To the west on the Caribbean coast lies the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. It consists of several islands in which 3 main islands can be distinguished, namely Colón, Bastimentos and Carenero. Also, Solarte and Isla Cristóbal are other famous islands to visit.
How much time do you need for Bocas del Toro? Because it consists of several islands, the archipelago is very suitable for visiting several islands. Depends on how much time you want and can spend. If you only have a few days then it is advisable to stay on one of the main islands and make several trips from there. If you have a week or more then it is nice to visit several islands, as each has its own character.
Island of Colón
What can you do on Bocas del Toro? Starting with the main island of Colón. This island is the largest island and here you arrive by boat from Almirante on the mainland. The town is called Bocas del Toro, is the most touristy, has several nice restaurants, bars and ho(s)tels, and is the only island with some ATMs.
Rent a bike
Renting a bicycle is a very common activity on Colón. From a regular to electric bike or renting a scooter or motobike, anything is possible. With it, you can very easily bike to Playa Bluff, in and around the town, or even to Boca del Drago (although that’s a long ride on a not-too-good road). For a regular bike, you pay about $8 per person for a half-day ride. There are several places where you can rent bikes.
On the other side of the island you will find Boca del Drago and Starfish beach (Playa Estrellas). From Boca del Drago, you can walk to Starfish beach in about 15 minutes, along a beautiful coastline and between palm trees. Starfish beach itself is not a very nice beach, but, as the name suggests, you can find many starfish in the water here. Keep in mind that starfish are protected and it is best not to touch them. Lifting them and holding them above the water is harmful to them.
On the beach you will find a number of eateries and you can very easily take a dip in the water. A fine place for a few hours of relaxation.
You get to Boca del Drago by a minibus that leaves from the central plaza in Bocas de Toro. The bus leaves every hour (at whole) and takes about 45 minutes. The ride costs $2.50 per person per trip. To go back the same schedule applies, every hour on the full hour from Boca del Drago.
You can also go to Starfish beach by boat, organized or self-arranged at the port. Several day tours go to (among others) Starfish beach.
This vast beach on the north side of the island is a wonderful place to go. The waves roll in and out, and chances are you’ll be one of the only ones on the beach. Do pay attention to the current of the sea and the height of the waves, as they can be quite strong. There are a number of beach bars where you can grab a snack and/or drink (where Google indicates Playa Bluff).
You get there by cab or minibus from the main square in Bocas del Toro. Or go by bike. In the latter case, keep in mind that the last half of the ride is on a dirt road. It’s doable, but helpful to know.
Another common activity is to visit several (uninhabited) islands by boat tour. Tours are offered throughout the town. It pays by walking around and looking for a tour and price that you like. Although many tour companies will offer practically the same thing. It is a commercial, but great way to visit several islands, such as Los Zapatillos, Coral Beach and Baya Delfin. You pay between $25 and $35 per person for a day trip from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., not including lunch.
Drink on the water
Want to end the day with a drink on the water or just chill out for the day? Then arrange a boat cab and be taken to the Floating Bar or The Blue Coconut Restaurant. A great spot for sunset and at the same time a nice place to relax.
Another larger island is Bastimentos, whose capital is Old Bank. The island has a relaxed atmosphere and has some fine beaches. Wizard Beach and mainly Red Frog Beach are the best known. At Red Frog Beach, not only is there a beautiful beach, you also have a chance to encounter little red frogs. Be careful, the frogs are poisonous. In addition, on Bastimentos you will also find a few accommodations where you can relax.
You get there by taking the boat from Bocas del Toro. To Old Bank you pay about $5 per person and if you only want to go to Red Frog Beach you pay $8 per person and $5 entrance fee per person.
Carenero, Solarte and Isla Cristóbal
Other islands where you can stay are Carenero and more remote Solarte and Isla Cristóbal. On these islands you will find few activities, and are mainly suitable for relaxing and enjoying nature. The number of accommodations and restaurants are limited, but that can be very nice to unwind.
These islands can be reached by boat from Bocas del Toro. Depending on the distances, the price is determined. To Carenero costs about $2, Solarte $5 and Isla Cristóbal about $20.
How do you get there and back?
How do you get to Bocas del Toro? You take the boat from Almirante on the mainland of Panama ($6) to Bocas del Toro on Colón. The port (jetty) in Almirante is 5 km from the Almirante bus station. You get there by cab ($1 per person). You will travel to or from the bus station in Almirante from the border with Costa Rica (Sixaola). This can be done by shuttle (about $10) or by bus ($4) and (shared) cab ($2.50) in about an hour. You can also take the (mini) bus to David from Almirante. If you want to get off at the Lost and Found Hostel in between, you can let the driver know you want to go there and he will drop you off on the side of the road. Then you can walk the last part to the hostel. To David is a 4.5 hour drive with a 20 minute break and costs $10. The bus leaves about every 40 minutes.