
- We use an app called Windy to check the weather in Bocas del Toro.
- We have found it to be the most reliable source of weather, wind, and waves for Bocas del Toro over any other app. Check out Windy.com for Bocas del Toro here.
Bocas del Toro’s Climate
Bocas del Toro has a Tropical Rainforest Climate. There is a large amount of rain that falls every month of the year. There is no defined dry season or rainy season; but rather months that are dryer and months that experience more rain.
- The driest months of the year are: January, February, March, September, and October.
- The months with the highest amount of rainfall are: June, July, August, November, and December.
- Average temperatures are: Highs of 83-90F (28-32C), Lows of 71-75F (22-24C).
The Best Time to Visit Bocas del Toro
The best time to visit Bocas del Toro depends on the activities you wish to partake in during your trip.
Some months are great for surfers and other months are great for scuba divers. Thankfully, most of the year is great for snorkeling and exploring far-flung beaches and jungle trails. Additionally, the months of December, November, and February are great to experience Panamanian culture through local holidays.
Check out the different categories of when to visit below!
Best All-Around Months to Visit:
December, January, February, March, April, May, August, September, October, and November (with September and October being the absolute best.)
Best Months for Surfers:
December, January, February, March, April, June, July, August. Peak swells come in December – March and July. (Check out our Bocas del Toro Surf Guide)
Best Months for Scuba Divers:
Regional visibility peaks during the dry seasons: January – April & September – October
High Season for Tourism:
December-April with a “Mini-Season” in June, July, August
Low Season for Tourism:
May-November. Some places may increase prices again for the Mini Season from mid-June to mid-August, especially surf related businesses.
Popular Holidays in Bocas del Toro & Panama
- Christmas & New Years: These are the busiest tourism weeks of the year!
- Carnavales: End of February
- Feria Internacional del Mar (International Sea Fair): Mid September
- Separation Day (From Columbia): November 3rd
- Bocas Day: November 16th
- Bastimentos Day: November 24th
- Independence Day: November 28th
Insider Travel Tip
- The absolute best months to visit Bocas del Toro (for non-surfers) are September and October – two of the slowest tourism months of the year!
- Low Season means discounted accommodations, fewer people around (empty beaches), and a much more relaxed vibe throughout the islands.
- The weather is breathtakingly beautiful and the calm seas make for the best beach-going, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and boat adventuring of the entire year!
Read the Complete Guide:
Discover more detailed information about the best time to visit Bocas del Toro and learn how the weather and sea conditions change from month to month in our complete weather guide! Read More
Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro
Choosing where to stay in Bocas del Toro is one of the most challenging decisions you will make for your trip.
There are 9 main islands in total, 5 of which are where tourism is centered. The 5 main tourism islands also consist of different areas to stay in; each of which can drastically change the experience you will have. On top of that, the accommodation options are seemingly endless, which can be overwhelming.
Insider Travel Tip
- Our best advice is to first narrow down an area that suits your interests, and then find your favorite accommodation in that area.
- Staying in multiple areas over the course of your trip is also a common and encouraged tactic. That way you can experience the rainforest, beach, seclusion, and Bocas immersion all on the same vacation!
Our, “Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro Guide,” gives you an overview of the 5 main islands, as well as the most popular areas to stay in on each island.
We also list what we see as the best accommodations to stay in throughout each area. This list is based on the reviews of each place, the experience they provide to their guests, and also their reputation in Bocas for being a top choice. (If you are a hotel owner in Bocas and feel that you should be listed here, please send us an email!)
Use this guide to narrow down your search, and feel free to send us an email if you have any questions @ info (at) solbungalowsbocas.com!
Money Saving Tip
- Always check the accommodation’s website for the best deals when booking online.
- Booking direct also gives more money to the accommodation, and less to 3rd party websites like Booking.com or Airbnb. (In the covid-19 era, who do you want to help more?)
Where to Stay on Isla Colon
Isla Colon is the main island of the Archipelago and home to the capital city of Bocas Town. Bocas Town is most notable for the colorful hotels and restaurants that line its shores and streets. It is also the center for all the essentials (ATM, Groceries, Hospital, Airport, Nightlife, Dining, etc.).
Isla Colon is the only island with roads and cars and development is happening fast. It is busy and bustling in its own laid back, Caribbean way. Isla Colon is also gifted with some of the most stunning beaches, rainforests, coastlines, and surf spots in all of Bocas. The best part is that they are almost all connected by roads, making for easy (and dry) access!
The most popular areas to stay in on Isla Colon are: Bocas Town, Saigon Bay, Big Creek to Paunch, Bluff Beach, and Boca del Drago
Staying in Bocas Town
Bocas Town has connectivity to water taxis and land taxis, tons of hotels and hostels, restaurants, stores, nightlife, ATM, ect. Everything you could need during your trip can be found here. It has a laid-back, Caribbean surf town vibe and it is a hub for backpackers and locals alike.
If you’ve done some research about Bocas del Toro on the internet, you will find that Bocas Town has some mixed reviews. One of the main reasons for this (we think) is that people don’t understand the geographical layout of Bocas del Toro. Bocas is different in this regard in that the main town, Bocas Town, is not located on a beach. The nearest beaches to Bocas Town worth visiting can be found on the south end of Isla Carenero, which is only a $1-$2 and 1-2 minute water taxi ride away.
What Bocas Town has instead is hotels, hostels, restaurants, and bars all along its shoreline that have big outdoor decks for tanning and swimming. There’s also a Floating Bar nearby and a Pirate Ship, both of which are favorite Bocas Town escapes!
Where to Stay in Bocas Town:
- Tropical Suites – Overwater Hotel with authentic Caribbean/ Bocas Style.
- Diver’s Paradise – New Overwater Hotel with a scuba diving center and great views of the mountains and sunsets.
- Azul Paradise Hotel – New Overwater Hotel that is part of Azul Paradise Resort with a modern/ Caribbean style
- Hotel Gran Bahia – Locally owned with a significant history in Bocas del Toro, a gem of Colonial architecture and local culture.
- Stay Bocas – Comfortable private rooms with a great breakfast cafe, conveniently located right next to the airport.
- Hotelito del Mar – Comfortable private rooms in the heart of Bocas Town
- Mamallena Hostel – Chic hostel on the good side of Bocas Town with a great vibe and amazing views, breezes and swimming in front
- Selina Hostel – Popular hostel for young backpackers, very trendy, a great nightlife spot, and a deck to swim off of
- Twin Fin Hostel – Smaller boutique hostel with great style in a quiet part of Bocas Town
Staying in Saigon Bay
Saigon Bay is located just outside of Bocas Town and features Caribbean style accommodations mixed in with the local people. It is easily connected to Bocas Town by land taxi or bicycle. The best accommodations in Saigon Bay are located on the water and have amazing views of the sunsets and mountains of mainland Panama.
Saigon Bay is located on the bay side of the isthmus that separates Bocas Town from the rest of Isla Colon. The opposite side of the isthmus features a long beach called Playa Chiquita, which is a popular beach for sports activities and is a favorite among the local people.
Where to Stay in Saigon Bay:
- Saigon Bay B&B – Top rated overwater B&B in classic Bocas Style with great views
- Panama Paradise Rentals – Several AirBnB style accommodation options throughout Saigon Bay
Staying in Big Creek to Paunch
This is a very popular area to stay in that is farther outside of Bocas Town. This area follows along a beautiful Caribbean coastline that is backed by a howler monkey filled rainforest.
Visitors who stay in this area will love the accessibility to several surf spots (Tiger Tails, Paunch, Bluff) as well as being just a few dollars away from Bocas Town by land taxi.
This is our pick for the best area to stay in for all of Isla Colon for its proximity to surf, nature, the ocean, and accessibility to Bocas Town. Development here is happening fast for these same reasons.
Where to Stay in Big Creek to Paunch:
- Surf Break at Paunch – Located in the hillside above Paunch Surf Spot, great breakfast and nice, Bocas-Style accommodations.
- Paki Point – Stay right in front of Tiger Tails surf spot above a great restaurant and beach lounge with awesome views.
- Nomad Tree Lodge – Located in the hillside between Paki Point and the Paunch surf spot, surrounded by rainforest, cool and stylish accommodations, with an awesome pool and great vibe.
- Nowhere Panama – Located in the jungle near Playa Chiquita, green dome style rooms with trendy style.
- Skully’s Hostel – Pirate themed hostel located right on the water with great vibe, pool, bar and restaurant, and ATV rentals.
Staying in Bluff Beach
Bluff Beach is a 20-30 minute land taxi ride away from the center of Bocas Town. The road to get here turns from paved to coral rock at around the half-way point and is infamous for its gaping mud holes. For this reason, the Bluff Beach area is still largely undeveloped (a good thing).
Bluff Beach is for those that are seeking escape, are not interested in moving around too much, and want to experience some of the most beautiful nature and landscapes in Bocas del Toro. The rainforest here is filled with howler monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds. There’s also an ATV trail that you can hike along to explore this extremely exotic coastline and adjacent rainforest.
The coastline at Bluff Beach is also home to some of the best surfing in Bocas del Toro. However, Bluff is not a swimming beach due to the power of the waves and the proximity in which they break to the sand. Bluff is a favorite for advanced and pro surfers, but is too difficult to surf for those that are not highly experienced. You can find Bluff Beach calm and flat, but only at certain times of the year or the rare occasion when the swell goes flat during surf seasons.
Where to Stay in Bluff Beach
- Oasis Bluff Beach – One of the top rated accommodations in all of Bocas, right on the beach, with a pool and great restaurant.
- Island Plantation Resort – Balinese inspired architecture on the far end of bluff beach with a pool, great restaurant, beach lounge & pizza.
- Bluff Beach Retreat – Caribbean Style B&B with a pool and horses to ride through the incredibly beautiful area.
- Tesoro Escondido – Located in a secluded cliffside above a small private beach with bungalows surrounded by rainforest and amazing views.
Staying in Boca del Drago
Boca del Drago is an area on the far side of Isla Colon opposite of Bocas Town. It is most known as being home to Starfish Beach, the most popular tourist beach in the islands. This area is largely undeveloped and features several small accommodation options and local indigenous communities.
Boca del Drago has a beautiful coastline with a handful of hidden, paradisiacal beaches along it. Bird Island, another popular tourist destination and tropical bird sanctuary, is located just off of the coast.
Drago is at least a 30 minute taxi ride from Bocas Town and surfing, but those looking to disconnect in the tropical rainforest might find this to be the perfect place! There is also an abundance of wild animals in this area including sloths, monkeys, and tropical birds, and some beaches are turtle nesting areas!
Where to Stay in Boca del Drago
- Bird Island Bungalows – Stylish and comfortable rooms with amazing views, restaurant, and pool, overlooking a beautiful coastline.
Staying on Isla Carenero
Isla Carenero is located adjacent to Isla Colon and is only a $1-$2 water taxi ride away. Isla Carenero is known for the long left hand point break, called Carenero Point, that breaks on the northwest corner of the island. Surfers will love being able to walk to the surf if they stay on Isla Carenero, plus there are a few other breaks within walking distance on the island.
The interior of Carenero island is thick jungle and mangrove and the south point features a small town with restaurants, accommodations, stores, and an indigenous village. Isla Carenero also has a handful of really nice beaches and viewpoints hidden around its coastline. This is a great place to stay if you want proximity to all of the action while still being surrounded by the rainforest and Caribbean sea.
Where to Stay on Isla Carenero:
- PirateArts Experience Resort – Modern and luxurious apartment rentals in a tropical island resort, 10 minutes walk to Carenero Point.
- Hotel Tierra Verde – Beachfront boutique hotel tucked under the palm trees with great location, 15 minutes walk to Carenero Point.
- Hotel Dona Mara – Stylish and comfortable accommodations with great hosts, connected to amazing restaurant, and right on a calm beach with amazing views.
Staying on Isla Bastimentos
Isla Bastimentos is the second most popular and populated island in the Archipelago. It is most known for the Afro-Caribbean town of Old Bank which is said to be home to one of the last remaining authentic Afro-Caribbean cultures in the world. Old Bank is the center of the population, economy, and tourism activities of Isla Bastimentos and you will find the majority of accommodation options located here, or nearby.
The best part about staying around Old Bank is being easily connected to the rest of Bocas by the water taxi system. You will also have beautiful nature of the rest of Isla Bastimentos easily within reach. Surfers will love staying here as there are several waves that you can walk to, and Carenero Point and Isla Colon are just a short water taxi ride away.
Where to Stay on Isla Bastimentos
Around Old Bank
- The Firefly – Bohemian Chic bungalows with an amazing restaurant, swimming pool, cool breezes, and stunning views.
- Surf & Chill – Family owned, local style jungle cabins immersed in the rainforest just outside of Old Bank that offers a great cultural experience
- Up in the Hill – Cacao Farm and local style jungle cabins, family-owned, great food, and immersion in the rainforest.
- The Sea Monkey – Overwater Bungalows and hostel with great food and an opportunity for a cultural experience.
- Eclypse del Mar – High End Overwater Bungalows with kayaks, paddle boards, and access to nature on the opposite side of the bay from Old Bank
- Carmen’s Place – Located on the other side of the bay from old bank, comfortable accommodations with great hosts, food, and daily deep sea fishing
Other Parts of Isla Bastimentos (Red Frog Beach, Bahia Honda, Punta Vieja)
There are also some accommodation options located on far corners of Isla Bastimentos that offer off-grid luxury and immersion in tropical beauty. Some other popular areas to stay in include Red Frog Beach, Bahia Honda, and Punta Vieja.
- La Loma Jungle Lodge – Top rated jungle lodge and cacao farm undergoing huge improvements set for 2021 and beyond (located in Bahia Honda).
- Red Frog Bungalows – Top rated surf retreat located right on Red Frog Beach (where the pro surfers stay).
- Palmar Beach Lodge – A laid back beach lodge featuring tents, jungle cabins, and a restaurant/ bar right on Red Frog Beach.
- Al Natural Resort – A top rated, beautifully constructed eco-lodge on one of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago (Punta Vieja).
- Azul Paradise Resort – A well known overwater bungalow resort also located in Punta Vieja, popular with couples.
Staying on Isla Solarte
Isla Solarte has very little development and is most known for its jungle trails, snorkeling and scuba diving, and the historical area known as Hospital Point. Hospital Point was once the location of a sprawling hospital complex built by the United Fruit Company in the early 1900’s. Today, it is a popular scuba diving and snorkeling spot that features some of the most diverse coral reefs in the archipelago.
Nature lovers will enjoy hiking the miles of jungle trails throughout Isla Solarte, where there is an abundance of strawberry poison dart frogs and tropical birds.
Solarte is mostly protected from the open ocean swell so kayaking and paddle boarding are great activities to do around the island. Much of the island is surrounded by mangrove forests which act as fish nurseries and offer a diverse and exciting snorkeling experience.
Where to Stay on Isla Solarte
- Sol Bungalows – New Luxury Overwater Bungalows with an affordable price, breathtaking views, and easily connected to the rest of Bocas and surfing.
- Roam Yoga and Wellness – A rainforest Yoga retreat center that also offers nice apartments, cool breezes, proximity to the rest of Bocas, and a beautiful tropical landscape.
- Villa F&B – French-owned and super stylish accommodations located in a far off corner of the island, surrounded by mangroves with calm bays, beautiful views, and a swimming pool.
- Bambuda Lodge – Rated the #1 Hostel in Panama, beautiful views, great restaurant, awesome pool, and palm thatch covered jungle domes, close and connected to the rest of Bocas.
Staying on Isla San Cristobal
Isla San Cristobal is the 5th main Bocas Island but sits farther away than the other 4 (Colon, Bastimentos, Carenero, and Solarte). It is becoming an increasingly popular location for tourist accommodations and is most known for the area called Dolphin Bay.
Dolphin Bay is the breeding ground and home of the Bocas Dolphin; a unique species of bottlenose dolphin that has specially evolved in this area. The Bocas Dolphin population is one of Bocas’s greatest treasures. However, it is under threat from the huge volume of motor boats that visit this area to see them.
Isla San Cristobal is far away from beaches, surfing, and the rest of Bocas. But, it is good as an escape with calm seas and shallow reefs for snorkeling. There are also jungle trails and horseback riding options here. Staying here is the best option to see the local dolphin population in a respectful and sustainable way.
Where to Stay on Isla San Cristobal
- Bocas Bali – The most Maldives-esque of Bocas del Toro’s Overwater Bungalows, with plunge pools and Balinese architecture, located on a mangrove island just off the coast of Isla San Cristobal.
- Dolphin Bay Hideaway – Top rated accommodation in Bocas, secluded in Dolphin Bay with great views of the dolphin population.
Other Top Rated Accommodations
- Popa Paradise Beach Resort – A boutique beach resort on Isla Popa, great for couples and honeymooners, with a pool and specializing in barefoot luxury.
- Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge – Brightly painted overwater bungalows in a private and secluded area of Isla Colon, facing the mountains of mainland Panama.
- Sweet Bocas Panama – The single most breathtaking and luxurious tropical vacation experience in all of Panama, where celebrities and global VIPs stay, and where you and I cannot afford.
- Urraca Private Island – Rustic luxury overwater bungalows with gourmet food, a monkey rescue sanctuary, and immersion in the biodiverse environment of a mangrove island.
Read the Complete Guide:
We broke down every popular area to stay in and rated them based on several important factors. Check it out in our complete guide!Read More
Where to Eat
The restaurant options in Bocas del Toro are as diverse as the people who live here. There’s plenty of great local food; where fried fish, lobster, chicken in salsa, and octopus, accompanied by coconut rice and patacones, are favorites. Ceviche is also a Panamanian specialty that should not be missed!
The international food scene covers all corners of the globe. Many places are owned by ex-pat chefs who brought their talents to Bocas to live the good life while pursuing their passions. There’s also some of the best Panamanian chefs residing here who own top rated restaurants. The end result of so much concentrated talent is that we have over 80 restaurants that are receiving at least a 4 star rating on Trip Advisor.
This guide is all about showing you the best possible options. So, we listed out our top restaurant picks based on who we know that delivers consistently great culinary experiences. We are factoring in the entire experience, so that means the atmosphere, location, service, and views as well.
15 Best Places to Eat in Bocas del Toro:
- Receta Michila (Isla Carenero) – A top Panamanian chef armed with mom’s secret recipes – beachside under a thatch roof on Isla Carenero.
- The View at Oasis (Bluff Beach) – Rated #1 on TA, International cuisine with great service and stunning views of Bluff Beach.
- Leaf Eater’s Cafe (Isla Carenero) – Great vegetarian/ vegan food by any standards in an overwater restaurant with awesome views of Bocas Town and sunsets.
- El Ultimo Refugio – A favorite among expats with an international menu, great service, and a beautiful view of the Caribbean Sea!
- Azul Restaurant (Bocas Town) – #2 on TA with a full 5 star rating, a top Panamanian Chef serves a 5 course Caribbean fine-dining experience… for only $25!
- Octo (Bocas Town) – Top local Chef and top rated on TA, emphasizing local ingredients put together in surprising and delicious ways.
- Om Cafe (Bocas Town) – Indian/ Thai food in a bohemian style overwater restaurant that is always a winner!
- BocArt (Bocas Town) – Creative international cuisine in a uniquely decorated restaurant where the sushi and seafood are highlights.
- The Bocas Brewery (Bocas Town) – The best tacos (and the best beer) in Bocas!
- The Floating Bar (Bocas Town) – It’s a floating bar! Right outside of Bocas Town with great swimming and views of the mountains, plus they have great ceviche and fish tacos too!
- Buena Vista (Bocas Town) – Panamanian, Caribbean, and International food in an authentically constructed overwater restaurant with awesome views, a staple in Bocas for over 22 years!
- Cafe del Mar (Bocas Town) – All-around great cafe with wraps, bowls, coffee, smoothies, and more – always crowded, for a reason!
- Amaranto (Bocas Town) – A cafe that serves some of the best coffee in town, with healthy juices, breakfasts, bowls, and treats!
- La Buguita Ocean Lounge (Bocas Town) – Overwater lounge serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a great vibe and frequent live music!
- The Firefly (Old Bank) – Caribbean/ Thai tapas style menu in a romantic, bohemian setting right on the ocean just outside of Old Bank. Great for sunsets!
- Up in the Hill (Above Old Bank) – An organic cacao, coffee, and fruit farm serving some of the tastiest homemade treats including brownies, banana bread, and fresh fruit juices.
The Best Local Food Spots
- Restaurante Tom (Bocas Town) – My personal favorite local spot. There’s a great view of the ocean and it’s packed every lunch so you know they are doing something right!
- La Chomba (Food Truck next to Super Market Isla Colon) – The best empanadas made with hojaldra dough!
- Rosti Pollo (Bocas Town) – The spot for roasted chicken and patacones with an overwater deck!
- Alvin and Kecha’s (Old Bank) – Overwater restaurant with great views of the bay of Old Bank. Make your belly full with some of the best local Afro-Caribbean food in the islands!
- Lysette’s Place (Old Bank) – Overlooks the central park and bay of Old Bank, another great local Afro-Caribbean option popular with the locals.
- Bibi’s on the Beach (Isla Carenero) – A very popular lunch and dinner option that sits over the water just off of a small and picturesque white sand beach. Stunning views and great ceviche!
Where to Buy Groceries in Bocas
Buying groceries is also important, and knowing where to go is difficult due to the absolutely ludicrous volume of supermarkets throughout Bocas.
Here’s where you should buy your food shop for essentials:
- Super Market Isla Colon – Overall the cleanest and most well stocked supermarket.
- Tutty N’ Fish – Best prices and quality on meats and seafood.
- Super Gourmet – A USA style deli offering great food and high quality, niche products.
- Mercadito Oliver – Our favorite fruits and veggies stand (although any will do, and better to support these small local businesses than the big name supermarkets.)
- TOTO – A dominant force in Bocas similar to a Walmart, where you should be able to find anything you need, all in one place.
- 3R Mall – Another place similar to a Walmart, but on the north side of Bocas Town
Things To Do in Bocas del Toro
One thing we love about Bocas is that anything is possible. You really have the freedom and ability to make all of your wildest tropical island dreams come true!
There’s world class surf, ATV rentals, amazing scuba diving and snorkeling, spearfishing, deep sea fishing, cacao and cultural tours, bat caves, island hopping day parties, pirate ships, zip lining, and over 20 beaches within the boundaries of the islands!
Insider Travel Tip
- If you are a more adventurous traveler, you’ll want to explore the lesser-known beaches around the islands. Most (all?) tours don’t actually go to these beaches, so you’ll have to get a private boat captain to take you out there.
- We love Polo Beach, Punta Vieja, and Mimbitimbi, for example, where we cook our freshly caught fish right on the beach with hardly anyone else around!
The most popular things to do in Bocas del Toro are:
- Spending the day in Boca del Drago and Starfish Beach
- Visiting Sloth Island and the Zapatilla Islands
- Surfing or taking Surf Lessons
- Scuba Diving and Scuba Diving Certification Courses
- Spending the Day at Red Frog Beach
- Taking a Catamaran tour of the Archipelago
- Riding a bicycle around Isla Colon
- Hiking through the Rainforest
- Visiting the Plastic Bottle Village
- Riding an ATV through the rainforest
- Kayaking, Paddle Boarding, and Snorkeling
- Partying in our World Famous Nightlife and Day Parties
- Exploring the Nivida Bat Cave with Local Legend Rutilio Milton
- Learning about Cacao through a local farm
- Learning Spanish at Habla Ya Spanish Schools
Bocas is all about putting yourself out there, learning new things, and testing your comfort zone. You’ll be happy and satisfied if all you do during your trip is relax, eat, drink, and cross off the top 2 things to do from Trip Advisor. However, with so many awesome things to do in Bocas, we highly recommend you get out there and explore! After all, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the best there is!
Read the Complete Guide:
Discover 29 Awesome Things To Do in Bocas del Toro, plus insider information on how to make these experiences the best they can be!Read More
Surfing in Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is, first and foremost, a world-class surfing destination. Surfers come here from all over the world for the warm Caribbean water, stunning tropical landscapes, and as Surfer Magazine puts it: “waves on par with Indo.”
Bocas also has great waves for beginners and those who want to learn to surf. There’s also waves that are good enough for the best pros in the world, with Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Taj Burrow all visiting the islands.
Something that sets Bocas apart is the sheer volume of surf-able waves within a 25 minute boat ride from Bocas Town. On the record, there’s about 12 surf spots. Off the record, more like 20. Some even say that Bocas has more surf-able waves in a 2 mile stretch of coastline than anywhere else in the world!
Popular Surf Spots
- Bluff Beach
- Paunch Reef
- Tiger Tails
- Carenero Point
- Black Rock
- Wizard Beach
The main Bocas surf season is December – April with a “mini-season” that occurs from June to August.
The peak months of the year with the biggest swells are December, January, February, and July.
Bocas del Toro Surf Map
The Complete bocas del toro surf guide
Surfers visiting Bocas will not want to miss our Bocas del Toro Surf Guide! Discover the best places to stay and detailed information about all the surf spots in Bocas! Get it dialed and plan accordingly for the surf trip of your life!Read More
Scuba Diving in Bocas del Toro
Scuba Diving is the second most popular activity in Bocas. Divers will love the cheap prices: about $85 for a two tank dive, or less than $300 for a PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Certification.
There are a wide variety of different dive spots throughout the islands, with the most desirable being shipwrecks and areas with immense underwater cave systems. Bocas del Toro has 95% of the world’s soft coral species as well as an abundance of tropical fish species.
Some of the favorited underwater sights are sea turtles, nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays and seahorses. Macro diver’s will love seeing cowries, flying gurnards, scorpion fish, decorator crabs, mantis shrimps, cleaner shrimps and more!
Popular Dive Spots
Diver’s will enjoy the abundance and diversity of healthy coral reefs, but there’s also caves, sunken boats, deep spots, walls, ledges, and more!
Who to Dive With
Safety in Bocas del Toro
Is Bocas del Toro Safe? We do believe so, yes!
In fact, Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America. This is largely due to their stable government, strong economy, and position as the owners of the Panama Canal. Additionally, Bocas del Toro, being a sparsely populated scattering of islands in a rural corner of Panama, is much safer than the densely populated cities of Panama City and David.
However, just because crime is low and Bocas del Toro is considered safe; it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your wits about you!
Here’s our top Crime and Health Safety Tips for Bocas del Toro:
Crime Safety Tips:
- Use the Buddy System
- Leave Your Valuables at Home
- Avoid Uncrowded or Remote Areas, Especially at Night
- Go in a group or with a guide for your far flung exploratory missions
- Don’t Drink Too Much
- Don’t Use Drugs
- Avoid Street Hustlers
- Street hustlers abound in the bigger towns of the islands. They are harmless, but certainly annoying. Just politely ignore them and continue to your destination.
- Only hire taxis and tours from registered companies
- Lock Doors and Windows
- Theft often occurs at night when you are asleep. Lock your windows and doors at night to avoid this problem.
Health Safety Tips:
- Stay Hydrated
- Please use a reusable water bottle ?
- Cover up from the Sun
- With reef safe sunscreen, or long clothing if you are already burnt
- Don’t Drink too Much Alcohol
- Disinfect your Cuts
- Small scrapes and cuts will get infected and turn into an antibiotic situation quickly. Avoid this by disinfecting and washing all of your cuts.
- Don’t Scratch your Mosquito Bites
- These can become infected, and will generally be infected by your own fingernails.
- Swim with Caution
- Rip Tides, extremely powerful surf, and boat traffic are the biggest dangers.
The Complete bocas del toro safety guide
Learn about crime and safety in Bocas and how you can ensure you have a safe and healthy vacation in the islands!Read More
What to Pack for your trip to Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is all about going with the flow, having a positive attitude, and being ready for anything.
The frequently changing weather conditions mean you need to pack for all conditions. Bringing around a day pack with a rain poncho, reusable water bottle, and sun screen is always recommended!
- Rain Poncho or rain jacket
- A rain poncho that covers your whole body is better for the heavy rains/ boat rides in the rain
- Flip Flops, Tevas, or the locally favorited Crocs, and a pair of jungle hiking shoes or boots
- (Flip flops become useless when wet! And the flip-flopping of them flicks dirt up all over the backs of your legs. We recommend only using flip flops when it is dry. Or, just throw your desire to look cool out of the window and use crocs.)
- Reusable Water Bottle
- Reef Safe Sunscreen
- Natural Bug Repellent or one high in DEET
- Light, Breathable Clothing (Quick drying is a bonus)
- A book for rainy days
- A light pair of pants and a light long sleeve for cooler nights and bug protection
- Some nicer clothes for nights in Bocas Town
- A Copy of your Passport in case you are stopped somewhere in town
- A couple reusable face masks
- Reusable face masks are great (less trash) but the Bocas heat means you will inevitably sweat into them. Bring a few to keep them fresh throughout your trip. These can also be found all over town.
Frequently Asked Bocas del Toro Questions:
Got a question about Bocas del Toro? Ask us in the comments! We will use the comment section of this post as an open Q & A so everyone can read the answers to common questions!
Thanks for reading! I hope this guide helps you have the ultimate Bocas del Toro experience!Drew from Sol Bungalows
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