Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Bocas del Toro and how to experience them. Need help planning your trip? Check out our tips for visiting Bocas del Toro — you’ll find the best restaurants, where to stay, how to get around and more!
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.
#1 Count the starfish at Starfish Beach
If you’ve done any research about the Bocas del Toro islands, Starfish Beach will probably have been one of the first things that you discovered.
The attraction of Starfish Beach lies entirely in the water. Dotted across the seabed are a number of big orange starfish, just chilling and enjoying life.
It’s not something that you get to see every day, making the experience magical and unforgettable.
You can spend hours floating above these creatures, admiring their beauty and seeing how many you can count. Make sure to bring your snorkel gear so that you can get a good look at them.
Remember: Don’t touch the starfish or try to pick them up. Also be careful when you’re walking and swimming that you don’t accidentally hit them with your feet.
How to get to Starfish Beach?
Starfish Beach is on Isla Colón. The best way to get here is using the shared vans going to Bocas del Drago Beach. Starfish Beach is a 15-minute walk from Bocas del Drago Beach.
The vans cost $2.50 each way and take around 35 minutes. The last van back is at 5pm, so make sure not to miss it.
#2 Discover Bocas del Toro’s underwater world scuba diving
Bocas del Toro is home to 95% of the Caribbean’s coral species. It’s also where you’ll find an array of marine life such as turtles, nurse sharks, sting rays, dolphins and too many fish to name.
There are seven dive shops across the islands offering trips to over 15 dive spots in the area. Cave systems, shipwrecks and water ledges are some of the different dive spots available.
All of the dive shops on Bocas del Toro are safe and professional. We recommend Bocas Pirates who offer two dives for $90 or the opportunity to complete your PADI for $320.
#3 Check out the best snorkelling spots
The magnificent marine life isn’t restricted just to those who scuba dive. Boca del Toro’s shallow waters and great visibility provide amazing snorkelling spots too.
Snorkelling gear can be rented for $5 per day.
#4 Sleep in a building made of plastic bottles
One man’s trash is another man’s castle?
Robert Bezeau originally planned to retire on the Bocas del Toro island. Instead he ended up building a village, consisting of a castle, jail and houses made of plastic bottles!
How do you build a castle out of plastic bottles?
Quite simply actually.
The walls are made of plastic bottles stacked within cages of reinforced steel and wire. A layer of cement is then used to provide extra strength. Each one of these cages fits around three hundred 500ml bottles.
40,000 plastic bottles were used to make the castle and around 14,000 bottles are needed to make a simple bungalow.
Why was the Plastic Bottle Village built?
By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea. That’s a shocking statistic which Robert Bezeau is trying to change.
The Plastic Bottle Village on Isla Colón is a visual statement showing how we are ruining our planet. There’s even a dungeon jail where you can repent and think about how our actions are impacting the world.
You can also stay in the dungeon jail for $30 per night. While you get to stay in a unique place, the money is used to support the village’s mission — educating and campaigning for better solutions to our plastic problem.
How to visit the Plastic Bottle Village?
The village offers guided tours where you are talked through the construction process and their mission. They ask for a $5 contribution.
To reach the village, you can take a taxi from Bocas Town for around $3-5 each way.
#5 Try surfing some of the best waves in the world
Bocas del Toro is a largely undiscovered gem for surfing. Word is spreading, though, so if you want to experience catching a wave without waiting in the lineup, you better visit soon.
There are so many different breaks throughout the islands that there’s something for all levels.
Daily surfboard rental costs between $15-20.
If you need a few lessons before going alone, Mono Loco Surf School is one of the best. They offer 3-hour group lessons starting at $45.
#6 Hire an ATV and explore Isla Colón by yourself
Go where no taxi has gone before!
If you want to escape the other tourists and visit places that aren’t easy to access, then consider hiring an ATV for the day.
Flying Pirates is the best company on Bocas del Toro for renting ATVs. They have 1400 acres of private property on Isla Colón just for their customers.
They’ve also created a number of trails that give you access to incredible spots such as La Piscina, Blue Lagoon, Christian’s Beach and more. Make sure to bring your swimming stuff as these are great swimming locations.
The best part about this is that it’s not a tour. It’s self-guided! You can explore the island at your own pace and go where you want!
ATV rental starts at $110 for half day and $140 for a full day.
#7 Search for the poison-dart frogs on Red Frog Beach
At Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos, you can spend your day lounging on the soft sand, or searching for the red frogs which give the beach its name.
The red poison-dart frogs can be found in the dense jungle that backs on to Red Frog Beach. Though, we warn you in advance, they grow to a maximum size of 22mm. They’re tiny and therefore pretty hard to spot! Hopefully you get lucky.
Aside from the frogs, the beach is a wonderful place to spend the day. The jungle provides refreshing shade and there’s a small beach bar where you can enjoy some fresh juice and fish.
Top Tip: This one beach bar is the only place to get food and drink at Red Frog Beach. We recommend bringing with you plenty of water and some snacks to stop your belly from rumbling.
The waves can get quite rough at Red Frog Beach, so it’s not always the best place for swimming. But it’s great for surfing!
How to get to Red Frog Beach?
If you’re staying on Isla Colón, a water taxi from Bocas Town to Red Frog beach takes 10 minutes and costs $5 each way.
The boats can’t access the beach directly, so instead drop you off at a spot on Isla Bastimentos that is a 10-minute walk from Red Frog Beach.
#8 Experience untouched nature on Solarte Island
Whilst you’ll only be a few kilometres from the twinkling lights of Bocas Town, Solarte Island has a completely different vibe.
It’s the least developed of the main islands, offering dense rainforest, untouched beaches and peace.
If you’re into hiking, the trails running through the jungle are adventurous and great for spotting wildlife. The shallow coral reefs and mangroves make for perfect snorkelling spots too.
Hospital Point, now a popular snorkelling and diving spot, was once a hospital. Operating between 1901 and 1920, the area has since been completely reclaimed by the jungle.
How to visit Solarte Island?
If you can’t spend a few days on Solarte Island, then a day trip allows you to see a lot of the island. It’s only 8km².
You can take a water taxi from Bocas Town to Solarte island for around $5 each way.
#9 Rent a bike and explore Isla Colon
Renting a bike can be a great way to get around Isla Colon, and an activity in itself!
You can also get some exercise to make up for all of the delicious seafood that you’ve been eating on the islands!
Don’t worry, though, most of Isla Colon is flat, so it won’t be too strenuous.
There are trails all over the island. You can use the bicycle to reach popular spots like Starfish Beach. The ride takes around 1.5 hours each way.
Why not stop at one of the snorkelling spots and restaurants along the way to break up the journey? Make a day of it!
Bike rentals cost $5/day.
Not all the bikes are in great condition, so give it a little test ride before agreeing to rent it. You don’t want to get halfway across the island and your bike breaks.
#10 Snorkel amongst the coral gardens at Boca del Drago Beach
Bocas del Drago is one of the best beaches on Isla Colón. Mainly because not everyone goes there.
Being on the other side of the island to Bocas Town, where most people stay, it’s far enough to dissuade people from visiting. Don’t let that be you!
Bocas del Drago Beach is a glorious stretch of white-sand beach with warm waters.
Not too far from the shore are coral gardens. The shallow waters and sandy bottom provide great conditions for snorkelling, so don’t forget to bring your snorkel gear.
How to visit Bocas del Drago Beach?
The easiest way to visit Bocas del Drago Beach is via the white vans that cost $2.50 each way. You can find these vans at the park in the centre of town. The journey takes around 35 minutes.
For the more adventurous amongst us, Bocas del Drago Beach is 14 km from Bocas Town. Fancy hiring a bike and cycling there?
#11 Try the freshest chocolate you’ve ever tasted
Most of us are obsessed with chocolate. It’s our guilty pleasure. Most of us get caught up in that delicious taste while we don’t even know how it’s made.
Up In The Hill is an organic farm situated on Isla Bastimentos and home to one of the best rated cacao tours in Panama.
The informative hosts take you around their 4-hectare permaculture and chocolate farm, teaching you about medicinal plants, wildlife, coffee and, of course, cacao.
Once you’ve discovered where it all begins, you’ll see the whole process from bean to powder and eventually chocolate. This is when you’ll get to try some of the freshest and most organic chocolate you’ve ever tasted.
Tours run from 11am to 1pm and cost $40 per person.
#12 Dance all day and night on an island boat crawl
‘Three tropical islands. One crazy party in paradise!’ — that’s the slogan of the Filthy Friday Bocas bar crawl.
As the name suggests, every Friday you can join other travellers and locals to enjoy good music, great vibes and strong drinks.
You’re going to need some stamina for this bar crawl as it starts at 11:30am and lasts until 9pm! Party the day and night away to some of Panama’s best DJs.
Tickets cost $40 which includes a Filthy Friday T-shirt (we’re sure you’ve always wanted one of those), entrance to three bars, boat transportation between islands and shots throughout.
#13 Take to the trees on the Bastimentos Canopy tour
Ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a bird? The Bastimentos Canopy Tour gives you a pretty good idea as you fly through the treetops.
This 2-hour tour through the jungle won’t be done on the ground, but instead on seven ziplines, floating logs, canopy nets and tarzan swings.
As well as being an adrenaline-packed adventure, the canopy tour can be a good wildlife spotting opportunity. Keep an eye out for parrots and white-faced capuchin monkeys.
If you’re not staying on Isla Bastimentos, then the canopy tour can be a good excuse to visit it. At the end of the tour, you also visit the famous Red Frog Beach.
The adventure costs $55 per person, excluding transportation, and runs every day at 10am, 1pm and 3:30pm.
#14 Wander around Bocas Town
Bocas Town is the capital of the Bocas del Toro province. It’s by far the most developed town of all the islands and a lot of people choose to stay here.
It won’t take you long, but spend some time wandering the streets of Bocas Town. They are filled with colourful houses, local shops, bars and delicious restaurants.
Soak up the laid back Caribbean island vibe.
#15 Sip cocktails and snorkel at The Floating Bar
Ever drunk a cocktail whilst floating in the middle of the sea? If you haven’t, you can tick this one off the bucket-list when you visit Bocas del Toro.
Just off the southern coast of Isla Corn is The Floating Bar.
Open from 12pm-7pm every day, it’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Bocas del Toro.
Serving tacos, ceviche, quesadillas, cocktails and beers, they have everything you need! They also have deck chairs to lounge in and a jumping off spot to practise your best belly flop.
Bring along snorkelling equipment and you can explore the nearby mangroves and shipwreck!
How to get to The Floating Bar?
You can take a water taxi from Bocas Town to The Floating Bar for around $2 per person each way. Most taxi drivers will know where the bar is.
To get back to Bocas Town, ask the bar to call a water taxi for you.
Rounding it up
Now you’ve picked the best things to do in Bocas del Toro, it’s time to start ticking off that bucket list. Not sure how to plan your trip? Our Bocas del Toro guide is here to help! You’ll find out how long to stay in Bocas del Toro, where to eat, how to get around and more. Happy planning!
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.