Panama proudly finds itself in the top ten of the country's for 2009 to be visited. And within Panama, the archipelago of Bocas del Toro is Panama's top tourist destination. The group of Caribbean islands, keys and islets offer a great variety of white sandy beaches with a palmy coastline. The water is crystal-clear and full of marine diversity. There are plenty of daytrips to be made, one more beautiful than the other. Also the nightlife in Bocas is pretty entertaining. All this together makes Bocas a perfect vacation destination.
Bocas' beauty was already noticed by Columbus, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World in 1542 and he was the one who gave names to a big part of the archipelago. Today you can still see the breathtaking beauty that Columbus once saw in this place.
Every year, many national and international travelers visit the archipelago. And over the last few years, the world famous reality show "Survivor" used Bocas del Toro as one of their settings for the show.
Most of the houses on the islands are built in the typical colonial, caribbean architecture, reminding us of the importance that Bocas once had for the banana-industry. Bocas del Toro's banana industry dates from the end of the 19th century, when banana trees were being planted all along the shore of the Laguna de Chiriqui. Because of its central location, Isla Colon quickly became the heart of this new activity. In 1899 the United Fruit Company established many banana plantations over a vast area stretching from the archipelago to the Costa Rican border. Most of these plantations still exist today. The company built houses, restaurants, clinics and schools for its workers. Many of these old buildings can still be seen today and are an architectural inspiration for the new buildings being constructed. A famous snorkeling-spot on Isla Solarte, named "Hospital Point", reminds us off the old days when plantation workers were being treated for yellow fever and malaria.
Bocas' biggest success, however, are it's people. The province of Bocas del Toro is Panama's most diverse. In Columbus's time as up to now, it is home to 4 of 7 indigenous groups of Panama, one of which is the Ngobe Bugle. The banana industry had great employment, attracting it's workers from all corners of the Americas. Most of them were black descendants of the America's, Colombia, Jamaica and French Antilles, who first worked on the railroad and later the world famous Panama canal. These people brought their language to Bocas, called "Guari Guari" or "Patua", the Jamaican- English that is widely spoken, besides spanish.
Over the last years, people from all over the world have joined life on the islands, making Bocas a very interesting mixture of all of these different cultures and nationalities. The people are relaxed and friendly. And because Bocas is a relatively small place, it's easy to meet locals and other travelers. Before you know it you'll be greeted with a big smile and a: "Whappin".
Bocas is famous for it's many beautiful beaches, that can be reached by boat, bus or bicicle(?). On Isla Colon you can go to Bocas del Drago and Bluff Beach.
On Isla Bastimentos there is Wizard Beach, Playa red frog, Polo Beach and playa larga. But there are many more Islands with their beaches.
The divinig and the snorkeling are outstanding in this region of the caribbean. Bocas is home of some of the best- preseved hard en soft coral on the planet and the waters hold a great diversity of marine life.
The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro is famous for it's many beautiful beaches, divided over several islands. These different beaches can be reached by water-taxi and some by bus or bike.
Beaches that are highly recommended to visit are Las Islas Zapatillas, two small islands, just past Coral Key. These islands were used during the shoot of the famous Reality show "Survivor".
On Isla Colon, you can visit Bocas del Drago, which can be reached by boat, bus or bike. Playa Bluff is only reachable by bike and this will take approximately 45 minutes. An adventurous' trip, but a beautiful smooth sandy beach to be shared with few others is your big reward.
Isla Bastimentos, home of the National Park Bastimentos, has many, many beautiful beaches. Wizard Beach can be reached walking, a 20 minutes hike from the town "Old Bank". You'll walk through lush green forest, with panoramic views on the archipelago de Bocas and the Chiriqui mountains. The following beach is Playa Red Frog, where you can find the tiny, poisonous dart frog. This beach is visited frequently in daytrips combined with Dolphin Bay and snorkeling at Cayo Coral. Other beaches are Polo beach and Playa Larga.
Bocas del Toro offers many daytours. The most popular tours in the area are all-day snorkeling trips, which give the visitors a taste of the rich marine life of the area. The most popular one goes to Dolphin Bay (rare if you don't see any), snorkeling at Cayo Coral, a visit to Red Frog Beach, named after the tiny, poisonous red frog and snorkeling at Hospital Point. This tour cost around $25 a person.
Other popular daytrips can take you around Isla Colon to Bocas del Drago and Starfish beach. A visit to the beautiful islands of Zapatillas, Bastimentos or anywhere else in the archipelago. All these daytrips to all the different beaches are offered anywhere on main street on Isla Colon, by local captains.
Recommended tour operators are:
The diving and snorkeling are outstanding in this region of the Caribbean. The water is crystal-clear and holds a great diversity of marine life. Bocas is also home of some of the best- preserved hard en soft coral on the planet. There are some fine dive schools on the islands, that can take you to all these beautiful and hidden places under the surface.
Panama's Paradise recommends the following dive schools:
Bocas is a popular place for surfing and thus Bocas attracts a lot of surfers. There are some amazing breaks just offshore. The surf season runs mainly from December through March, when the biggest and most consistent swell hit Bocas, but you can surf year round. Bocas del Toro offers a variety of different and uncrowded breaks. Famous surf spots are: Playa Paunch and Dumpers (reef breaks), and Bluff beach (Beach break) on Isla Colon. Other surf spots frequently visited are the backside of Isla Carenero and Wizard beach on Isla Bastimentos. The islands of Bocas del Toro catch just about any swell in the Caribbean and the waves are rarely under four feet. The tides hardly fluctuate, so you can surf all day long without having to wait. Throughout the year several local and international surfing competitions take place, which are very entertaining, even if you don't surf. Bocas is also home to the Atlantic's biggest wave, the Silverback, which was ridden by the Red Bull Surf Team for a video in March 2006. That one might be too big for public riding, but there are plenty of breaks good to go.
If you're looking for lessons, you can try the following Surf schools:
Bocas is a popular place for travelers to hang out for a while. Many backpackers start their Central America Trip in Panama and choose Bocas to start learning Spanish. Lessons are given privately or in small groups.
Studying Spanish can be done at the following schools: