Bocas del Toro
Bocas Town is located on the southern tip of Isla Colon and is part of the Bocas del Toro archipelago of islands. The town has an interesting mix of islanders, ex-pats and backpackers and is the most developed in the region. The town boasts an abundance of restaurants, hotels and bars. In recent days, Bocas has developed a reputation for been a party town with a number of bars and clubs that sit on the stilts over the water.
Further afield on the island of Colon, are a number of white sand beaches and nature reserves. Bocas also makes a good base for doing tours around the other islands.
There is a small airport on Isla Colon with serveral flights from Panama City and San Jose. From Panama City, AirPanama flies to the island twice a day everyday (45 mins) for US$115 (as of March 1, 2012). From San Jose, Nature Air flies to the island 4 times per week. The cost is $119 each way plus $26 international departure fee and $12 for a Panamanian entry stamp.
It is actually possible to take your vehicle on the island using a car ferry. The ferry leaves Almirante port every morning at 8:00am Monday to Saturday (no service on Sundays). Cost per car is US$15 and there is an extra US$1 charge per passenger. The same ferry goes back to the mainland on the same days at 4pm. If you wish to leave your car on the mainland, there is a secure parking available next to where the water taxis leave in Almirante. Cost is US$3 per day.
By bus and boat
The town is located on Isla Colon and you ll need to take a boat to access it. Boats departs frequently from the towns of Almirante and Changuinola. If you re coming from the Costa Rican border it is faster to take the boat in Changuinola (7 US $), if you re coming from David, it will be cheaper to take the boat from Almirante (6 US $).
- From the border in Panama (closes at 5PM Panamenian Time!) you can take a 10 US mini bus to Almirante and a 25 minutes boat from there to Bocas del Toro (town) (4 US $). You will have to pay a $3 entry fee. If you don't have a flight out of Panama and you are not traveling in via Caribe Shuttle you will be forced to buy a $14 bus ticket from Changuinola to San Jose. Many travellers continue south and sail to Colombia. Many travellers make online flight reservations out of Panama City and print them off before being asked to submit payment.
- Take a chicken 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. This service has not been available for many years. First the river was jammed with logs. Bocas Marine Tours offered the service but nobody does anymore.
- The cheapest way is probably going with the chicken bus (leaves every hour/1 US $) to Changuinola, take a regular bus to Almirante ($1.20 as of July, 2012) (one hour) and the 6 US $ boat to the island.
- From David look for buses to Changuinola and ask a driver to stop in Almirante ($9 / 4 hours). In Almirante take a taxi ($2) or walk (1.6 km) from bus stop to water taxi and then $6 US boat to Bocas del Toro (30 minutes). Most of buses are small coasters and they will make a short stop for bathroom breaks and food near Rambala in Bocas del Toro province.
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 $2/hr or $10/day. The roads are flat and in good repair, which makes getting around on a bike very easy.
Scooters can be rented for approximately $70/day.
- Colón Island
- El Istmito
- Big Creek
- Bluff Beach
- Starfish Beach - near Boca del Drago
- Mimitimbi Beach
There are four scuba operators in Bocas town, Bocas Water Sports, Starfleet Scuba, Labuga and Dutch Pirate. They offer identical dive options at the same price ($60/two tanks, all equipment included), with the same types of boats. Starfleet as of July 2012 is offering a $199 certification course.
Stafleet is under suspension by Padi until August 13, 2012. http://www.padi.com/scuba/about-padi/quality-management/consumer-alerts/suspended-members/
The diving may not be adventurous enough for seasoned divers as most of the dives are fairly shallow (15–20 meters) and the wildlife not as rich as some of the more mainstream Caribbean dive destinations. 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.
- Laundry (Don Chicho) (2 houses left of Heike hostel). 3.50 USD a load.
- 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 liaison 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.
- 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. Probably one of the better bars in town, and the one that most of the town winds up at by the end of the night.
- Gran Kahuna. On the main street, a brightly colored new hostel (opened April 2008) that is much more tranquilo than the rest of the hostels. It may cost a bit more ($10-12) but worth it. Great attention to detail and really nice guys who are happy to let you (attempt) to practice talking with them in Spanish. One of the guys is named Fabio, he's pretty cool. The other guy had a pretty raspy voice, but was also cool.
- Calipso Hostel, ☎ +507 7579848. 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.
- Try Mondo Taito or Heike twin hostels in the town. Dorm beds are available from $10 with kinda gross shared bathrooms. Run by a group of American ex-pats. They don´t take advance bookings, it is very noisy, not all that clean and not located on the water, but if you are up for a party you will probably have a great time. Cheap Spanish lessons available.
- Hostelluego, Avenue G (One block beyone Mondo Taito), ☎ +507 6711-8634. Brand new chilled out place 40m from the perty hostels. Very nice and clean, all new furniture, TV, beds, very safe. Nice chill out area, Free Laptops, Wifi, pancake breakfast and all rooms A/C. $10 per person dorm, $24 for a double private
- 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.
- Tropical Suites, Calle Primera (Bocas Town), ☎ +507 757 9081. Check-in: Flexible, check-out: 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.
- Dolphin Bay Hideaway, Dolphin Bay (Bocas del Toro), ☎ +507 6417 7351. Our small Bed and Breakfast is located on the shores of Dolphin Bay on the Island of San Cristobal, about 20 minute boat ride from Bocas town. It is a very quite and secluded hideaway offering personalized service. With only 3 beautifully decorated rooms guests will feel as if visiting a friends house more so then a hotel. We'll help you plan your daily custom tours if you want to visit the nearby islands and beaches for snorkeling, beach combing or hiking. Meals are prepared using the freshest seafood, fruits and vegetables and are an excellent value. Room rates start at $115 and they include full breakfast and transportation to and from Bocas town.
- Aqua Lounge. A great hostel & bar built on the water. Fantastic set up and friendly staff. $10USD per night.
- Hostel Hansi. Check-out: 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.), ☎ +507 7579930. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 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.