Isla Colon – Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is the Province in the North-East of Panama, bordering Costa Rica, comprised partly by mainland and more famously for the islands. La Amistad International Park’s Panama component is in the Bocas del Toro Province. Isla Colon is the main island and home to Bocas Town. Bocas Town is a typical island town, relaxed and slow going. It reminded us a lot of Caye Caulker in Belize. It’s colourful buildings add to its welcoming and relaxed charm. There are many restaurants, bars, yoga studios, artisans to be found in the town. Many of the more touristy restaurants offer “over the water” seating areas – why not enjoy a meal and a view.
How to get to Isla Colon
We took an overnight bus from Panama City which departed at 18:00 to Almirante (the city to catch the water taxis) which arrived at 05:30. From the bus stop, take a $1 per person taxi to the water taxi port. The first water taxi was at 06:00, costing $6 per person, one way. The journey was very straight forward, even with our very tired, straight from the airport, lack of Spanish speaking, state.
Don’t get me wrong, we definitely enjoyed the Panama Lager for its light and refreshing taste, but when you come from a craft beer heavy hometown like Vancouver, you start to miss the beers that make you go “hmmm that’s different”. Fortunately for us, the Bocas Brewery offered some awesome beers. Our favourites were the Stout, which was heavy in coffee and smokey flavours and the Passionfruit Wheat Ale, which was light and fruity.
The “Starfish Beach” was pretty high on my list, especially after seeing some awesome Pinterest photos. We only saw one starfish, granted, we didn’t bring our snorkel gear and weren’t searching that hard. The one we did see was very large and very orange! There is lots of beach space to relax and many food options.
It is a bit of an adventure to get there though as it is on the other side of Isla Colon from Bocas Town. You can either: 1) take a 45 minute taxi ride; 2) catch one of the small buses for a 45 minute ride; 3) hire a boat to take you there or 4) if you are looking for a workout, ride a bike, though I warn you, it is very hilly.
How to Get There
The small buses leave from Central Park, just look for one that says Boca del Drago or Estrella. Likely if you are looking around, one of the bus operators will approach you. It was $5 roundtrip, per person. Just make sure you write down the number of the bus you arrive on, as tickets are only good for the same bus, make sure to ask when they return. Alternatively you could just pay for one way and show up at the drop off and take any bus back.
The buses drop you at Boca del Drago near Yarisnori restaurant. Some people will ask if you want a water taxi to the beach, not sure how much it is, however the walk is only 15-20 minutes and its quite beautiful. Walk past the restaurant, toward two houses. Walk right between the houses to the beach. Turn left. The path initially runs along the beach, but will eventually steer inland a little. Keep going and eventually you will come across the Starfish Beach!
Remember that it is important to leave nature the way you found it – don’t touch the starfish!
Ride bikes to Playa Bluffs
The ride to Playa Bluffs takes you out of Bocas Town and toward the opposite side of the island from Playa Estrella. It is a great way to explore the island, enjoy the lovely views, and get some exercise – there are a few small hills involved. Playa Bluffs is a lovely beach as well, and mentioned as one of the best surf spots. There are lots of surf schools in Bocas – that’s another thing to do while here!
The day we did the ride, we got caught in a very heavy tropical rain storm. We basically made it to the beach, had a quick look around, then headed back. From what I did see, it was a beach I would very much have liked to lay on, as the sand was soft, the beach itself was long and wide. The waves were pretty intense, but sometimes that is better when you are just watching.
We stopped at Paki Point on our way out and back (due to the rainstorm). I read in another blog post that they have some of the best burgers.
Day trip to other islands
There are a fair number of water taxi’s between islands, so it seems that island hopping for a day could be entirely possible.
Isla Bastimentos is the other large island that can be considered a home base for exploring the area. Red Frog Beach is located on this island, along with Zip Lining tours and the National Marine Park.
Isla Zapatilla (I & II) are uninhabited islands that are the perfect little getaway. We visited Zapatilla for a few hours during a day tour. It was just the right amount of time to explore and relax. But there is nothing here – so bring food and drink with you!
Go Snorkeling (or Diving!)
On our day tour we stopped at Cayo Coral for some snorkeling. Neither of us really anticipated much, but were both very pleasantly surprised. First off, there were some very uniquely shaped coral, and some very vibrant greens and purples. Secondly, the reef was abundant and looked very healthy, which is sadly quite hard to find these days. Third, there were a lot of colourful fish, some quite large in size too! Overall it was a great experience.
Watch Dolphins in Dolphin Bay
There are actually dolphins in Dolphin Bay, I guess it was aptly named. The sad part is that there are so many tour boats in the area, basically chasing the poor dolphins for a closer look. We were lucky and caught sight of a group away from the majority of other boats.
We fit all 7 of these activities in our 3 day stay, but our days were pretty packed.
If you had more time, your days could be filled with more snorkeling/diving or surfing.
More Panama Posts: