Bocas del Toro is a total 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. Locals will be happy to take you to various other islands usually for a fair price. Ask at the docks and if the price seems high to you just ask around to see if you can find a better rate. While on the main island of Isla Colon we just walk. If you want to go further you can rent a bike (we talk more about that lower in the activity section of this guide).
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: I always suggest bringing your own snorkeling gear while traveling in Central America, Bocas is no different. 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 our trip in Bocas del Toro was taking a day tour which included snorkeling and visiting the various undisturbed beaches. We paid $30 per person for a tour that left at 9 am and returned at 4 pm. 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: Guys, 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 🙁 ), but 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!
Take a yoga class: Bocas Yoga Studio has walk in yoga classes for only $6 per hour class. These classes include mat and props usage. You can check out their schedule here.
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.
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.
Sun Haven Apartments: For about $45 a night you can stay in a basic apartment for two people. This place is optimal for all of you that want to save some money and do your own cooking.
Hostel Selina: This hostel is not located on the main island of Bocas del Toro. It’s best for those of you that just want to disconnect. To get to the main islands you’ll have to pay about $5 for a boat. The property is amazing (pretty much on the beach), it has a great vibe, and for about $45 a night you can get a double room with a shared bathroom.
Hostel Spanish by the Sea: Basic, but right in the downtown area. For about $30 a night you can stay in a double room with a shared bathroom. There is also a communal kitchen on site.
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. This definitely helps us to save some money so we are not constantly eating at restaurants. Also, often staying at an Airbnb will give you a more local experience.
Save $30 off your first Airbnb stay here
Bocas Brewery: If you are into beer, head here. It is a bit of a walk from the main drag of Isla Colon, but we suggest hitting up this place by kayak. It’s the perfect little pit stop on your kayak journey (if you can still paddle after tasty beers). 🙂
Leaf Eaters Cafe: Vegetarian and vegan food heaven. Seriously amazing!
Hungry Monkey: The perfect little lunch spot on Isla Colon. They have a deal where you order 3 tacos and get a beer for free. Woot!
Bibi’s on the Beach: We, unfortunately, did not have the best experience at Bibi’s, but I think the main cook must have been off that day. We want to give this place another try, but haven’t had a chance yet. Thomas and I ordered completely different things, but both ended up with the same sauce and our waiter said, “The chef made you something special,” aka “we are out of stuff.” We loved the vibe here though and have gone for Happy Hour a few times and always love their drink deals. They also have amazing reviews, so I think we just got unlucky. Note: If you try it out, let us know how it was so we can update this for future travelers. 🙂
Cafe del Mar: Perfect place for your morning coffee or a nice sandwich lunch. I love the vibe here.
Capitan Caribe: Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but you won’t be disappointed. They serve amazing Caribbean food at a super reasonable price.
Azul Restaurant: I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the best meal 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!