15 Best Things to do in Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas del Toro is one of the most popular places to visit in Panama and a place I loved! In this blog, I share the best things to do in Bocas del Toro as well as where to stay (and a breakdown of the islands,) and how to get there!
During my travels, I love checking out small backpacker towns. The relaxed vibe, fun atmosphere, and cheap prices make for a great stay even for the more mature travelers. Bocas del Toro was just that, and a welcomed break from the large city of Panama City – our first stop in Panama.
However, what made Bocas del Toro so much more than that, was the sheer amount of amazing things to see and do. I expected to drink the nights away and spend the days at the beach – and that was true to an extent. But there was so much more to do that I actually kept quite busy, and I can confidently say that Bocas del Toro is an adventurous place to visit.
From diving deep below the ocean to viewing some pretty cool wildlife, my time in Bocas was so much fun! The town of Bocas del Toro is a great place for all travelers, including those who just want to party and relax but also for the adventurous type, traveling to seize every moment.
In this blog, I share all the amazing things Bailey and I got up to during our trip, important details to know before you go, and the best things to do in Bocas del Toro!
About Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas del Toro is actually a province in Panama. The province covers parts of mainland Panama as well as 9 small islands. This province is home to Bocas del Toro Town (aka Bocas Town.)
Bocas Town is located on Isla Colón (one of the nine islands) and this is considered the main island of the Bocas del Toro province. All ferries to Bocas del Toro head to Isla Colón. From here, you can head off to explore or stay on other islands such as Isla Bastimentos and Isla Carenero (more on them in the where to stay section below.)
Bocas Town is where I stayed and the backpacker paradise I loved. However many of the best things to do in Bocas del Toro are day trips from the town. The town itself is tiny but you’ll find basic facilities made up of small shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Although a backpacker town, there are still plenty of places to stay, eat, and relax for more upmarket travelers which makes it perfect for everyone.
Bocas del Toro Town is home to a large local population and the area has been a fishing village since the very beginning and still is. This means there’s lots to learn about on Bocas del Toro and the people who call this unique region home.
Access around the islands is done mostly by boat due to the lack of roads. Small water taxis ferry travelers around the area for really cheap prices and it’s a very unique way to get around and explore the region.
Overall Bocas del Toro offers a unique experience of living on the water and exploring a beautiful region in a different way!
How to get to Bocas del Toro
Getting to Bocas del Toro is pretty easy from most places in both Panama and Costa Rica. It involves two basic steps. 1. Get yourself to the town of Almirante on the mainland of Panama. And 2. Get the ferry from Almirante to Bocas del Toro. Here’s how:
From Panama City to Almirante
We caught a 12 hour night bus directly from Panama City to Almirante for $28 USD.
If you are traveling from anywhere in Panama, search on Busbud.com (like we did) for all of your bus options to get to Almirante.
At the Almirante bus station, all of the taxi drivers will be waiting for the busses to arrive. It costs only $1 USD per person for a ride to where to water taxis depart for Bocas (Isla Colón.) You can walk if you’re feeling ambitious, but for the dollar, I would recommend just getting a taxi.
From Costa Rica to Almirante
From Costa Rica, you can easily get to Bocas del Toro in a day. First, catch a local bus to the Sixaola-Guabito border from wherever you are in Costa Rica. Walk across the border and there will be mini-bus/shuttle drivers offering you a ride straight to Almirante. I recommend this as it is about an hour’s drive and public transportation requires two buses.
These minibus drivers will start at a price of around $10 or $15 USD per person, the fair price is $7 USD.
We usually just try to take the public buses as they are typically much cheaper, but in this case, the shuttle was nearly the same price and saved the hassle of transferring buses.
For more info read our detailed information on the border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama.
The boat to Bocas del Toro from Almirante
At the water taxi station, it is $6 USD one way or $10 USD return to Bocas del Toro. There are a couple of different water taxi companies so just make sure if you buy the return trip that you remember which company you went with and where they dropped you off.
The above steps are all pretty easy and this route is very well traveled.
15 FUN Things to do in Bocas del Toro, Panama
1. Go Scuba Diving
The best thing I did on Bocas del Toro was go scuba diving. We did two fun dives with Boca’s Diving Pirates and really recommend them! The staff are fun to dive with, but they also really take scuba diving seriously. Our divemaster even gave us a refresher course on setting up our gear and sorting out our buoyancy with the weight belts.
The two spots we dove at were great and although the wildlife and corals were not the most beautiful, the energy from our divemaster made the trip really enjoyable.
Not to mention, Boca’s Diving Pirates were cheaper than some of the other dive shops on the island who wanted $10 or $20 USD more for the two dives. It was a really great morning out on the water! If you don’t have your dive ticket then you can also do PADI certified courses on Bocas del Toro. These run for 3 to 4 days and in the end, you’ll be a qualified diver!
There is a season for scuba diving in Bocas del Toro when visibility, wildlife, and currents are the best. This runs from February – April, and September – October. Unfortunately, I visited in August so visibility was not that good and currents were strong. This limited where we could dive. Despite this, we still saw a range of fish and corals.
2. Visit Starfish Beach
Before arriving on Bocas del Toro I had heard so much about Starfish Beach and just had to visit. The beach got its name because of the fact that lots of starfish live in the shallow calm waters at the beach. Despite some mixed reviews, I believe this is one of the best activities in Bocas del Toro.
Starfish Beach is located a short drive or bike ride from Bocas Town. You can either take a shared taxi for a few dollars that you catch from the main square or rent a bike and ride.
You can’t get all the way to Starfish beach without hiking so the taxis drop you at Boca del Drago Beach and you must walk from there. This is the same if you’re riding a bike. The hike itself is only 15 minutes and there are plenty of great photo opportunities along the way.
Once at the beach you can take a dip in the water and find lots of starfish just sitting on the sand in the ocean. Although I wouldn’t consider this the greatest wildlife experience, it’s still pretty cool! The beach itself is also a nice place to relax and the nearby restaurants serve fresh seafood and cold drinks including coconuts (my favorite.)
A day at Starfish Beach is easily one of the best things to do in Bocas del Toro and you’ll also get to visit the next thing to do on this list!
3. Relax at Drago Beach
If you’re going to Starfish Beach you will ultimately have to visit Drago Beach to get there. So, why not spend a little bit of time relaxing at the much less busy, but still beautiful, Drago Beach?
Drago Beach or Boca del Drago is (as mentioned above) the place taxis drop you to access Starfish Beach. This beach remains almost unspoiled and is filled with the same calm waters as Starfish Beach.
We stopped here on our way back from Starfish Beach as the beach began to get really busy. It’s only a quick stop, but to avoid the crowds, it’s worth it!
4. Party at Aqua Lounge Bar
One of the most famous bar/hostels in Bocas del Toro is the Aqua Lounge. This unique bar is almost completely surrounded by water and is a really fun place to party. The bar has a few “pools” that are actually just cut-outs in the floor that lead to the ocean. On top of that, they have lounge chairs and dive decks to enjoy.
There is accommodation at the bar, however, you need to be prepared for loud nights. You can book a stay there on Hostelworld, and in peak season, be sure to book in advance.
The bar is well known as the finishing point of the Filthy Friday Boat Party (more on that below) that attracts large crowds who come specifically for the event. This party cruise arrives at 5:30 pm at the Aqua Lounge and is huge! On Friday nights the hostel books up completely because of the party, and most travelers from Bocas come for the event even if they don’t do the cruise.
The Aqua Lounge Bar isn’t located on Isla Colón, but it only costs $1 USD by water taxi and takes 5 minutes to get to the hostel which is located on Isla Carenero. You catch the ferry from the main peer on Isla Colón and they’ll take any number of people at any time of the day.
If you happen to be going on a Friday, you’re in for a crazy party. On normal days it can be quiet depending on the season and night. If it is quiet and you still want to party, then head to the Selina Hostel – they usually have great parties too!
5. Take a boat to Red Frog Beach
One of the most beautiful beaches in Bocas del toro is Red Frog Beach. Red Frog Beach is located on Isla Bastimentos on the east side of the island facing the Caribbean. The beach itself is stunning, much less busy, and more secluded than beaches on Isla Colón.
At the beach, you’ll find a tropical jungle that meets stunning white sand and crystal clear waters. There are some bars and restaurants around and the beach makes for a perfect day trip. If you love the beach (and I’m sure you will) then you can actually stay there. There are a few great hotels I mention below in the where to stay section!
To get there, take a water taxi from Bocas Town to Red Frog Beach marina for $7 USD return and then walk through the small “town” to the beach. It costs an extra $3 USD just to step foot on Isla Bastimentos, but the fee goes to the local people.
6. Ride to Playa Bluff
Like Red Frog Beach, Playa Bluff is located on the Caribbean side of Bocas del Toro, however, this beach is located on Island Colón. It’s one of the best beaches on Isla Colón and is huge! I would have loved to have spent a night or two at one of the nearby hotels as this area of Isla Colón is much more beautiful than Bocas Town.
You can easily reach the beach by bike from Bocas Town. The ride takes around 1 hour each way and it’s beautiful as it travels along the coast. If you don’t want to ride, you can also get a taxi from the main square for a few dollars.
The only bad thing about Playa Bluff is the waves and currents. This can make swimming difficult especially if you didn’t grow up around the ocean as I did. Besides this, the beach is well worth a visit, especially for this next activity on my things to do in Bocas del Toro list!
7. Go surfing!
Bocas del Toro is actually a very famous surf town in Panama. I personally don’t surf much despite what many assume (being Australian and all.) However, I always love to jump in the water for some fun on modest waves.
Around Bocas there are plenty of options when it comes to surf breaks with some of the best being:
Playa Bluff (Isla Colón) –Playa Bluff is a great surf beach for all levels. The spot is a beach break and waves depend on the day, but aren’t usually that big. Playa Bluff is on Isla Colón and is reached via taxi, bike, or boat.
Playa Paunch (Isla Colón) – This is one of the best surf spots in Bocas del Toro. There is no beach here, only reef, and depending on the swell this break can be dangerous for inexperienced surfers. You can easily walk to Playa Paunch from Bocas Town.
Black Rock (Isla Carenero) – This is one of the best surf breaks for beginners in Bocas del Toro. The wave is located on Isla Carenero and the wave is super soft and rarely peaks. If you’re just learning, grab a longboard and you’ll have some fun here! I personally spent my time surfing at Black Rock. I prefer to have fun on a longboard than try the harder swells. This is the same for most, so I highly recommend surfing at Black Rock!
Red Frog Beach (Isla Bastimentos) – Red Frog is a popular beach and there is some good surf here depending on conditions. Waves are not very consistent but if the swell is good then it’s a great option for a beach break. Early morning is best, so if you want to surf here be sure to stay at a hotel nearby.
You can choose to rent boards at most of the beaches above or in Bocas Town too. There are also surf camps for those who want to learn with an instructor. Alternatively, you can pay locals at the beach for lessons.
There is a surf season in Bocas del Toro and the waves are best from December to April, with theabsolute best months being December and January.
8. Join the Filthy Friday Island Boat Crawl party
The Filthy Friday Island Boat Crawl was one of the craziest parties we went to in Central America. This awesome party visits 3 bars on 3 different islands all right on the water. After you’re done at one bar it’s on to the next via a party boat (which is almost more fun than the bars themselves!)
As the name suggests, the party is on every Friday and starts at 11:30 am and finishes at 9 pm at the Aqua Lounge Bar. This is a crazy event and it was packed with people. With that said, I did hear it can be quiet in the low season, so check reviews when you’re there.
Tickets to the event start at $35 USD for general admission which include a shirt and shots throughout the afternoon. There were VIP tickets for $75 too, but we opted for general admission.
Honestly, if you love a good party then you need to do the Filthy Friday Boat Crawl! For partiers, it’ll definitely be one of your favorite activities on Bocas del Toro.
9. Visit the Plastic Bottle Village
One of the more “weird” things I did in Bocas del Toro was visiting the Plastic Bottle Village. This museum/hotel (which consists of a castle, jail, and houses) is made from over 40,000 plastic bottles!
On the tour of the museum, you’ll learn about how the village was made and what inspired it. After visiting I was certainly a lot more conscious of recycling and how I can do more. It was truly inspiring.
We paid $5 USD for the tour but it was a donation. From Bocas Town, you can reach the village via a 20-minute bike ride or a short 5-minute taxi. Overall, the Plastic Bottle Village was a super unique thing to do in Bocas del Toro and one I recommend for curious and eco-conscious travelers!
10. Explore Isla Zapatillas
I’ve talked a lot about the larger islands in Bocas del Toro, but there are also some tiny islands that you can visit by boat. One of the most beautiful is called Isla Zapatillas. This small island is actually a break off of Isla Bastimentos and can be reached by tour/boat from Bocas Town.
There isn’t much to do on the island as there are no shops or restaurants, but you come here for the stunning beaches and calm crystal clear waters. For this reason, it’s best to bring lots of water and snacks.
As I mentioned above, you can do tours here or just rent a boat for the day. The tours usually involve a snorkeling trip too, but these boats are overcrowded with up to 20 people. Instead, take a private tour. This cost us $30 USD a person for 4 people and it is cheaper the bigger your group size is. On a private tour, you can also get to the island before the other boats and enjoy the place without a soul in sight!
Honestly, this place is stunning and was one of the best things I did in Bocas del Toro!
11. Visit the Bocas Brewery
I love beer, so it’s no wonder I found the perfect place on Bocas del Toro to try craft beer. The Bocas Brewery on Isla Colón is a really trendy place that serves great craft beer. Although the brewery isn’t super fancy, the food and beer make up for it. Oh, and it’s located right on the water!
The Bocas Brewery serves all of the classics including a Pale Ale, IPA, Saison, and Porter but also Ginger Beer and a delicious Grapefruit Pale Ale! A flight of beers (taste testers) is $5 USD and the happy hour is 4 – 6 pm and pints then are only $3.50 USD!
There really isn’t much else to say – so if you love beer, then go!
12. Eat fresh seafood at El Ultimo Refugio
One of the most amazing places I had dinner while in Bocas del Toro was El Ultimo Refugio. This small oceanfront restaurant servers the best seafood in Boacs with stunning views of the water.
The restaurant is located on Isla Colón and serves lots of seafood, some meat options, as well as vegetarian dishes. The meals are slightly more expensive than you’d expect to pay at other places, but the food quality and location make it totally worth it!
The menu is small and changes a lot due to what’s fresh and available. However, I highly recommend the lobster prosciutto banana island gnocchi (it was amazing) and the seared tuna which is super fresh.
El Ultimo Refugio is a great spot for a nice meal out in Bocas and a change from the mostly backpacker bars and cheap eats.
13. Take a Yoga Class
I’m going to be honest, I’m not much of a yoga lover. I’d much rather go scuba diving or surfing instead, however, Bailey loves doing yoga so I decided to tag along at Bocas Yoga. I must say, what a great place to learn the basics or fine-tune your yoga skills. I often get left behind in classes but the owner Laura was really good!
Our class was $6 USD per person and I definitely left better than I went! The classes were not overly full either which meant I had more time to learn. During our class, there must have only been 5 other yogis.
The studio is located right in Bocas Town and bookings are not required. Just pop in and say hi and ask when the next class is running!
14. Watch a magical sunset
There are so many amazing places to watch the sunset in Bocas del Toro. In fact, I spent almost every afternoon by the water enjoying the colorful displays the sky put on.
For the best seat in the house, just head to any one of the oceanfront restaurants or bars. From here, you can see the sky light up in an array of colors and enjoy a drink and meal while you’re at it.
Of course, you can literally watch the sunset from anywhere including some of the beaches mentioned above (and also the Bocas Brewery.)
Regardless of where you decide to go, just get out and watch the sunset – it’s such a beautiful time of day in Bocas del Toro!
15. Explore Bocas del Toro Town
The town of Bocas del Toro is often under-explored. However, one thing I really enjoyed doing while in Bocas del toro was wandering around the streets and checking out cool bars and restaurants as well as the local housing.
You can pop into local stores and try chocolate made on the islands as well as meet the locals. One day we found the football field by the airport just outside of Bocas Town and watched a very fun (and rowdy!) football game. It was cool to have a beer with the locals and cheer them on.
This activity is completely free and you’ll get to see the day to day life of the people who call Bocas home, not just the beautiful beaches or tourist attractions.
Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro, Panama
There are three main options of where to stay in Bocas del Toro. They are Isla Colón, Isla Carenero, and Isla Bastimentos. All three and great options and located close to each other. However, each island has its own charm and is suited to different travelers.
This is where I stayed and the most popular place to stay in Bocas del Toro. Isla Colón is the main island of the region and home to Bocas Town. Isla Colón is located close to lots of the activities mentioned above and has lots of restaurants, bars, and shops. On Isla Colón, you can either stay at a hotel in Bocas Town or at more remote areas on the island such as Playa Bluff.
Cliffs Hostel (low budget) – Top-rated budget hostel in Bocas Town. One of the best options if staying close to town is a must.
Check availability on Booking.com.
Skully’s House (low budget) – A really nice hostel with an oceanfront pool located outside of Bocas town halfway between Bocas and Playa Bluff.
Saigon Bay Bed & Breakfast (high budget) – Beautiful B&B located in Bocas Town right on the water. Rooms are beautiful and owners super friendly!
Check availability on Booking.com.
Isla Carenero is the small island located just off Isla Colón. The island is easily reached by a 2-minute water taxi for $1 USD from Isla Colón and is a great option if you want to be close to town but want to stay on a smaller island with fewer people. From the island, you can easily access the best things to do in Bocas del Toro simply by using the water taxi to get to Isla Colón.
Aqua Lounge Bocas del Toro (low budget) – This is the party hostel mentioned above. It’s perfect for the social traveler on a budget.
Check availability on Hostelworld.
RIVA B&B (high budget) – Stunning bed and breakfast located right on the water. The hotel is beautifully decorated, clean, and very comfortable.
Check availability on Booking.com.
Isla Bastimentos is the most remote of the three islands I’ve mentioned and is a popular choice for travelers wanting to get away from the busy area around Isla Colón. The island is still easily reached by a short water taxi but the island has much fewer amenities and accommodation options so it’s much quieter.
Selina Red Frog (low Budget) – For those on a budget, the Selina Red Frog is a great option. It’s not a party hostel but has a social vibe with pool and bar.
Check availability on Booking.com.
Palmar Beach Lodge (medium budget) – This is the top-rated hotel on Isla Bastimentos located right on Red Frog Beach. The hotel offers lots of room options from dorm beds to private bungalows.
Before you go…
Bocas del Toro, Panama is still one of my favorite destinations I have visited in Central America. Despite not being an off the beaten path destination anymore, it’s a great place to visit to escape to the simple life.
If you have any questions about Bocas del Toro then leave them below and Bailey or I will get back to you!
Thanks so much for reading and be sure to check out some of related blogs below:
June 23, 2020