The Caribbean West region of Panama includes all of Bocas del Toro province and Ngöbe-Buglé province as well as the northern portion of Veruguas province.
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. As in the rest of Central America, note that English is more spoken on the Caribbean side than the Pacific side.
- 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.
From the border in Panama (closes at 6 pm Panamenian Time and 5 pm Costa Rica time as there is a time difference!) you can take a 10 US mini bus to Almirante and a 25 minutes boat from there to Bocas town (4 US$).
Take a local Bus to Changuinola and a taxi to the docks and then the 1 hour / 7 US$ 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.
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.
- 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. As of April 2010, the canal route from Bocas Island to Changuinola is still closed.
- 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 woman!
- Rent a bike and take a day trip to Bluff Beach, the most spectacular beach of Isla Colon. When you arrive at the "Y". after you left town, stay to the right and follow the coastline. The road has been fixed and it is a very pretty ride. Approximately 7 km from town to the Beginning of Bluff Beach. Bluff Beach itself is another 7 km of relatively deserted while sand beach where Leatherback turtles nest starting April. You can also take a taxi to Bluff Beach. Cost is approximately $10/way
- 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.
- Bocas del Toro has great beaches on the Caribbean
- Diving and Scuba
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...).
Local beers include Balboa, Panama, and Atlas.
Look at local guides for accommodation listings.
- 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.