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Caribbean West

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Panama : Caribbean West
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Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama on the western Caribbean Coast.



Other destinations

  • Bastimentos, an Island in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago


Bocas del Toro Province is centered around the water. Much of the hinterland of this Province is difficult to access.

Hispanic influence in Bocas del Toro Province is weaker and much more recent than in the rest of Panama. The native Ngöbe and Buglé people still make up a large portion of the population. Descendants of 19th century immigrants from Jamaica make up another large segment of the the population of the Province. These two cultures plus Hispanics from other parts of Panama all give the Province a lively cultural diversity.


English is widely spoken along much of the Central American coast, and Panama is no exception. The locals of Bocas del Toro are descendants of West Africans caught in the slave trade and speak English. One might also notice the mixture of several tongues in the Creole that the natives speak amongst themselves.

Get in

  • There are two road routes into Bocas del Toro Province, one over the lush, jagged mountains from Chiriqui, the other from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Buses travel both of these routes. If you are traveling from Costa Rica, take the bus to the border.

Option one

From the border in Panama (closes at 5 pm Panamenian Time!) you can take a 10 US mini bus to Almirante and a 25 minutes boat from there to Bocas del Toro (town (4 US$).

Option 2

Take a local Bus to Changuinola and a taxi to the docks and then the 1 hour / 7 US$ boat to Bocas del Toro (town) or a Minibus for 5 US from the border straight to the docks of Changuinola. As of 11/08 the water taxi route has been closed. As of May of 09 there has been no word on reopening this route. All water taxi service is from Almirante.

Option 3

The cheapest way is probably going with the chicken bus (leaves every hour/1 US$) to Changuinola, take a regular bus to Almirante (~1,50 / one hour) and the 4 US$ boat to Bocas del Toro (town)

There are as well several flights into Bocas del Toro (town) from San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City.

Get around

  • Water taxis travel to Bocas del Toro town from both Changuinola and Almirante. Almirante is the quickest route, but the boat to Changuinola travels the route of an old canal and is a fun ride.
  • Taxi's are fairly cheap- use them!


  • Rent a good bike and take a day trip to the other side of the main island to Bocas Del Drago. There is also a taxi shuttle that runs if you get too tired along the way. However, make sure you do not travel alone, especially if you are a women!
  • Go snorkeling or scuba diving. There is a good chance you will see a reef shark!
  • Red Frog Beach- only $5 for a round trip on a water taxi. It is an absolutely gorgeous white sand beach, that usually has fewer than 10 other beachgoers present. $5 is the MINIMUM price for a water cab and there is a $1-2 entrance fee to access the beach.
  • A cheaper alternative to Red Frog Beach is Wizard Beach on the island of Bastamentos which is a $2-3 round trip ride form Bocas Town, the water is a little rougher (good for bodysurfing) and it takes a 20 min. hike but it's worth it. The island of Bastamentos itself is a funky Carribean island and a great place to get real "roots" food.
  • The Bat Cave- only $1 to enter and you walk through water while looking at tons of bats clinging to the ceiling.
  • Dolphins!


  • Bocas del Toro has great beaches on the Caribbean
  • Diving and Scuba
  • Surfing [1]
  • Boating [2]
  • Fishing
  • Snorkeling
  • Yoga [3]


True to the history of the region, the food of Bocas del Toro has a lot more Caribbean influence than the rest of Panama. For one thing, you will find coconut used a lot more here than in other parts of Panama. While there are places you can find more traditional food (platos típicos), for the most part the majority of restaurants have American style dishes (pastas, pizza, sandwiches, etc...).

  • Take a water taxi to the "Pickled Parrot" on Isla Carenero and sip on the best Pina Colada around while dining over the water. It's only $2 per round trip and has very tasty appetizers, drinks, and entrees. The owner, "Crazy George," as we called him, has been in Panama for 13 years and is always interesting to converse with. This restaurant also has a hotel on the beach.
  • El Ultimo Refugio (Ultimo Refugio), Avenida Sur, Isla Colon, [4]. 6pm -10pm. On the South end of town, just around the corner from the ferry dock. Ultimo Refugio is located right over the water and has some of the tastiest dishes in Bocas. They serve up great seafood, chicken and salads. The menu changes frequently, but I would highly recommend their buffalo-style calamari and their peanut butter pie dessert is fantastic!.
  • Island Time, Bastimentos, [5]. 12pm - 8pm. Island Time is one of the best kept secrets of Bocas. It's a bit out of the way, but the food is awesome! To get there, you must take a water taxi to Bastimentos, then ask where you can find the trail to Island Time. After a short climb (10 mins or so) you'll find Island Time on the left-hand side of the trail. Their Thai food is completely authentic and delicious. The view from their restaurant is just as spectacular. I would recommend getting there early, to make sure you get some of their famous Pad Thai before they run out for the evening. The restaurant is quite small, so it is probably smart to call ahead and make sure you can be seated when you arrive.


Local beers include Balboa, Panama, and Atlas.

  • Barco Hundido, or the Ship Wreck Bar, as an awesome set up with a dock that encircles an actual ship wreck. After a few drinks it is not uncommon for people to take a dip and have a look around.
  • Mondo Taitu is the local gringo backpacker hangout, with a nightly happy hour and great company.
  • Hacienda del Toro a thatched roof gem on a horse ranch on Isla San Cristobal. The Water Taxi from Bocas Town is worth the price.One of a kind jungle bar.Best stocked bar in the islands 40 different rums,cold Coors beer,as well as all domestic beers.Caribe Country
  • Bahmfalk's. A great gringo bar run by an American couple from Key West, Florida. It has a fantastic atmosphere, cheap drinks, frequent poker games, and usually has american sports on the TV. The owners Bill and Susan are great and it is not uncommon to see Bill out and about around town taking advantage of other drink specials. Highly recommended...


  • Ocean front boutique hotel with a beautiful pool Playa Mango Hotel just outside Bocas town in Big Creek. Playa Mango has an excellent on site restaurant specializing in fresh seafood. 5 minutes by water taxi to Bocas Town. This is a very peaceful, friendly and relaxing hotel. It has an over water rancho and its own dock for boat tours. [6]
  • Tropical Suites, Calle Primera (Bocas Town), (011)(507) 757 9081, [7]. checkin: Flexible; checkout: Flexible. Tropical Suites is located in Bocas Town on the waterfront. All activities are litterly all around you. The 16 large Suites have a complete kitchen, breakfast bar, a large Jacuzzi and balconies. Excursions can be arranged with the reception. Boats can be moored at the hotel docks. Rates start at $ 140,--/night, including breakfast and free WiFi internet, with promotional discounts during the season. Extra special deals are available for longer stays, weekly or monthly.

Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort (Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort), Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, (507)757-9050 (, fax: (507)757-9044), [8]. checkin: 3:00 pm; checkout: 12 noon. 160.

  • For a cheap stay head to one of the sister hostels: Mondo Taitu or Heike. It is about $10 a night to stay and the hospitality is amazing. You also get to meet travelers from all over the world including Europe, Israel, US and Canada.
  • About 1/2 mile out of town is a small hotel the La Coralina it is right on the beach and away from the problems of staying in "town". The owner and chef "Stacey" will make you feel like family and she is hands down the best chef in all the islands.

Also for a wonderful out island escape try Hacienda del Toro on Isla San Cristobal, a guest ranch with swimming pool and rest/bar,horses to rent,and kayak with the dolphins.

Hotel Sagitarius this nice hotel is located one block off the main road in Bocas (Calle 3 I believe). When we were there (September 2008) it was $20 for two of us with a private bathroom, cable TV, and anything else you may need. Very secure and run by great people.

  • Bocas Condos Hotel (Bocas Condos), Avenida D, between Calle 4 and 5 (Just up from main street on Avenida D), (305) 433-7923 (), [9]. The Bocas Condos Hotel has all the amenities of home -- hot water, filtered drinking water, private kitchens, air conditioning, satellite television, wireless internet and more for very reasonable prices. The ownership, management and staff are also very friendly and accommodating. Rs. $25/night and above.

Casa Acuario, Isla Carenero, 941-330 4887 (), [10]. Enjoy the aquarium like beauty of the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea from your private patio. Take in the magnificence of the sea and mountains from your hammock or swim and sunbathe from the lovely sand beach. Our hotel is located on the south end of Isla Carenero, with fantastic views of three neighboring islands and the breathtaking mountains on the mainland. Convenient access to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife in Bocas Town, yet fall asleep to the sound of calming waves in the privacy of your suite. Rs. $70/night and above.

Get out

  • Bocas del Toro is generally a very safe and peaceful destination. The locals are exteremely tolerant of the rapidly growing tourism scene. Any one will stop to help in an emergency. As with any travel spot it is wise to be careful with belongings. Evenings can get roudy at a few Bocas Town bars.
  • Beware of traveling alone outside of the city, the locals are not afraid to approach you.
  • Also, the police reporting process is lengthy and difficult, especially because of the lack of English speakers. It is best to have an interpreter with you. A women named Giselle, acts as a free liason for such occasions. Her number is listed in the Bocas Del Toro advertising paper, found anywhere on the island.
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