The Perfect Day at Stunning Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama


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"The Perfect Day at Stunning Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama".

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The Perfect Day at Stunning Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama

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Development without a plan, control or regulation, normally destroys pristine natural ecosystems (unless all parts involved - government, businesses, inhabitants - are already enlightened or educated somehow). Here in Bocas we're not the exception. The post below was just written last week by guest blogger Shari Tucker. And here's a link to a blog post written about Starfish Beach almost 5 years ago by Eve Cabrera. We obviously prefer the raw natural beauty of the "old Starfish Beach" (we bet the wildlife too). It's really interesting to appreciate the different perspectives, as Starfish Beach continues to be amazing, just not as amazing as it used to be. As Panamanians and members of this community we try our very best to protect these places. But more unplanned development is taking place all over the Bocas Archipelago. We're specially concerned and afraid about a supposed $150,000 "eco-path" to Wizard Beach (there's already a path and it's already as "eco" as it can be). And some of the democratic institutions that we have at hand to do something about these things are currently kidnapped and we're not allowed entry, so we invite you as a tourist to vote with your pocket and only support Eco-friendly businesses and initiatives. We believe that there are more appropriate beaches to be considered as the main areas for restaurants to serve food and cocktails for visitors wanting to spend the day at the beach with music and wifi (or businesses wanting to offer these services), just as our very own town beach (aka Istmito Beach or Las Cabañas), which would make it a lot easier for locals entrepreneurs to put up their shacks, take care of all the trash that their customers generate, easily procure their supplies from town, run electricity without having the noise of burning diesel generators and it would be even more accessible for tourists. We're still not too late to decide where Bocas is headed to, and maybe, just maybe, the Starfish at Starfish Beach might come back one day...
Intro by Julio Santamaria

Calm, clear waters lazily lap against the tree-lined Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella), which stretches for about a kilometer on the northwest coast of Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago of Panama. The beach is well known and easy to get to, but only accessible by boat or foot. You won’t find any vehicles along this little stretch of paradise.

As you head north out of Bocas Town, the local houses and shops will subside for acres and acres of untouched jungle with an occasional house or farm scattered along the way. The drive is quite pretty as you are wrapped in the crispness of the surrounding jungle. Huge bamboo trees line the way and the other trees keep the road shaded from the sun. You'll pass the Plastic Bottle Village, a small school (or two) and then as the curvy, bumpy, paved road turns to sand, you'll slowly manoeuver along a one-lane trail through the trees until you are alongside the ocean. Small waves crash against the shore and then the water creeps toward the wheels of the van and seeps into the sand. Palm trees grow in every direction and angle reaching for the sun; and a few hundred meters ahead, you can see a few brightly colored buildings where the shuttle stops.

If you want some peace and quiet, you can stay along the first stretch of beach where the shuttle stops with waves crashing on to the sand; but you'll have to pick your place carefully to make sure your things stay dry!

Starfish Beach: postcard perfect beach, check!
Starfish Beach: postcard perfect beach, check!

Or, you can make your way by foot or by boat ($1.50 USD) to Starfish beach. If you aren't sure where you are going, follow the others! You'll pass by Estefany Cabanas and a couple of other small beachside properties before reaching a private(ish) boardwalk. Although there are signs posted for private property in a couple of areas (by Panama law, land in the Caribbean, within 10 meters of high tide is for the public to enjoy), the main part of the boardwalk is for public use and takes you either to the jungle path to reach the beach, or the boat. If there is no boat in sight, hang tight, they run back and forth every 15 minutes or so.

Before you can walk on sand you'll have to find your way through several beachfront properties
Before you can walk on sand you'll have to find your way through several beachfront properties

Hike it, or hop in the boat, either way beautiful Starfish beach awaits you only a few minutes away. By foot, you'll arrive at the beach and can pick a spot anywhere that tickles your fancy. With brightly colored eateries serving up seafood, chips and beer, you'll be able to fill your tummy for lunch or a late afternoon snack. If you arrive by boat, you'll get to take in the beauty of the small lazy beach from the water and likely be dropped off midway. You will see people lazing in the water, kids playing and hear loud music wafting through the air and then fading away.

Restaurants at Starfish Beach

Boats and restaurants by Starfish Beach

View of Starfish Beach from the Caribbean Sea

When your toes touch the warm, clear waters you're entire body will relax and your biggest worry will be where to put your towel down for the next few hours.

If you see groups of people in the water taking photos, they've likely found some of the remaining Starfish that come to the area to feed. Cushion starfish are a couple of inches thick, with the center part of their body being about the size of a child's face. Each of their tentacles reaches out for a few inches before delicately coming to a point. It is said that before this became a tourist beach (around 2003/04), there used to be thousands of starfish here; so many that you couldn't see the sand. Over the last decade, the increase in visitors to the beach disturbing the water and sand, along with light and noise pollution have chased the thousands of starfish away.

Photo of Starfish at Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama

In case you don’t know, when a person lifts a starfish out of the water, it's body takes on air instead of filtering water through its system. Too much air will cause it to float to the top and die. Is your selfie with a starfish worth it dying?

Remember to look but don't touch. Although they are harmless to us, we are not harmless to them. This is their home and we are just visitors for the day.

As the afternoon sun peaks, take a break to grab some lunch from one of the many small vendors in the shade. If you are feeling upbeat, grab a table at one of the spots pumping out Latin beats. If you want a little quiet time, head along the beach toward the path to Boca del Drago and you'll find some quieter spots to have a meal and relaxing conversation.

After your lunch has settled and you've soaked up more glorious vitamin D, cool off by floating around in the calm waters, only interrupted by the occasional waves from nearby boats. Or put your face in with a snorkel and check out the few different types of fish and crabs that you barely knew were there.

As the sun starts to lower, pack up for the walk or boat ride back to Boca del Drago. The last shuttle leaves at 6:30pm and could be full, so make sure you aren't late or you'll be camping out for the night on the beach (I'm not sure if that's allowed) or begging for a room at Estafany's Cabanas for the night!



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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.

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