Bocas del Toro islands: My favorite in Panama

Bocas del Toro islands were our second 4-day leg of our Panama tour. We stayed from December 30, 2018 to January 3, 2019. It was a wonderful stay in the heart of the wilderness that we loved!

Bocas del Toro Island Map

BOCAS DEL TORO is one of the 3 main archipelagos that make up Panama. Located on the border with Costa Rica, this Koh-Lanta filming location exudes the Caribbean.

This archipelago is spread over 400 km². Its main islands are: Isla Colon, Isla Solarte, Isla San Cristobal, Isla Pastores, Isla Zapatillas, Isla Loma Partida, Isla Popa, Cayo Roldan, Cayo Agua and Isla Bastimentos. This latter hosts a Marine National Park of 13,000 hectares.

Here is the map of Bocas del Toro Islands:


Why Bocas del Toro Islands?

With untouched nature, I can confirm that Bocas del Toro is a jewel of the Caribbean. This is definitely my favorite in Panama.

Indeed, this archipelago offers wilderness tourists white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, colorful reefs, waves popular with surfers from around the world, fishing areas, diving spots, mangroves and tropical forests. It is the homeland of sloths, howler monkeys, endemic frogs, raccoons, ocelots, panthers, parrots, toucans … The diversity of exotic animals, birds, aquatic life and corals is impressive and is found in few places in the world. Bocas del Toro looks like some places in Costa Rica because it is the last refuge for many endangered species.

But unlike Costa Rica, Panama and Bocas del Toro in particular are less touristics. We had the opportunity to walk in tropical forests without ever meeting a single tourist!

On the other hand, encounters with animals in their natural environment are frequent (see photos below).

mangrove in bocas del toro islands
Panama red stars in bocas del toro beach

How to go to Bocas del Toro Island from Panama City ?

AIR PANAMA offers daily flights to Bocas del Toro in the morning and afternoon from Albrook Airport in Panama City. Adventurers who have time can go by bus (from the bus station at Albrook at 7 am) or by car from Panama City or David at the port of Almirante. From there, water taxis depart for half an hour to Bocas del Toro with BOCAS MARINE TOURS or TAXI 25.

For those who want to keep their rental car, a ferry runs the sea every morning except Monday.

Thinking of saving time and for simplicity, I preferred to choose the plane.

So, from the San Blas Islands, we came back to Panama City to catch the Air Panama – Bocas del Toro flight at Albrook airport.

  • 8:00 am Collective sea transfer to Gartí
  • 9:00 Transfer in 4×4 collective for the road trip San Blas- Albrook airport
  • 12.00 pm Arrival at the airport. Our Panama-Bocas del Toro flight was scheduled to take off at 2.30pm. There, bad surprise: we are announced a delay. And hours in hours, we learn that we will not take off before 20h!
  • Finally, it is at 20:30 that we will finally take off for Bocas del Toro. We will have spent 8 hours in the airport … I am not a grumpy but here, I can tell you that I was angry because we lost all day and evening in transport and waiting!
  • 9.30 pm Arrival to Bocas del Toro and taxi to Playa Bluff where we booked the hotel.
  • 22h00 Installation in our hotel

Cheap hotel on Bocas del Toro Islands?

Finding a cheap hotel in Bocas del Toro is quite difficult. Indeed, in this archipelago are many islands with, for the most part, a very varied hotel offer that goes from the room at local homes to the beautiful and luxury hotel … First, I booked a cottage in the North East of Colon Island at Jungle Paunch.

This resort is located 3 minutes walk from Playa Bluff Beach on the edge of the Jungle as its name suggests. This accommodation was the cheapest (75 € per night) compared to the other hotels I had found. Also, it seemed quiet and the location was perfect for enjoying nature, the beach, trips to the other islands in short, it was ideal! See this hotel on Booking

But with this type of accommodation, it is necessary to prepare the meals, to plan the races … and after the stay in San Blas Islands in the rudimentary comfort of the huts, I did not want to cook. So I changed my mind and preferred a good comfortable hotel with breakfast included. It was a little more expensive (105 € per night) but I do not regret it because the hotel Playa Bluff Lodge that I finally chose was too good!

Featuring an outdoor swimming pool, it is conveniently located in La Gruta, north of Bocas del Toro, in the heart of the jungle and right on the ocean! With free Wi-Fi, our room had a large ceiling fan, a beautiful bathroom and a pretty terrace with rattan lounge overlooking a tropical garden.

From Playa Bluff Lodge, we walk directly into the forest to observe animals (lazy, monkeys, toucans, birds of prey …). You must know that its beach is one of the most beautiful in the archipelago for its wild side. But you can not swim there because of the waves that are huge and dangerous. On the other hand, for the surfers, it is paradise!

You can also take the bus – see schedules opposite. The bus stop is right in front of the hotel and the bus takes about 30 minutes to get to the village.

From the village you can go on excursions to the different islands of the archipelago. See this hotel on Booking

cheap hotel bocas del toro island outside
cheap hotel bocas del toro island
our room in the cheap hotel bocas del toro islands
playa bluff in bocas del toro islands

Restaurants on Bocas del Toro Islands?

Rice is the basis of the diet (sometimes with coconut or with a kind of pea flavored Guandu) and accompanies almost all dishes with patacon (banana patties). We eat a lot of fish especially Corvina (a kind of bar), Centollo (Crab), langoustines and lobsters but also Ceviche (raw fish and marinated in lime juice). Tropical fruits (mangos, papayas, pineapple …) are delicious!

The hotel restaurant next to ours (The Hummingbird Restaurant) offers typical or international dishes for prices ranging from 8 to 15 USD.

Bocas del Toro Islands activities

The archipelago is composed of islands surrounded by mangroves and crystal clear waters, the main activities are of course related to water sports (surfing, snorkeling, diving …) or the pleasure of the beaches (see my article the most beautiful beaches of Bocas del Toro). Activities in the heart of the tropical forest are also interesting and exotic (cycling, walking, quad, watching animals).

Bocas del Toro Islands excursions

In the village of Bocas del Toro, you will be spoiled for choice on excursions. Indeed, near the pier are dozens of water taxi agencies that offer many circuits that you can book on site. Allow between $ 30 and $ 40 a day without a meal. See examples below:

bocas del toro islands excursions

We tested the Total Adventure tour below but were a little disappointed. Indeed, in the bay of dolphins we did not see any dolphins and the spot of snorkeling was not great. The meal was not included, we were left in front of a single restaurant (tourist trap) where we ate a very average dish at 15 USD! In addition, throughout the circuit, we had no explanation, no comment.

The only positive point is the trip to the island of Zapatilla which is a marvel (see photos below).

isla zapatilla in panama in bocas del toro
bocas del toro beach zapatilla in panama

In addition, the Canyon Bastimentos Sky Zipline Canopy Tour (6987-8661) is an adventure that offers 7 lines with water taxis departing from the port at 5 USD / person.

Jungle Tours offers excursions off the beaten track with a naturalist guide of Bastimentos:

The Oreba Chocolate Tour (6649-1457) or a visit to the Cacao Green Acres Farm (6716-4422) should be included in this tour. So you can learn more about growing cocoa from seed to chocolate.

Finca Los Monos offers guided tours in a 10-hectare botanical garden: Bird watching, half-day tours can be booked there. Walks in the jungle or beach trails can be arranged. Contact the hotel Bluff beach Retreat (6677-8867) or Panala Horse.

If you want to continue my Panama tour, next day was to

visit Panama City in one day

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