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. 

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about surfing in Bocas del Toro, Panama, including a detailed surf spot guide, where to stay, the surf seasons, where to check the surf report, and where to find surf lessons!

First, let’s start with the basics:

Bocas del Toro is an island archipelago on the Northwestern Caribbean Coast of Panama. It’s a largely undiscovered mecca for surfing that has been compared to what Hawaii, Bali, and the Maldives were like over 20 years ago. Its waves have been graced by legends such as Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow, and Tom Curren. 

An advertisement for Sol Bungalows Overwater Bungalows in Bocas del Toro featuring 25% off for 2021.
Learn more about our overwater bungalows here.

Bocas is famous for its laid-back, Caribbean vibes, welcoming spirit, and boating centric lifestyle. It’s one of the top surf destinations in the Caribbean and very easy to get to compared to similar destinations in other parts of the world (only a 50-minute flight from Panama City, Panama, or San Jose Costa, Rica). 

What sets Bocas apart from other surf destinations is the fact that there are more than 10 premiere waves within a 25 minute boat ride from the center of the islands! Is there anywhere else with that much variety in such close proximity?

CHECK OUT WHERE BOCAS DEL TORO IS ON THE MAP BELOW

Bocas del Toro on the Map
Bocas del Toro on the map.

BOCAS DEL TORO SURF SEASONS

MAIN SURF SEASON:

The main surf season and the best time to surf in Bocas del Toro is December through March. This time is high season for tourism and also for waves. 

  • December and January are the peak tourism months of the year so you will find a lot of surfers in the line-up and also the biggest and most consistent swell. 
  • February is one of the best months for good weather and good waves with fewer crowds. 
  • March can see more crowds due to the Spring Break holiday and has decent swell with nice weather. 
  • April sees smaller swells that are best for the beach breaks. 
Graph showing swell consistency and dominant wind direction per month in Bocas del Toro
Swell Consistency and dominant wind direction per month in Bocas del Toro via MagicSeasweed.com

MINI SURF SEASON

The Mini Surf Season occurs in June, July, and August. These are Low Season months so you will find a lot less surfers in the line up. 

  • June sees an increase in the swell that is good for beach breaks and the weather is generally sunny. 
  • July is one of the best months of the year for surfing and sees consistent big swells but also frequent rain. 
  • August has sunny weather and smaller swells typically good for beach breaks. 

OFF SEASON FOR SURFING

The months of September, October, and November are not good for surfing in Bocas. You might get lucky with a waist to chest high swell but generally it is flat as a cat. However, these are some of the best months for Scuba Diving, Spearfishing, Free Diving, and island adventuring due to the calm seas! 

Learn more about the Best Time to Visit Bocas Here


SURF SPOT MAP FOR BOCAS DEL TORO

Check out our Surf Spot Map below. We included all of the main breaks as well as the water taxi route to get there from Bocas Town/ Sol Bungalows!

Map of Surf Spots in Bocas del Toro
The Sol Bungalows Surf Spot Map of Bocas del Toro

SURF SPOT GUIDE FOR BOCAS DEL TORO

The goal of this guide is to give you everything you need to know about the surf spots of Bocas del Toro. For each location we include the type of wave, the island it is located on, the difficulty of the wave, the crowd level, and how to get there from the center of the islands (in or around Bocas Town). 

BLUFF BEACH

Empty wave at Bluff Beach with girl in Bocas del Toro
Bluff Beach Surf by Brett Henninger
  • Type of Wave: Beach Break
  • Location: Isla Colon (Main Island)
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Crowd Level: It is a long beach so you can choose if you want to surf with other people or not!
  • How to Get There: 15 Min. Boat Ride or 20 Minute Land Taxi from Bocas Town

Bluff Beach on Isla Colon is one of Bocas’ most famous breaks. It is a long strip of wild and raw coastline where the rainforest spills out right onto the beach. The wave is heavy and powerful and is loved for its massive tubes and feared for its massive beatdowns. Bluff breaks close to the beach in very shallow water and broken boards are a common occurrence. 3-5 foot Bluff is a good time to practice your tube riding and the super short paddle out means you can get more waves per hour with less energy. When it gets bigger it gets very heavy and should only be ridden by advanced surfers.

DUMPERS

Dumpers Surf Spot in Bocas del Toro from Surfer Magazine Wish You Were Here Panama
Dumpers via Surfer Magazine
  • Type of Wave: Left Point Break
  • Location: Isla Colon (Main Island)
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Crowd Level: Low Crowds but Considered “Locals Only”
  • How to Get There: 10 Min. Boat or 15 Minute Land Taxi from Bocas Town

Dumpers is a left hand reef break located on Isla Colon just a minute or two past Paunch. This spot has been featured in many surf videos and is another favorite spot of the pro surfers that come to visit. The wave breaks from deep water onto a shallow ledge that creates a hollow barrel with almost machine-like consistency. Dumpers is an advanced-only spot due to the sharp and shallow reef that you can end up crawling around on if you wipeout!

PAUNCH REEF

Paunch Surf Spot in Bocas del Toro by Surfer Magazine
Paunch Reef at its Best!
  • Type of Wave: Right and Left Reef Break
  • Location: Isla Colón (Main Island)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced
  • Crowd Level: Crowded during peaks in the season and good swells
  • How to Get There: 10 Minute Water Taxi Ride or 15 Minute Land Taxi from Bocas Town

Paunch is one of Bocas’ most popular and best waves. It is a right and left hand reef break with the most popular take off spot being a left. The big set waves at Paunch create a hollow barrel section followed by a long and open wall for turns. Paunch is soft and fat when it is small but will famously turn into, “Punch,” when it is big. New development in this area in recent years has brought more surfers to this spot and crowds can be a problem. 

TIGER TAILS

women lounging on the beach in front of tiger tails surf spot in bocas del toro
Enjoy Paki Point Restaurant after surfing at Tiger Tails!
  • Type of Wave: Right and Left Reef Break
  • Location: Isla Colón in front of Paki Point Restaurant
  • Difficulty: Intermediate – Advanced
  • Crowd Level: Low – Medium
  • How to Get There: 5-7 Minute Water Taxi Ride or 10 Minute Land Taxi from Bocas Town

Tiger Tails breaks over a shallow reef that produces right and left hand sections. It’s located on Isla Colón located in front of Paki Point Restaurant. The wave is fun and holds power when the swell is small, but can also turn fast and hollow when it’s big. You can find right and left hand barrels as well as nice walls to snap on. There is a big rock that sticks out of the water on the left that you need to avoid if you ride the wave to the end. The inside is very shallow but most of the reef is covered in grass so it is softer on your board and fins when you duck-dive into it!

CARENERO POINT

arial view of Carenero Point surf spot with green water and an island covered in rainforest.
Carenero Point via Drone by Brett Henninger
  • Type of Wave: Left Point Break
  • Location: Isla Carenero
  • Difficulty: Intermediate – Advanced
  • Crowd Level: Crowded during peaks in the season 
  • How to Get There: 3-5 Minute Water Taxi from Bocas Town

Carenero Point is said to be the wave that put Bocas on the world surfing map. On the best days, the wave can break from the top all the way to the inside; delivering a long ride with multiple barrel sections and open walls. On most swells, the wave will break in sections which divides the point to the inside and outside. The inside is a fast and racy wall that can provide big time shade on good days. The outside is best for big sweeping turns and also can produce hollow barrel sections. Carenero Point features several take off spots which also helps thin out the crowd during peak season.

OLD MANS

Arial view of old mans surf spot and carenero point in bocas del toro, panama, with blue water and jungle.
Carenero Point at the top and Old Mans at the bottom
  • Type of Wave: Left Point Break
  • Location: Isla Carenero
  • Difficulty: Beginner – Intermediate
  • Crowd Level: Low – Medium
  • How to Get There: 3-5 Minute Water Taxi from Bocas Town

Old Mans on Isla Carenero is a left hand point break that sits just down from Carenero Point and to the side of Black Rock. Old Mans will produce a perfect mini point break during big swells. This spot is a good option for people who want to have a mellow surf instead of battling a crowd. It is also a good place for beginner and intermediate surfers to learn how to surf a point break. The inside gets very shallow so be careful not to ride the wave too far in.

BLACK ROCK

black rock surf spot in bocas del toro with surfer on a longboard and islands in the background
Black Rock Drone via Mono Loco Surf School
  • Type of Wave: Reef Break
  • Location: Isla Carenero
  • Difficulty: Beginner – Intermediate
  • Crowd Level: Medium – High due to being a popular spot for all beginners and surf lessons. 
  • How to Get There: 3-5 Minute Water Taxi from Bocas Town

Black Rock sits off of Carenero Island and breaks over a deep reef with right and left sections. This wave is a popular spot for beginners and is one of the best spots in Bocas to learn how to surf. The wave breaks over a deep reef and has channels on either side of it that you can use for a duck-dive free paddle back to the point. The biggest danger at this spot is other surfers. Many go here with longboards who do not know how to use them. Be aware of other surfers and follow proper surfing etiquette when surfing this break!

SILVERBACKS

surfer dropping into a wave at silverbacks surf spot in isla bastimentos panama
Silverbacks via ESPN
  • Type of Wave: Deep Water Slab/ Big Wave Spot
  • Location: Bastimentos
  • Difficulty: Professional
  • Crowd Level: Just you and your thoughts
  • How to Get There: 10 Min. Boat from Bocas Town

Silverbacks is Bocas’ infamous big wave spot. It’s a deep water slab that produces a cavernous tube with a lip size comparable to Teahupo’o. Only the best surfers are able to score barrels here and when they do, you’ll see it all over surf media. The wave breaks far off of Bastimentos in what seems like the open ocean and the peak is notoriously shifty. Throw in a strong current and an ominously stormy sky and you can understand how the break got its nickname, “The Beast.” 

WIZARD BEACH (PLAYA PRIMERA)

drone view of surfers at wizard beach on Isla Bastimentos in Panama.
Surfing at Wizard Beach, Isla Bastimentos
  • Type of Wave: Beach Break
  • Location: Isla Bastimentos
  • Difficulty: Beginner – Advanced
  • Crowd Level: 0 – Low with a few friendly locals 
  • How to Get There: 20 Min. Boat or 30 Minute Jungle Hike from Old Bank

Wizard Beach on Isla Bastimentos is the best all-around beach break in Bocas. It can be the perfect spot for beginners when it is small and stay fun for advanced surfers when it is chest high and bigger. Wizard Beach is best when it’s 3-5 feet and clean on an incoming tide, mostly in the morning. When you score the right conditions you will experience crystal clear water, long open walls, 180 degree jungle views and rainbow spray off the backs of the waves. I’m not sure where the name Wizard comes from, but it could certainly be from the magic you’ll experience here with these conditions! 

RED FROG BEACH

A view of Red Frog Beach with a beautiful blue sky and turquoise water with a rainforest lined beach.
A beautiful beach day at Red Frog, Isla Bastimentos
  • Type of Wave: Beach Break
  • Location: Isla Bastimentos
  • Difficulty: Beginner – Advanced
  • Crowd Level: Low
  • How to Get There: 25 Minute Boat or 10 Minutes Hiking through the Red Frog Beach Trail. 

Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos is the most famous and popular beach in the archipelago. It is a stunningly tropical area with a handful of accommodations and restaurants. There is also beach volleyball and beach cabañas you can rent for the day. However, Red Frog Beach is generally not considered a good surfing beach. With any size, the wave will be a super-fast close-out that offers little room for anything other than standing up. However, Red Frog Beach can be a good place for beginners to learn to surf when the swell is small.

LONG BEACH (PLAYA LARGA)

A surfer comes out of the tube at Long Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Surfing the clear waters of Long Beach (Playa Larga) by Brett Henninger
  • Type of Wave: Beach Break
  • Location: Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, Isla Bastimentos
  • Difficulty: Beginner – Advanced
  • Crowd Level: 0 – Low
  • Hot to Get There: 30 Minute Boat Ride

Long Beach, or Playa Larga, is located within the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. It takes 30 minutes to get here by boat and is one of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago. As the name suggests, it is a long beach, and that means peaks galore for you and your mates. 

Playa Larga receives more direct swell than other beach breaks close to Bocas Town so it is typically bigger and more powerful here. With good conditions the wave will have long open walls with big square barrels and super clear water. You’ll mostly surf here all alone except for the sea turtles and the National Park guards who live in a shack on the beach. 

KUSAPÍN (PLAYA UVA)

A drone view of Kusapin in the Ngabe Bugle comarca of Panama by Brett Henninger.
Playa Uva, Kusapín via Brett Henninger
  • Type of Wave: Beach Break
  • Location: Mainland Bocas del Toro inside the Nagbe Comarca
  • Difficulty: Beginner – Advanced
  • Crowd Level: 0
  • How to Get There: 1.5 Hour Boat ride

Playa Uva in Kusapín is the surf trip experience that every surfer dreams of. Getting there takes a 1.5 hour boat ride that snakes through the islands of the entire archipelago and across the Laguna de Chiriqui. This area is part of the semi-autonomous Ngäbe-Buglé territory where the Panamanian government has little say and foreign development is illegal. What you will find are the local people living mostly as they have for hundreds of years in an incredible landscape.

The wave is a world-class beach break on a world-class beach and receives more swell than any of the beaches on the islands of Bocas. Even without surf, visiting Kusapín for the day will have a lasting impact and will be something you remember forever. It is important to note that this area is very special to many people in the archipelago. It is not meant to be a tourist destination and those who visit should show the utmost respect to the local people!

THE SECRET SPOTS OF BOCAS DEL TORO

A drone view of playa Uva in Kusapin in Bocas del Toro by Brett Henninger
Playa Uva, Kusapin, in Bocas del Toro by Brett Henninger

Bocas del Toro is said to have more surf-able waves in a 2 mile stretch of coastline than anywhere else in the world

In fact, there are a lot more waves than the 12 that I have listed above! Many are even in close proximity to the center of Bocas…

However, most of the secret spot waves are considered to be “Locals Only,” and you can expect to be kicked out if caught surfing at one of them. The best thing to do if you want to explore more waves around Bocas is to hire a private surf guide! 


THE BEST PLACES TO STAY IN BOCAS DEL TORO FOR SURFERS

The main islands of Bocas del Toro are tightly packed together and its best waves are scattered among them. If you are coming to here to surf then you want to stay in a convenient location. Most of these locations will require that you take a water or land taxi to surf, while some offer surfing spots within walking or bicycle distance. 

Be aware: some accommodations market themselves as being good places for surfers to stay when in fact they are very far from where the best surf breaks are. Check our surf map in relation to where the accommodation is and make your own decision!

THE BEST ISLANDS TO STAY ON FOR SURFERS ARE COLÓN, BASTIMENTOS, CARENERO, AND SOLARTE. 

ISLA COLON

  • Staying out in the Bluff Beach, Paunch, and Tiger Tails area of Isla Colon offers some of the most convenient, surf-right-in-front accommodations. There are some unique accommodation types to be found here and many of them are walking distance to the best surf in Bocas. This is the most popular area in Bocas del Toro and development is happening at a rapid pace. 

ISLA CARENERO

  • Staying on Isla Carenero also gives you the ability to walk to the some of the best surf in Bocas. It is in close proximity to Bocas Town so the nightlife, restaurants, and water taxi system are easily accessible. 
  • Most accommodations on Carenero are within a 10-20 minute walk or a couple minutes water taxi to the surf breaks here. 

OLD BANK, ISLA BASTIMENTOS

  • Old Bank and the immediate surrounding area on Isla Bastimentos is another good place to stay for surfers in Bocas. 
  • There is an abundance of water taxis here and Old Bank is also where the trail to Wizard Beach starts. 
  • There are some other surf breaks around Old Bank that can be walked to and you will find a vibrant local surf culture here.

NORTH WEST END OF ISLA SOLARTE

  • The Northwest end of Isla Solarte (closest to Bocas Town) is another great spot to stay for a surf strip. 
  • Sol Bungalows is conveniently located just a 5 minute water taxi to the different surf spots on Isla Carenero. We are only a few minutes water taxi to the restaurants, shopping, nightlife and tours of Bocas Town! 

CHECK THE SURF REPORT FOR BOCAS DEL TORO

Our favorite websites for checking the Surf Report are Surf-Forecast.com and Windy. We love surf-forecast for the energy reading which helps us better understand the power of the swells. When the energy readings are around 400-500 and up it is typically good for the reef breaks and anything below that is better for the beaches. 

Windy.com is the best all around weather report for Bocas del Toro. They seem to be very accurate and have metrics for everything you could want to know about. Check out their Surf Report for Bocas del Toro below!https://embed.windy.com/embed2.html?lat=8.744&lon=-81.145&zoom=6&level=surface&overlay=wind&menu=&message=&marker=&calendar=&pressure=&type=map&location=coordinates&detail=&detailLat=9.340&detailLon=-82.240&metricWind=default&metricTemp=default&radarRange=-1

LEARN TO SURF IN BOCAS DEL TORO

Bocas del Toro is a great place to learn to surf! There are several high quality surf schools to chose from that offer competitively priced lessons and surfboard rentals. There’s also a few reef breaks and beach breaks that are great for learning like Black Rock, Bibi’s Break, Old Man’s, and Wizard Beach. Even Carenero Point and Paunch can be fun for more advanced beginners when the swell is small.

THE 3 MAIN SURF SCHOOLS ARE: MONO LOCO SURF SCHOOL, LA BUGA DIVE & SURF, AND ESCUELA DEL MAR

MONO LOCO SURF SCHOOL

  • Mono Loco Surf School has the highest quality surfboards and instructors. They offer surf lessons for $50 per person which includes around 30 minutes of surfing theory in a classroom setting, followed by 2 hours in the water. The whole lesson takes about 3 hours. Their boards are mostly hard top, traditional style longboards. Mono Loco Surf School rents surfboards for $25 per day. You can also hire a private surf guide through them!

LA BUGA DIVE & SURF

  • La Buga Dive & Surf also offers high quality surf lessons and has a wide variety of surfboards to rent. They are a dive and surf school and also have an overwater restaurant, bar, and lounge area you can hang out at after your lesson! Their lessons also cost $50 per person and include on land theory with 2 hours in the water. Daily surfboard rentals are $20. 

ESCUELA DEL MAR (EDM)

  • Escuela del Mar is another top surf lesson option. The biggest difference with Escuela del Mar is that they use soft top surfboards for their lessons. Their on land theory portion also takes place on an overwater platform on Isla Carenero. They also offer surf lessons for kids ages 4 and up. Escuela del Mar’s daily surfboard rentals can go for as little as $10 or up to $25 depending on the quality of the board. 

Author

Drew has lived in Bocas del Toro, Panama, since 2015. He originally came to Panama to work as the Volunteer Coordinator for an NGO called Give and Surf. His 4 years with Give and Surf helped him to develop a deep connection to the local communities and to have a knowledge of Bocas that not many others do. Drew and his wife, Tamara, are currently opening a Boutique Overwater Bungalow Hotel in Bocas del Toro called Sol Bungalows. Follow them on instagram @solbungalowsbocas and check out the Sol Bungalows websitefor more information!

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