The name Bocas del Toro actually refers to a province in north-east Panama, compromising some of the mainland with 9 islands off of the Caribbean coast. However, from a tourist perspective, Bocas del Toro (mouth of the bull) is refered to as one main island with a few others nearby. The capital is Bocas Town, located on the main island called Isla Colon, a 30-40 minute boat-ride from mainland Panama.
- Midday baseball with the deafening roar of planes ready to take off in the background.
Isla Colon is an island full of natural beauty but it’s easy to see how the negative side effects of tourism have marred such a nice area. Overrun with restaurants, bars, surf shops, hotels, hostels and tour companies; Bocas town is not a desirable destination unless you are looking for a good party.
Now, much like I was, you must be wondering why everyone seems to be in love with Bocas del Toro…
The answer is a short 3-minute ($3 USD) water taxi ride away. Here lies the underdeveloped island of Bastimentos. The complete opposite of Isla Colon, Bastimentos is the remaining part of Bocas that is entirely authentic and generally lacking in tourist infrastructure.
One can walk around the island for hours, seeing only a few hotels/hostels and virtually no bars or restaurants. The people are usually sitting around, playing cards, listening to reggae music – seemingly without a care in the world as the kids and dogs run free.
You can’t help but to smile while enjoying life a little bit more on Bastimentos!
Below is wizard beach, beautiful and almost completely deserted.
The whole island of Bastimentos is 16km, with a large part really difficult to navigate. Water is scarce and frequent shortages are a common occurrence on the island, so don’t expect everything to run smoothly : )
Regardless, if you plan on visiting Bocas del Toro, I strongly urge you to avoid the main island as there are far more desirable options in my opinion. Two days is plenty of time to see everything but feel free to stay a bit longer to take in the sunshine and the local culture!