Bocas del Toro, Panama | A Photo Adventure

This post was last updated on August 18th, 2014

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….


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




There’s lots to see under the sea…




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.


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.


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? 



  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!

    • It is pretty cool to see dolphins just swimming in the open :) Especially if you can get a whole group of them playing around for a while! I would love to scuba dive with dolphins one day!

    • Zapatilla was definitely the highlight for us as well! We would certainly go again if we had a reason to, but we wouldn’t seek it out I suppose.

    • Panama certainly has a lot to offer, and we wish we could have spent more time there. We’ll definitely be returning to explore it more.

  2. 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.

      • The guidebooks were gushing about Boquete but didn’t really say anything that made me want to make a detour to visit in our limited time in Panama. I really liked Bocas, but it was for the variety and the backpacker community there. If interested, I just wrote about my island hopping trip (link below).
        Todd @ Visit50 recently posted…Island Hopping in Bocas del Toro PanamaMy 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 :)

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

    • Isla Zapatilla is certainly a highlight of the area :) Lots of zen going on!!

  5. 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.

    • There are loads of activities to keep you busy in Bocas :-)

  6. 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

    • Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to be in a bathing suit in December :-p Stay warm!

  7. 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

    • That’s exactly it- the whole getting spoiled from visiting so many beautiful tropical places. We would love to visit Nicaragua and Honduras. Haven’t made it there quite yet!

  8. 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

    • Thanks for the advice! Sounds like next time we need to stay on a different island to get a real feel of Bocas :)

  9. 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

    • Thanks Tiny Traveller! I wish I could tell you that dolphins swam up to us a whisked us away in a golden chariot to Atlantis :-p but sadly no.

      • Hahaha that’s a shame! I’m going to C. America in the New Year, I’ll look out for conches and let you know if I make it to Atlantis :P
        Tiny Traveller recently posted…Midsummer’s Eve in FinlandMy Profile

  10. My girlfriend and I are playing on staying in Batsi. You think thats a good idea?



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