Six and a half hours drive from Panama City (with a quick overnight stopover at a hotel strangely named The Show Pony Resort in Las Lajas, Panama, but without a show or a pony in sight), you reach Almirante, home of the taxi boat terminal and gateway to Bocas del Toro. After a heart stopping, back cracking, 500 horse powered (knew we would ﬁnd a horse somewhere) 20 minute boat ride, our kamikaze driver delivered or rather are hurled us onto, Colon Island (Isla Colón) the largest island in the Bocas del Toro province!
Bocas del Toro, an island chain on the edge of Panama’s Caribbean coast on the boarder of Costa Rica, is only accessible by the $6USD taxi boat ride, and is a backpacker and surfers paradise! Many are searching for the hedonistic life of leisurely discovering long stretches of untamed beaches, rolling waves, exotic nature and travellers camaraderie. The capital of Colon Island, Bocas Town, is fun, friendly and interesting and is the epitome of bohemian cool.
Craving a quick beach side getaway on our way through to Costa Rica, our short stay of only 2 days/3 nights was ﬁlled with scenic scooter rides through lush tropical rainforest and along miles of gravel roads leading to many glorious beaches, all whilst craning our necks, determinedly searching for the islands elusive local wildlife! All dreadlocks aside, despite our short sojourn to hippy heaven and rain being the order of the day most of the time (these forests aren’t that green for nothing), MB and I still managed, of course, to swim in crystal waters, eat great food, spy a sloth and some cheeky monkeys, watch a magical sunset and meet some interesting local folk! We could have stayed longer if the lure of conquering Costa Rica in a week hadn’t beckoned us away!
Over water stilt houses are all the go here for accommodation and we secured a beauty on the quieter side of town, thanks again to AirB&B. In walking distance from the centre and close to supermarkets, bars and restaurants, it was ideal and very comfortable and we even scored our very own private pontoon, used daily for breakfast and sundowners in the hammock by the waters edge.
4WD taxis, the ever popular ebikes and scooters are all transport options here in Bocas, but keeping to our trend, we managed to hire a large scooter from a (cough) colourful local for $40USD p/day within half an hour of us landing on the island! Priorities people! Happy and carefree now with our new set of two wheels, we did a quick reconnaissance mission of the tiny town before our ﬁrst magical sunset of night one in BDT! Watch out, we’re locals already!
Comprising of only two main dining streets, Bocas Town restaurants are lively and imaginative in keeping with the carefree and laidback lifestyle of the area and the choice is fantastic. Locating a good eating house is a cinch and choosing a very pretty, local bistro by the water, Annie’s Place, we chowed down on locally caught ﬁsh and a naughty nachos whilst watching ﬁreworks and chatting to a lovely french family! It was a perfect night after a long day of travelling.
Colon Island is huge and takes a while to cross, so a vehicle of some sort is necessary. The next morning we decided to ride to the famous Bluﬀ Beach which is accessible by a never ending paved then sand road. On this day, however, the rain had driven most people away and only some dedicated surfers or bored tourists were wandering around. Bluﬀ Beach stretches for miles and is quite a rough but beautiful surﬁng spot. A few remote hotels and restaurants are here but all appeared closed or not ‘happening’ when we rode by, the soggy weather probably keeping most people under house arrest or persuading others to venture into town. It’s quite a long way to Bluﬀ and taxis are few and far between, so make sure you arrange transport! I’m sure that, on a perfect sunny day, it would have been perfect, as all the hype suggests. You can also access the Blue Lagoon and La Piscina (natural pools) from Bluﬀ but they are over an hours walk from the far end of the main beach! Taxi boats can also take you for full or half day trips to these areas which is a much more luxurious option!
Having ticked the Bluﬀ Beach box, we now ventured inland to cross the island, riding along a wonderful and comfortable new paved road in search of Boca del Drago Beach. Once here, (another) taxi boat can whizz you around the corner to the beautiful and aptly named Starﬁsh Beach or Playa Estrella. Yes, my darling readers, there are actually STARFISH here! Whoopie! These swollen, orange red echinoderms are everywhere and the water is crystal clear, so spying one quite close to the shore is guaranteed! Starﬁsh Beach, it seems, is where all the action is and on this day it was crammed with people. Sun loungers and little makeshift restaurants with table and chairs in the sand were all open and ready for business, each one playing their own music full bore in desperate hope to lure the hungry and thirsty. The cacophony of music and sounds was not too bad as at least it provided some kind of atmosphere which was needed on a dreary day! The bashful sun ﬁnally decided to make her appearance and stayed around for the remainder of the day which brought smiles to our faces and warmth to our chilly skin.
The restaurants oﬀer a basic menu and we dined on whole fried ﬁsh and homemade plantains washed down with a rather strong Piña Colada served in funky Tiki glasses, Hawaii Five O style. After a lovely day of tanning and watching the locals start to party on, we opted to walk back to the bike, along the waters edge and through coconut palms and mangroves which is pretty and peaceful, at all times keeping a keen eye out for sloths or other jungle inhabitants, none or which we found unfortunately!
Riding home to Bocas Town, we came upon the quirky Bottle Castle which is made entirely from plastic bottles found around the island and a structural reminder to all to pick up your rubbish, reduce and recycle. An animated family of monkeys ﬂying through the treetops stopped us on our way and made us and a couple of German girls on ebikes very happy to stand and watch their antics. A glorious orange sunset and dinner at El Ultimo Refugio (fabulous food and ﬂawless service) served with a side of live reggae music, topped oﬀ a wonderful ﬁrst day!
Day two had us up and rearing to go again as this was our last time to check out some more of the island. Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos (another island in the chain) had been bandied about so of course we made this our mission. To access this beach, you have to take…you guessed it… a ten minute water taxi from the main dock in town. The boat delivers you to a suspicious looking, abandoned pontoon where from there, you pay $10USD to walk through a cleverly created nature path to the beachfront. Raining again, of course, we took a stroll along the beach which is again quite wild and rough and had a walk around the ﬁve star resort located on the hill and also a housing estate where expensive condominiums for the American rich and famous are being constructed.
Highlight of the day (aside from a plate of to die for Fish Tacos at lunch, but more on this later), was the discovery by me of a SLOTH (el perezoso in Spanish which means lazy)! I was so damn excited I didn’t care if it was pouring with rain and our phones got wet whilst ﬁlming, we had ﬁnally spied the namesake of Panama in all its natural glory. We were beginning to think that these long nailed, furry, alien like creatures were nothing but an urban myth! Watching it (no idea of gender sorry) slowly lope from tree to tree was such a special and magical experience that I could have gone home to Australia after that and been perfectly content.
Rain = lunch to us, even at 1145am, so after two sloth sightings (I found another one up the road curled up in a tree and nearly stood on a snake in my gleeful state), we decided to celebrate! Having heard MB drone on and on about wanting to try tacos in Panama, we eventually sated his culinary ﬁxation with a plate or two of the best tacos I’ve ever tasted whilst sitting with our feet in the sand under a thatched roof hut, courtesy of Nachyo Momma’s Taco Bar and Bistro.
Not seeing ONE DAMN RED FROG (liars…but the candy version is still a ﬁrm favourite), we walked the length of the beach, had a frolic in the dumping waves, a snooze and then, like sloths, lazily made our way back to the abandoned dock. It was now, for some reason, alive with action with a dozen boats ready to launch at any moment, alongside a tired, bewildered looking Italian family. A chat (and a purchase of course) with the dreadlocked Artisan Jewellery Maker near our bike and another quick scoot around town to check out the airport and the famous Bocas del Toro sign, it was time to head home to our stilt house and pack for our early departure the next morning and return the bike to its languid Caribbean master.
A memorable last night dinner at BocArt Restaurant (think deep-fried wonton spring rolls), thanks to its Spanish waitress accosting us in the street thinking MB was her friend from Madrid, and giving us the best table in this welcoming, buzzing restaurant and we were totally, exhaustedly happy to fall into bed after a ﬁnal nightcap on our pontoon, listening to the lapping waves and the rhythmic tap tap of rain on its iron roof. Bocas del Toro has many islands and beaches to visit and explore and day trips galore to experience, but unfortunately, due to our tight schedule, we could only see so much. I think another three days would have been perfect, but all in all…we saw a sloth and we liked it!
The Happy Couple!
…”Always be yourself, unless you can be a Beach Bum, then always be a Beach Bum”… Anonymous