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I am referring to Bocas Del Toro, Panama. While barely within the single digit latitudes,(9.80 degrees north) made famous by Jimmy Buffet, Bocas is also an easy destination to reach. Bocas is on the Caribbean side of Panama, as far west as you can go without getting to Costa Rica. That is right, west. Panama runs east-west, not north-south.
Transportation to Bocas is by air, or water. It is after all an archipelago of Islands. The town referred to as Bocas is on Isla Colon, but many people move onto another island once they are there. Water taxis abound to make this maneuvering easy.
If you are the trekker, flash packer type you will find many like souls in Bocas, likewise if you come here to surf. You guys will normally arrive by water taxi from a town called Almirante, on the mainland. Water Taxis run to Bocas from dawn to dusk, every half hour. There are two competing services, and prices are the same for both, about $6 each way. There is no need to quote prices in the local currency, they use the dollar. Oh, they might call it a Balboa, but it is monochromatic money with dead American Presidents on the front. It is the dollar.
If you travel a bit higher on the hog, you can fly to Bocas from Panama City on either Air Panama or Aeroperlas. Both leave from an airport in PC called Albrook. They only fly a few times a day, best to make your reservations in advance. You can also arrive by Nature Air from San Jose Costa Rica.
Where should you stay? I suppose that depends of course on your budget and your intentions. If you are travelling on the cheap, and want to party all night, I can strongly suggest a hostel called The Aqua Lounge.
The Aqua Lounge is run by a guy named Christian. He denies, but everyone knows, he was French Foreign Legion in a former life. For now, he runs the hippest and most comfortable hostel in the islands. It is a 24 hour party with $1 beers and every Wednesday is ladies night, they drink for free. Inhibitions dissolve, enough said.
If you are travelling with some coin of the realm, or enjoy comfort, privacy and a little peace and quiet, I suggest the Careening Cay Resort. It is “around the corner” from the Aqua Lounge, same island, different world.
The owners have a tasty restaurant. Super food and more exotic tropical drinks than you can shake a swagger stick at. They will make you feel at home and help you arrange any little thing you need.
If you want real privacy, clothing optional pool and all, I highly suggest The Garden of Eden Resort.
Yes, you can go nekkid but you do not have to. They have a bar and a little guests only restaurant.
This fabulously hedonistic resort is on Isla Solarte. It is quite a ways from Bocas Town, but when you make your reservations in advance (a requirement, probably the only one) they will meet you on Colon and take you there in their own boat. Great hosts and they won’t get nekkid if you are uncomfortable with it. I don’t think they allow children, which is another good reason to go.
Those are just a few places at three price ranges I know you will like. There are many many more. You know how to google, find them.
Now, what do you do once you get there? You can surf. As with every surfing haven there are times with no waves, and times with excellent waves. If indeed you are a surfer, you should know the websites to explore for information about surf conditions. I’ll leave that to you. Once you are in town, you will find friends fast. The surfers that have been there for a few days will know which local water taxi guys take you to the best breaks. They all charge about the same amount of money. The best breaks, Paunch, Dumpers, and the most awesome of all, Silverback, are a long ways off and more expensive to get to. There are closer and less challenging breaks like Caranero, but ask around and have a good time.
If you do not surf…well, beer is only a dollar a bottle.
But seriously. You can take many tours. Most are water based. You can take a tour that goes to Dolphin Bay, and see if not swim with Dolphins. Then this tour takes you to an idyllic restaurant out over the water for a great lunch. Then it will take you to a snorkeling spot. The corals are really nice. Finding a tour operator is “no problema”. They will find you. Just walk along the waterfront and you will be offered tours to everywhere this side Pluto.
Or, you can dive. I suggest Bocas Water Sports. It is on the main drag in Bocas town. They will get you Padi Certified and then take you to see some magnificent underwater sights.
Or, you can visit a magnificent Tropical Garden called Finca Los Monos.
The owners, Dave and Lin Gillingham have lived there ten years and have busted their Kiwi butts off to make a truly special experience available to you. Flowers, trees, birds and monkeys abound. Once you are in Bocas, you can find ads for them in The Bocas Breeze, the local English language newspaper. Make a reservation, and enjoy!
Night time choices are limited. If you are old like me, bring a book. If you are young, you can drink all night, remember, beer is a buck a bottle, at any of the multiple discos.
Things to beware of:
Petty theft. It happens. Don’t leave your PDA out in view anywhere you are not. It will be gone faster than the morning mists.
Bugs. An unfortunate reality. Bring 100% Deet. The stuff your mother used on you will not deter these bugs at all. There are people in town who sell local brewed anti-bug stuff, but be prepared before you find them or you might look like you have the measles.
The tap water. Do not even brush your teeth with it. Is that clear enough? You can buy bottled water everywhere.
How do I know all this stuff? I lived there for four years. I even wrote a book about it, which will soon be available on Amazon, called Bocas Time. An excerpt from it appears here on Tripatini. Find it and enjoy it.
Have a good time in Bocas, tell everyone Forrest sent you. They will look at you and say “oh, that bozo”.