Bocas del Toro, Panama
A Tropical Paradise made up of several islands with different vibes
The Bocas del Toro Vibe
The area consists of several small islands with the main island being Isla Colon.
This area is known for its vibrant culture, stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and amazing surfing.
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 love this unique corner of Panama and think you will as well.
Map Of Bocas del Toro
The series of islands is located just over the Caribbean border in Panama. These islands are only accessible by a 45 minute boat ride from the mainland.
The main island is Isla Colon. The biggest town in the area (Bocas Town) is located here.
If you are looking for more relaxed vibes we suggest staying on one of the other islands, but just keep in mind that you will have to depend on water taxis to get around.
Explanation of Each Island
The largest island and only one with cars. The airport is located on this island (near Bocas Town).
Bocas Town is the main town and is filled with restaurants, shops, tour companies, and hotels.
If you take a boat from or to the mainland it will leave from here.
We suggest spending a night or two here, but ultimately the other islands are better to really embrace this tropical paradise.
Isla Carenero has a few hotels and good beach bars. This island is mostly filled with the houses of locals.
We stayed here once and it was a good location because we could easily walk to the few restaurants on the island and it was cheap to take the water taxi to Bocas Town.
Home to some of the best snorkeling spots. There is not a lot here besides a few eco lodges and retreat centers.
A huge island with a few more populated areas. The most populated area is called Old Bank.
For relaxed hotels with a few good restaurants around we suggest staying at Red Frog Beach or Wizards Beach.
Bocas del Toro at a Glance
Nearest International Airport
Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose Costa Rica
Popular Things to Do
day tours, relaxing at beach bars, snorkeling
Best Way to Get Around
walking and boats between islands
Best Time of Year to Visit
Dry season is from January – May and then again in September and October
The main currency is US dollars. Keep in mind that the only ATM’s are located in Bocas Town.
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Getting to Bocas del Toro
Flights to Bocas del Toro
The fastest and most stress-free way to get to Bocas is by plane. Usually, you will fly to Panama City, Panama, and transfer to the Bocas Airport located near Bocas Town.
The problem is, from Panama City there are almost no good connections. I looked at flights from both Miami and from Boston and both were about 20 hours of travel time. Ugh!
Maybe you will get lucky though and find a good connection.
Also, keep in mind that you will have to transfer from the International Airport in Panama City to the domestic airport.
Shuttle Service from San Jose or Puerto Viejo
If coming from San Jose or Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica we strongly suggest taking a shuttle ride with Caribe Shuttle.
This especially applies if going to or from San Jose. This is a long ride and the public bus is not the most comfortable.
Caribe Shuttle will take so much stress out of the whole border crossing thing. Plus, if you are coming to or from san Jose, lunch is included.
You can book your trip to and from Puerto Viejo or San Jose below.
Bus from San Jose or Puerto Viejo to Bocas
The cheapest 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.
If coming from Cahuita or Puerto Viejo the bus only takes about 45 minutes.
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.
It can be a long and stressful day.
Getting Around in Bocas del Toro
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.
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Bocas del Toro Weather
The best time to travel to this area is between January through May and again in September and October.
We personally have been here in April, July, and September.
The weather in April was really hot, sunny, and dry.
In July it rained heavily almost everynight. We usually had good weather during the day.
In September the weather was a bit cooler but still sunny and hot.
The biggest thing to remember here is that you are not too far from the equator. The sun here is crazy strong! So bring the SPF 50.
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Bocas del Toro Hotels
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. When I reference “Bocas Town” I mean the main town on this island.
We have also stayed on Isla Carenero as well as at Red Frog Beach on Isla Bestimentos.
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.
Saigon Bay Bed & Breakfast – This place is located in Bocas Town, but not directly downtown. It is so cute and the people working here are excellent.
Bambuda Lodge– Super nice hostel with a pool and water slide into the ocean. This place is located on Isla Solarte.
Spanish by the Sea – This place offers a communal kitchen and dining area, a garden, a space with lots hammocks. It is about one block from the water on the edge of downtown Bocas Town.
Bocas del Toro Homes & Villa Rentals
We always love renting a home or villa for our vacation. This gives you more privacy and allows you the flexibility to cook your own meals.
Note: We try to only ever suggest places with good cancellation policies, but always double check before booking.
Casa de K Beach House – A 5 bedroom home that sleeps 10 guests. This home is located on the main island, but a bit outside of town.
Coral View House – A rustic (but perfect) over the water home in a remote location. It is easy to get to the main town with an 8 minute boat ride. There are 3 bedrooms and the home sleeps 6 guests.
Manta Raya – A two bedroom apartment located on Isla Colon (the main island). We love this place for the amazing pier with hammocks and kayaks.