If you’re visiting Bocas del Toro soon, you’ve come to the right place. After reading this guide, you’ll know what islands to stay on, where to find the best restaurants and how to get around these idyllic islands in Panama.
What to expect from Bocas del Toro
Panama is full of spectacular spots that make you feel like you’ve stepped into paradise. The Bocas del Toro Islands are one of those destinations!
The Bocas del Toro archipelago consists of nine main islands in the Caribbean Sea.
You know what that means – crystal-clear turquoise water, soft white-sand beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze. In other words, paradise!
Their beauty isn’t their only attraction. Home to some of the area’s Indigenous cultures, like the Ngäbe and NasoTjerdi, the islands have many stories and traditions to share.
Is Bocas del Toro worth visiting?
Being largely undeveloped still (a rare thing to find nowadays), most of the Bocas del Toro islands are covered in tropical rainforest. Ideal for hiking through and spotting some wildlife along the way.
Grab your snorkel and fins and begin exploring the island’s diverse and magical marine life. 95% of the Caribbean’s coral species can be found in Bocas del Toro.
Heading to Bocas del Toro between December and April? The islands are a largely undiscovered destination for surfing. You can spend your days catching waves and your nights enjoying the laidback island vibes.
Top Tip: There is only one ATM in the entire archipelago of islands and it’s located on Isla Colón. We recommend bringing enough cash for your stay.
How many days should you spend in Bocas del Toro?
It would be a shame to only spend a couple of days on the Bocas del Toro islands. We recommend a minimum of four days to truly embrace the chilled island vibe and explore more than one island.
You can easily spend a week here, as there are plenty of things to do. Some people, particularly surfers, stay for a month or two. Will this be you?
To help you make the most of your time in Bocas del Toro, we’ve put together a list of the top things to do in Bocas del Toro.
Where to stay in Bocas del Toro
Out of the nine main islands, five are where tourism is centred.
Choosing which island (or islands) to stay on can be a hard decision. The best island for you depends on what you’re looking for.
To help you make your decision on which island to stay on in Bocas del Toro, here’s some extra information:
Location #1: Isla Colon — the main island in Bocas del Toro
Isla Colon is the main island and home to the capital city of the province, Bocas Town.
It’s one of the most popular islands for visitors. This is where you’ll find the airport, making it the most accessible of the islands.
It’s also well connected with the rest of the archipelago. By far the most developed island, there are roads that will get you to most of the popular spots.
Isla Colon has pretty much everything you’d want from a paradise island. There are plenty of stunning beaches, including the famous Starfish Beach, awesome surfing, rainforest, diverse marine life and the vibrant Bocas Town.
Accommodation on Isla Colon
You can find some incredible places to stay on Isla Colon. Anything from a campsite in the middle of the jungle, to a luxury hotel over the water.
Being a popular spot amongst travellers, Isla Colon also offers a number of hostels.
Private rooms start at around $20 per night.
Location #2: Isla Bastimentos — a laid back island with incredible beaches and culture
Not far from Isla Colon is Isla Bastimentos, the second most popular island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
If Isla Colon sounds too busy for you, then Isla Bastimentos might be the perfect fit. Here you’ll find some amazing beaches, including Red Frog Beach. Keep your eye out for the tiny red frogs that give this beach its name.
One of the most interesting things about Isla Bastimentos is its Afro-Caribbean town of Old Bank, which is said to be one of the last remaining authentic Afro-Caribbean cultures in the world.
Accommodation on Isla Bastimentos
Like Isla Colon, you can also find some spectacular accommodations on Isla Bastimentos.
The only problem is that they get booked up very fast. If Booking.com is normally your go-to booking site, it might be worth checking out some others, or going directly to the hotel’s website to check availability.
You can find private rooms starting at around $25 per night.
Location #3: Isla Carenero — an island rich with jungle, surf breaks and community
Isla Carenero is located just 1-minute from Bocas Town by water taxi. You can easily hop between the two.
You get the best of both worlds staying on Isla Carenero – a more relaxing atmosphere than Isla Colón, but still only minutes from the action.
If you’re an avid surfer, then the long left-hand point break called Carenero Point will be calling your name.
In between surfing and relaxing on Isla Carenero’s tropical beaches, you can explore its dense jungles and mangroves.
Don’t worry, there is some civilisation in the south of the island. There’s a small town with restaurants, accommodation, shops and a local community.
Accommodation on Isla Carenero
Similar to Isla Bastimentos, accommodation is limited on Isla Carenero.
There are beautiful beach-front hotels and cabanas, but they get booked up quickly.
If you’re struggling to find accommodation on Booking.com, we recommend doing some research on places to stay and booking directly with the hotel.
Private rooms are slightly more expensive here, starting at around $35 per night.
Best places to eat in Bocas del Toro
With Isla Colon being the most developed of all the Bocas islands, Bocas Town is full of restaurants. That’s not to say that the other islands don’t have great restaurants too — they do!
Food on the islands is centred around seafood, which makes sense considering that you’re surrounded by the sea. You can even find some delicious sushi.
With so many places to try, here are our top 3 spots to eat at across the Bocas del Toro islands:
Amaranto — amazing brunch food, juices and coffee on Isla Colón
Calling all fans of brunch, health and coffee. Amaranto is your place to go! This small cafe situated in Bocas Town sells the best cold press juices and brunch food across the islands.
You can tuck into a delicious smoothie bowl or indulge in some peanut butter and banana toast. With reasonable prices, you’ll want to come here every day.
Bibi’s on the beach — the freshest seafood on Isla Carenero
Bibi’s on the Beach is a popular spot on Isla Canero. Their ceviche is to die for and the seafood is incredibly fresh.
As you sit on their deck over the turquoise water, you can’t help but feel relaxed. Add some live music to a fresh sea breeze, and it’s going to be a pretty memorable meal.
Leaf Eaters Cafe — great vegetarian food with a paradise view on Isla Carenero
Despite the name, Leaf Eaters proves that being vegetarian doesn’t mean that you just have to eat leaves. Out of their predominantly vegetarian menu, we highly recommend the massive veggie burger and delicious tacos.
The view is almost as good as the food! You’ll be overlooking the blissful Caribbean sea. Even if you’re not staying on Isla Carenero, the boat from Bocas Town costs only $1. You can simply pop over for lunch.
How to get around Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro are a group of islands, so you’ve probably already guessed that you’ll need to take boats between the islands (unless you’re an excellent swimmer).
Here’s some more information on how to get between and around the Bocas del Toro islands:
Water taxis will be your main way to get around the Bocas del Toro islands. They’re easy to use and part of the adventure.
The prices vary depending on the length of the journey. They start from as little as $1, whilst longer rides cost between $3-5.
From Bocas Town, on Isla Colón, you can get the water taxis from a pier next to La Previa Night Club. Here you can connect to the other islands.
You might also need to use water taxis to explore the island that you’re staying on. You can find water taxis in every island’s main town.
If you’re going for a boogie on another island, make sure to get the boat before 10pm as most boats stop ruing after this!
Isla Colón is the only island with public roads. Here you’ll find yellow pickup-style taxis that can take you to most of the island.
Rides within Bocas Town cost $1. Don’t pay much more than this!
For longer distances, expect to pay between $3-10.
Your own two feet are pretty important for getting you around the Bocas del Toro islands.
Most of the island towns are small, so walking is the perfect way to see them.
A lot of the islands don’t have proper roads, so instead you’ll need to use the trails to reach the destination that you’re trying to get to.
Renting a bicycle is a popular thing to do, especially on Isla Colón. It’s a great way to get around the island and it’s fun!
Most of Isla Colón is flat, so you’ll get some exercise in without your legs hating you afterwards.
The ride from Bocas Town to the popular Starfish beach takes around 1.5 hours each way. There are plenty of snorkelling spots and restaurants to stop at along the way to break up the journey. Make a day of it!
Bike rentals cost $5/day.
Hire an electric bike
If all of that sounds a bit too strenuous for you, it’s possible to cheat a little bit and hire an electric bike. These are considerably more expensive, costing $40/day, but they do all the work for you.
Top Tip: Make sure to rent a lock with your bike, and use it! Otherwise you might be walking back instead.
By golf cart
Maybe not the form of transport that you expected to see, but you can hire a golf cart to explore Isla Colón.
The smaller carts can fit four people and cost $75/day. What a way to discover the island!
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you’re almost ready for your adventure in Bocas del Toro. The next step is to create your personalised itinerary with our top picks of things to do in Bocas del Toro. Simply choose your favourite activities and places to visit, and you’re all set to make lasting memories in Bocas del Toro.
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