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Bocas del Toro, Panama | A Photo Adventure

If we’re being completely honest here, we weren’t as enchanted by Bocas del Toro, Panama as the guidebooks predicted we would be. The Caribbean archipelago consists primarily of nine islands, two national parks, and a variety of wildlife. By all descriptions, the tropical paradise should have completely lured us in.

We liked it. It’s difficult not to like somewhere with beautiful islands and great food and a chilled out Caribbean vibe. But Bocas del Toro is extremely touristy, and many of the area attractions just didn’t seem worth the hype. Like, a visit to Dolphin Bay consisted of four boats of tourists waiting around for two dolphins that would eventually make a brief appearance. In contrast, our boat ride to Corcovado National Park saw pods of dolphins playfully following our boat.  Bocas del Toro lacked that wild, natural feel to it.

Though we weren’t completely enamored by Bocas del Toro, we did enjoy our time there. And had we not been spoiled from two months of exploring Costa Rica’s best beaches and wildlife, perhaps we would have seen what so many other travelers see.

Here’s a glimpse of our trip. What do you think?

 

A Cruising Couple Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro Houses_2

Doesn’t get more waterfront than that!

Bocas Del Toro Houses

Bocas del Toro: where the main transport is boat.

 

Wizards Beach

Wizards Beach Bocas Del Toro

Take a water taxi out here for some of Bocas’ best surfing, but be sure to bring your own surfboard!

 

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach Bocas Del Toro

 

Dolphin Bay

Dolphin Bay Bocas Del Toro

 Quick! Grab your camera- this is the only shot you’re getting!

 

Isla Zapatilla

Zapatilla Bocas Del Toro_2

Now THIS is more like it!

Zapatilla Bocas Del Toro_3

So walk around the island 3 times.

Zapatilla Bocas Del Toro

Take the cross island path.

Calling the Mermaid

Grab the magic conch and….

Relax

 There it is! A serene sea of blue just for you.

 

Snorkeling

Octopus

There’s lots to see under the sea…
Parrotfish

Parrotfish

needlefish

Needlefish

Sea Slug

Sea Slug

 

Bird Island

Bird Island_5

And up in the air! One guess as to what you’ll find here…
Bird Island_3

Mother and Baby

Yup, nothing but angry birds.

Bird Island_4

Birds Bocas Del Toro

Preparing for takeoff

Birds Bocas Del Toro_2

Waiting in line

 

Starfish Beach

Starfish Beach Bocas Del Toro_2

We hired a private water taxi to take us out to Starfish Beach before the other tourists woke up. The few extra dollars was definitely worth it!

Starfish Beach Bocas Del Toro_3

Thanks for showing us around beautiful mermaid!

Starfish Beach Bocas Del Toro

 

Arriving in Bocas del Toro

If coming from Costa Rica,  you’ll likely take a shuttle from Puerto Viejo to Almirante, then boat from Almirante to Bocas. Cost is around $25.  The trip takes 2.5 hours +, depending upon time spent at the border.

There are also a variety of buses and shuttles servicing the border of Costa Rica and Panama.

Stay At

Bocas Town is where you’ll find the majority of budget accommodation and guesthouses. We stayed at the Palma Royale, a slightly more expensive option, but easily boasting the best view in all of Bocas Town.

Eat

There’s a fantastic Wine and Tapas Lounge located on the main street. It was the only truly memorable place we dined during our stay.

Do

Other than surfing, the main attraction at Bocas is to take an island tour. It is easy to arrange tours on the main road or at most hotels. Everyone offers the same three packages, so there is no use in really ‘shopping around’. Most tours are around $20-$30 for a half-day of island hopping and snorkeling.

Have you been to Bocas del Toro before? What was your impression? 

 

Meet: Casey Siemasko


Casey Siemasko is a blogger, content creator, and co-founder of A Cruising Couple. She has been living and traveling outside of the US full-time since 2011. She finds her life inspiration in exploring the world and seeks to find the magic in the most ordinary of places.


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Comments

  1. The first sentence made be chuckle.. pretty much our sentiments as well! There’s some cool stuff to see, particularly with a snorkel, but it didn’t really live up to the hype for us either…I think the amount of rain played a part. The amount of rubbish washed up on Caranero was depressing..I don’t know if it’s always like that..
    That said, Tortuga Beach, Starfish Bay and Hospital Point were great and definitely worth a visit.

    • Thanks Adam! We got a pretty rainy day in there too. Thanks for the recommendations. I don’t think we went to Tortuga Beach or Hospital Point, so we’ll definitely have to keep those in mind if we ever return!

  2. I’m Speechless! I love the Dolphin bay I’d love to see dolphins in the open and not close in a pool in some kind of zoo.
    Franca recently posted…How We Spent Less Than £1000 On Accommodation In 18 MonthsMy Profile

  3. I thought the exact same thing. I liked it, but that’s it. I wouldn’t go back unless I was staying in a remote pristine spot. I loved my Zapatilla tour though!
    Jennifer recently posted…Testé Moi, mes souliers – Hotel Bonito – Buenos Aires, ArgentineMy Profile

  4. Panama looks like such a unique holiday destination – it had never even occurred to me as it’s certainly not a well known tourist spot for British tourists but I’m totally sold on it now after seeing so many great blog posts with fabulous photos like this one.
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) recently posted…Orangutan spotting in Borneo Part 1: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah MalaysiaMy Profile

  5. I am always lamenting how guidebooks are so misleading and they hype up pretty much every place they cover, even if it’s not that great. I guess that’s how they sell copies… they probably wouldn’t do as well if they wrote things like “Eh, honestly, this city isn’t great and will be a disappointment if you’ve been anywhere else. Maybe skip the entire country, actually….”

    Still, as someone who has never been to Central America, I thought your photos of Bocas del Toro were beautiful. I think it is possible to enjoy touristy destinations even if you don’t do the big ticket items, and perhaps they’re even more enjoyable if you get off the beaten path as you know pretty much exactly what (and where) everyone is going to be doing. I have to admit, I think I might be even more interested in visiting Panama than I am Costa Rica, so I’m looking forward to hearing more!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…A Delicious Day of Little Things Done WellMy Profile

    • Haha love your point about the guidebooks. So true probably! Bocas del Toro is certainly beautiful, and I would definitely recommend you guys to check it out when you make it to Central America, but as you suggested, maybe spend more time just getting to know the islands/getting off the beaten path and not participating in all the boat tours of the area attractions. Unfortunately we weren’t in Panama long enough to talk much more about it on the blog, but we will definitely be returning later this year to see more. We stopped in this lovely town called Boquete, and even though we were only there for a night to break up our bus trip back to Costa Rica, there seemed to be a lot of culture to experience. It probably helped that we timed our visit with a festival and Panamanian Independence Day, but still haha. Costa Rica certainly has culture, and it is much different on the Caribbean side, but for the most part it is all about the nature.

  6. Wow, my favourite one is definitely Isla Zapatilla, so stunning!
    Agness recently posted…Unusual Portuguese Pavements In MacauMy Profile

  7. I like how you made sure to enjoy yourself even when you were less than impressed. I love, love the photo of the gulls lines up…too cute!
    Corinne recently posted…Is Visiting Sepilok the Best Way to See Orangutans?My Profile

    • Thanks Corinne! There’s a lot to do, so we definitely still had a great time, we’re just not so sure we would say it’s a ‘sleepy paradise’ or ‘must-see utopian destination’ haha. Thanks for the comment on the gull photo- that’s one of our favorite’s too :)

  8. We weren’t that impressed with bocas either…but we also went when it rained the whole time. Plus we just came back from San Blas Islands which was about a thousand times more pristine so that spoiled us as well. Bocas is definitely nice if you just want to party and hit the beach, and yep very touristy! At least it’s cheap and you guys got some really nice shots, I like the fish! Pretty!
    Samantha @mytanfeet recently posted…My Life Be Like…A Celebrity in Costa RicaMy Profile

    • Thanks!! I remember you guys trying to convince us to go to San Blas instead haha. Next time!! :) It definitely gets more difficult the more you travel to beautiful places to keep the awe-factor.

  9. Have to disagree with your recommendations. I lived in Bocas for 4 months and there are ALOT of great food options and more stuff to do if you just ask the locals.

    The Wine and Cheese bar is SO expensive. I remember paying 6 bucks for a glass of red. There are so many great restaurants. Im surprised this was your only recommendation. For more info visit my site…. I’ve listed atleast 6 good restaurants in Bocas.

    • Hey Yvonne! Sorry if we weren’t clear- we weren’t trying to give a guide or anything, just recommendations from our personal experience. I’m sure there are lots of good restaurants, and we definitely didn’t go hungry, the wine bar was just the only memorable place we ate at ourselves. You must have discovered lots of off-the-beaten-track places to eat in four months though, so if we ever return we will be sure to check out your recommendations!

  10. Isla Zapatilla looks like my kind of place, lone beach, calm waters, I could float in a zen like state for hours there! (:
    Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted…Adventures in Living Abroad – Customer ServiceMy Profile

  11. Bocas del Toro is really extremely touristy. Additionally many of the area attractions may really don’t look worth the hype. But there are lots of places to visit such as Isla Zapatilla, Dolphin Bay and many more.

  12. Dolphin Bay, snorkeling and birds – sounds just like my ideal destination
    Natalie recently posted…The Ancient Ruins of OlympusMy Profile

  13. Wow that place looks fantastic. You’ve found a real haven for a slow down holiday retreat. The beaches seem so quiet and stunning and the landscape is breath taking.

    Great pictures guys. It certainly gets me dreaming whilst I see the miserable winter rain outside the window here in the UK.
    The Guy recently posted…Hongmei Lu Shanghai – Drinking On The Hongmei Pedestrian StreetMy Profile

  14. I wish I could have spent more time in Bocas to check out all these beautiful places posted here. Although I did find it a bit (too?) touristy… Just like, you I had been spoilt by visiting other countries in the area. I missed the ruggedness of Nicaragua or Honduras. Gorgeous beaches though!
    Sarah recently posted…Thingyan, Water festival in MyanmarMy Profile

  15. I have never been but the photos looks beautiful, looks like a great place to relax for a couple of days.
    Freya recently posted…The Quintessential Guide to New YorkMy Profile

  16. Two and a half years of living in Panama left us with the impression that Bocas is a nice place for a weekend break, but it’s too isolated, touristy, loud, and expensive for long-term living. We have some great memories of our visits there, though…the ones where we left Bocas Town for other islands. :)
    Linda Bibb recently posted…7 Must-See Things on Murano, the Glass Island of VeniceMy Profile

  17. I love Bocas, I guess I’m a little bias since I was born there. I think it’s pretty unique and not as touristy as many other Caribbean islands.
    Mera recently posted…25 Things to Do With Kids In ChicagoMy Profile

Trackbacks

  1. […] Panama: We did this once after our trip to Bocas del Toro, and it is fairly straightforward. Be prepared to present your passport for Panamanian exit stamps. […]

  2. […] Panama quickly became a very appealing destination. Last year we visited Bocas del Toro and Boquete, but we didn’t have the chance to make it down south. This time we decided to bookend […]

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