Bocas del Toro is a total Central America tropical paradise. The area consists of several small islands with the main island being Isla Colon. Most people stay on Isla Colon for convenience, but the other islands are great if you want a relaxed vibe away from all the action.
The water is crystal clear and filled with beautiful starfish.
There’s definitely a backpacker vibe here, but honestly, I think you could find something for everyone.
We absolutely fell in love with Bocas del Toro and recommend it to everyone we meet, so please visit! I promise you’ll be obsessed.
Now on to the rest of the Bocas del Toro, Panama travel guide!
Getting to Bocas
The best way to get to Bocas del Toro is by taking the Mepe bus from San Jose, Cahuita, or Puerto Viejo. We wrote all about our experience taking the bus and how to do it in our complete guide for crossing the border from Costa Rica into Panama.
Although the Mepe bus is definitely the cheapest option, it can be a bit of a stressful journey. The bus ride is about six hours long (from San Jose) with only one stop. You then have to do the whole border crossing on your own and then find a taxi to take you to where a boat can take you to Bocas.
For a less stressful experience we suggest booking your trip with Caribe Shuttle. It will cost more than the public bus, but Caribe Shuttle will take you all the way to Bocas in their comfortable shuttles.
Getting Around in Bocas
While in Bocas del Toro you will depend mostly on the boats. The local water taxis will be happy to take you between islands.
However, it can be pricey after a while to be hopping between islands all the time.
To get a water taxi, just head to the docks in Bocas Town or ask your hotel to arrange a water taxi for you.
The Bocas del Toro Province consists of several different islands. Here is a map of the islands so you can get a slightly better idea of how things are situated. Hover over each location on the map for more information.
Go kayaking: The waters around Isla Colon (the main area in Bocas) are calm enough to kayak in.
We rented kayaks from our hotel, but if your hotel does not have kayaks just ask at the front desk. I’m sure they can direct you to a good place to rent one.
We paid $10 for a few hours.
The water is so incredibly clear that you can see huge starfish just chilling on the ground.
Go snorkeling: Because the water is so clear you can just jump in and swim around to see starfish and amazing fishies.
Take a day tour: The highlight of any trip to Bocas del Toro is definitely taking a day tour. Our favorite tour is the one that goes to Dolphin Bay, Zapatilla Island, Sloth Island, and has a stop for snorkeling.
There are plenty of shops in downtown Isa Colon that run tours but, also ask at your hotel. Sometimes the hotels partner with local companies and you can get a discount.
Go daytime bar hopping: I’ve never enjoyed bar hopping as much as I did in Bocas del Toro.
We went with a tour (which was amazing, but I don’t think it’s running anymore). However, if you are feeling crazy you can check out the Filthy Friday tour.
Or, you can easily create your own tour. Definitely go to Aqua Lounge, Bibi’s, Boca’s Brewery and The Blue Coconut. Oh and don’t forget to wear your bathing suit!
Go partying: The nightlife scene in Bocas del Toro is on point. Isla Colon is the perfect place to bar/club hop at night.
Rent an e-bike: Bocas Bikes has e-bikes for rent for $40 for a full day (9am-6pm). They are a super great company and will help you out so that everything is adjusted properly.
They can also give you tips on where to go, but I say definitely head to Playa Bluff.
Enjoy the beaches: If you would like to spend a day of natural beauty on a nice white sand beach, Zapitillo is always the best, but Red Frog Beach on Isla Bestimentos and Starfish Beach are also great hang out spots.
When visiting Bocas del Toro we suggest picking a hotel based on where you want to stay. As I mentioned before, Isla Colon is the most popular place to stay because it is the main island. We have also stayed on Isla Carenero as well as at Red Frog Beach.
Isla Carenero was not the nicest island but we actually liked it a lot. Plus it is only $5 from here to get to Isla Colon by boat.
Red Frog Beach is nice if you want to just stay put in one place. The beaches are nice but if you want to get to Isla Colon the boat costs $8 per person. This can add up fast.
La Loma Jungle Lodge– A really unique jungle lodge with a chocolate farm attached. This lodge is all-inclusive.
Eclypse de Mar Aqua Lodge– This place does have more mid-range hotels, but if you want a real luxury experience, stay at one of the overwater bungalows here.
Villa F&B– Modern rooms with an ocean view located on Isla Solerta. There is a restaurant, bar, and pool on the property.
Bocas Condos– Apartments located in downtown Isla Colon. The apartments are simple but have a full kitchen, air conditioning, and a small patio.
Stay Bocas– Simple but modern rooms in downtown Isla Colon. Air conditioning and breakfast are included.
Bambuda Lodge– Super nice hostel with a pool and water slide into the ocean. This place is located on Isla Solarte.
Hostel Mamallena– A really fun hostel with a nice dock for jumping in the water. Located on Isla Colon.
We definitely suggest checking out Airbnb as well. Sometimes you can get some really great accommodation deals at beautiful places on Airbnb. We like Airbnb because often you can get a place with a private kitchen.
Save $30 off your first Airbnb stay here
Azul Restaurant: I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best meals I have ever eaten in my entire life. For $20 you get a six-course tasting menu. You can choose the vegetarian menu or regular menu.
The menu changes almost nightly so technically you could go here every night of your trip. Go on the first night and I’m sure you’ll go back.
Oh and we suggest making a reservation because as word spreads this place is starting to fill up fast!
Leaf Eaters Cafe: Vegetarian and vegan food heaven. Seriously amazing! This is our go-to lunch spot.
Skully’s: A delicious beachfront restaurant that always feels like a party.
The Firefly Restaurant: A delicious restaurant with a variety of menu options. Everything here is very fresh and thoughtfully prepared. A great dinner date spot.
Cafe del Mar: Perfect place for your morning coffee or a nice sandwich lunch. I love the vibe here.
Falafel Bocas: Wonderful relaxed falafel and shwarma place. A great lunch or dinner spot.
Ciao Pizza: Super delicious wood fire pizza. They have great toppings like artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes.