Part II: Bocas del Toro, Panama

Actually, Bocas del Toro had been part of my travel plans from the very beginning, as the Panamanian border is not far from Puerto Viejo or Manzanillo and as I always wanted to travel to a neighboring country of Costa Rica. However, I soon started to realize that one week would never be enough time to travel from the Pacific to the Caribbean, on to Panama and back to the Pacific again, so I decided to remove Panama from my list. But, as I already mentioned, it seems like plans are there to be changed and as there was light rain the next morning in Puerto Viejo, I spontaneously decided to join Joe and Roman and travel to Bocas del Toro. So we took the 10 a.m.bus to Sixaola. The trip took about two hours and the entry at the border was quite easy and uncomplicated. Crossing the Panamanian border is almost a little adventure and definitely worth some photos. Once we reached the other side, we went by minibus to Almirante, which is the place from where the boat taxis towards Bocas leave.
The trip by van and boat taxi is affordable. You will never pay more than five dollars.

border to panama

Bocas del Toro consists of several islands which belong to the country of Panama. The islands are famous for their turquoise waters and good snorkeling spots. There are seven major and dozens of smaller islands, whereas the main island is called Colón. Here, you can find the largest selection of hotels and hostels, as well as numerous shops, many small stalls selling jewelry and the like as well as different restaurants, pubs and bars. There is also a bank on the main island where you should withdraw enough money, as there are no banks on the other islands, at least not on those I went to.

Moreover, it might be good to buy food, water and such things in on of the supermarkets on Colón, as they are cheaper than those on other islands. The different islands of Bocas del Toro can be reached by one of the water taxis. The prices differ depending on distance and time.

As Joe had already been on Bocas about seven times, I was lucky to have a very good guide on my side. Fortunately, he took over all the translating and negotiating concerning boat taxis and the like. The first island we went to was ¨Isla Bastimentos¨. As far as I know, Bastimentos is the second largest island of Bocas. On this island, there are several restaurants and bars, as well as several types of hotels and accommodations. We decided to spend the first two nights at  ¨Hostel Bastimentos¨. This hostel is located on a small hill from where you have a nice sea view. There are two kitchens, a dart board, a TV, plenty of hammocks and lots of space to do nothing. The hostel even has three Internet PCs, which I thought was quite nice, as I intended to send some mails. After several attempts, it finally turned out that the Internet connection worked, but only very, very slowly. Sending one email took about half an hour, if it was sent at all. That was really very annoying, especially as the hostel announced in advance to have the fastest Internet connection. Anyway, I’m on vacation and I should not need the Internet to enjoy it.

On Bastimentos there is plenty to do. In the evening you can go and have dinner in one of the restaurants above the water and for example try the Caribbean version of ¨Gallo Pinto¨. Another place you must visit on Bastimentos is the organic shop called ¨Up in the hill¨. In the middle of the jungle there lives a couple with children, who offers some very interesting food and products which come directly from the jungle. The motto is ¨Good things come in trees¨, therefore you can buy hand-made coconut oil and other natural products there. You must as well try some 100% organic cacao or coffee and eat one of the fantastic homemade brownies. Furthermore they have lots of interesting books and stuff there and you can inform yourself about the plants and fruits that grow all around.

Up in the Hill

This place is really nice and it has a very pleasant atmosphere. Even if you have to hike right through the jungle for about 20 minutes, it is definitely worth a visit.

Bastimentos is supposed to have the most beautiful beaches of Bocas. Getting there means hiking through the jungle, which could be quite a muddy and dirty experience, especially when it had rained the night before. However it’s definitely worth it, as ¨Playa Wizard¨ is a really wonderful place. It’s a long white sandy beach and of course there is turquoise blue water all around.

In contrast to the Pacific, the ocean at the Caribbean is almost like a lake. The sea is extremely quiet and the water is as warm as a bathtub. Waves or surfing –no way! However, remember that I came in the middle of September, so there might be a different situation during the summer or so.
The beach after ¨Playa Wizard¨ is called ¨Red Frog Beach¨, named after the many little red frogs that can be observed there, if you’re lucky. Again, this beach is very long and just as gorgeous as the previous one. At the end (or beginning, depends from where you enter), there is a small beach bar where you can enjoy some barbecue, beer and drinks. Finally, there is even  a beach volleyball court.

Red frogs

After ¨Red Frog Beach¨ there is another nice beach whose name I forgot. As you might guess, this beach is amazing as well. It is more quiet there and you can just relax, sunbathe or go snorkeling. If you don’t want to hike, you can as well reach all those beaches by one of the water taxis.

About ten minutes from ¨Red Frog Beach¨, you can find the hostel ¨Bocas Bound¨, where we spent another night at. This hostel is quite new and very recommendable. For 13 dollars a night, you share a room with ten other people. The rooms have air conditioning and very clean beds, showers and restrooms. Outside there is also a kitchen. The restaurant of ¨Bocas Bound¨ is chill and play area at the same time. Besides really good food you can play billiards, table tennis and darts. Of course, there are again plenty of hammocks and another Internet PC. The good thing about that PC: the Internet connection works very well!

The neighboring island of Colón is called ¨Isla Careneros¨. This island is much smaller than the main island, but you can as well find some accommodations in different price ranges. I’m not able to tell you any more about Careneros as I only went there to drink some Cuba Libre in one of the bars/ restaurants above the water. However, even this was a really nice experience as the atmosphere was quite good.
Furthermore, I spent about two hours on another island called ¨Isla Solarte¨, which is even smaller than Careneros. There is a very small kind of beach called ¨Hospital point¨ where you can hang out and go swimming or snorkeling. You can reach this little idyllic bay by water taxi as well.

We spent the last day in Bocas on the main island Colón. The hotel ¨Olas¨ is located nearby the sea and a little bit away from the main street of Colón, where all the action takes place. If you want to spend one night aside the hostel life you will get a good accommodation with AC, TV and a bathroom for 20 Dollars each.
No matter what day of the week, there is always something going on on the main island of Bocas. You just have to walk around and enter one of the popular hostels like ¨Heike¨ or ¨Mandu Taitu¨. You will always met lots of people partying and having a good time there.
If you plan to leave Bocas in the morning, you will have to take one of the first water taxis at about 7 a.m..Therefore you are good advised to spent the last night on the main island since the water taxis back to Almirante leave only from here. From Almirante you can again take the bus to Changuinola and cross the border back to Costa Rica. As you might have to wait for other passengers, the boat trip in the morning could last about an hour. If you want to catch any buses in Changuinola and you are heading for Costa Rica, you should be aware of the time difference. In Panama, it is one hour later than in Costa Rica.

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