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 bocas del toro

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. 

bocas del toro map

Explanation of Each Island

Isla Colon

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

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.

Isla Solerte

Home to some of the best snorkeling spots. There is not a lot here besides a few eco lodges and retreat centers.

Isla Bastimentos

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

Currency 

The main currency is US dollars. Keep in mind that the only ATM’s are located in Bocas Town. 

 

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. 

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.  

Grab a free copy of our travel guide

(with great Bocas del Toro tips)

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.

High-End Hotels

La Loma Jungle LodgeA really unique jungle lodge with a chocolate farm attached. This lodge is all inclusive. 

Eclypse de Mar Aqua LodgeThis 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&BModern rooms with an ocean view located on Isla Solerta. There is a restaurant, bar, and pool on the property.

Mid-Range Hotels

Bocas CondosApartments located in downtown Isla Colon. The apartments are simple but have a full kitchen, air conditioning, and a small patio.

Saigon Bay Bed & BreakfastThis place is located in Bocas Town, but not directly downtown. It is so cute and the people working here are excellent. 

Budget Hotels

Bambuda LodgeSuper 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. 

Things to Do in Bocas del Toro

All of the very best activities to do at. a variety of price points and for all interests from families, couples, and solo travelers.

bocas del toror beach bar

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. 

Bocas del Toro Restaurants

Mid-Range

Leaf Eaters Cafe: Vegetarian and vegan food heaven. Seriously amazing! This is our go-to lunch spot in Bocas Town.

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.

Budget-Friendly

Cafe del Mar: Perfect place for your morning coffee or a nice sandwich lunch. I love the vibe here.

Ciao Pizza: Super delicious wood fire pizza. They have great toppings like artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes.

Bocas del Toro Bars

Even if you aren’t a huge bar person you’ve got to check out some of the over-water bars in this area. Most places are more of an experience and a place to spend a fun day instead of just “a bar”.

Bibi’s on the Beach – This place is first a restaurant and second a bar. The food is great and they have awesome drink specials. It is located on a large over-water dock on Isla Caranero.

The Blue Coconut – Our absolute favorite overwater bar in Bocas. This place has great food and drinks. Plus you can easily spend several hours here swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing on their large dock.

The Floating Bar – Literally a bar floating in the middle of the water. You will have so much fun here. 

Aqua Lounge – A fun bar with swings over the water and an area you can jump off of. This place is nice during the day but it turns into a huge party at night. 

Digital Nomads in Bocas del Toro

If you plan on working while here there are a few things you should know.

– The internet on more remote islands can be spotty. You will have the best connection while staying in Bocas Town.

– If you need a co-working space there are two options

Packing for Bocas del Toro

Bug Spray – The second the sun goes down the mosquitos come out in full force. Don’t forget, aerosol cans are not allowed in luggage, so bring spray in a normal spray bottle. 

Sun Protection – Panama is not too far from the equator. The UV index here is high! We suggest bringing a wide brimmed hat, UV protecting shirts, and of course high SPF sunscreen.

…for more packing tips check out our complete packing list for women and our packing list for men.

bocas del toro beach
bocas del toro starfish

Bocas del Toro Travel Tips

– We have never experienced anything, but keep in mind that petty theft does sometimes happen here. I would especially keep an eye out in downtown Bocas Town.

– We suggest spending at least four nights in this area to make the trip worth it. There is so much to do and if you put in the effort to make the long journey here, you should enjoy it!

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