Bocas del Toro is one of our favourite places to visit in Panama.
Here, you can find white Caribbean beaches, a fantastic underwater world, lots of giant starfish and, if you’re lucky, even a sloth. You can relax on beaches or visit an organic cocoa farm up in the hills. And you can taste fresh fish and seafood while looking out over the sea.
Does all of this sound perfect to you?
Then keep on reading to find out about the best things to do in Bocas del Toro, plus the best time to visit and how to get there.
Top Things to do in Bocas del Toro
#1 Visit Starfish Beach
Bocas del Toro is famous for its white beaches, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of them made it to the top of this list.
You can find Starfish Beach on Isla Colon, near Bocas del Drago. As the name reveals, this beach is famous for its many starfish, and you have a good chance of seeing them while swimming. But even without the starfish, this would be one of the best beaches to visit in the area. The water is calm, warm and crystal clear, the beach is long and full of white sand, and you can find restaurants serving fresh seafood.
When going into the water, look down, so you don’t accidentally step on one of the giant starfish. Be careful, and never touch them, not even for photos. If you’d like a picture with them, pose next to them but keep a safe distance.
While this is not a guarantee, you also have a small chance of spotting sloths while at Starfish Beach. We saw one during our day here, and we heard other travellers report the same.
To get to Starfish Beach, you can take a Colectivo, a minibus, from the central square in Bocas Town. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Bocas del Drago, where you need to get off. From here, you can then either walk for 15 – 20 minutes or take a water taxi.
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#2 Relax on the Cayos Zapatillas
Besides Starfish Beach, you can find many more fantastic beaches in Bocas. If you want to relax on a deserted island, you should head to the Cayos Zapatillas. This group consists of two islands, none of which are inhabited, and makes for a fantastic day trip.
As you can’t find any bars or restaurants on the islands, you need to bring your own food and drinks. Pack a towel and a swimsuit, a few snacks and a bottle of water, and you’re ready for a day out on an island with perfect white beaches.
You can easily get to the Cayos Zapatillas by taking a boat tour from Bocas Town. Usually, these include more stops, so make sure to shop around to find out which one you like. When we went, we saw dolphins, snorkelled and also saw a few starfish in the water.
An alternative is to hire a boat for the day and go without a tour. This means that you can decide how long you want to stay on the islands. It also means that you can stay on Isla Zapatilla without anyone else around!
But even if you go on a tour, don’t worry. The islands are big enough that you can find a quiet spot to relax.
#3 Go snorkelling
You can find a few excellent snorkelling spots in Bocas del Toro. As we just mentioned, we went on a tour that included a snorkelling stop. These kind of tours are the easiest way of seeing the underwater world in Bocas del Toro.
Of course, you can also organise your own snorkelling trip. Just ask around the harbour to hire a boat and make sure to agree for how long you want to stay at the spots.
Will you need a boat? Yes. While you can find great coral reefs in Bocas, you won’t be able to access them from a beach. They’re either far off-shore or next to mangrove forests. Some of the spots you can ask to check out include Hospital Point and Coral Key, both of which are popular with snorkellers.
The first one, Hospital Point, is also a nice diving spot. If you want to learn how to dive, to get an even closer look at the underwater world, then you can find multiple dive shops on the islands.
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#4 Walk around Bocas Town
If you’re visiting Bocas del Toro, you will most likely stay on Isla Colon, in Bocas Town. It would be a shame to leave the island without exploring this town.
Bocas Town is famous for its many bars and restaurants, which you can discover by walking around. You will come across colourful houses, lively streets, street vendors and restaurants offering seafood. We highly recommend sitting down somewhere to enjoy a drink or a plate of fresh fish.
If you want to buy souvenirs, then head to the main square. Here, you will find multiple shops offering everything that you need.
Last, Bocas Town is also famous for its nightlife. We are not huge fans of partying, so we didn’t go anywhere in the late evening. But if you’re looking to have a night out with other travellers, then Bocas Town is a great place.
#5 Explore Red Frog Beach
From Isla Colon, you can easily take a boat to Isla Bastimentos (or you can directly stay at Isla Bastimentos if you prefer). One of the best things to do on this island is to visit Red Frog Beach.
You have to pay a small entrance fee for this beach, but it is well worth it. We found Red Frog Beach almost as beautiful as Starfish Beach, but without the crowds. Yes, you will come across other tourists, especially since this beach is connected to a resort. But you will have more space to yourself than on Starfish Beach.
On some days, the waves can get pretty rough on Red Frog Beach, as it faces the Caribbean. When we visited, we enjoyed the waves. They were just large enough to be fun to play around, but not so big that we were afraid of them.
Depending on the season and the daily conditions, this beach is also a great place to learn to surf. Ask around for renting a surfboard for the day if the waves are high enough.
On your way to and from the beach, make sure to check out the forest floor. Red Frog Beach got its name from the red frogs that live here. They are notoriously hard to spot, but maybe you’ll be lucky and come across one of them.
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#6 Enjoy a chocolate drink Up in the Hill
Cocoa trees are native to South America, and civilisations in South and Central America started cultivating them a long time ago. The drink played an essential role in their culture, and Spanish explorers report that Moctezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, consumed up to 60 cups a day!
You should take advantage of cocoa trees growing in this area and get some chocolate while you’re here. A great place to do so is on Isla Bastimentos, at Up in the Hill. This organic chocolate farm offers delicious chocolate drinks. You have the choice of either cow’s milk or coconut milk as a base. The latter is especially great as the coconut introduces a whole other layer of flavours into the drink.To get to Up in the Hill, you need to take a water taxi to Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos. From here, it’s a 15 minutes walk uphill to get to the farm.
Up in the Hill also offers chocolate tours. Here, you can not just learn how chocolate is made, but you will also get an introduction to sustainable farming, flora and fauna on the island.
#7 Walk around Old Bank
While you’re on Isla Bastimentos, make sure to take some time to explore Old Bank, the island’s main settlement. While the town is not big, it offers plenty of photo opportunities of colourful houses. We found it even more beautiful than Bocas Town.
Bocas Town feels as if it caters more towards tourists, while Old Town is better if you want to catch a glimpse of local life in Panama. Yes, you can also find bars and restaurants here, but the place is a bit quieter than Bocas Town.
#8 See dolphins
It would be a shame to visit Bocas del Toro and miss out on seeing the dolphins.
You can find those cute animals in the Bahia de los Delfines, Dolphin Bay. Here, they breed and stay year-round, so you have high chances of spotting them. The best time is June and July when the waters are calm, but we spotted them earlier in the year without problems.
The easiest way to see the dolphins is by taking a boat tour. Ask around before booking any tours, as some of the operators pay little respect to the dolphins, get very close and play loud music which disturbs the animals. Therefore, make sure to talk to other travellers and read reviews before booking anything!
Besides going to Bahia de los Delfines, you also have other opportunities of seeing dolphins. Whenever you are on a boat or close to the sea, keep your eyes open. You never know when you might spot these animals.
Best time to visit Bocas del Toro
With its location close to the equator, Bocas del Toro is a great destination all year round. Temperatures stay pretty stable throughout the year, and you will have some rain showers from time to time.
September and October are considered the driest months when you will encounter blue skies and calm waters. This is especially great if you want to relax on a beach and jump into the water from time to time. As those two months are considered low season, you can also get better prices on accommodation.
However, if you come here intending to go surfing, try to avoid September and October and choose a different time of the year.
December to March is considered the high season. Accommodation prices go up, and you will see lots of tourists on the island. The weather might be a bit rainier now, so make sure to pack a light rain jacket for those days when it isn’t sunny.
Last, keep in mind that these weather estimates are just averages. We visited Bocas del Toro in April and had perfect weather every single day. And while we ran into other tourists, it wasn’t extremely busy. For us, this was the ideal month to visit.
How to get to Bocas del Toro
Depending on where you come from, you have three options of getting to Bocas del Toro: by plane, by bus or by tourist shuttle.
Flying to Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is home to a tiny airport. Taking a plane is the fastest way of getting to the islands, as it only takes around 45 minutes from Panama City. As an alternative, if you are coming from Costa Rica, you can also fly from San Jose.
Taking a tourist shuttle
Taking a tourist shuttle is always going to be more expensive than taking public transport, but it will allow you to travel to Bocas del Toro without having to worry about anything. You can book these shuttles in Boquete and multiple locations in Costa Rica, through Caribe Shuttle.
These shuttles will usually take you to Almirante, from where you then take a boat to Isla Colon. If you have your accommodation on Isla Bastimentos, you will need to take an additional water taxi from Bocas Town.
Taking public transport
From Panama City
From Panama City, you can take an overnight bus to Almirante. The bus leaves from Albrook Terminal in the evening and arrives in Almirante in the morning. You can then take a boat from here to get to Isla Colon.
As an alternative, if you don’t want to take an overnight bus, you can take a bus to David and continue to Almirante from there. Be aware that you will need to leave Panama City very early if you decide to go this way. The last boat leaves Almirante at around 6 pm, which means that you need to leave David at 2 pm at the latest. Therefore, try to catch a bus from Panama City before 7 am to ensure that you arrive on time.
We arrived in Bocas del Toro from Boquete, and the trip was very easy. First, you need to take a bus to David. From David, you can then catch a bus to Almirante.
In Almirante, go to the pier and take a water taxi to Isla Colon.
From San Jose, Costa Rica
If you arrive from San Jose, Puerto Viejo or Cahuita, you need to take a bus to the border. Catch a bus to Sixaola and then cross the border by foot to get into Panama.
On the other side of the border, you can now either take a public bus or a taxi to Almirante. The ride takes about one hour, and then you can hop onto a boat that will take you to Isla Colon.
If you’re coming from San Jose, make sure to leave early in the morning. That way, you have enough time to cross the border and don’t have to worry about missing the last boat ride to the islands.
How to get around Bocas del Toro
As Bocas del Toro consists of multiple islands, one of the best ways to get around is by boat. You can find water taxis in the harbour area of all islands, and they can take you to where you want to go.
Besides that, you can walk almost everywhere. If you want to explore places a bit further away, you can either take a bus (like the one we mentioned for Starfish Beach) or rent a bike. Bikes are a great way of exploring the islands as they allow you to discover areas where most tourists don’t make it.
Where to stay in Bocas del Toro
As we already mentioned, the two main islands on which you can find hotels are Isla Colon, with Bocas Town as the main settlement, and Isla Bastimentos. If you are looking to meet other travellers and are interested in parties and nightlife, then we highly recommend Isla Colon.
Isla Bastimentos feels more laid-back and is great if you want a quieter place. That’s not to say that you can’t also find that on Isla Colon. We stayed in Bocas Town, in a quiet hotel on the outskirts.
You can start searching for your accommodation here:
Central America is a great region to explore. If you are travelling here, we have a few other blog posts for you that you will find exciting and that will help you plan your trip:
- Meet Dorothy and learn about her rescue centre Jungla de Panama
- Are you travelling to Costa Rica? Then make sure not to miss Tortuguero
- Learn about the best food to eat in Costa Rica
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