Bocas del Toro
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There are three 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.
By bus and boat from Costa Rica
From Costa Rica take a bus to the border town of Sixaola - the MEPE bus company run buses to Sixaola from San Jose, Limón and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
The border is a little bit tricky. On the Costa Rican side you have to first pay your exit tax (US$7 if paid by card, or US$8 in cash - the card machine may not be working) at a little store next to the bridge. Next, walk onto the bridge, up to the door of the main immigration office and ask for an immigration form. Fill it out and queue up for your exit stamp. After getting your stamp, walk across the old railway bridge (watch out for all the loose boards and don't fall through any of the holes to the river below!). You are now in Panama.
At the first office on the other side of the bridge you must pay US$4 for a sticker that goes in your passport. Once you have the sticker, walk down off the bridge and to your left to the immigration office. Queue up for your entry stamp - be aware that you may be asked for proof of a return ticket out of Panama, have one ready (real or fake). The border is open 7am-5pm Costa Rican time and 8am-6pm Panamanian time (there is a 1hour time difference between the countries).
Once finished with your paperwork you can take a US$1 chicken bus to Changuinola and change there to another bus (US$1.50) to Almirante, or pay US$7-10 for a shared taxi to take you direct. From Almirante there are frequent boats to Bocas Town on Isla Colón for US$6 (US$5 for Panamanians) and taking about 30minutes.
There is also a ferry from Almirante which leaves pretty early (around noon). At times there are two ferry connections a day - price is 1 USD. If you miss it, you have to take the water taxi for 6 USD.
By shuttle and boat from Costa Rica
- From San Jose Airport and San Jose & Alajuela Hotels to Bocas del Toro Easy Ride Shuttle Services offers daily trips at 06.30am. Shuttle will make a lunch break in Puerto Viejo for 1 hour and continue to Bocas del Toro. Service includes Ground Transportation and taxi boat from Almirante to Bocas Town. From Bocas del Toro boat leaves from Taxi 25 office at 08.00 am and goes directly to San Jose and Alajuela Hotels also drop off at SJO airport rate is $69 each way per person.
- From Puerto Viejo, Caribbean Tours runs a shuttle service that includes transport all the way to Bocas del Toro town. It departs Puerto Viejo (or Cahuita, Punta Uva or Manzanillo) around 8:00am and includes hotel pickup and a van to the border. After you cross, there is a waiting van on the Panamanian side to Almirante, then the boat to Bocas del Toro, arriving about 1:00pm Panamanian time. Price is $25-30, and it can be booked at some travel agencies in Puerto Viejo or at the Caribbean Tours office near the bus station.
There are two main companies who offer private buses and shuttles. Caribe Shuttle: https://www.caribeshuttle.com/ or Bocas Transfers SA: https://panamashuttles.com/ You can book shuttles online on either website.
By bus and boat from Panama City
- From Panama City, direct buses are offered to/from Almirante. The price is $28 and you have to purchase the ticket at Albrook Bus Terminal. Certain departure times take purchases up to 48 hours in advance whereas other departure times only open up ticket sales on the same day. From Almirante, you can take a short taxi ride which costs $1 to the docks and then take the water taxi which costs between $5 and $6 to Bocas del Toro.
Please note that the buses offered from Panama City to Almirante are often sold out very quickly, sometimes within an hour of opening up ticket sales. You can reserve your tickets online in advance at Panama Bus Tickets: https://www.panamabustickets.com, which sends somebody to Albrook Bus Terminal on your behalf once ticket sales open to guarantee your seat.
By bus from David
Take a bus from the bus terminal to Almirante for 8.30. They can sell you water taxi tickets as well for 5$, which is cheaper than to bus a ticket for the water taxi in Almirante, but more expensive than taking the public ferry mentioned above. The bus will leave you at a far corner of Almirante. From there you can either take a taxi to the water taxi station for 75 cents or you can walk for about 20-30 min, depending on the location of your water taxi company.
By bus from Playa Venao, Puerto cañas or Pedasí
The bus leaves at playa Venao at 7,10 and 14h, in Puerto cañas about half an hour earlier. If you catch the earliest bus, you can go straight to Las Tablas. Tell the Bus driver he should let you out at the bus station for Chitré. Bus ride will cost you around 4$. The buses that leave later just go until Pedasí (ca. 40min, 2,50$). From there take a bus to las Tablas (40 min, ca. 2,50$). From las Tablas take a bus to chitrè, from there to Santiago and from there to David. From David follow the instructions above. If you leave playa Venao at 7, you will be in bocas del toro in the evening.
- There are several daily AirPanama flights into Bocas del Toro from Panama City, departing from the Albrook domestic airport (PAC). The one hour flight starts at $80 each way after taxes and fees. There is a $3 "environmental contribution tax" payable in cash upon arrival at the Bocas del Toro airport. A private taxi from Tocumen international airport (PTY) to Albrook domestic airport (PAC) will cost approximately $35.
Bocas town is small enough to walk all over. If you need a ride, cabs are plentiful and usually only cost 60 cents or so to get around town.
Bicycle rentals run approximately US$1/hr or US$5/day. The roads are very flat and in good repair, which makes getting around on a bike very easy.
A short water taxi ride (such as from the pier in Bocas town to Isla Caranero) will cost you US $1. From Bocas town to Bastimentos is US $3 - 5$ from the public pier beside the police station - to avoid getting ripped off you should always use this pier. Don't pay for a round trip fare, pay one-way, or you may find yourself waiting for some time for your boat captain to show up.
Scooters can be rented for an outrageous $70/day. You can also rent bicycles, 4-seat ATVs, and four-wheelers to explore the town.
- Take a colectivo from main street in Bocas town (US$2.50 each way) to Bocas del Drago a, beach at the the north of Isla Colon. See the starfish on nearby Playa Estrella.
- Take a water taxi for 1$ one way to Isla Careneros. When you get out at the Aqua Lounge, turn right and follow the small path, after 10 min you will reach the beach. You can also take water taxis to Isla Bastimentos for 5$ one way. There you can take a walk throug the mangroves to wizard beach or red frog beach. The red frog beach will cost you 5$ entrance fee! the wizard beach is free to visit. Bring food as there aren't many options and so you can stay until the afternoon, because most of the tourists will leave wizard beach at lunchtime and so you'll be relatively alone there.
Yet a popular travel destination, Bocas del Toro is still mainly unknown as dive destination. However, it offers a great diversity of aquatic life around its islands. Due to calm conditions and highly competitive pricing, Bocas is amongst the most ideal places to participate in scuba education!
There are four scuba operators in Bocas town, Bocas Water Sports, Starfleet Scuba, La Buga Dive & Surf and Dutch Pirate. They offer identical dive options at the same price ($70/two tanks, all equipment included), with the same types of boats.
La Buga Dive & Surf  is a 5* PADI dive center, which also provides surf lessons and rents boards, kayaks and stand up paddle boards. Besides, the waterfront restaurant La Buguita Ocean Lounge is enclosed and offers divers and surfers a 10% discount on breakfast and lunch options.
- Starfleet Scuba (offers a complete range of PADI programs from try-dives and the Initial Open Water course through to DiveMaster and the Instructor levels beyond for those interested in pursuing a career in diving.), Starfleet Scuba, 2374 Calle 1A, Isla Bocas del Toro, Panama, ☎ (507) 757 9630 ([email protected]). http://www.starfleetscuba.com
There is also another scuba operator on Isla Bastimentos, scuba6diving. They do not hire contract dive masters. All dives are lead by the owner. Scuba 6 is the only shop in Bocas with all five star reviews on Trip Advisor.
Bocas del Toro is a perfect choice if you are planning to go surfing in Panama. It offers a wide range of easily accessible surf spots for different levels of experience. November to April are considered to be peak season, as well as summertime. There are two excellent beginner spots to start your surf experience, e.g. Black Rock, Carenero and Wizard Beach, Bastimentos Island. Besides there are several spots for experienced surfers around the islands and Bocas del Toro also hosts (inter)national surf competitions.
Fishing in Bocas Del Toro can be great. The key is to go out with the right captain as there is many scam artists waiting to rip people off. The best captain in town by far is know as "ET". ET lives next door to the supermarket on the Island Carranero. In order to get a hold of him, ask around town or knock on his door as he is quite friendly and eager to fish. ET offers two types of trips bottom fishing and trolling. The trolling trip's catch is made up of mostly small Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Dolphin and other great eating Pelagics. The bottom fish trips target mostly snappers and groupers and is a great way to fill your fridge with tasty fish!
Cruising and Island Hopping
A great way to see the whole archipelago of islands is by chartering a private yacht. This allows you to cruise around the islands and then stay at beautiful and remote spots of which Bocas del Toro archipelago has many.
There are a lot of tour operators in bocas. Usual day-tours will include a visit to the dolphin bay, snorkeling a visit of an island, a drive through the mangroves and a short visit to the starfish fields. Tours will cost you about 25$ and will take 6,5h. They will always tell you the tour is more expensive at the beginning. Also you should just pay a deposit if you plan to do the tour on the next day, because the weather is sometimes not predictable.
- Don't try to buy marijuana or "ganja" in Bocas del Toro! There are a few different scams going and there is not good quality marijuana. It is also still illegal in Panama. One scam will involves someone riding off with your cash to go and get your weed never to return. Another one perpetrated outside of a popular busy Hostel involved a couple guys that turned your $20 bills into $1 bills in front of your eyes and said you didn't give them enough money and they need more. Another scam is selling poor quality weed that is wet and obviously not the weight you're intending to pay for. With any confrontation the sellers become aggressive and threaten violence. They will even stalk you when you don't pay insisting they need money for their time and transportation to come find you. Beware!
- There are numerous stalls in town selling the usual souvenirs and t-shirts. The vendors are not aggressive like in many other destinations so you can relax and enjoy your Bocas experience more.
- There are many supermarkets on main street for all your groceries.
- Laundry (Don Chicho), (2 houses left of Heike hostel). US$5 a load.
- Laundry (Olga), (2 houses down the street behind the bank and ATM). US$5 a load, ready same day.
- El Ultimo Refugio, . offers waterside dining on Avenida Sur, just down the street from the Ferry dock. Cuisine includes fresh seafood as well as variations on Norte Americano style dishes such as pork meatloaf. $35+ for two, including drinks. '
- Om Cafe (Indian food), Avenue E and Calle 2 (upstairs from the surf shop), . Breakfast really shines here with the wide variety of juice blends and shakes they offer, plus a very unique eggs vindaloo dish that is a must try. $30 for two, with drinks.
- La Ballena. Gourmet pizzas and European wines by the glass, which you'll pay dearly for. This may be the most expensive restaurant in all of Bocas town. The pizzas are large with generous toppings, and come in many interesting variations. Wine selection is impressive, though expensive. $40+ for two.
- Bongo's Cafe, (On the main strip). Popular bar/restaurant run by a charming Cuban woman named Giselle (known around the island simply as "La Cubana") who also happens to be the liason between the public and the police. The seafood soup (Sopa de Mariscos) served there is simply delicious and Bongo's seems to be the only restaurant that freshly squeezes the fruit right in front of you. With all this and attentive staff, Bongo's Cafe is a real gem.
- Ositos Grill, Calle G (Next to Hawaii Supermarket), ☎ 67744973, . 4pm to 11pm. Take out(for now) grilled food, specializing in jerk chicken, choripan, beef ribs and pulled pork pizza and nachos. 4$-12$.
- Olga's Cafe. Local cuisine consisting of rice, beans, salad of the day and your choice of meat, the "filete de pollo" is the best. It is located two blocks down the street from the bank. Olga is the owner/cook and she treats her customers as if they were her children. Olga's is one of the cheapest and most filling meals in town with meals costing between 5 and 7 US dollars.
- Super Gourmet Grocery and Deli, . If you prefer to prepare your own food, you can stop by this grocery store and deli for higher-end American style groceries. Great if you want to pack your own picnic or are tired of paying tourist prices for strange meals. They have a deli where you can order excellent custom sub sandwiches, and for cheaper prices than the local Panamanian grocery stores, you can also buy local coffee, cacao products, and beverages (including morning hot coffee by the cup, .75/sm or $1.50/lg).
- There are also several street food stalls. At night there will be a guy at the main road, next to the park, who sells meat and sausages on sticks for 1$. There is also another street food stall 1 or 2 quarters before the main park/plaza, which sells empanadas for 75ct, pan frito for 50ct, a portion of yucca for 25 cts. and other snacks. It is open from the morning until night, so it is also a good plase to get some snacks before heading to the beach.
If you want to experience the local culture and if you're on a budget, you should look for the few Panamanian restaurants, which soups and plates of food for 3,50-5$. There is one place that sells breakfast and lunch on 7th street, 3 quarters from hostel veranda. A lunch will cost you 4$. On the street behind the main park/plaza you will also find a few restaurants like restaurant Chitré, that will sell you plates for 4-5$, a soup with rice would cost less and will give you a free cup of water.
- Barco Hundido. A disco, built on a wooden deck, above the water with a wrecked/sunken ship under the water just beyond the deck, illuminated by bright lights. Very picturesque location.
- The Firefly, . Great waterfront restaurant. Options are based on what's in season but it is always delicious and fantastic drinks. Outside on a nice deck right next to the ocean. They also have a few rooms for rent
- Aqua Lounge. A waterfront hostel/bar, sometimes with partying/drinking until sunrise. Aqua Lounge is located on the island of Carranero which is a 1 minute and $1 water taxi ride across the channel from Bocas Town. Drinks range from $1.50-$5.00. The music is loud and often times consists of a lot of reggae and dancehall. Aqua Lounge also has rooms to rent.
- Bibi's on the Beach, West side of Isla Carenero. Bibi's on the Beach is a tropical beach bar located near the surf spots on the west side of Isla Carenero, a short water taxi ride from Bocas Town. They have picture-worthy tropical views, and you can watch your drinks being made with fresh fruit. Happy Hour is from 4-7 p.m. where you can get drinks like margaritas, pina coladas, and cuba libres for $2.50, and national beers for $1. They also have food.
- Selena Hostels, Calle 1ra at Avenida E Norte (Just north of Barco Hundido and the water taxi terminal), . checkin: 2 p.m.. The Selena Hostel is one of the nicest hostels in an ideal location in Bocas Town, and it is relatively unadvertised on the internet as it is still under construction. If you can handle some light upstairs construction noise during the day (when you should be out exploring anyway), you will enjoy clean white sheets, an equipped kitchen with refrigerator, free wifi, stable concrete-built dorm beds (no squeaky bunk beds), a secure guest policy with room keys and wristbands, and a waterfront beach bar (with a food menu) where you can arrive and depart via water taxi with accessible surfboard storage. Also, there is plenty of lounge seating, including hammocks, free clean water, and a full-size billiards table. $14-16+.
- Gran Kahuna. On the beachfront on Isla Carenero, a brightly colored newer hostel (opened April 2008) that is much more tranquilo than the rest of the hostels. If you want the ideal beachfront hostel or plan to surf, this hostel is the one for you. Great attention to detail and really nice guys (and girls) who are happy to let you (attempt) to practice talking with them in Spanish. $14/night.
- Tungara Hostel (507) 7579864  On the main street offers excellent dorms and private rooms. Rooms are clean with a/c and private bathroom. A shared kitchen, internet and cheap tours are available. The place is run by an extremely friendly and helpful lady.
- Hostelluego, Avenue G (One block beyone Mondo Taito), ☎ 507-6711-8634, . Brand new chilled out place a short walk from the center if town. Very nice and clean, all new furniture, TV, beds, very safe. Nice chill out area, free use of laptops, wifi, pancake breakfast and all rooms A/C. $10 per person dorm, $30 for a double private, prices are higher in peak season
- Hotel Angela, . Run by Claudio, a US expat from California. The hotel is clean and safe, located a block off the main avenue and away from traffic noise. The hotel also has its own restaurant and bar over the water. Happy hour from 3:30 to 5:30 means 2 for 1 drinks. The staff are extremely courteous and friendly.
- Punta Caracol, . A hotel of overwater bungalows a 15 minute boat ride from Bocas town. Nine bungalows sit on stilts over the water, and wrap around verandas give each bungalow direct access to the water. Rates start at $285/night in the low season for the smallest bungalow, and run up to $600+ for the largest bungalow in the high season. Rates include breakfast and dinner. Excursions can be arranged with the front desk.
- Hacienda del Toro, (On Isla San Cristobal, 15 min by boat from Bocas Town), . Swimming pool,Rest/Bar,horse stable with well trained horses for jungle tours. Deluxe Cottage Rental for $150 a night for 2. Includes breakfast and transportation . 2 nights minimum.
- Tropical Suites, Calle Primera (Bocas Town), ☎ (011)(507) 757 9081, . checkin: Flexible; checkout: Flexible. Tropical Suites is located in Bocas Town on the waterfront. All activities are literally 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.
- Aqua Lounge. A great hostel & bar built on the water. Note that it is located on Isla Carenero, so you will need to take water taxi ($1) to get there from Bocas Del Toro and your shopping and nightlife options will be limited by this. However, if you plan to surf, this location will be more convenient. Fantastic set up and friendly staff. $10 per night.
- Hostel Hansi. checkout: 11:00. Extremely clean German-run hostel with fans in every room. Some rooms also have a balcony. Spacious kitchen facilities and plenty of room in the fridge. The focus is on a family-orientated hostel, rather than a backpacker hangout centered around a bar. Free Wifi. Use of facilities after the checkout incurs a $2 surcharge. $25 double.
- Hotel Olas, calle 6ta (Take a left out of the launch dock, keep with the road as it curves right. Pass a small playground, the hotel is on the left.), ☎ +5077579930, . checkin: 13:00; checkout: 12:00. Hotel built in 2004. Clean, spacious rooms fitted with AC, wiFi, private hot showers,TV and balconies. Waterfront bar below. Bicycles Kayaks and snorkelling equipment for rent. Various island tours and expeditions can be arranged. Cake and coffee offered every morning.great deck with hammacs to chill out.good location. $40-60 Double Rooms, High Season 48-68.
- Casa Verde, . Water Front Hostel. 11.
- Heike. checkout: 11. Hostel Heike is on the main street in town, right next to several shops, surf schools and tour operators. Dorm beds are available for $10 and you´ll have to share your dorm with three other people. Individual lockers and ventilators present. This hostel has also free internet access and a free pancake breakfast. The highlight is the rooftop terrace where you can chill, drink, relax in a hammock or meet people. Bathrooms are relatively clean, although the water is not too hot. This is a party backpacker's hostel and you can expect the desk employees to tell you the "hostel is booked" if you don't match their vibe. Keep in mind it´s located in the town and not near the beach. 10.
- Hospedaje Alexandra, Calle 4ta (Isla Colon, quiet street one block from Bocas Marine Port.), ☎ 507 - 6601 - 0638, . Family-owned and operated, each room has a private bathroom, towels, A/C, closet, and TV. Great for couples, solo travelers, and families. Cafe Alexandra next door offers breakfast, lunch, and medicinal tea. A one minute walk from Bocas Marine Port - just walk away from the water-front one block to Calle 4ta - turn right - the hotel is two doors past the pirate head.
- Coconut Hostel. checkout: 11 am. Located next to the town center park in Bocas Del Toro, this inviting hostel looks like you will be sleeping in a jungle cabin. The dorm beds cost $10 (8 USD with fan instead of A/C), and the accommodations are very basic, with hand-built bathroom stalls and bedding that feels like it's falling apart from years of overuse. The staff are very carefree without many restrictions, as they will simply log whatever name you tell them in a paper notebook and direct you to pick out your bed. There are no lockers and security is non-existent, but this place will work in a pinch if other places are booked. $12.
- Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort (Hotel Playa Tortuga), Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, ☎ +(507) 757-9050, . checkin: 3:00 pm; checkout: 12:00 noon. Enjoy the beauty of Bocas del Toro at Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort. Playa Tortuga is home to the largest oceanfront pool area on Colón Island. A beach volleyball court, poolside bar, separate child and adult pools and a shallow-water tanning area create the ultimate Caribbean paradise. Each of our modern rooms and suites features cozy bedding, free wireless Internet, air-conditioning, cable TV and a private balcony overlooking the sea. When you’re ready to go exploring, simply walk to the end of our private pier and local guides will take you diving, fishing, dolphin-watching, snorkeling, surfing or hiking through unspoiled island jungles. A free shuttle will also transport guests to the colorful capital of Bocas Town, about five minutes away. The resort is also home to two state-of-the-art banquet halls and a fitness center. $125. (9.357813,-82.2505945)
- Hostel Veranda, 7th street (Walk the Main Street of Bocas del Toro until the end and turn left, walk for about 5-10 min and you'll see it on your right side). Really nice hostel with very good breakfast. Serves you pancakes, fruits and tee and coffee. Free water. In general it is a very nice hostel with an amazing veranda that serves as hang out place. It is not a party hostel, but it has lots of good vibes. The owner is very helpful, staff speaks very good English and they'll help you with everything. Dorm 11$, double with shared bathroom 28 dollars.