Sun, surf and starfish in Bocas del Toro, Panama
All roads lead to Bocas del Toro: whether you are seeking to party, lounge on beautiful white sandy beaches with turquoise water or surf a dozen or so breaks, Bocas has it all – and few travellers visit Panama without coming here.
Bocas del Toro on Isla Colón is the main town and has good selection of bars and hostels. Set on the water, it doesn’t have any beach but provides easy access to nearby beaches and islands.
I stayed in the newly opened Selena Hostel which had a stunning bar and decking area on the water providing ample opportunity to lie in hammocks with a wine and enjoy the water and sun.
Boats are the main form of transport in Bocas and the nearby Isla Bastimentos, a $10 return boat ride away, offers access to the beautiful Red Frog Beach. There is glamping tent accommodation here and a hostel for those wanting to escape the hustle and hassle of Bocas Town.
A collectivo ride away from town is starfish beach which offers crystal clear turquoise water, nice snorkelling and, surprise surpise, loads of starfish. It also comes with sandflies and strange sand that leaves what feel like shards of fibreglass stuck in your skin, ouch!
Snorkelling tours are on offer to the stunning Solarte Island and Dolphin Bay and a new sport called Snorkel Boarding is taking shape here – where you get towed behind a boat. There is also plenty of diving.
Dangers and annoyances: Bed bugs are rife in Bocas and hostels seem to have largely given up trying to get rid of them. At least half of the travellers I met caught them here, including me. Aqua lounge, Hostel Heike and its neighbour all had major problems while I was there. Avoid putting bags and clothes on the bed to prevent taking some unwanted travel companions with you.
Hostels: If it weren’t for the bed bugs, Hostel Heike would be an good hostel (Dm $10 with great breakfast). Selena Hostel has just opened, but it is already showing signs of problems with filthy bathrooms, showers barely working and strange smells. The bar and decking is stunning but at $20 for a dorm bed, it may be a good place to hang, rather than stay.
Bars: Aqua Lounge, opposite Colón on Isla Carenero, offers decking over the water and pools within the bar. It is a great place to party.
Surfing: Bocas offers a range of sand and reef breaks, with most of them accessible by boat. I surfed Wizzards which is a sand break on Bastimentos, It was brilliant and works on on-shore winds and smaller swells as well. Beware of the locals when the swell is running.