Bocas del Toro: Complete Travel Guide

In this article, I will show you ALL the tips to travel to Bocas del Toro PanamáWe will cover all the best things to do, places to stay, where to eat, and more.So if you plan to travel to Panamá, you will love this new guide.Let’s dive in
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Bocas del Toro Travel Guide

Colón Island, the center of Bocas del Toro in Panama

 

When you arrive to Bocas del Toro, and take the boat from Almirante, the first place where your feet step firmly in this paradise is Colon Island.

This island of Bocas del Toro is the epicenter of the archipelago, and if you fly in from Panama City, you will land here.

We arrive from Boquete, after about three hours of mini bus, enjoying a beautiful landscape.

Isla Colon is the island chosen by many travelers.

There is the city of Bocas del Toro, this is the area that has more accommodation, and therefore prices are cheaper than in others such as Bastimentos, where we stay.

But it also has a main street full of supermarkets where you will find everything you need.

From this island is where you have to take other boats to move between the different islands that make up this beautiful archipelago, Bocas del Toro.

 

If you have chosen Isla Colón as a place to stay, we tell you what you can see and do on this main island.

Besides how to move to other islands, something you must do yes or no to enjoy this natural spot.

Don’t forget that this archipelago is home to the Bastimentos National Park, an authentic marine nature reserve.

What to see in Colon Island

The island is an acceptable size, but there are local buses that will take you anywhere on the island without the need for a taxi, unless you are in a hurry.

But hurrying in Bocas del Toro shouldn’t exist.

Bocas del Toro City

As I told you a little above, the city of Bocas del Toro is the main urban center of the whole archipelago.

And if you are going to stay in a different island, I do advise you to get some food, since the other islands barely have a few shops to supply you.

Besides, prices will be higher, since everything comes from Isla Colón.

In this city, its streets are laid out with a drawing pen.

But where the streets where the accommodations are, wharfs, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, etc.

are located are the First, Second and Third streets.

Yes, that’s their name, easy to remember, and impossible to get lost in.

Walking around Bocas del Toro is to approach the old colonial houses.

Today, many of them are painted in bright colors.

But it is also to get close to a local population originating from the Dutch Antilles and Jamaica.

They have their own language, quite complex to understand, since it is a mixture of English, French and Spanish.

We also meet that local population in Old Bank, the main town of Bastimentos Island.

 

In the city of Bocas del Toro, one of the few places of certain interest is the Simon Bolivar Park, and the Government Palace, which are right next door.

They are located between Segunda and Tercera streets.

This park, is the place where many vans stop to take you to Bocas del Drago.

The Simon Bolivar Park is the favorite meeting place of the locals.

There, in the shade of the trees, they watch the time go by, and especially the new inhabitants of the island, the tourists.

Without a doubt, the city of Bocas del Toro is a good place to take a walk, do some shopping and start mixing with the local people.

Boca del Drago

Although many people come to Boca del Drago with the intention of visiting the famous Estrella de Mar beach, this beach and its tranquility are a safe bet if you are on Columbus Island.

We arrive by bus from the Plaza Simón Bolívar, and after about forty minutes crossing the island, we arrive at the Boca.

The name, Boca, might catch your attention, well, that name is not casual.

 

They told us about it in Cuba, since there were many places where some beach was called La Boca beach.

It turns out that its name is due to the way the beach is made and how it is protected, that way it served as a refuge for pirates to hide.

So, beaches with that name have a significant past of piracy (or so we were told).

Bocas del Toro, must have been a great pirates’ hideout, and the truth is that it doesn’t surprise me, since it’s a maze of islands that are perfect for hiding.

 

To get from Boca del Drago to Playa Estrella de Mar, you have to follow a very nice path for about fifteen minutes.

Always parallel to the sea.

 

Estrella de Mar Beach

Estrella de Mar Beach is famous for the starfish on the shore.

There used to be many of them, but the bad habit of visitors taking them out of the water, in addition to killing many, has made them retreat.

There are fewer and fewer of them.

It doesn’t matter that the beach is flooded with signs warning in English and Spanish that nobody should touch or take out the starfish, many people still do.

 

So you know, if you go to this beach, respect the starfish, don’t touch them or pull them out of the water.

But do the same with all the other marine and non-marine wildlife you see.

 

Apart from the starfish, I particularly didn’t like the beach.

It’s narrow and flooded with beach bars.

There were two things that improved my negative impression about this beach, the sloth bears we saw in some trees, very close to us and at a low altitude.

And a cheap lobster that we ate.

But other than that, I didn’t like the place.

Bluff Beach

This beach is famous for turtles that lay their eggs there between the months of April and August.

In those months you cannot go to the beach to avoid damaging the turtle nests.

Little by little this beach, which is more than five kilometres long, has become popular.

Before, there were only turtles and surfers.

Excursion to Bastimentos Island

From Columbus Island, you can go to the different islands by boat.

For three dollars they take you in ten minutes to the neighbouring Bastimentos.

 

This is where we stay, and the truth is that the nature of this island, as well as its beaches, is incredible.

Not to mention the Old Bank village, where the local population lives.

It’s really worth it, to go at least one day to visit the beaches of Wizard, Red Frog and the Old Bank town.

In the following article, we tell you everything about this island, Bastimentos, tranquility and nature in Bocas del Toro.

Zapatilla Island Excursion

Zapatilla Island, or rather Zapatilla Cay with its two islands, is to go to the island where the first reality show called Survivors was filmed.

You could feel like Robinson Crusoe if you weren’t the only “castaway” to show up on the island.

 

These islands belong to the Bastimentos National Park, a natural reserve that aims to preserve, and does so the fauna and flora.

Unlike Bastimentos Island, where you can go on your own, to go to Zapatilla Island you will need to do so through an excursion.

However, the excursion is very worthwhile, since you will be snorkelling in places where the coral is perfectly preserved.

You will see catsharks, dolphins, manta rays and thousands of colorful fish.

And on the way back, you will see sloth bears in the mangroves of one of the many islands in the National Park.

This is definitely a place you have to visit, yes or no.

We tell you our experience in this idyllic island in Zapatilla Cay, a paradise in Bocas del Toro.

Accommodation in Bastimentos

When we decided to stay on this quiet island, we also looked for a quiet and spacious accommodation.

We found the Ataraxia Guest House, an accommodation now run by a Belgian couple eager to regain the place that was.

The house is an old cocoa plantation, and colonial style, with huge terraces, where you can see the sunset and sunrise.

You can also enjoy the spectacle of the hummingbirds fluttering around while you have breakfast.

 

They are also recovering all the land they have to become self-sufficient, as far as possible, in both food and energy.

A good way to take care of the island.

 

We loved the place, and the couple gave us a hand with any questions we had, as well as giving us very useful information about the island.

We certainly recommend it.

If you want to see more pictures of the place, prices and availability, you can take a look at the following link, Ataraxia Guest House.

Or if you prefer to see other options on the island, you can see this link, Accommodation in Bastimentos Island.

Zapatilla Cay – Bocas del Toro

If you’ve heard of Zapatilla Cay, you must know that these two islands are a kind of paradise on earth.

And from the Bastimentos Island in Bocas del Toro you can go on an excursion.

And if you haven’t heard of Zapatilla Cay, this place is simply spectacular.

 

A few years ago Cayo Zapatilla became famous thanks to a television program, called Supervivientes.

This was a reality show where a series of people had to play Robinson Crusoe on an idyllic island in the Caribbean Sea, and they chose this one.

Well, when we got to Bocas del Toro, if one thing was clear to us, it was that we wanted to get to Zapatilla Key and dive into its waters to see what was hiding down there.

It’s true that diving into the water was basically snorkeling and a bit of deepboarding, which was a lot of fun.

Zapatilla Cay

Cayo Zapatilla belongs to the Bastimentos National Park.

This National Park includes a great number of islands and islets, among them, Bastimentos Island itself, where we decided to stay during our stay in Bocas del Toro.

And although this National Park hides great treasures, perhaps one of the most idyllic is Cayo Zapatilla.

We started our journey to this island in a typical boat of the area.

Our first stop was very close to Bastimentos Island, to see some dolphins.

It is true that from the pier of our accommodation, we had already seen dolphins playing, but in this case, the group was more numerous.

These dolphins are usually always in the same area, so it is quite easy to find them and see them playing, approaching our boat.

As it is a National Park, they are very well respected and the boats do not usually go near them, so in spite of our presence being invasive, they disturb as little as possible.

Coral Cay

One of the most spectacular coral sites I’ve ever seen is this Coral Key.

A place full of coral in perfect condition, cared for, and with thousands of fish.

When we arrive to this area, we jump into the water, mask and snorkel ready to enjoy one of the most incredible activities in Bocas del Toro, snorkeling and enjoying what is down there, which is not little.

It was a real show of color.

Corals of different colors, a wonderful flora under the sea, not to mention the millions of little colored fish.

Some bigger and some smaller, but little fishes after all.

The water was and is pristine, the visibility of meters and meters.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so transparent.

Not even in Indonesia.

Without a doubt, snorkeling is one of the things we liked and enjoyed the most during our trip to Panama.

Arrival to Zapatilla Key

As I said at the beginning, Zapatilla Cay is two islands.

But they don’t seem to have a specific name for each one.

They are called Slipper Key 1 and Slipper Key 2.

 

The point is that they are not inhabited, nor can anyone stay in them, so the conservation of both is very good, very good.

Our Zapatilla Key was on the 2nd.

When we were approaching it, it was incredible to see the color of the water, you could see the bottom.

Turquoise blue.

The beach was elongated, with sand as white as flour, and palm trees and more palm trees.

But there were almost no people, only the tourists who came to spend a couple of hours in this little piece of paradise.

 

Right in front of Island 2, there were two mini islets, the closest image to an island with a palm tree and that’s it.

Swimming there was a little bit of a challenge because of the current, but it was really worth it.

When we got to Zapatilla Key, we decided to see what was inside the island, to cross it (it’s quite narrow, I must say).

At first it was a road that led us inside, but then a footbridge over the mangroves was not going to lead to an incredible beach.

 

The catwalk was not in the best of states, so every step, you had to make sure the board didn’t break.

But the best was yet to come.

The beach.

It’s part of the beach surrounding the island, but totally wild.

What’s more, it’s the first time I feel like I’m in a place that could perfectly be the setting for a Robinson Crusoe movie.

So much so, that we found a coconut lying there, and opened it up by hitting it against a fallen palm tree trunk.

We drank it and ate it like thirsty, hungry castaways.

 

We walked along that beach until we reached the area where the boat we had come in was.

We put our mask and snorkel back on and swam around, until we reached the islets.

The strong current was tiring, but the effort was worth it.

 

In that area there was quite a lot of current since these two islands are the gateway to Bocas del Toro, after them, the mainland is in Jamaica.

Far, far away.

So the current from the open sea was intense.

More coral and catfish

To return to Bastimentos, we made two more stops, apart from the lunch stop.

We reached a large area of coral between the two islands.

We went swimming around the coral, and something happened that we neither knew nor sensed.

We had our second encounter with sharks in Panama.

On Coiba Island, there had been more than a dozen white-tipped sharks swimming below us.

In this case it was a cat shark that we encountered, but as soon as it saw us, it ran away.

It was also quite curious to feel the desire for a remora.

Yes, I had been swimming for a while, feeling like something was pinching my leg.

Until I finally saw it was a remora.

For those who do not know what a remora is, it is a fish that literally attaches itself to other fish to be transported from one place to another.

Come on, the remora chose me as its means of transport, but that was only for a few meters.

The truth is that this area of coral had incredible biodiversity.

So much wildlife in so little space.

This Bastimentos National Park really deserves that title, and besides, it is grateful that it is so well preserved.

DeepBoard in Zapatilla Cay

Once we’re done with the coral we start with the DeepBoard, don’t you know what that is? Well, neither did we until the guy on the boat showed us.

It’s a crescent-shaped board, tied to the boat.

It allows you to dive into the water and enjoy a sense of speed that’s not real.

Seeing the bottom from a different perspective, which is also a lot of fun.

We did it in two groups for barely fifteen minutes each group of two people.

I did it in the second group, and I didn’t imagine, that going so slow the boat, could give that sensation of speed.

As if we were going to fly away, but it was just a feeling, fun, that’s for sure.

Lazy bears

This was the last activity of the day, in search of sloth bears in the Bastimentos National Park.

This time, among the mangroves, and as it seems that they always walk in the same areas, there they took us, and there we saw them.

This time, however, they were too far away to be able to distinguish what was hiding behind that ball in the branches.

The truth is, it wasn’t the best way to see them.

Where we saw sloth bears really well, was on Columbus Island, at Star Fish beach, and at Wizard beach in Bastimentos.

 

So, if there is a place where you can see sloths in the wild, without anyone bothering them, and away from animal traffic, it is in Bocas del Toro, their natural habitat.

How to go to Zapatilla Key

We went all the way to Zapatilla Key and did all these activities by boat.

In our accommodation in Bastimentos, we hired this excursion.

The Belgian boys who run the accommodation where we stayed, know a boy who has a boat that is usually used to go from one island to another.

A kind of taxi-boat.

Well, it’s this guy who took us and showed us the places we visited.

It was really good, we’d do it again.

Accommodation in Bastimentos

When we decided to stay on this quiet island, we also looked for a quiet and spacious accommodation.

We found the Ataraxia Guest House, an accommodation now run by a Belgian couple eager to regain the place that was.

The house is an old cocoa plantation, and colonial style, with huge terraces, where you can see the sunset and sunrise.

You can also enjoy the spectacle of the hummingbirds fluttering around while you have breakfast.

Bastimentos

Bastimentos

They are also recovering all the land they have to become self-sufficient, as far as possible, in both food and energy.

A good way to take care of the island.

Bastimentos

Bastimentos

We loved the place, and the couple gave us a hand with any questions we had, as well as giving us very useful information about the island.

We certainly recommend it.

If you want to see more pictures of the place, prices and availability, you can take a look at the following link, Ataraxia Guest House.

Or if you prefer to see other options on the island, you can see this link, Accommodation in Bastimentos Island.

Bastimentos Bocas del Toro

We arrived in Bocas del Toro and did it in Bastimentos.

It was not by chance that we chose this island and not another one, like Columbus.

Bastimentos is a quiet island, very quiet, but at the same time with dozens of plans.

If you are looking for a party, this island is not the right place, but Columbus.

Despite being less than ten minutes by boat from Columbus Island, Bastimentos Island turned out to be another world, nothing to see.

And the best thing is how the accommodations are distributed, scattered from each other, so that you always seem to be on the island by yourself, a wonder.

In fact, when you’re at the Isla Colón pier from where the boats leave for Bastimentos Island, you’re asked what accommodation you’re staying in, as each accommodation usually has its own pier.

Ours was, and to reach the farm where the colonial house was located in an old cocoa plantation that is being recovered, seemed to go back a century in time.

The truth is that we couldn’t have been better off, the ever-present sea, nature, the colonial environment and nature in its purest form right behind.

Now, you may wonder, so well does the island of Bastimentos look, but what can you do there?

Well, we’ll tell you about it later.

What to see and do on Bastimentos Island

Here you will find everything, beaches, other islands, mangroves, spectacular beaches, rainforest and fauna such as sloths or the frog considered the most poisonous animal on the planet, the Dendrobatidae or arrowhead frog.

Its name is due to the fact that indigenous tribes used the poison on their skin to wet the tips of the arrows they used against their enemies.

Mind you, it’s very small, but it’s a bully.

Old Bank

This is the village of the island, where the inhabitants of Bastimentos are gathered.

Here the population is of Afro-Antillean origin, mainly from Jamaica.

So their usual language is a mixture of Spanish, English and French.

Of course, a mission impossible to understand a sentence, beyond single words.

 

Old Bank has about 1,500 inhabitants, where most of them must be children, since they are all out playing in the streets.

And I say the street, because basically it’s a street this town has.

From our accommodation, Ataraxia, in the south east of the island, we took about fifteen minutes on a makeshift road.

And when we got to the main street, that makeshift road became the main street, really curious.

The houses in Old Bank are curious, many of them look like colonial houses, but they are not.

What they are is colorful, very colorful.

Yellow, green, blue, red, giving joy to the people.

 

Actually, for lunch or dinner, it’s the best place on the island.

There are several very local restaurants, well in Old Bank everything is completely local, there are hardly any tourists, overlooking the sea and the rest of the island where you can enjoy a nice lunch or dinner for very little money.

 

Without a doubt, you cannot leave Bastimentos without visiting Old Bank, it is the day to day life of its inhabitants, quite friendly and welcoming.

Wizard Beach

This is one of the most beautiful beaches we have seen during our trip to Panama, and the truth is that we have visited many beaches.

To get to it, you have to do it by a muddy road from the Old Bank.

You go up and down, watching nature take over during the twenty minutes of your journey to get there.

And this is where you have to keep an eye on the top of the trees, especially when you are already near the sea, to see sloths.

There they are, hidden but in sight.

It’s amazing to see how they move, little by little.

Their three fingers with those very long nails, their “life is wonderful” face, and their hair full of moss, due to their little and slow activity.

When you get to the beach, it’s quite likely that you’re the only person who enjoys a really wild beach.

No doubt a place to get lost and stay and enjoy in solitude, or in the company of whomever you wish.

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Red Frog Beach

You can imagine from the name, that it is on this beach where you can see those little red hyper-poisonous frogs.

Well, on the beach you won’t see any, but the road that takes you from Wizard Beach to Red Frog, you’ll see quite a few.

To get to Red Frog Beach from Wizard, you’ll have to go to the far right of the beach, and from there, skirt around.

You’ll see a path, and sometimes that path will disappear.

But you’ll get there.

We got a little lost, and eventually we came through the rocks on the shore instead of the road.

 

The road is very beautiful, very wild.

You’re really in a rainforest, in the jungle, and there’s wildlife.

You can see more lazy, red frogs, but be careful where you step, they can be there, under a leaf.

They’re very small, and if you step on them, you kill them.

Do not touch them, because it is in their skin where the poison is.

 

When you get to the Red Frog, the beach is wild, like Wizard, but at the end of it there is a small resort.

At least, after the road from Wizard, it takes about twenty minutes, you can have a cold beer while looking at the Caribbean.

Bastimentos National Park

On Bastimentos Island, the first national park was created in Panama in 1988.

This park protects more than 180 islands around Bastimentos.

Besides these islands, there are also coral areas of great environmental value and with an incredible marine wealth.

You can make excursions from Bastimentos in a boat to Zapatilla Cay, a place with two islands that would be the perfect place for Robinson Crusoe.

So much so, that the first season of the Survivors reality film was shot there.

 

And before we got to Zapatilla Key we did some snorkeling in Coral Key, impressive.

We saw dolphins and also a cat shark.

 

Going by boat in this Bastimentos National Park is like being in paradise.

Accommodation in Bastimentos

When we decided to stay on this quiet island, we also looked for a quiet and spacious accommodation.

We found the Ataraxia Guest House, an accommodation now run by a Belgian couple eager to regain the place that was.

The house is an old cocoa plantation, and colonial style, with huge terraces, where you can see the sunset and sunrise.

You can also enjoy the spectacle of the hummingbirds fluttering around while you have breakfast.

 

They are also recovering all the land they have to become self-sufficient, as far as possible, in both food and energy.

A good way to take care of the island.

We loved the place, and the couple gave us a hand with any questions we had, as well as giving us very useful information about the island.

We certainly recommend it.

If you want to see more pictures of the place, prices and availability, you can take a look at the following link, Ataraxia Guest House.

Or if you prefer to see other options on the island, you can see this link, Accommodation in Bastimentos Island.

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