The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro offers visitors endless opportunities in terms of beaches and water sports. Secluded golden and white sand beaches and emerald waters await you.... with kilometers and kilometers of uninhabited coasts it won't be difficult at all to find the perfect stretch of beach for you. Uncrowded waves, colorful coral reefs, abundant marine life (dolphins, turtles, tropical fish, manatees) and a vibrant island nightlife, Bocas del Toro is truly a Caribbean Shangri-la.
The following video offers you a glimpse about what Bocas del Toro is about... and below the video you'll find a list of 19 things to in Bocas del Toro!
1. Island and Beach Hopping
If you're a beach lover, you'll love Bocas! With so many beaches to choose from, you can literally go to a different beach every day during your vacation in Bocas del Toro! The Archipelago of Bocas del Toro is replete with white and golden sand beaches. Many of them are safe and protected from currents year round, while others are more exposed to the surf when the swell is up.
On Isla Colon you'll find the following beaches: Playa El Istmito, Big Creek, Playa Mango, Paunch, Flat Rock, Bluff Beach, Starfish Beach in Bocas del Drago, La Piscina, Playa Lagarto and Mimitimbi Beach amongst others. On Carenero, the neighboring island of Isla Colon, you'll also find several white sand beaches and on Bastimentos Island you'll be able to enjoy Playa Primera (Wizard Beach), Playa Segunda, Red Frog Beach, Playa Polo and Playa Larga (Long Beach). On the east of Bastimentos there are more unnamed beaches and all the rest of the islands (Solarte, Cristobal, Popa, Cayo de Agua) have their fair amount of amazing beaches. Some of the most spectacular beaches can be found in the Zapatillas Cays and in Escudo de Veraguas.
2. Surfing in Bocas del Toro
With a consistent seasonal swell (December - March, June and July), Bocas del Toro offers visitors uncrowded, quality waves and a tropical surfing experience in Panama's warm Caribbean waters. In Bocas you can find exciting reef and beach breaks. The islands offer mainly lefts and some right handers. Taxi boats will drop you off in the line-up of your favorite spot. There are waves for all levels: from beginners to pro. When the surf is "on" you can expect powerful hollow waves and plenty of tubes. For beginners there are mellow reef and beach breaks to enjoy too.
Many surfers come and learn Spanish in Bocas del Toro because of its surf. Be respectful, don't arrive in large groups and let your surfing do the talk. In several quality breaks you'll find some localism (remember, it's not your wave), which you can avoid if you surf early (yes, people party hard in Bocas).
If you're learning or want to learn to surf, we'll put you in contact with the most knowledgeable surf schools who will take care of you and take you to the best spots for learning (wave wise and crowd wise). Or of you're an intermediate, advanced or pro surfer, and would like to hit the more challenging breaks, we can also arrange a surfing guide or outfitter adequate to your level of skills and experience.
Needless to say, you can also bring your own board or just rent one, and go surfing by yourself and/or with whoever you meet here! Some of the surfing breaks that you might encounter in Bocas del Toro are: Paunch, Dumpers, Bluff, Wizard, Carenero, Black Rock, Old Man's, Silverbacks, Long Beach, La Curva, Tiger Tail, Tuna, Waikiki...
3. Wildlife Exploration
Be it on the ocean or within the island's jungles, in Bocas del Toro you can easily have close encounters with the most beautiful species in the wild, such as manatees, dolphins, sloths, howler monkeys, rays, toucans, snakes, caimans, sea turtles (not only in the water, but also nesting or hatching in Bluff or Bastimentos), reef sharks and obviously an innumerable amount of birds, tropical fish and other sea creatures. Come to Bocas and experience Panama's wildlife at its best!
4. Zipline Canopy Tour
Located on Bastimentos Island, the Red Frog Sky Zipline Canopy Tour offers visitors a much more intense and complete experience than most zipline canopy tours in Central America. If you've ziplined in Mexico or Costa Rica before and think you've done it all, think again and don't miss this amazing island zipline canopy tour. Besides being able to experience 7 ziplines way up in the rainforest with stunning views of the surrounding sea, you'll be challenged by a Tarzan Swing and Traversable Canopy Net, a Treetop Challenge Course, a Swaying Sky Bridge and a Vertical Rappel. And if you're lucky enough you might also get to see some red frogs and sloths.
5. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
In Bocas del Toro you'll be able to find almost every single known type of coral in the Caribbean and an immense variety of tropical fish and sea life.
Bocas del Toro is a great place for beginning divers and snorkelers due to its calm, accessible waters with plenty of coral and sponge gardens to explore at shallow depths such as Crawl Cay, The Whorehouse, Buoy Line, Coral Garden, The Wreck, Marker 19, Playground and Hospital Point. There is also more challenging cave, wall and wreck diving for experienced scuba divers such as Manuel's Wall, Tiger Rock, The Zapatillas, Shashe and Wash Rock. Other dive sites, which are more exposed to currents and swell, vary in difficulty depending on the time of the year such as Polo Beach, Dolphin Rock and the Paunch area.
Obtaining your PADI certifications can easily be arranged and Bocas is one of the cheapest places in Central America to do so. If you'd just like to snorkel you can obviously bring your own mask and go on a boat tour to many snorkeling spots, or you can also rent or purchase snorkeling gear in town.
You'll enjoy the best visibility during the drier months (February, March, August, September and October), though snorkelers and divers will always be rewarded year-round with warm waters and abundant ocean life. As many rivers empty into the sea here, aim to go when it hasn't rained for several days. On good days the visibility can reach 25 meters, and less than 3 meters when it has been raining a lot.
6. Sea Kayaking and SUP
The more adventurous can rent a sea kayak, a stand up paddle board or go on a guided tour, and navigate to secluded beaches or find their own snorkeling spot. Sea kayaking and SUP are great ways to work out and explore the islands of Bocas on your own.
7. Hiking and Jungle Trekking
If you want to get close and personal with the inner secrets of each island, nothing beats a good hike through them or along their coasts.
In Bastimentos you can start a good hike in Old Bank, pass by an organic farm Up in the Hill and reach Wizard Beach. If you're fit enough you can even continue to Red Frog Beach. Also on Bastimentos you can start several hikes through the jungle from Salt Creek: a bat's cave, Long Beach, Playa Pelicano or Sendero Caiman, you choose!
On Isla Colon there are several trails within the island's jungles and many travelers favor hiking from Bluff Beach all the way to Boca del Drago.
As in many Caribbean islands, bicycles are a major form of transportation in Bocas del Toro. On Isla Colon you can't miss a cycle from town to Bluff Beach or if you'd like a bit more of a challenge, cycle all the way and back to Boca del Drago (or even around the entire island). Bicycles can be purchased or rented by the day or the week on the island so that you can easily get around town.
9. Bird Watching
In Bocas del Toro's jungles and coasts you'll be able to easily encounter many different birds. All you need is a good birding book or a knowledgeable guide and off you go.
Some of our favorites sightings include Toucans, Oropendolas and different types of parrots.
Swans' Cay, also known as Bird Island is a birder's paradise. Here you'll find the only known nesting place in the Caribbean of the Red-billed Tropic Bird (Phaeton aethereus). Swan's Cay is a rocky formation approximately 70 meters long, with a rounded quarter moon shape, pierced by two openings through one end, and rises 55 meters at the highest point. On the southern side, sheltered from the northeastern trade winds, there is a small sandy beach below a higher level area. Bushes and other vegetation cover the summit, and there is a small clump of coconut palms at the low end. A designated bird sanctuary, Isla Pajaros, also has brown booby (Sula leucogaster etesiaca), the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis), the frigate (Fregata magnificens) and many types of gulls and terns.
If you'd like to tour Bocas del Toro by sailboat, it's also an option. Tourists normally cruise to Dolphin Bay, Crawl Cay and other popular places by covered pangas, but you can also choose to do the same but in style by sailing in a catamaran.
As with other waters sports, fishing in Bocas del Toro can truly be world class if you hit the right season. From March through early May, and then late July through mid November, the water is clearer and the fish migrate to Bocas looking for the abundant bait fish.
You can fish near shore fish for Tuna, Wahoo, Grouper, King Fish, Snapper and Barrucuda, or head toward river mouths and lagoons in search of Tarpon, Snook or Jack. You can spearfish and catch lobster as well. If you'd like to offshore fish, within 10 miles of Bastimentos island, you'll already be hitting the 9,000 feet depth marker and it does not take long to get to the billfish (although less abundant than in Panama's Pacific). We will happily arrange a fishing charter for you whether you'd like to nearshore fish or go deep sea fishing.
12. Horseback Riding
Instead of cycling, another way to get to know Bluff Beach is by horseback, which certainly provides you with a really nice way to get to know the coasts of Isla Colon. On Cristobal Island, horseback riding tours can also be arranged.
13. Wakeboarding and Water Skiing
When there is no surf, head towards the protected waters of our mangrove islands and take advantage of Bocas del Toro's sheet glass conditions 365 days a year. Bocas del Toro offers visitors great wakeboarding and water skiing conditions.
Jump start your day with yoga classes in Bocas del Toro. Daily yoga classes are organized by different members of our community. Yoga classes in Bocas del Toro take place at the Bocas Yoga Studio with Laura Kay and at the Energy Club next to the Main Park.
15. Restaurants and Nightlife
After days full of surfing, diving or simply beach relaxation, splurge on a wonderful meal and then get your groove on a go out to party hard, Caribbean style!
In Bocas del Toro you'll find an international cuisine with plenty of fresh yummy seafood. And when it comes to partying, nightlife in Bocas del Toro is epic! With a chilled out Caribbean vibe, nightlife in Bocas del Toro offers visitors an authentic taste of what it's like to party by the beach.
There are several bat caves around the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, but one of the most interesting ones is located in the Bastimentos National Marine Park. To get there you'll go up a small creek in a cayuco and once you reach it you'll find a cave full of bats with wonderful rock formations. To reach the other side and get into the cayuco again you'll have to go through chest high water.
17. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
At Colon Island in Panama's Bocas del Toro region in the Caribbean, STRI has established a site for education and research, providing scientists and students with access to an extraordinary diversity of marine and terrestrial biota. This station is situated among areas of undisturbed forest, a remarkable coastal lagoon system, and numerous islands and reefs.
18. Butterfly and Botanical Gardens
As if the beauty offered by Bocas del Toro's islands wasn't enough, you can also visit spectacular gardens and butterfly farms.
19. Cacao Plantation Tours
Learn how the ngobe indigenous grow cacao to produce chocolate.
On the other hand, there are many other things that you can do in Bocas del Toro without spending that much. Checkout this Blog post about 10 Things to do in Bocas del Toro for less than $20.