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3 Days in Bocas Del Toro, Panama

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No trip to Panama would be complete without a visit to the Caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro, near the Panama-Costa Rica border.

Bocas del Toro is one of the best places to visit in Panama. Its beaches are just as stunning as those Caribbean islands you see in glossy cruise brochures. Which stands to reason when you think of it, because Bocas is a Caribbean archipelago!

Palm trees on a beach in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Boat on the water in the background.

TIP: If you don't speak Spanish, no worries. English is widely spoken, so visiting Bocas del Toro is a breeze.

Back in the days when we lived in Panama, we had the chance to travel to Bocas del Toro twice. The first time, we went because we were to chicken to celebrate carnival in Panama City and we thought it would be tamer. Our second visit was just because we needed a break from city life.

Here is a mini travel guide to Bocas del Toro. To get your planning started, we've included essential trip planning tips like where to stay in Bocas del Toro and how to get there. You'll also find a sample 3-day itinerary at the end for inspiration.

How to get to Bocas del Toro

You can’t actually drive to Bocas del Toro, because there are no bridges to the islands. There are only two ways to get there: by air or by water. We've done both.

Getting to Bocas del Toro by air. Let me tell you, if budget allows, flying to Bocas wins the comfort competition hands down.

In Panama City, flights depart from Paitilla airport (PAC). You'll fly into the Isla Colon International Airport (BOC). The trip takes less than an hour and offers great views of Panama's interior.

Getting to Bocas del Toro overland. Almirante is the town closest to the islands, and that's as far as you can drive. You'll have to park the car in a lot and take a boat across to Bocas Town.

It will take 5-6 hours to drive there from Panama City. Be sure to top up your tank in Santiago. Also, bring snacks and don't drink a lot, because there are long, boring stretches of road with no restaurants, toilets or gas stations.

Factor in the cost of car rental, fuel, storing your car in a lot at Almirante, and getting over to Bocas Town. But also consider that you'll lose the better part of two days en route.

In our opinion, the scenery really isn't interesting enough to justify spending two days of your vacation on the road.

Catch a boat tour from the marina.
Catch a boat tour from the marina.

What islands are in the Bocas del Toro archipelago?

Bocas del Toro archipelago has 9 main islands, 52 cays, and thousands of islets. However, tourists generally visit four main islands: Isla Colon, Isla Carenero, Isla Bastimentos, and Isla Solarte.

Colon Island is home to the main town (Bocas Town) as well as the only airport.

As you might imagine, life is simple on these islands. They have supermarkets, but no mega-marts are to be found. We thought cell signal and internet were fine in Bocas Town. Probably okay elsewhere too, but we didn't check either while we were on the other islands. We were having too much fun.

Isla Colón (Colón Island)

Most people stay on Isla Colón, where you'll find Bocas del Toro airport and the archipelago's largest town. Bocas Town is connected to an island by an isthmus and surrounded by water on three sides.

If you arrive in Bocas by water, you'll see little more than a mass of docks and restaurants jutting over the waterfront. After you step off the boat though, you'll find a street full of colorful, weather-worn shops, designed to appeal to tourists.

As the largest city in this island chain, Bocas Town is the hub for all the tours and activities on Bocas del Toro. Thus, many people stay here and then take day tours to the other islands.

Walking the streets of Bocas Town

You'll find no end of diving, snorkeling, surfing and tour outfitters based here. You can even take surfing lessons, though the waves are relatively tame.

Bocas Town has more good restaurants than you’d be able to try in a month. And there are plenty of cheap places to eat (and drink) as well.

Nightlife spots are open late into the night, if you're into that.

Therein lies the problem. Bocas Town deserves its reputation as Party Central. Every night, we vainly attempted to sleep to the full-volume beat from a nearby nightspot. This archipelago may be a great vacation destination, but it’s super popular with backpackers. Bocas Town is most definitely NOT the place for peace and quiet.

We prefer local entertainment to loudspeakers. But hey, that's just us.

Where to stay in Bocas Town: Since it’s a tourist destination, Bocas Town has quite a few nice hotels. We stayed at Tropical Suites Hotel.

Woman waiting for a snack at a street vendor's grill.
Street food in Panama. Those long skewers are spiral-cut hot dogs.

Isla Carenero

If you want to escape the mayhem, five minutes and a $2 water taxi fare brings you to Carenero Island.

Overall Isla Carenero has a much calmer vibe than Isla Colon. The island is small and is ideal for those who want a more rustic experience than they can get in Bocas Town.

Isla Carenero has several restaurants, bars and secluded beaches within walking distance of the boat dock.

Okay, well to be accurate, the forested island has no roads, so everything is within walking distance. We found a fantastic place to eat just 5 minutes from the boat dock.

Linda and Dan at Bibi's on the Beach.
Chilling at Bibi's on the Beach

Another plus to staying here instead of Bocas Town is that there isn't nearly as much trash in the water. So this is a better option if you'd like to go snorkeling without having to pay a guy to take you around.

Where to stay on Carenero Island: El Faro del Colibri Acqua Lodge caught our eye while we were exploring. Its vivid yellow and red cabanas certainly stand out above the bright blue sky and the brilliant aquamarine water.

This would probably be our choice if we were looking for a place to unplug and unwind for a couple of days.

Isla Carenero Panama hotel with brilliant yellow and red cabanas
Buildings on Isla Carenero, just take a water taxi to visit.
Buildings on Isla Carenero, just take a water taxi to visit.

Isla Bastimentos

This is Bocas del Toro at its best. Isla Bastimentos is a 10-minute boat ride from Bocas Town. It's popular with backpackers, but it's also known for having some of the best resorts in Bocas del Toro.

Bastimentos' small main town feels almost Jamaican, reggae music and all. You'll get a taste of the authentic local life on its colorful streets.

Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos.
Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos.

If you're a nature lover, be sure to check out Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park and the Red Frog Island Resort's Nature Preserve while you're on the island,

If you're a beach fan, head to Red Frog Beach, named for the endangered red frogs are unique to the island. Have you ever heard of poison dart frogs? Yup, these are the guys.

Red Poison Dart Frog.
Red Poison Dart Frog.
hand holding a Poison Dart Frog.
Just set this little guy free from our hand, a Poison Dart Frog.

Poison dart frog skin contains a poison that protects them from predators. The secretion acts as a neurotoxin which can either kill or paralyze, depending on the size of the attacker. The Ngöbe-Buglé natives figured that out and use those secretions on their hunting darts.

Always looking for a bit of adventure, Red Frog Beach was a must on our Bocas del Toro itinerary. Red Frog beach offers a vast expanse of white sand, but I'll admit that we spent more time catching those frogs.

TIP:  If you enjoy catching frogs, you must avoid touching any mucus areas on your body. As long as you wash your hands afterward, you'll be fine.

Where to stay on Bastimentos: We haven't stayed there but we've read that All Natural Resort, Selina Red Frog, and Dreamcatcher Hostel & Restaurant are favorites among travelers.

Walkway to Red Frog territory.
Walkway to Red Frog territory.

Isla Solarte

Isla Solarte is a tiny island, only 3 square miles (8 sq. km) in size. We've never been, but we've heard that it has some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving spots in the islands.

Solarte is totally the opposite of Bastimentos. This island is perfect for lazing in a hammock, sunning on the beach and just plain relaxing.

Or maybe you could pretend you're in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Where to stay on Isla Solarte: Aqui Hoy Cabanas and Bambuda Lodge have consistently good reviews.

Bocas del Toro 3 day itinerary

Day 1: Bocas Town

Bocas Town is a sleepy little place with a deep island feel. It's like many other Caribbean islands but without the outrageous tourist crowds. Just walking the streets put us into a less stressful mindset.

We spent most of the first day exploring Bocas Town and the surrounding area. There is so much here, yet so little pressure to do anything at all.

The houses in Bocas Town itself aren't much different from the ones in Florida. But as nice as they look, this is not a dream retirement spot.

Bocas Town is built up and there are no nice beaches nearby. We hired a taxi to take us to Starfish Beach, which is a tourist favorite. The crystal clear water is full of starfish and a highlight of many Bocas trips.

It's easy to get out of town, but finding a taxi for the trip back can be a challenge. We decided it would be quicker to walk back, and soon discovered a beautiful little reserve.

Reserve area in the middle is Isla Colon.

The park was pretty. And best of all, a taxi drove by just as we finished looking around!

We rounded out the afternoon drinking cocktails along the water's edge.

Evenings are meant for good food and entertainment. Our desk clerk recommended a nearby cafe, where we both ordered the same thing: an Ahi tuna steak with Asian fusion flavors. It arrived at our table perfectly seared.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Asian Fusion flavors at Lemongrass Cafe'.
Seared Ahi Tuna with Asian Fusion flavors at Lemongrass Cafe'.

While we ate, a delightful gentleman entertained everyone on guitar. With Caribbean style music filling our ears and tuna filling our stomachs, the evening was perfect.

Our evening entertainment by this delightful guitarist.
Our evening entertainment by this delightful guitarist.

Day 2: Island cruising, dolphin-watching and snorkeling

The next morning, we took a tour that included dolphin watching, island cruising and snorkeling. I enjoyed the tour so much that I even wrote an article about snorkeling in Bocas.

Dolphin watching in Bocas Del Toro
Dolphin watching in Bocas Del Toro
Catching the tail end of a fast swimming dolphin in Bocas Del Toro.
Catching the tail end of a fast swimming dolphin in Bocas Del Toro.

The tour included lunch. We stopped at a place called Jasmin's, and the seafood looked incredibly fresh.

They served us a delicious meal of freshly-caught snapper and maduros. Those sweet fried plantains are a Panamanian staple. You would love them!

Boats lining up for lunch at Jasmin's.
Jasmin's Cafe' located somewhere in Bocas Del Toro behind God's back.
Snapper with rice and Maduros, a sweet fried plantain.
Snapper with rice and Maduros, a sweet fried plantain.

Day 3: Island hopping

Water taxis are everywhere in the islands. With a late afternoon flight, we had time to boat to smaller islands. It was fun wandering around to see what was there.

We found restaurants …

Had a drink at Bibi's on the Beach.

beaches …

and boardwalks that took us over water and into the interior.

Unfortunately, Bocas del Toro has a lot of mosquitoes, so be sure to carry repellent. That, plus a hat and sunscreen, will give you a memorable trip!

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Deserted sandy Caribbean island beach. Tree in foreground. Text overlay in circle that says Guide to Bocas del Toro Panama.

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Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots at As We Saw It travel blog. Enjoys catching children at play, showing their innocence in every situation … we all can learn that, to be content with what our Father in heaven has provided. Photography is unique in that it captures light in all forms, and since the Bible says YHVH (God) is light, photography captures Him in many forms.

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12 thoughts on “3 Days in Bocas Del Toro, Panama

  1. Hello, I am planning the same 2 days trip. How long are the typical island excursions tour? I plan to arrive at 730am and then leave at 610pm the next day. Just wanted to make sure that if I do the tour on the 2nd day, I will be able to make my flight at 610pm

    1. Depends on the tour operator and when the trip starts, but I’d guess most trips will be fine. Any excursion that gets you back by 4:30-5:00 pm should give you plenty of time to grab your bag and get to the airport. Bocas’ airport is tiny and really close to town. Your biggest challenge will be getting a ride there. Not that getting taxis are a problem, it’s just that the rest is so easy. Have fun.

  2. I have enjoyed all your colorful photos. The food looks so delicious. I can see myself having maduros or patacones with fried or grilled fish. I have always wanted to do trip including the Costa Rican Caribbean and Bocas del Toro.

    1. That sounds like a great trip, Ruth. Maybe we should go with you. 🙂 It’s only a short boat ride from Bocas, but I am almost embarrassed to say we never got to Costa Rica.

  3. Panama looks very much like a tropical paradise and I need one right now. I miss relaxing on a beach like that and eating some seared ahi…. that little red frog is adorable!

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