Not far from the Costa Rican border on the north-west Caribbean coast of Panama is Bocas del Toro. Meaning ‘Mouths of the Bull’ in spanish Bocas del Toro is one of Panama’s primary holiday destinations for both locals and travellers alike.
Bocas del Toro refers to many places: first the province, then the archipelago within the province and the provincial capital on Islá Colón, which is also known as Bocas Town. The island is named after Cristóbal Colón, the spanish name for Christopher Colombus, who visited the islands in 1502 looking for a way through to the Pacific.
Getting to Islá Colón is easy, either catch a 30-minute water taxi across the bay from the town of Almirante or fly in from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose. You can’t miss Bocas Town when crossing the bay as most of the shoreline around the town is utilised by hostels, bars and tour operators.
The town itself feels very much like you’re in a surfing town. January being high season, the town is bloated with tourists, most of them early to mid-twenties, surfboard clad and heavily tanned.
I call Panama the 51st state of the US, not only because there are so many americans here or that the US dollar is the currency, but because most people speak english, in a U.S. accent. Bocas del Toro is no different, with its upmarket hostels, shops and eating places, including a fantastic indian restaurant that I just had to visit twice.
While on Islá Colón, one of the easiest way to see the islands is via a sailing tour. They take a group out on a pair of catamarans to several choice spots around the islands.
This included two different snorkelling spots, which would give me the opportunity to test out my new underwater camera. The first part of our mini cruise was to a bay they have nicknamed Dolphin Bay because of the dolphins that come to play around the boats.
Then it’s off to the first snorkelling spot. Flippers aren’t really needed as the water is not deep and you float around a coral reef surrounding a mangrove island in a place they call Starfish Bay.
While there I swam with a pair of jellyfish. Cool to look at under the water, but I wasn’t letting them get too close.
The water was not the clearest, but at our second spot, there were more coloured fish and I got some shots of the brightly coloured coral.
There are several beaches on the islands that are well visited by tourists, but at an expensive US$5 to get to the sand, I decided against going.
For the three days I spent on the island, I managed to stay in three different hostels. On arrival, I discovered the hostel I wanted to stay at was full (you can’t prebook online), so I booked in for the next two days and went searching for another hostel. The following day I discovered my booking was no longer there. This time they located another hostel for me and ensured I would get a bed the following night. On the third day I finally got the bed I wanted and spent the day just relaxing on the side of the channel.
During the midday hours it gets rather hot in Bocas del Toro, even in winter, but all you need do is roll out of the hammock and into the sea to cool down. Then in the evening they set up a band and we rocked out to the sounds of Sublime, Blink 182 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Next, I head back to David for the night, then up to the town of Boquete, a tourist town in the mountains.
The World Wanderer