Boquete: A Guide to Panama’s Adventure Capital

Boquete: A Guide to Panama’s Adventure Capital

When most people dream of Central America, the first image that comes to mind is laying on a white-sand beach under the sun with the waves lapping at your ankles. But that’s only a small part of the picture when it comes to this fascinating region.

Case in point: Boquete.

No, there are no blissful beaches here for escaping your winter grind to work on your sun tan. But that doesn’t mean that this small highland town in Panama shouldn’t be high on your Central America bucket list.

Looking for More Panama Info? Read More:

things to do in Boquete Panama

Why Visit Boquete, Panama?

Barring its lack of a coastline to frolic upon, Boquete is as fantastic a winter getaway as it gets. All year round, the average temperatures here sit at a balmy 24 to 26ºC. Unlike other popular destinations in Panama like Panama City and Bocas del Toro, Boquete never gets too hot. Like Medellin in Colombia, Boquete’s a city of eternal spring.

Best of all for all the snowbirds hoping to escape the cold, Boquete’s at its hottest and driest between January and March when the worst of the winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere is at its peak.

On top of its weather, Boquete offers plenty to see & do. From searching for wildlife in a cloud forest to hiking up a volcano that’s the highest point in Panama, your schedule will always be full in Boquete. (If that’s what you want, of course!)

What to do in Boquete

Detaching from Panama’s beach-bummin’ reputation, Boquete is the perfect place for travellers who can’t sit still. The scenery here is simply jaw-dropping, and the best way to experience it is to throw yourself into it head first. Here are a few ideas for your trip to Boquete:

Visit a Coffee Plantation

Thanks to its highland climate, Boquete sits in Panama’s premier coffee-growing region. There are many coffee plantation tours you can take. The country’s most prestigious java, geisha coffee, is grown here.

Although originally from Ethiopia, geisha coffee in Panama has become one of the world’s most elite. The best-of-the-best in geisha can fetch hundreds of dollars per pound!

A good way to skip over the inflated world market prices is to visit a local coffee farm. There are plenty to choose from, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend Finca la Milagrosa.

Unlike other coffee plantations in the area, Finca la Milagrosa still sticks to old-school methods of production. The tour guide will take you through the owner’s ingenious machinery (fashioned mostly from spare car & tractor parts) that made this small farm a top coffee producer in the area.

Best of all, you’ll get to top off the tour with an oh-so-decadent cup of geisha coffee. Be sure to grab a bag of heavily-discounted geisha (whole beans, of course!) to share with your friends back home.

coffee in central america boquete pabnama coffee plantation

Ziplining at Boquete Tree Trek

Now, I’m generally not one for these types of activities (a debilitating and irrational fear of heights will do that to you), but I absolutely loved ziplining at Boquete Tree Trek. Located in the cloud forest above Boquete, this adventure outfitter delivers some of the most adrenaline-pumping ziplining you’ll experience anywhere!

The 12 zip lines span over 4.5 kilometres. At any given moment on your journey, you’ll be suspended anywhere between 30 and 60 metres (100 to 200 feet) above the forest floor. On the final run, you’ll zoom along a zip line half a kilometre long, hitting speeds up to 60 kilometres per hour!

Despite any anxieties you might have, I assure you that the views of the cloud forest & the surrounding mountains from the zip lines are nothing short of spectacular and well-worth fighting your urge to chicken out.

Even if you can’t hack the heights and the speed, Boquete Tree Trek offers plenty of other activities like a bird-watching tour and a hanging bridges tour through its lovely cloud forest surroundings.

Hike up Volcan Baru

For travellers who want to take their Boquete trip to the next level, there’s no better way than to take on the mighty Volcan Baru. This volcano, wedged almost directly in the centre of the isthmus, is the highest point in Panama. Needless to say, you shouldn’t expect a walk in the park!

Although some travellers attempt the hike alone, the safest way to tackle Volcan Baru is with a group. Most guided tours start the trek at night, finishing the bulk of the trek before camping out just a few kilometres from the summit.

In the morning, you’ll set off before sunset to complete the last leg. Once atop, you’ll witness one of the most glorious sunrises of your life.

If you happen to catch Volcan Baru on a clear day, you’ll also have the rare privilege of seeing both the Pacific and the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea) from the same point. It’s the only place in the world where this is possible! There are also easier forest hikes to do if you aren’t up for a whole volcano.

where to stay in boquete panama

Where to stay in Boquete

If you’re searching for the best accommodations in Boquete, I can’t recommend the Inn at Palo Alto enough.

Located in the Palo Alto area above the town of Boquete, the garden-like Inn at Palo Alto is simply sublime. Waking up to breakfast & a coffee with views of the forest, river & Volcan Baru might well become one of your favorite simple pleasures in Boquete.

On top of that, the expat owners & management understand hospitality to a tee. They’ll arrange everything you need in Boquete from tours to onward transportation, and ensure that your stay is nothing less than perfect.

If you’re looking for a hostel, Bambuda Castle is one of the most highly rated hostels in the country, and Mamallena is a well-known and very central chain hostel in Boquete.

Thanks to Ryan for the guest post! 

Ryan O’Rourke is a part-time Canadian travel aficionado and the founder of Treksplorer, a fiercely-independent guide to mid-range & luxury travel for busy professionals.
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Guide to Boquete Panama: Panama's adventure capital with mountains, a volcano, jungles, hiking, and more! #panama #boquete #centralamerica #boquete #travel

December 21, 2018

Complete Panama Backpacking Guide: Routes, Hostels, and What to Do

Complete Panama Backpacking Guide: Routes, Hostels, and What to Do

So, you’re planning your Panama backpacking trip and you’re wondering where to begin. Where will you stay? What are the best hostels? What’s the easiest route? Where do backpackers go? Well, backpacker friends, I am here to answer all these questions for you.

See, I had intended to stay in Panama purely for Tribal Gathering festival, and ended up in this wonderful country for over a month! And, in the process, I ended up traveling the perfect Panama backpacking route, shared in the itinerary below.

Complete Panama Backpacking guide - with routes, and itinerary, hostels to stay in, and what to do! #Panama #travel #backpacking #backpacker #travel #backpackingcentralamerica #centralamerica

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Panama backpacking truly sucked me in – and rightfully so! I had no idea what to expect in this country, but it’s safe to say it totally blew me away and is now on my list of the most underrated countries I have been to. Previously, when I thought of Panama, I would never have thought, “pristine Caribbean beaches,” “amazing travel-worthy surf,” “great parties,” “beautiful jungle-y mountains,” or “volcano climbing,” but now all of those things are synonymous with Panama to me. And I would love to share them with you.

For the sake of simplicity, I will start a Panama route from the north. Many backpackers travel through Panama coming south from Costa Rica or north from Colombia, and I will list a route from Costa Rica (specifically and most easily, Puerto Viejo), but if you use your common sense you can do this route in the opposite direction, too! 😛

panama backpacking san blas islands

 

But First: Panama Backpacking Tips

  • Busses: The busses can get FREEZING. Like, freezing, guys. I literally put one of my sockless feet into an empty sunglasses case that I found in my backpack once – it was that bad. Bring jackets on the bus or prepare to be an actual iceberg when you get to your destination.
  • Money: Some of these destinations, like Lost & Found, Santa Catalina, and Playa Venao, have no ATM’s in town. Bocas del Toro only has one ATM. So, get cash out when you have access to an ATM!
  • Getting Around: for most places, there will be the option of taking public busses to save money, or taking organized transfers to your next destination for a bit more money plus piece of mind. You can decide for yourself what’s right for you in each situation. You can ask about transfers to your next destination in each new place; hostels and agencies usually have them set up for backpackers everywhere along this Panama backpacking route.
  • ASK: If you are confused about something while backpacking Panama, ask someone. Most times I was standing in a bus station confused about what was happening, I was able to ask someone the location of my next bus/transfer and figure it out. It does help if you know some Spanish in some places, but seriously, when in doubt, ask!
  • Currency: The currency in Panama is the Panamanian dollar, or USD. The exchange rate is 1:1 and they have some of their own coins but the money is basically all USD.
  • Budget: Some places in Panama, like Bocas del Toro, are actually fairly expensive due their remoteness and tourism. If you’re on a budget make sure to watch out for this! More budget tips in my Bocas del Toro Guide.
  • Rainy Season/Weather: Panama can get very hot in the summer, and colder in rainy season/in Boquete and the high altitude jungles. Panama definitely has a rainy season, so make sure you know the best rainy season clothes for backpackers if you are traveling at that time of year.

panama backpacking guide sailing in panama

panama backpacking guide bocas del Toro

1. Panama Backpacking Route: Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is a classic first stop on any Panama backpacking journey, and is sure to start you off with a bang. Bocas is a surf town and party capital of the Caribbean coast, offering more adventures that are possible to complete in a few days and also renowned backpacker parties. Bocas del Toro is an island archipelago, with one main town and many smaller communities on other beautiful islands to explore.

Getting to Bocas del Toro

You can get to Bocas via transfer very easily from lots of locations. If you’re traveling south, you can get there most easily from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Many/most hostels and agencies organize transfers, so you can ask inside any travel agency or at your hostel.

But, you can also get a bus to Bocas easily from David (the northern hub of Panama) if coming from the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. If you’re coming north, the destinations below also easily organize transfers to Bocas.

What to do/Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro for Backpackers:

Since I wrote an entire guide about Things to Do in Bocas del Toro AND Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro, I’m going to go ahead and refer you to those guides (opens in a new tab) for these. There’s too much to do in Bocas to list on one post – trust me on this one. These posts list EVERYTHING to do and EVERYWHERE to stay – from the party hostels to the smaller quiet ones to the ones with the cheapest private rooms.

These posts are not specifically geared towards Panama backpacking either, so they also list resorts and hotels as well as 7-8 hostels and what they’re known for. As for things to do, expect a comprehensive list of all tours and activities to do in Bocas – think, diving, snorkeling, swimming in pristine Caribbean waters, boat trips to secluded islands, kayaking, sailing trips, biking, TONS of surfing, and more.

You can also expect the best places to eat, bars for nightlife, and places to watch the sunset! Have a gander at it! Click the links above or the images below.

A Bocas del Toro Travel Guide with ALL the things to do in Bocas del Toro - all kinds of adventure activities, places to eat, places to stay, and sunset spots.

Where to stay in Bocas del Toro for every type of traveler! Including Bocas del Toro hostels for backpackers, and Bocas del Toro hotels and resorts for everyone else!

 

panama backpacking guide lost and found hostel panama digital nomad mountains hammock

2. Panama Backpacking Route: Lost & Found Hostel

Perhaps quite unknown on many Panama backpacking routes, Lost and Found Hostel is located high up in the mountains between Bocas del Toro and the Pacific coast, on a mountain in the jungle with one of the best views I’ve ever seen.

This is by far one of the coolest and most unique hostels I have ever stayed at. To get here, you must hike 15 minutes uphill with all your things. They have hiking trails, actual scavenger hunts based off a book you can read, a strong community vibe, great food, and an all-around amazing experience. Read my post on Lost & Found Hostel for more – it really was a highlight of my time in Panama.

The Lost and Found Hostel Panama: and adventure hiking hostel in panama's mountains

Getting to Lost & Found Hostel:

Bocas del Toro, Boquete, and David should all have transfers/busses to Lost and Found. I got a transfer very easily from Bocas del Toro from my hostel.

If not, it’s literally on the side of the road between David and Bocas, and there’s only one road. Tell your driver! 😉 There are public busses that drive the road all the time to/from David, and from Lost + Found it should cost about $3.50. And remember, these are Panamanian busses – they are often crammed and standing-room-only, but get you there just the same.

What to Do at Lost & Found Hostel for Backpackers:

As seen in my post, do the scavenger hunts (both of them!), read the Lost & Found books, meet new friends, visit the waterfall and the canyon, visit the organic coffee farm, go horseback riding, play foot-only jenga (no, I’m not kidding!), and spend the rest of the time marveling at the view of Volcan Baru. It may be remote, but you could stay in this place for ages. I didn’t want to leave!

View Lost + Found Hostel Rooms + Rates Here

volcan baru moon rise hike

vocan baru sunrise hike view

3. Panama Backpacking Route: Boquete

Boquete (bo-ket-tay) is a little mountain town and a large expat community within Panama. Many who are Panama backpacking will end up in Boquete for a little while to enjoy the jungle scenery and cooler climate.

For some reason, there are LOTS of American expats in Boquete. It’s a mid-sized town with everything you could possibly need, with lots of great restaurants and shops as well. It’s surrounded by mountains/jungle and has a lot of interesting hostels and shops.

Many people come to Boquete to hike Volcan Baru, a 3650m-ish elevation volcano in the middle of Panama. Volcan Baru is the highest point in Panama, and on a clear day you can actually see both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans at the same time!! It’s quite a strenuous hike – 13km uphill to the top then 13km downhill again – and pretty much everyone does it for sunrise.

It’s a thing to hike Volcan Baru at 12-1am, and arrive just in time for the sunrise at 5:30-6:30am. The hike takes 5-6 hours in theory, and is a quite, dare I say, boring in the darkness just walking up and up and up. But I will let you in on a little secret – it’s worth it! The sunrise is spectacular and is well worth a visit to Boquete.

volcan baru hike tips guide

You guessed it! I have a post on this too. Click the image to read!

Getting to Boquete:

Boquete is not too far from Lost & Found Hostel in theory, but either requires a proper transfer (L&F-Boquete at 3pm each day for $15) or that you take a public bus to David from the side of the road outside L&F (about $4) and then another bus to Boquete ($1.75) which is quite easy. That might sounds complicated, but once you are Panama backpacking you’ll understand!

What to Do in Boquete:

The one thing you’ll want to make sure you do is hike Volcan Baru! People hike this around 12-1am to watch the sunrise from the top, and it’s VERY hard but worth it. Make sure you have lots of water, warm clothes, snacks, and a camera!

Other than hiking Volcan Baru in Boquete, you can explore the cute town, eat some great meals, sign up for farm tours and nearby canyon tours (some go to the same canyon as Lost & Found Hostel), or other adventure activities that you san sign up for in many hostels!

Where to Stay in Boquete for Backpackers:

  • Mamallena Backpackers: If you want to be in town, Mamallena Backpackers is the most popular option.
  • La Jungla Experience: For an intimate family hostel that feels like you are legitimately at home on your living room couch, I recommend La Jungla Experience. It’s a bit out of town, but such a nice and homey small spot that I really enjoyed- and it has Netflix!
  • Bambuda Castle: I have also heard Bambuda Castle is cool. It’s very highly rated, has great common areas, and can help you book all your tours as any of these hostels would.
panama backpacking don't go to David

Disclaimer: this photo was definitely NOT taken in David. 😛

4. Panama Backpacking Route: David

Honestly, David is just a transit city. You can stay there for a night or two if you want, but I would not know anything about it because in the multiple times I’ve been through the place its given me stressful and sweaty vibes.

David is basically a massive bus station with people walking every which way and many trying to sell you things. It’s always hot and I haven’t seen any non-sketchy food stalls/restaurants there at all.  In my opinion, when you get to David, just…. continue on. I add it to the list because it’s one of the biggest transfer points for Panama backpacking. So, use David as a transfer point, but if you ask me, keep going!

If You Must Stay in David:

  • Stay in Bambu Hostel – it’s your best option. They might be able to give you tips on things to do from there!
panama city panama backpacking route

5. Panama Backpacking: Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina is a popular surf spot near some secluded islands on Panama’s Pacific coast. It’s a bit more remote, and isn’t always on panama backpacking routes for this reason. It’s a tiny town and is not very built up, but I wanted to include it to give you the option of checking out this little paradise.

Travelers who are Panama backpacking will spend a few nights there to surf, enjoy the beach, or do any of a few different adventure tours. Besides surfing, Santa Catalina is known for fishing and world-renowned scuba diving.

Getting to Santa Catalina:

This one is a bit more complicated as it’s very remote. You can take a few busses from David to Santa Catalina – from David to Santiago, then to Sona, and then to Santa Catalina. Because the destination is rising quickly in popularity, many hostels and agencies are starting to offer transfers to Santa Catalina. The best thing to do while Panama backpacking is to ask around!

What to do in Santa Catalina:

Again, this is a place for surfing, diving, fishing, and enjoying the beautiful scenery! You can also dive, explore, and hike in Parque Nacional Coiba. You can take diving courses here if you wish.

Where to Stay in Santa Catalina for Backpackers:

  • Hostel Villa Vento Surf – Perhaps the most popular place for Panama backpackers in Santa Catalina, Hostel Villa Vento Suft offers a chilled out yet sociable atmosphere and can organize lots of your activities for you here. There’s free breakfast, but the wifi is not.
  •  B & B EcoLodge Deseo Bamboo – more secluded hostel tailored more to people who may want private space (they have private rooms) but also have dorms available. The atmosphere is beautiful to hang out in.
EnvisionFestivalCostaRica-51

6. Panama Backpacking: Playa Venao

Playa Venao is a lovely U-Shaped beach also on Panama’s Pacific coast. There are a few great hostels there, good surf, and beautiful places.

Getting to Playa Venao:

There are transfers to Playa Venao from Panama City, Bocas, and Boquete, and busses via Las Tables/Pedasi from Panama City and David. Pedasi and Las Tablas have regular busses to Playa Venao as well. As another location of Selina Hostels, Playa Venao is very accessible from other Selina Hostels – aka Bocas del Toro (you read my guide, right?!). Playa Venao is an overnight bus transfer from Bocas.

Getting here from Santa Catalina would involve a similar round of public busses as before, or, again, a transfer as Santa Catalina is getting more popular. From Santa Catalina you’d get a bus to Sona, Santiago, Pedasi/Las Tablas, then Playa Venao. Check if your hostel has transfers or if you can meet with other backpackers to make the journey – most are making similar routes!

What to Do in Playa Venao:

Playa Venao is best known for surfing and a lovely sunny climate. It’s yet another lovely Central American surfing town, where locals rise early in the morning to check the waves. Besides the hostels, there are a couple restaurants in town, but Pedasi to the north is a bigger town that will have more amenities.

Keep in mind that, like Santa Catalina, the last ATM’s will be a few bus stops away from the beach. In this case, the last ATM is in Pedasi and the bigger supermarket is in Las Tablas.

Where to Stay in Playa Venao for Backpackers:

  • Selina Playa Venao: Selina hostel chain has taken a strong command of the central American backpacking scene with a great product. Their hostels combine adventures with great parties, and basically are the party wherever they are, if that makes sense. The Selina in Playa Venao is beautiful and caters well to both backpackers (dorms) and coupled (private rooms) and has a great bar, full restaurant, and social vibe. This really helps when there are no ATM’s and not many restaurants in town.
  • Hostel Venao Cove: More secluded and rustic hostel with both private rooms and dorms. Not as much access to food, however.
panama city casco viejo old town panama backpacking

 

PanamaCity-6

7. Panama Backpacking Route: Panama City

Panama City reminds me of Miami meets Cuba meets… Jamaica or something. It’s an unexpectedly big city with massive skyscrapers, but also has quite a lot of history in its quaint old town. The Panama Canal is a must-see, as is Casco Viejo, the old town. Other than that there are a few surf breaks and maybe some beaches to hang out on. But by no means is the city the best of Panama! One day in Panama city is fine for some.

Getting to Panama City:

You can get anywhere in the country from Panama city, and you can get to Panama city from anywhere in the country. From Bocas it’s a brutal 11 hour transfer, but there are still two transfers each day.

From Playa Venao, it should be about 5 hours for a transfer to Panama City, or 6ish hours for a public bus or taxi through Las Tablas.

What to Do in Panama City:

The best thing to do in Panama City is to See the Panama Canal! There are lots of tours to do this – most of the ones below stop at it. You should also explore and dine in the old town (Casco Viejo) and take a tour of the town. Check out these tours below:

Where to Stay in Panama City for Backpackers:

  • Luna’s Castle: I would recommend to stay at Luna’s Castle in Casco Viejo while Panama backpacking. It’s a safe area, which is important. Luna’s is a spacious and social hostel with bed curtains, free breakfast, and a nice eating area with a bar downstairs and many bars around the old town.
  • Mamallena Backpackers: This hostel is right in the city and is the home base for many tours to San Blas. It’s popular among backpackers although the area could be better.
  • Hostal Casa Areka: This is on the other side of the city, close to the big buildings and city buzz.
  • Magnolia Inn:  This is a bit of a splurge for Panama Backpacking but is a lovely space right in the Casco Viejo, the area I would stay in for sure. It’s beautiful here and backpackers seem to love it.

panama backpacking route sunset san blas islands

panama backpacking san blas islands palm tree paradise

 8. Panama Backpacking Route: San Blas Islands to Colombia!

Honestly though, if there’s one thing you do in Panama, make it San Blas. If you are traveling on from Panama, definitely go through the San Blas to cross between Panama and Colombia. These are by far the most beautiful, perfect, and picturesque islands I have seen in my life; they’re perfect to the point that you question reality and if it is actually possible that hundreds of tiny, white-sand, circular, palm-tree topped, reef-surrounded islands could actually exist in such close proximity to one another in real life. And yes… yes, they can.

You can do day tours to the San Blas Islands from Panama City, or you can go through the islands to cross between Panama and Colombia. Because you cannot travel by land across this border (the Darien Gap is one of the densest and most dangerous jungles in the world and there’s no road), you must either sail through the San Blas Islands or fly. And I’ll give you a hint: Sailing through San Blas is SO worth it. Take a speedboat tour with San Blas Adventures and you will be able to see more islands, spend less time on a boat, and experience them in their true splendor while also getting across the border to a cute little Colombian fishing Village.

San Blas Islands Options

If you are sailing the San Blas islands between Panama and Colombia, you have two options: Speedboat or sailboat. These two options may seem similar but are in fact very, very different, and both have their perks and pitfalls. I did a speedboat tour, wrote all about it in one post, compared speedboat tours to sailboat tours in another, and also wrote a travel guide to the tiny Colombian city called Capurgana that speedboat tours end in. And you guessed it, they’re linked below! Click the posts below to see what’s right for you.

Wondering how to get from Panama to Colombia (or vice versa?) You can only go between the two countries via sea or air - both of which can be pricy! BUT if you sail between the two, you can experience the San Blas islands - some of the most beautiful islands in the world, with a fascinating indigenous culture called the Kuna Ayala people. TAke a Speedboat trip with San Blas adventures and make your border crossing into an unforgettable experience.

 So, you've made the decision to take care of your border crossing by sailing Panama to Colombia. Good choice! As a border you can only cross by sea or air, it can be tough to decide how you want to travel between Colombia and Panama. But, if you consider that paying a bit more will allow you to have the experience of a lifetime and be able to see the most picturesque little islands the world has to offer, it's honestly a no-brainer. People pay hundreds to do San Blas Sailing tours without a border crossing being involved, so this really is just killing two birds with one stone.

Getting to the San Blas Islands from Panama City

Tours to the San Blas all come with transport from Panama City. Some may charge extra, but there are hardly any circumstances where you’ll need to get yourself to the boat launch point. And there’s also no way to do San Blas without a tour because the indigenous tribes of the area, the Kuna People, own and inhabit the islands and you can’t really go to islands without knowing/making deals with Kuna people first. So, book a tour of some kind, and getting to the islands will be accounted from from Panama City.

What to Do in the San Blas Islands

Swim, sunbathe, snorkel, relax in hammocks, take zillions of photos to try to capture the perfection of the islands, play beach volleyball, interact with the local tribes, drink cold beers in the warm water, have bonfires, and more! This is what we did on my tour. The San Blas are total paradise and a perfect way to end (or start) an epic Panama backpacking trip.

Where to Stay in San Blas:

You will stay in hammocks, onboard a sailing boat, or in dorms on San Blas tours. It all depends if you choose a sailboat or a speedboat!


Well, my Panama backpacking friends, I do hope this has given you some insight in what it’s like to backpack through this incredible central American country. Whether you opt for public busses, party hostels, or both, you’ll have an incredible time. Damnit, I am getting jealous of you and already want to go back…. sigh. Please comment below and let me know how your trip goes!

Complete Panama Backpacking guide - with routes, and itinerary, hostels to stay in, and what to do! #Panama #travel #backpacking #backpacker #travel #backpackingcentralamerica #centralamerica

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May 23, 2018

The Best Way Panama to Colombia: San Blas Adventures Speedboat Trip

The Best Way Panama to Colombia: San Blas Adventures Speedboat Trip

It’s an age-old traveler question: what’s the best way from Panama to Colombia? It seems silly, but it’s not possible to cross between the two countries that literally share a border, by land. The Darien Gap, one of the most dangerous and treacherous jungles in the world, separates the two and leaves it only possible to cross by air or sea. It’s a toss up at first – flying is cheaper (not by too much), but boating will involve exploring the tropical paradise of the San Blas Islands.

Upon further inspection and understanding that by paying a bit more, you will get to see one of the most beautiful and untouched places in the world, be accommodated for 3 nights, meet lifelong friends, interact with indigenous tribes, explore the most picturesque islands, and eat like a king… the choice is easy. The best way from Panama to Colombia is by boat….by speedboat, to be exact.

Wondering how to get from Panama to Colombia (or vice versa?) You can only go between the two countries via sea or air - both of which can be pricy! BUT if you sail between the two, you can experience the San Blas islands - some of the most beautiful islands in the world, with a fascinating indigenous culture called the Kuna Ayala people. TAke a Speedboat trip with San Blas adventures and make your border crossing into an unforgettable experience. #panama #travel #sailing #islands #sanblas #sanblasisldands #tropical #adventures #paradise #kuna #kunayala #caribbean #colombia

Pssst! Pin me to save for later!

panama backpacking guide

Don’t miss my Complete Panama Backpacking Guide if you’re traveling around the area!

I recently did a speedboat adventure from Panama to Colombia with San Blas Adventures, and it really was the trip of a lifetime. But first, let me quickly clarify the basic differences between a speedboat and sail from Panama to Colombia (or vice versa!):

Sailing Panama to Colombia:

When you sail, it’s usually 5 days/4nights. You’ll spend 3 nights in the San Blas islands, staying on the boat and visiting islands, and then 2 nights doing an open ocean crossing to Cartegena, Colombia. These tours only see the northern part of the San Blas before the ocean crossing, eat and drink on the boats, take day trips to the islands, and may cost bit more due to the longer distance and duration.

Speedboat Panama to Colombia:

When you speedboat with San Blas Adventures, it’s 4 days/3nights. You are only on the boat for a transfer – you spend most of the time on the islands. You spend 1-3 hours boating between islands each day, and hang out on 2 islands each day, often interacting with the indigenous Kuna people and even spending a night in a remote village. These tours go through all the San Blas islands (all the way to the southernmost islands) and enter Colombia in Capurgana, a tiny beautiful remote Caribbean village only accessible by sea or air.

Phew! Now that we have that cleared up, let’s get on with letting you know how awesome my trip was from Panama to Colombia by speedboat. I got a little poetic for a minute below because the beauty of the islands inspired me so much!

So here is my San Blas Adventures trip review, complete with all descriptions of all aspects of the trip.

 

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Panama to Colombia: The Kuna People

First of all, the San Blas islands are the home of an indigenous people called the Kuna – the Kuna Yala, to be exact. This is a completely fascinating tribe who ended up residing on the San Blas islands after disease and difficulty pushed them from living in the Darien Gap jungle.

The Kuna are actually completely separate from, and speak a different language than, Panama. They are ‘chill’ with Panama (because years back they actually massacred the Panamanian government to ensure they would not be f*cked with) and now the two leave each other respectfully in peace but are there for each other if need be.

The Kuna people have their own government and interesting tribal traditions, rituals, and ceremonies that we learned about when we spent a night in a Kuna village. They’re a beautiful, simple, and kind people who live off the land and can teach us a lot! More on that below.

Make Sure to Check Out my Other Panama Content!  – Check out my Guide to Bocas del Toro, Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro, Sailing in Panama, and the Lost & Found Hiking Hostel in the Jungle!
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San Blas Adventures Food

The food on San Blas Adventures was AMAZING! Before each meal the other passengers and I looked at each other and tried to figure out how the hell they got such a gourmet and diverse meal to a tiny little deserted island. It was a skill indeed, which I have to commend the guides for. In terms of meat, we had fresh fish, shrimp, octopus ceviche, chicken, conch shell, tuna, and more over the week, but pretty much everything else was vegan/vegetarian friendly and TASTY even for people who weren’t!

Breakfasts were fresh fruit, coffee/tea/hot chocolate, yogurt, muesli/granola, bread, jam, peanut butter, and sometimes eggs. After getting used to rough hostel breakfasts, I was truly eating like a queen! But in that it was all super healthy, I felt amazing.

 

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A Day in the Life from Panama to Colombia: Love at First Sight of San Blas

For this one, I’m just going to paint you a picture of a day in the life of our speedboat trip from Panama to Colombia. This is what day one looked like – and days two, three, and four were very similar! The islands were all dreamlike, there was an abundance of coconuts, the water was just perfect, and the people were too! San Blas is truly one of the most beautiful places in the Caribbean (and underrated).

We arrived at the coast after a bumpy 3-hour car ride to finally get on our speedboats. After sailing a few minutes, we quickly came upon what I could only describe as the most perfect island I could imagine. It was flat and small – tiny, even – with a few dozen palm trees in the middle and bordered by the whitest of sand. The water around it was an impossible shade of turquoise that faded out into a beautiful deep blue.

We were all in total awe, getting our phones and cameras out to capture this amazing slice of perfection manifested in a miniature island. But as we kept sailing, we saw another island just like it…. and then another. We quickly came to realize that this perfection actually repeated itself in all 365 San Blas islands, and that THIS is what we about to experience for the next four days.

We saw one bigger island with a few wooden huts on it, and even some smaller ones with just a few palm trees and light coral reefs extending out around them – turning the water a whitey sea foam green color. Each little island was in itself a tropical droplet of a dream, like islands I have pictured in my head but didn’t know actually existed anywhere in this world… especially dozens within a few hundreds of meters of each other.

 

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We arrived at our first island after an hour or so of more ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ and this might have been the most picturesque one of all! It was the smallest and cutest yet, with only a few dozen palm trees growing from a big circle of flat white sand. You could walk across the whole thing in a minute! We all gathered our belongings and our wits, making the actualization that yes, this was indeed a real place and yes, we are really here. After lots of photos, a drone session, and a fantastic lunch of freshly caught fish, we were on our own for a few hours to enjoy this paradise.

So, I grabbed a snorkel. I swam out to where the water deepened, and had a bit of an exploration around the island, which was actually much larger with the reefs around it! I swam through the sea grass and inspected a few corals waving gently in the underwater currents before coming to a small, shallow patch of white sand. I sat myself up, taking my mask off and grasping a handful of this fine, white, soft sand and letting it run gently through my fingers and back into the water.

I looked up at the tiny island, which gradually emerged out of the water about 30m from me. I was surrounded by more shades of blue than I knew existed, and could count at least 20 other islands of different sizes all around me. They were all bordered by the same bright white rim and green, level palm tree topping like a frosting on a cake. As I contemplated how insanely perfect this island was, with its soft light sand and few palm trees shading a little hut, quite a big realization washed over me: this is absolutely one of, if not the, most beautiful place I have been in my entire life.

A bit humbled by but confident in my epiphany, I pressed on. I came upon a stunning coral reef, and made an entire lap of the island before finally begrudgingly deciding to remove myself from the refreshing cool water for a little while. As I sat and joined my tour mates in the shade of coconut trees and looked out once again upon the scene in front of me, I knew that my decision was correct.

 

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Only a 15 minute boat ride away was our island home for the night. We passed another 4 or 5 perfect circle islands before coming up to ours, and offloaded our belongings to keep with us for the night.

This island was home to a Kuna family, who had beer and coconuts to sell us on a tab basis. There were a few tables of hand made arts, crafts, and jewelry, and a few beautiful traditionally dressed Kuna women clad in many different colors and beaded jewelry from their ankle up their calf. A few tiny children ran around, waving and shouting ‘Hola!’ To all of us with the biggest of smiles on their faces.

Our rooms were little open huts with hanging hammocks, and after choosing our ‘beds’ for the night we went on a snorkel tour with one of our Kuna guides.

 

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We left our island towards the open sea, and quickly realized that a lot of the little sea plants and weeds were growing from dozens of the most massive conch shells I have ever seen. I had a little period of beauty overwhelm where I picked up the conches – all much bigger than my head – trying to find which one was the biggest! Usually it would be exciting to find one conch shell, but not here! There are hundreds of shells all through the water and on the islands, all home to either an actual conch snail or lots of different corals, fish, and seaweeds.

After a ten minute swim we arrived at a beautiful dropoff clad with all different kinds of colorful living coral. I haven’t been to the Caribbean since I was small, but this was honestly some of the best snorkeling I can recall in my life! The reef was at a perfect depth to explore with a snorkel – and dive down deeper if you felt the need. As we traced this reef we saw a manta ray, a few lion fish with all their peacock-like fins on display, and so many other fish and sea life. It was definitely worth going snorkeling a second time!

The night consisted of snacks, rum, hilarious stories, sunset volleyball, an AMAZING dinner of coconut rice, cooked veggies, potatoes, octopus ceviche, and garlic shrimp, a bonfire, more rum, amazingly clear stargazing, a bit of dancing by the fire, and… more rum. It was a night for the books with an awesome group, and we all slept much more soundly in our hammocks than we thought possible. But then again… maybe it was the rum😝

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Visiting a Kuna Village with San Blas Adventures

On the last night of our trip from Panama to Colombia (it would be the first night if you were going Colombia to Panama), we stayed on an island called Caledonia which was a big indigenous Kuna village. We had dorms for the night in bamboo/straw huts, which was actually somehow a reluctant change from the hammocks we had grown to love!

This island is in the South San Blas islands, closer to Colombia and far from the main tourist area of the San Blas. Because they aren’t exposed to as much tourism, this made the the experience far more authentic and valuable. It felt like we were truly encapsulated within another culture, experiencing a first-hand slice of a different way of life.

The showers were little stalls with buckets, and the toilets were legitimately wooden toilet seats about 5 feet above the sea! Through the toilet you could see the fish swimming around in the aqua blue water…. this is why we aren’t allowed to swim around the island!! 😛

Our guide gave us a little walking tour of town, telling us about all sorts of Kuna traditions, beliefs, ways of life, and different ceremonies they do. It was so interesting because their belief systems were so unique and traditional; the way they marry, enter adulthood, and exist in a community are much, much different than we are used to in the Western world. We walked through the town of straw huts, waving at and playing with children along the way. All the children gathered in the main square for a massive game of duck duck goose (path pato gallina).

This game was great fun as the kids were actually SO good at it – even using cheeky ways to cheat us out – and were absolutely over the moon to play such a simple game with us. One adorable little girl even adopted me as her temporary human and decided to do my hair, help me take photos, and run around with me during duck duck goose!

It was so incredible to play with them – just like any happy little child, but with a way of life so different than we are used to. These kids may not have ever seen a car or a skyscraper, yet still have the same twinkle in their eye as any kid on the planet when playing a game of chase.

Afterwards we had an old Kuna silah come and speak to us. The Silah are like the community leaders who make important decisions and lead. He told us (translated from kuna, to spanish, to english) about their history and answered a ton of our questions about the Kuna way of life. It was amazing and so immersive!

 

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San Blas Adventures Responsible Tourism

SBA works to make sure that lots of the money spent to come here remains in the San Blas islands and with the Kuna People. They have close working relationships with families and communities along the entire archipelago, and help work both to preserve their amazing culture and make sure they benefit from tourism in a healthy way.

This really sets SBA apart, and was one of the main things that made me choose this company. Passengers can rest assured that part of the price of the tour does go toward the indigenous tribes that they will even meet themselves!

 

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The Speedboat Panama to Colombia Experience

On this kind of trip, there’s really something for everyone. Because you spend most of your time freely on the islands and not cooped up on a boat, you can choose whether you’d like to be social and hang around with the group, or sit quietly and read in the shade of a palm tree.

There are travelers from all over the world on these trips, many of which love to get together and chill on the beach or around a bonfire. Many travelers like to have a bit of a party, and get to know each other and chat about their home countries and travel experiences. But what makes it great is that you have the freedom of choice to join a party-type atmosphere, or not. This is the kind of trip where you can do exactly what you want without being expected to joing a group if you don’t want to, but with the option always there for you.

The value of the Kuna experience is also so much more than many people realize. I knew that we were going to interact with local people, but being able to play games with and enjoy some real time with the adorable local children in the Village was something I will truly never forget.

Another awesome part of the tour is that, when you arrive in Colombia, you will more than likely plan your onward travel with your new friends from the tour group. In that it ends in the tiny paradise or Capurgana, Colombia which is only accessible my sea or air, and that there is only 1-2 departures per day out of the town, most passengers end up traveling to Cartegena or Medellin together. Many even end up traveling together for a long time – even a month after my trip a lot of the members of my group are still together or meeting up periodically. It’s a pretty cool way to meet travel buddies that turn into lifelong friends.

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Panama to Colombia: The Boats

The boats, of course, are speedboats. Picture what you imagine a speedboat to look like…. now imagine a Panamanian version! 😛 They’re quite small, able to fit maybe 4 people per row, and have an overhang on top for shade. One Kuna guide stands at the front while one drives the boat, and you get the whole sail time to just… chill!

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San Blas Weather: What’s With the Plastic Bags?

Possibly the biggest disclaimer of the experience is that weather is uncontrollable and can (and probably will) be bad, at least for a part of your trip. It could rain, and sometimes the sea swells can get large. The speedboats are open at the sides and flick up water when the swells are of a decent height, meaning – you guessed it – you could get quite wet!

This is why everyone tapes up their big bags in multiple plastic bags, and brings a few extras to keep over their small bags for the boat journeys. You will pack a small bag/backpack to use for the week, and completely seal off and put away your bigger luggage, so make sure to pack efficiently! See below.

This may seem strange at first, but remember that this is Panama and the boats, although totally adequate, are basic. It is quite easy, though – simply buy a few backs of plastic bags and share tape with some other adventurers to seal your bag off. The guides should have spare tape as well, and be expert at properly sealing things off as they do it all the time. Keep one bag for your day bag, and just tie it up during boat journeys. Sometimes you won’t even need to!

The plastic bags are more of a safety precaution. If big swells come, you want your stuff to be protected. Apparently I was SUPER lucky during my journey because we didn’t get wet whatsoever, and the water was lovely and glassy a lot of the time and definitely bearable (yet sometimes bumpy) for the rest. We honestly didn’t get wet at all, but I have heard from many that getting wet is just a part of the experience. They give each row covers for your legs, and you can wrap up in a poncho if you want too.  This is the trade-off for having only 2ish hours on the boat per day and the rest, pure island time!

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What to Pack for Your Trip from Panama to Colombia

As I mentioned, you will be putting stuff you need for the 4 days in one day bag, and the rest you will keep in your bigger bag/suitcase and seal off with tape and plastic to stay in the boat for the week.

So, you must makesure to have everything you need in a smaller day bag, and not leave anything in your big bag once it’s been sealed up! Here’s my list of must-have’s:

  • Swim Suit: bikini/board shorts (If you bring one thing… make it this 😛 )  This is my favorite sarong!
  • Cover Up’s: sarong, tank tops, shorts, sun dresses. Remember it’s just 4 days so you could relly use the same outfit the whole time, but maybe bring 2-3.
  • Plastic Bags – You can get them from anywhere in Panama City or Capurgana.
  • Sunscreen – It’s best to bring a few types (face sunscreen/body sunscreen) of high SPF. And remember to reapply!
  • Day Bag – If you don’t already, you’ll want to have a smaller multi-functional backpack to use as your day bag for your basic tour needs. You could also use a dry bag for this.
  • Dry Bag – This might be a smart idea rather than so many plastic bags, especially to keep your valuables safe and if you’ll be traveling around the water for a while. This 3 piece set comes with a dry bag for your phone, a fanny pack dry bag, and a bigger one for all your stuff. My pick!
  • Sunglasses – very important.
  • Flip Flops/Sandals – one pair should be fine for the whole trip.
  • Towel – When I travel I use this microfiber towel to dry off and my sarong to lay on the beach.
  • Camera – this is a must! Iphones will do these days, but I carry around my Nikon DSLR when I travel.

 

Thinking of crossing Panama to Colombia, but aren’t sure whether to fly or sail? Let this be your reason to take a speedboat trip through the San Blas Islands, allowing you to experience the world’s most beautiful islands, see untouched villages, and make new friends. #panama #travel #sailing #islands #sanblas #sanblasisldands #tropical #adventures #paradise #kuna #kunayala #caribbean #colombia
panama backpacking guide

Don’t miss my Complete Panama Backpacking Guide if you’re traveling around the area!

Thanks so San Blas Adventures for hosting me on a trip from Panama to Colombia. Of course, all words are my own… can I go back yet?!

May 3, 2018

Things to Do in Bocas del Toro: Travel Guide for Every Traveler

Things to Do in Bocas del Toro: Travel Guide for Every Traveler

I didn’t plan to get to know the place well enough to write a comprehensive Bocas Del Toro Travel Guide…. but it just kindof… happened. There are so many things to do in Bocas del Toro, Panama that any adventurer could be busy for weeks, exploring all the islands, surf, jungles, towns, and caves.

Like most things in my crazy month of adventures this year, traveling to Bocas Del Toro was an opportunity that arose in my life that I decided it would be silly not to take. And I ended up staying over two weeks! I was invited to help on a boat trip – first taking photos and writing about an amazing sailing trip in Bocas, then working as a hostess on a 5 day sailing trip. Afterwards I hung around for quite a while, visited different islands, ended up in 4 different hostels due to the holiday week of semana santa, and basically got to know the place pretty darn well.

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Hey! This guide is VERY long and comprehensive – with all you need to know about things to do in Bocas del Toro! Why not pin it to Pinterest to make sure you can refer back to it?

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Anyway, enough about me! Bocas Del Toro was a delightful surprise of a Caribbean paradise. I didn’t know what to expect – hell, I was planning on going straight to Colombia and not here at all – but I can safely say that I was pleasantly mind blown by this place. ‘Bocas’ (as it is known for short) is stacked with docks, bars, hostels, and restaurants sticking out over the sea, roughly constructed with wooden beams and chipping colorful paint.

With a few main islands, dozens of others to explore, and more adventures than I knew could exist in one place, I had my work cut out for me to find all the best things to do in Bocas del Toro… and also the best adventures, hostels, hotels, places to eat, and places to watch the sunset (of course). There is a lot of everything, which is perfect for someone like me. Do you think you could accomplish all of these?

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Playa Polo, Bastimentos Island

But First, Some Preliminary Bocas del Toro Info

Here are a few things you’ll want to know before you go accomplishing all the things to do in Bocas del Toro.

Bocas del Toro Islands

Chances are that you’ll stay in Bocas Town on the main island, Isla Colón, for a little while. Bocas Town is the main area of Bocas del Toro, with all the main hotels, shops, and hostels. It’s a great home base to do adventure tours. You can also stay elsewhere on the main island, Isla Colón, in more remote hotels/hostels that are closer to surf or more removed from the town bustle.

Along with Isla Colon, there are a few of the main islands. Isla Carenero is a smaller island directly across from Bocas Town- a $1/1min water taxi away. You should also check out Isla Solardo or Bastimentos, both of which have amazing beaches and adventures. Lastly, day trips to the Cayos Zapatillas are popular – two beautiful islands on the outskirts of the archipelago.

I recommend staying a few days in Bocas Town and also a few on another island to get a true feel for the place!

Getting to Bocas Del Toro

Bocas del Toro is an island group, so you have to get here by boat, of course! There are loads of boats all day to/from Bocas through Almirante (the closest town on the mainland) to other destinations.

Usually people organize transport to/from Bocas as a package from a hotel or tour agency, from nearby/bigger cities such as Boquete, Panama City, Lost and Found Hostel, and Puerto Viejo (Costa Rica). Transport to/from Bocas del Toro is quite easy to organize this way.

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A lovely beach just around the corner from Red Frog Beach and Playa Polo.

Bocas del Toro/Panama Currency

The currency here is USD, or the Panamanian dollar, but the rate is the same.

Getting Around Bocas del Toro

You can get from island to island by water taxi. These are quite cheap and range from $1 to get around Bocas/to Isla Carenero and $5 to get to Bastimentos. It will be more expensive after midnight. Bikes are popular on the islands as well, and you can take taxis anywhere on the islands. Bocas town is very walkable.

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SUP, anyone?!

Adventures – Things to do in Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro is the adventure capital of Central America and has entirely too many awesome things to do for just a few day trips. This is the kind of place you can stay for a week or even (much) more, ticking adventures off your bucket list and having a bit of a party while you’re at it. So here is a long list of all the fun, scenic, and adventurous things to do in Bocas del Toro – you decide how much time you’ll need!

Surfing

One of the most obvious things to do in Bocas Del Toro Panama is the reason many people come there in the first place – to surf! There are dozens of surf breaks over Bocas’s dozens of islands – especially on Isla Colón and Bastimentos. Bocas is a little surf town in itself, and most accommodations will have the option to rent a surfboard.

Some breaks are more intense than others; some will be great for an experienced short boarder while others are fine for a beginner with a foam board. There’s a bit of something for everyone!

Snorkeling

In the more protected bays of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, snorkeling is very popular. There are little mangrove islands that are teeming with sea life and coral, and other special snorkel spots that any guide will know about.

Scuba Diving

If you want to get a bit more intense than snorkeling, you can also dive here in the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea. There are a few shipwrecks you can explore (and even swim inside the ships, underwater!) and other dive sites well known by many dive shops on the islands.

Kayaking

There are also a lot of kayak spots and tours you can take around the islands. Kayaking is lovely around the mangroves and protected bays, where you can see all the way to the bottom of the bright blue water.

Bioluminescence

Something else that makes Bocas Del Toro special is the bioluminescence that’s present all around the islands. I was shocked when I sailed into the area at night time and saw the waves at the side of our boat glowing, and it turns out this is not uncommon!

Some tours you can sign up for will take you to the hotspots at night time so you can swim through the water, activating the tiny dinoflagellates so they will illuminate the water around you. It really is like magic! Night scuba diving in Bocas del Toro is also possible.

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A beach just 15 minutes out of Bocas Town on the way to Paunch.

Bike Riding and Beaches on Isla Colón

While you’re staying in Bocas Town, there are many places that rent beach cruisers by the hour or day so you can explore more of the island.

There are basically two routes you can take – up over the jungle and hills to Playa Estrella and Playa Boca del Drago, or along the water to Paunch and Playa Bluff.

The hilly route is quite the workout, but you pass through a lovely jungle and arrive at equally lovely and more remote beaches. The beach route is much more popular and will be frequented by surfers heading to the best breaks on Isla Colon. There are lots of places to stop and eat along the way, too!

Cayos Zapatilla

These two little quaint perfect islands are on the outskirts of the Bocas del Toro archipelago and are insanely picturesque. One has a few trails through the jungle, the other is quite untouched, and both of them are a nature preserve where wild turtles often come to lay their eggs.

They’re about a 40 minute boat from Bocas Town, so might be a bit more on the expensive side but are involved in a lot of tours that also include snorkeling and kayaking. You can walk around either island in about half an hour, and marvel at the white sand and clear water you thought was only present in your dreams! They’re definitely a must-see Bocas del Toro attraction.

Bat Cave

The Bat Cave on Bastimentos island is one of the more adventurous things to do in Bocas Del Toro. Not for the faint of heart, it involves boating through mangroves for a while before coming to a dark, wet cave absolutely full of little bats that buzz past your ears as you walk.

You will receive a head lamp from your guide before you descend into the darkness, hearing little bat squeaks and water droplets hitting the ground. Once you get past the initial cave entrance and bat guana, you get to the fun stuff – making your way through water over 4-600m into the cave.

The cave twists and turns over and under stalagmites and stalagtites, and at a certain point you must leave your belongings behind as the only way forward is to swim through narrow openings. It’s definitely unique and lots of fun if you enjoy that kind of thing.

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One of the Cayos Zapatilla

Take a Boat Trip Between the Islands

Many companies will do day trips around the islands where you can experience the best of Bocas del Toro in one trip. Most tours involving Cayos Zapatilla, snorkeling, and more will involve a speedboat, where you can enjoy the scenery as you get from place to place.

You can also do multi-day sailing trips in Bocas del Toro like the one I did on the Green Flash Catamaran. These adventure trips are tailored to you and explore the best points of interest in Bocas.

Bocas Yoga

As a surf community, Bocas del Toro is also spiritually minded and active. There are a few different places you can do yoga (and some hostels have classes) but the best and easiest is to go to Bocas Yoga – the purple building in Bocas Town.

The teacher there is lovely and you can drop into classes each day for $5-$6.

Bluff Beach

You can get here via bike or taxi, and is about 30 mins up the coat is Isla Colon from Bocas Town. It’s a beautiful beach popular for relaxing and/or surfing.

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Red Frog Beach

Things to do in Bocas del Toro – Bastimentos Island

Red Frog beach

This has got to be one of the most dreamlike beaches I have seen! Red Frog beach has a few hostels, lodges, and hotels, and is a great place to stay for a few nights to get away from it all. There are a couple restaurants on the white sand, and it’s a perfect place to relax.

Be careful of rip currents, though – even when it’s only waist high the water can pull very hard! Look out for the flags on the beach to get an idea of the safety.

Polo Beach

If you keep walking right/east from Red Frog beach for quite some time, you will find a few trails through the jungle and over the beach. You can walk (or probably also drive) to Playa Polo, another one of those beaches with white sand, clear blue water, and overhanging palm trees that seem too impossibly perfect to actually exist. There are reefs all along it that are perfect for snorkeling, and some wave breaks quite far out that also looked alluring for surfers.

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Up in the Hill Permaculture farm’s lovely coffee shop space

Up in the Hill Permaculture Farm

On Bastimentos island near the little town of Old Bank, you can visit a permaculture farm that was grown from the ground up (literally, ha) by its owners. They started the farm from nothing and have created an incredible ecosystem of plants and animals that work together to sustain life and produce dozens and dozens of fresh organic crops.

They make cacao as well, and have a little cafe you can visit which is an amazing and colorful space. If you do a tour, you can learn all about their processes and have an actual feast at the end and try all the fruits, veggies, and crops that you just saw growing.

Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro

Since I was there over 2 weeks – exploring a lot, staying on a boat, and moving hostels a lot because of a busy Panamanian school holiday week – I was able to explore SO MANY accommodation options in Bocas del Toro. I saw so many that I wrote and entire post on it that outlines almost 20 different Bocas del Toro hostels, hotels, and resorts for every type of traveler and every budget as a separate part of this Bocas del Toro travel guide. Read it right here or click the image below! (Opens up in a new tab!)

Where to stay in Bocas del Toro for every type of traveler! Including Bocas del Toro hostels for backpackers, and Bocas del Toro hotels and resorts for everyone else!

Where to Eat in Bocas del Toro

Ah, where to eat in Bocas del Toro?! Where to begin?! Luckily this place actually does have great food, and many options as well.

I do have to note first that, being the remote island chain that it is, Bocas del Toro is not cheap when it comes to food. Bocas Town is expensive, and the other islands range from expensive to extortionate. So in all honestly it’s not much cheaper to buy groceries and cook than to locate a cheap-ish $5-$8 meal at a restaurant.

You can easily find $5 meals if you look, and I found that meals came out to about the same if you cooked them yourself. I spoke to a group of backpackers who made themselves pasta and veggies for dinner on Bastimentos, and it equated to $4 each. Hostel dinners were $5 and $7. So yeah. Some restaurants can get up to $14-$18 for a meal, though. Just be aware of prices if you’re on a budget!

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Enjoying the Panamanian beer at Bubba’s House hostel! 

Best Breakfast in Bocas del Toro

Cafe de Mar

This tiny little cafe has tasty ALL DAY breakfast in Bocas del Toro, including a breakfast burrito. Say no more.

Be Nice Cafe

This waterside cafe has morning breakfast options with a nice view, and is very central next to most of the hotels I mention in my post above.

Selina

Breakfast isn’t included for Selina guests but they have a yummy buffet-style morning meal. And they have avocado toast on their all-day menu.

Best Lunch & Dinner in Bocas del Toro

Om Indian food

This Indian restaurant is authentic and delicious and is well known among anyone who knows Bocas.

Selina

Of course Selina also has great food options available from the bar all day. They aren’t cheap, but they have some Panamanian classics and mostly extremely tempting Western favorites like avocado toast and burgers.

Toro Loco

Toro Loco is Bocas’s sports bar that serves burgers, wings, and the like. It’s a nice place for familiar food and to catch a game.

 

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This is an organic pineapple – each plant only produces a couple of fruit each year! 

Tequila

Right across from Selina, Tequila is a bar that has some Mexican food options. They have taco platters and an amazing Panama Crunchwrap supreme which was sold to me before I finished reading the description😝

Raw Fusion Sushi

This is a sushi bar in the middle of town that serves fresh fish.

Munchies Burger Bar

I didn’t get the try this myself, but have heard it’s great.

Bocart

Bocart is on the outskirts of town and is a lovely little restaurant with live music on some evenings and a very varied menu of meat, fish, and sushi. I loved my sushi roll I got here that had goat cheese!

Buena Vista

Buena Vista is right on the water and is a quaint and colorful space perfect to hang out for a while. They have happy hour, many different cocktails, and many meal options that are pricey but nice.

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A very happy little guy playing with his friends on Bastimentos

Bastimentos Island Places to Eat

The Firefly

This was one of my favorite spaces/restaurants of Bocas! The Firefly is a walk away from Old Bank Town on Bastimentos island, and is such a beautiful and decorated space right on the water facing the sunset.

The dinner here is tapas style, so it’s best to order multiple dishes and share them. They have different options from steak to Thai curry soup to gnocchi, and you can also stay in hotel rooms here too.

Restaurants on Red Frog Beach

Nachyo Mama

This place is a taco bar that has lots of taco options on most days, and lots of fresh seafood. Weirdly enough, they don’t have nachos.

Palmar Beach Lodge

This beachside restaurant is next to Nacho Mama’s, and is nothing super special either, but is good for a bite on the beach. The burrito with chicken was very good. And they actually have nachos 😛 they have a good happy hour too.

Punta Lava

If you walk to the end of Red Frog beach, you’ll find this quaint little eatery/bar. They have lots of yummy cocktails and meals as well.

things to do in bocas del toro water taxi

Water taxis like this will take you everywhere you need to go. 

Best Bars in Bocas del Toro: Nightlife

Bocas known for a good party and for its nightlife. It’s a quaint surf town by day, but lights up at night and on weekends when locals and visitors alike hit the bar and party scene. Most of the best partying is in Bocas town. If you’re young, you must partake in the classic Bocas del Toro party.

Filthy Friday’s

First and foremost, Bocas is known for its Filthy Friday’s backpacker party. Each Friday for a whopping $35, you can go on an all-day island pub crawl. The fee includes a tank top, a backpack, a little shot glass necklace, a wristband, a free drink token, a filthy Friday’s brand condom (no joke), and maybe a few other trinkets.

Around noon, you can begin at the first bar. The ‘island crawl’ visits three different venues on three different islands, all with awesome parties and music. It ends just after sunset, when all the creatures of filthy Friday will emerge into Selina from their days of debauchery to continue the night out.

Selina

Selina is a hostel bar and one of the best bars in town too. Friday nights are the craziest there, but each night can be a party. They have karaoke some nights, salsa some nights, and more events periodically.

Offshore’s Floating Bar

This is one of the coolest things to do in Bocas del Toro. Offshore’s literally is a floating bar. It’s two stories and sits on a big barge in a little cove just outside of town. You can hire a boat there, take a kayak, or sail there yourself! They have great cocktails, some food options, and is fun both during the day (where you can swim and float around) or night.

Bocas Brewery

This place is next to Selina and has craft beers and a dance floor at night.

things to do in bocas del toro permaculture farm

These little guys are all over the islands!

Bookstore Bar

Bookstore bar has a more chilled out vibe and has live music most nights with great artists.

Aqua Lounge

This hostel is right across the channel from Bocas Town ($1 water taxi) and is also the last stop on the Filthy Friday bar crawl. It’s usually a chilled bar overlooking the sea apart from crazy Fridays!

Blue Coconut

Blue Coconut is also a stop on Filthy Friday’s, and is a beautiful and remote deck bar on a small point of Isla Solarte. It’s a beautiful and unique venue that’s worth a visit for sure.

Iguana

Iguana is the place to go most nights after you have been to a few bars already. It gets crowded later at night, and has good drink specials and a dancing area.

Summer

Summer is next to Iguana and has big parties on Saturdays and events on other days too.

Red Frog Selina Sunday Pool Party

Presumably as a way to get people to check out Bastimentos, the Selina hostel at red frog beach throws pool parties on sundays with a DJ. The pool is tiny and a bit sketch but it’s still good fun and gives you an excuse to check out the beach and have a good day party.

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Not a bad place to see the sunset, hey?

Things to Do in Bocas del Toro: Sunset Spots

Northwest of Isla Colon

If you make it to Playa Estrella or playa Boca del Drago, these will perfectly face the sunset (they’re at the other end of Isla Colon – see Google Maps)! Just make sure you can get back after dark (aka maybe don’t watch the sunset there after a bike ride)!

West Side of Saigon/Isthmus Just Outside Bocas Town

Just a short walk to the other side of Bocas town will also get you to a perfect view of the sunset over the water. There are a few restaurants and viewpoints you can find to chill and watch the sun go down.

Isla Carenero

To see the sunset over Bocas Town, hop over to Isla Carenero and grab a drink at Aqua Lounge or any other venue along the water!

Red Frog Marina

Take an adventure around the red frog marina and it’s surrounding tiny mangrove islands to catch another great sunset angle. It would be best from a boat!

The Firefly Bastimentos

The Firefly faces the perfect direction to watch the sunset with some cocktails over a fantastic dinner. We did this one night and it was lovely!

From a Boat Tour

Sunset over the water are inevitable when you are surrounded by water! Take a boat trip out among the islands to catch a lovely sunset view, or maybe catch it on your way back from a day of adventures in Bocas del Toro.

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Don’t forget to pin this so you remember all the things to do in Bocas del Toro!

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Don’t miss my Complete Panama Backpacking Guide if you’re traveling around the area!

April 30, 2018

Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro: Hotels, Hostels, and Resorts

Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro: Hotels, Hostels, and Resorts

During my weeks there, I was able to get a pretty well-rounded idea of where to stay in Bocas del Toro. I experienced Bocas del Toro hostels, hotels, and even resorts, and have seen the islands from both a backpacker’s and a luxurious perspective.

I spent a while sailing in Bocas del Toro and experiencing the archipelago from a boat before heading back to land and island-hopping for a while, often taking my time to explore not only my own but other accommodations in the area as well. So, here’s what I thought of 18 different Bocas del Toro hotels, hostels, and resorts – there will surely be something for every kind of traveler!

Before you start, though, make sure to check out my complete Bocas del Toro Travel Guide for all your other Bocas needs. It opens up in a new tab so you can read it later!

Where to stay in Bocas del Toro for every type of traveler! Including Bocas del Toro hostels for backpackers, and Bocas del Toro hotels and resorts for everyone else! I spend quite a few weeks exploring this caribbean paradise on the coast of Panama, and was able to experience LOTS of different accommodation options!

Pin these recommendations of where to stay in Bocas del Toro to your Pinterest boards!

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Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro for Backpackers: Bocas del Toro Hostels

 

Selina (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

Selina is an obvious and franchised place to stay in Bocas del Toro, but is a fantastic hostel. Selina is a chain of hostels present all through Panama, Costa Rica, and even parts of Colombia and Nicaragua, and they always put out a great product.

Selina hostels are large sized and not the most intimate, but always have great parties, spaces, and tours available. The Bocas del Toro Selina is super stylish and has little chair hammocks on a deck the opens out to a channel, where people swim, sunbathe, and hang out by the bar.

You do pay extra for this being the biggest and most well-known hostel, though. At up to $25 for a dorm bed in high season(without breakfast included), it’s important to consider if you want to pay extra or simply go and hang out at Selina  from another place (that’s what I did, especially when I was staying on the boat). If you have the funds, though… this is the place to be.

View Selina Rooms & Rates

Selina Red Frog (Red Frog Beach, Bastimentos)

Selina recently opened up a new property on Bastimentos Island, which is a beautiful space a 5 min jungle walk from the pristine Red Frog Beach.

Selina Red Frog is much more low-key spot with pool parties on Sundays. It’s a great surf hostel with more of a community vibe than it’s Bocas Town counterpart. I stayed a few days and loved the tranquility and secludedness!

View Selina Red Frog Rooms & Rates

La Guayana Hostel (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

La Guayana is a cheaper and smaller hostel in Bocas Town. With just a couple smaller common areas, it’s much more of a community vibe. There’s not much of a party scene (you can go to Selina for that!) but there’s free breakfast for $10 less than Selina (at my time of booking) and the dorm beds are totally fine (ensuite too!).

The location is a bit farther out from Bocas town, but still totally walkable. There’s aircon in each room too.

View La Guayana Rooms & Rates

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Chilling in Selina Hostel – loving the world map mural!

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Skull’y House hostel pool

Skully’s House Hostel (Paunch, Isla Colon)

Skully’s house is on Isla Colon about 10/15 minutes away from Bocas Town via bike or car. It’s a bit more secluded away from the bustling town, and has its own incredible space right on the water. There’s a lovely picturesque  pool right on the water which has tables and chairs half submerged in the water. Their bar is fully stocked and you can even come here for a meal if you want, or to chill out in any of their too-perfectly-placed hammocks.

View Skully’s House Rooms + Rates

Calipso Hostel (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

Calipso is about the same price as La Guayana and is in the main square of town. Because of this it can be a bit louder of an area, which is good to keep in mind. The dorms are also very fine, have ensuite bathrooms, and free breakfast.

Calipso has a nice location from the water taxis and is close to all the action. The WiFi was very bad when I was there but I also just went to Selina to use theirs 😛

View Calipso Rooms & Rates

Hostal Hansi (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

On my last night in Bocas, I didn’t realize everything was going to fill up for Semana Santa, Panama’s easter week. I ended up spontaneously booking a private single room here for $22, and it was one of the best nights I spent in Bocas!

This is probably because I had been in dorms, a boat, and camping for literally an entire month and it was my first private space in ages, but the facilities were great and a fan worked just fine to keep me cool. There was no free breakfast but the kitchen was spacious. They aren’t on hostelworld for some reason, but were a fantastic location and space.

View Hostal Hansi Rooms & Rates

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Enjoying the space on Calipso Hostel’s balcony

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Viewage from Bubba’s House Hostel on Bastimentos

Bubba’s House (Old Bank, Bastimentos)

Located in Old Bank town on Bastimentos Island, Bubba’s House is a waterside bar and hostel that gives you the perfect location to check out some other points of interest on Bastimentos, like the Firefly, Wizard beach, and Up in the Hill permaculture farm. See my Bocas del Toro travel guide  for info!

View Bubba’s House Rooms & Rates

Aqua Lounge (Across from Bocas Town, Isla Carenero)

Aqua lounge is on Isla Carenero directly across/a 1 minute water taxi from Bocas Town. This is a beautiful deck side hostel with a swimming area and is the final destination for the Filthy Friday’s party each week. There’s a waterside bar and a great view. It fills up fast, too, so book up!

View Aqua Lounge Rooms & Rates

Twin Fin Hostel (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

This is another hostel in Bocas town which checks all the important boxes for a good hostel and has free breakfast. I spoke to a few backpackers who loved and recommended it and said the facilities (and prices!) were great. And they have air con!

View Twin Fin Rooms & Rates

Bambuda Lodge (Isla Solarte)

Somehow I didn’t even find it about this one until I left Bocas, but apparently it’s the most well-rated out of them all! It’s a bit more remote on Isla Solarte, but it was voted the best in Panama in 2016 and has a 150ft water slide right into the sea! I am guessing it was booked up when I was around or I would have checked it out for sure! Help me ease my fomo and let me know how it is, will you?

View Bambuda Lodge Rooms & Rates

My recommendation of where to stay in Bocas del Toro for a backpacker: Spend a few nights in Bocas Town, in whatever accommodation as described above works for your needs. Then move to Bambuda Lodge for a few nights to get that experience, and then to Bastimentos island at Bubba’s or Selina Red Frog. You get the whole experience that way!

Where to Stay in Bocas Del Toro: Hotels, Hostels, and Resorts for Every Type of Traveler! Click To Tweet
coral cay cabins where to stay in bocas del toro

Coral Cay Cabins

Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro for a Professional/Everyone Else: Bocas del Toro Hotels and Resorts

No backpack, no problem! There are also a lot of options on where to stay in Bocas del Toro for someone who wants a bit more luxury, and luckily I was able to check out some of these options as well! From fancy and inclusive resorts, to places to stay in Bocas del Toro with kids, to private rooms in a more social space, here are a few options:

Hostels with Private Rooms

All hostels/Selina’s actually have really nice hotel rooms too. This is great for someone with a backpacker mindset but a young professional budget and a need for privacy! Check the links above under ‘Bocas del Toro hostels’ for hostels which offer private spaces and private hotel rooms. I know that Selina Bocas and Selina Red Frog have incredible private facilities, as to Aqua Lounge, Twin Fin, Hostal Hansi, and honestly probably most of the hostels above have private rooms. Check them out! I know I sometimes need my own space but love also to be social with like-minded travelers!

Coral Cay Cabins + Restaurant (Remote Cay off Isla Bastimentos)

Cayo Coral is a remote little lodge in the middle of mangrove trees on a tiny Cay off an island next to Bastimentos. They have an amazing restaurant that serves fresh seafood. This place is great for a getaway.

Coral Cay Cabins on Tripadvisor

Red Frog Resort & Villas (Red From Beach, Bastimentos)

Red Frog Resort is for LUXE travelers. I got to see some of the villas on my sailing trip in Bocas del Toro,, and MAN are they incredible! Villas range in size but most have three rooms, WiFi, aircon, TV, kitchen, a mini pool, and more. You basically don’t have to leave…. ever. Prices range by season, so check if you can get a good deal!

View Red Frog Villas Room & Rates

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Enjoying a house special cocktail at the pool at Red Frog Resort. Each villa has its own little pool too!

Bocas Paradise Hotel (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

This is a perfectly located hotel with balconies out to the channel. It’s basic but has aircon and all the important amenities in a hotel room, plus a great view if you get a front-facing room!

View Bocas Paradise Hotel Rooms + Rates

Hotel Bocas Town (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

Hotel Bocas Town looks out over the water and is perfectly situated right in town. Also has a nice deck over the water.

View Hotel Bocas Town Rooms + Rates

Hotel Bocas del Toro (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

You really can’t get any more central than this hotel, which has a rustic charm, beautiful spacious rooms, and also overlooks the water. For a hotel, this would be my pick.

View Hotel Bocas del Toro Rooms + Rates

Tropical Suites Hotel (Bocas Town, Isla Colon)

This is another perfectly located hotel overlooking the water right in Bocas Town that is well-rated, has great service, and has nice big rooms. Many rooms have large balconies overlooking the water.

View Tropical Suites Rooms + Rates

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In this photo: The big white building is Tropical Suites Hotel, the one to its left is Hotel Bocas del Toro, and the pink one to its right is Hotel Bocas Town.

Playa Tortuga Hotel + Resort (Big Creek, Isla Colon)

Playa Tortuga is a beautiful resort located up the coast from Bocas Town for a bit more privacy. They have a long pool right on the water, lovely views, and spacious rooms for people looking for a bit more luxury.

View Playa Tortuga Rooms + Rates

Island Plantation (Bluff Beach, Isla Colon)

Located on Bluff Beach, roughly a 30 minute drive or an hour bike ride from Bocas Town, you’ll find Island Plantation. This is one of the fancier hotels in the area on one of the best surfing beaches as well. You will be more secluded here but also very accessible to Bocas Town and all activities thereof.

View Island Plantation Rooms + Rates

So there you go, guys! Where to stay in Bocas del Toro for backpackers, professionals, retirees, and everyone in between! I hope my experience in Bocas will be able to help you plan your perfect trip. Don’t forget to check out my guide!

Traveling onwards from Bocas? Read More: Lost and Found: A Jungle Adventure Hiking Hostel in Panama’s Mountains. It’s on the way from Bocas to anywhere in Panama! 

 

Read Next: Things to do in Bocas del Toro: Travel Guide for Every Type of Traveler

A Bocas del Toro Travel Guide with ALL the things to do in Bocas del Toro - all kinds of adventure activities, places to eat, places to stay, and sunset spots.

 

Where to stay in Bocas del Toro for every type of traveler! Including Bocas del Toro hostels for backpackers, and Bocas del Toro hotels and resorts for everyone else! I spend quite a few weeks exploring this caribbean paradise on the coast of Panama, and was able to experience LOTS of different accommodation options!

Don’t forget to Pin me! This hammock is on the beach at Skully’s House Hostel Bocas del Toro! 

panama backpacking guide

April 18, 2018

Lost and Found Hostel Panama: A Jungle Adventure Hiking Hostel

Lost and Found Hostel Panama: A Jungle Adventure Hiking Hostel

 The Lost and Found Hostel: I came here on accident, and I stayed almost a week very much on purpose. Lost and Found hostel Panama is the country’s premiere hiking hostel and one of Central America’s most incredible adventure accommodation options. It’s located high up in the Panamanian mountains, in a jungle nature reserve overlooking a spectacular view. The adventure begins before you even arrive, as Lost and Found hostel is actually a hike-in hostel requiring a 15 minute trail walk just to arrive at the picturesque property.

The bright yellow buildings are situated on the side of a hill, with amazing gardens and trees throughout. This adventure hostel may be remote but is not devoid of options – there are hiking trails, tours, and unique scavenger hunts to keep you busy for as long as you please at one of the best Panama hostels in the clouds. It’s one of the little-known Panama facts that the jungle is actually one of the best destinations in the country! me paint you a picture.

The wind blows through your hair as you reposition yourself a bit more comfortably on a colorful hammock. You sip your coffee (or wine 😛 ) as you look out over an expanse of mountains with layers and layers of hills, each just a bit higher than the one before, disappearing into the distance. Clouds flow almost in a time-lapse over the thick mountainous jungle to your right, as you watch the sun set behind a distant tall volcano, turning the sky different shades of yellow and pink as it descends behind the horizon. A hummingbird comes and has a quick inspection of the feeder hanging near your feet, and you hear strange calls of birds and animals coming from the trees that surround you. Next to you are your new friends with whom you had an epic adventure earlier in the day, and you all laugh and chat about the day’s shenanigans running through the forest or swimming through waterfalls. This is just a classic evening at Lost & Found Hostel.

panama backpacking guide
The Lost and Found Hostel Panama is an adventure hiking hostel nestled deep within the Panamanian junlge on a mountainout hillside. You can visit canyons and waterfalls, do the hostel's treasure hunts, hike miles of trails, visit coffee plantations, and more!
Pin this Lost and Found Hostel Panama Review to Pinterest! 

At first I simply wanted to split up my journey between Bocas Del Toro and Panama City, after attending Tribal Gathering Festival in Panama and accidentally also spending much more time sailing in Bocas del Toro than expected. But I quickly realized that the Lost and Found Hostel would be a bigger shame than anything else to miss out on while in Panama. You may think of mostly surf and sea when you think of Panama, but the mountains of this country are incredible, and Lost & Found encompasses the best parts of them all in one place.

I find it quite hard to categorize all of the epicness that this Panamanian hostel is, but I’m going to have a damn good try. It’s a getaway, but more of a retreat with people who soon become great friends. It’s like being immersed in nature and totally relaxed, but also with the option to be as active as your heart desires. Lost & Found is whatever you want it to be, but here are a few of the things that I loved the most:

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The Lost and Found Hostel Panama: Community

This is not the kind of hostel that everyone comes to and does their own thing. Lost and Found hostel is just the right size where all the guests quickly become friends, do activities together, and get to know each other. Whenever a new person arrives, most guests are quick to greet them and welcome them to the ‘family.’ No but really, after being there 3-4 days I felt like I owned the place and welcomed any newbies I ran into 😛

Although quite spacious and with lots of areas to chill (and dozens of hammocks), the common area usually fills up with guests chatting about their lives and travels. You see people every time you walk through the grounds, and quickly get to know everyone there at the same time as you and the workers as well.

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Lost and Found Family dinner time! 

Lost and Found Food

Lost and Found hostel has a great menu that you can order from the morning until 3pm (all day breakfast, hollaaaah!) , and also a kitchen if you want to cook. There’s a vegetable stand right at the bottom of the hill, and you can buy stuff like coffee and eggs from reception. But one of the most fun things about this hiking hostel was the family dinners each night.

If you wanted to take part in the night’s dinner, you would have to put your name on a list in the morning. Then, at 6pm and just in time for sunset, dinner would be served to everyone together. Lost and Found hostel also perfectly faces the sunset; It’s kindof unreal! Oh, and lastly, everything is on a tab system so you don’t have to pay until the end. Could be awesome; could be dangerous!

 

 
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Panamanian breakfast with a stellar view.

Lost and Found Hostel Bar

Thought you were getting away from the party scene by coming up into the mountains? (I mean, you definitely don’t have to, but…) Think again! The Lost and Found bar has a happy hour each evening from 8-9 with $1 beers and $1.50 mixed drinks, and most people go because, well, where else are you going to go? If you choose to go to it, the bar can be an awesome time. They have oversized jenga where you have to use your feet to get blocks out (which gets hilarious after a few drinks), a foosball table, and a little patio over the gardens. Oh, and everyone just wears their PJ’s. It’s just fantastic.

 

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Jenga… yes, with your feet.

Lost and Found Hostel Volunteer System + Local Workers

Lost and Found hostel is one of many working hostels that have a program where you can volunteer for some time in exchange for food and board. This adventure hostel also has a lot of local Panamanians who work each day as well. Volunteers and local workers help prepare and serve food, work behind the bar, help organize and clean the hostel, organize daily tours, and more.

The volunteers and locals add an extra element to the sense of community at Lost and Found. They are always around and amongst the guests, and become a part of each group as they come through.

BOOK:Check Lost and Found Hostel Panama Rooms + Rates!

 

Lost & Found: A Jungle Adventure Hiking Hostel in Panama’s Mountains. Would you stay here?Click To Tweet
lost and found hiking adventure hostel in panama treasure hunt map jungle adventure
Our treasure map!

Lost and Found Hiking Hostel Panama: Treasure Hunts

One of the coolest things about this hiking hostel is that it’s way more than just that. You don’t just go hiking… you go on awesome jungle treasure hunt hikes! There’s an entire back story to Lost and Found hostel that has to do with a psychological thriller novel, which you can buy on Amazon or read at the hostel. Pretty cool, huh?

So the treasure hunts kind-of go off of this idea of a psychological thriller game, and send you off into the jungle or around the hostel’s built-in maze deciphering riddles. There are two treasure hunts:

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Looking for the next clue! 

Indiana Jones

This is the long hiking hostel hunt that most people do who come here. It takes 5-6 hours from start to finish, and sends you gallivanting up over the high jungle hills and down through canyons and rivers in search of riddle clues. (You would have seen this whole thing on my story if you followed me on insta!).

They start by giving you a map of the trails and your first clue. From there on you’ll be hiking through a stunning thick Panamanian jungle teeming with wildlife, and exercising your brain almost as much as your legs! After 5-6 clues you head back to the hostel to decipher the hardest puzzle of all – but I won’t go too much into it because you must try it yourself!

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This is a MOONBOW that I captured with my camera the first night. Did you have any idea moonlight could illuminate rain at night? and that it’s called a Moonbow?!

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a similar mind game that takes place on the hostel grounds – perfect for a rainy day or an afternoon activity! Lost and Found Hostel has a pretty huge garden maze that’s actually very easy to get lost in. There are all sorts of other spots on its massive grounds that are perfect for a little scavenger hunt which doesn’t take you too far from home. It’s also great to do at night – and more spooky!

 

Read More: Love the jungle hostel vibe? Check out the El Rio Hostel in Colombia, especially if you plan on sailing Panama to Colombia like I did! 
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Lost and Found Hostel Hikes

Apart from the Indiana Jones hike, there are actually miles and miles of other trails that go much farther than the scavenger hunt goes (although it is 5-6 hours in itself). The trail map is painted on a few walls in the hostel, and marked with viewpoints and canyons. You could spend a long time discovering all these Panamanian jungle trails!
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Contemplating when I’ll jump into the canyon

Nearby Adventures in Nature

Not far from the hostel are quite a few beautiful places accessible via public bus (or taxi). In one direction you will find the Los Cangliones River Canyon, which is a lovely place to relax, swim, rock climb, or cliff jump!

A beautiful river forms into a canyon for 50m or so, surrounded by jungle. Its highest point only reaches about 6ft, but it’s perfect for a little jump or to test your rock climbing skills. The whole area is great to spend a chilled day.

If you take a bus in the other direction from the hostel, you will find yourself at a lovely waterfall. The Celestine waterfall is tucked away in the jungle at the end of a thin canyon. After a short rock scramble you’ll find yourself at these secluded 30m falls, bordered by high cliffs on all sides.

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Cuné and his coffee beans. Presh!

Lost and Found Hostel Tours

Organic Coffee Farm Tour

Most days (if there are enough people), you can sign up for a tour of a nearby farm that produces coffee, wine, sugar cane, and many different fruits and unique Panamanian produce. I did this tour on my second day, and it was one of the highlights for sure!

With our Panamanian guide from the hostel, we drove a short way down into a canyon to arrive at the farm of Felix Cortez, better known as Cuné. Cuné had actually just won an award for the best coffee in Panama the week before, and he sat down with us and (with our guide as translator) told us his amazing story of starting from nothing and building his organic farming business to the booming level it’s at today.

 

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Cuné feeding one of his painted rabbits, or cunejos pintados. I didn’t know these existed, did you?

 

We walked around the farm and got to see the entire coffee making process, from beans to actual coffee! We got to crush our own sugar cane and make a juice which we tried after eating a (very) hot pepper and one of his lemons. This hot, sour, and sweet mix was honestly probably the most interesting taste bud experience I have ever had!

We got to eat lots of fresh fruit from the farm and have a home made lunch as well. We ate our freshly roasted beans with local honey as well, before trying Cuné’s local corn wine and purchasing some to have at the bar later. It was truly an authentic and enriching experience!

Countryside Horseback Tour

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do this one, but it looks amazing! Every few days a horseback tour goes out with local guides to a lovely countryside area nearby. You get to have lunch in a super rural village and explore uncharted territories of Chiriqui via horseback! Only at Lost and found Hostel Panama.

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4th Night is Free!

One of the coolest concepts I thought Lost and Found hostel had was a policy that if you stay three nights, the fourth night is free! Yep, every time. I originally booked for three nights… and obviously stayed a fourth… and then I stayed a 5th!

As you will definitely see, Lost and Found hostel has a sort of alluring quality that will make you not want to leave. There are so many activities to do, but it’s also the absolute perfect place to sit and read a book in a hammock all day, marvel at the view, and not move a single muscle besides to refill your drink.

Four nights was an easy shoe-in, and I really could have stayed longer than five and mixed hiking/adventure days with days chilling around the hostel. A few people I was there with even decided to go back and volunteer!

Anyway, I really can’t think of any accommodation more unique and extraordinary than this one. It’s a hiking hostel, an adventure hub, a new family, a jungle experience, and a new home within the clouds, and it belongs on anyone’s list traveling through Central America!

BOOK:Check Lost and Found Hostel Rooms + Rates!

Read Next: Things to Do in Bocas del Toro: Travel Guide for Every Traveler
OR
The Best Way Panama to Colombia: San Blas Adventures Speedboat Trip
Wondering how to get from Panama to Colombia (or vice versa?) You can only go between the two countries via sea or air - both of which can be pricy! BUT if you sail between the two, you can experience the San Blas islands - some of the most beautiful islands in the world, with a fascinating indigenous culture called the Kuna Ayala people. TAke a Speedboat trip with San Blas adventures and make your border crossing into an unforgettable experience.

 

The Lost and Found Hostel Panama is an adventure hiking hostel nestled deep within the Panamanian junlge on a mountainout hillside. You can visit canyons and waterfalls, do the hostel's treasure hunts, hike miles of trails, visit coffee plantations, and more!
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April 12, 2018

Bocas Del Toro Sailing in Panama on the Green Flash Catamaran 

Bocas Del Toro Sailing in Panama on the Green Flash Catamaran 

Sailing in Panama is not something I originally had on my bucket list, but wow am I glad that the opportunity to do so came into my life! At Envision Festival I met the owner of Green Flash Catamaran Adventures, and from then I was invited to come sailing in the San Blas Islands all the way to Bocas Del Toro, helping out on the boat, doing some writing and photos, and then working a 5 day sailing trip. As I am traveling indefinitely I was so happy about the opportunity to take this Panama sailing adventure! The Green Flash Catamaran is available for private hire on adventurous Panamanian sailing trips through Bocas Del Toro, San Blas Islands, or both!
I got on the Green Flash Catamaran in Puerto Lindo – I missed the San Blas part initially because I was at  Tribal Gathering Music Festival, but they spent three days exploring the beautiful San Blas archipelago. The morning after I got on the boat, we went into a 24 hour open ocean crossing on a 10 person catamaran, which was the experience of a lifetime for me!
sailing in bocas del toro, Panama on the Green Flash Catamaran - tailored adventure sailing tours with surfing, snorkeling, swimming, hiking, and more!
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I have lived and worked on boats for a lot of my life, but the open ocean, especially on a smaller catamaran, is something different. There’s something so vulnerable about it, as if you are more at the mercy of the sea than ever before. I never get seasick, but this crossing definitely tested my limits of withstanding the motion of the ocean! (Still didn’t get sick though! 😛 )
It was amazing to even try steering the catamaran myself, using points on the horizon, a compass, and eventually stars to make sure it was on the right track. I found it a bit difficult at times, but as I love trying new things, it was quite exhilarating.
When it fell completely dark, I sat at the side of the boat to get a bit of breeze. I looked at the waves splashing at the side of the boat and was astonished to realize that they seemed to be glowing – and it was definitely more than just moonlight! Yep, we were actually sailing in Panama through bioluminescent waters. It was like something out of a dream!
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Bocal Del Toro Sailing

The sun rose the next morning just in time to illuminate our entrance into the Bocas Del Toro archipelago region – full of reef breaks, little islands, and peninsulas. See, Bocas is made up of over 200 cays, 50 islets, and 10 main islands. It’s beautiful, tropical, colorful, and, as I was soon to find out, adventurous!
A few days of detox and preparation later, it was time for the start of a five day charter. We had guests for five days, exploring different parts sailing the Bocas De Toro archipelago, trying different food, exploring different places, and checking out different nightlife as well. Might I just add right up front – the guests we had for this charter were a group of 11 fraternity brothers aged 48-52, many of which had not seen each other for 25 years. It was hilarious, fun, and amazing to see these guys come together again after so long and attempt to party like they did in college. 😉
 
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Sailing in Panama Day One: Bocas Town and Boat Barbecue

On the first day of charter, the guests arrived in the afternoon. After having some drinks in the lively, colorful, and bustling Bocas Town, we made it onto the boat to get settled. After pouring some drinks and putting on some music, chicken was put on the barbecue for a welcome dinner! We made a salad and rice and feasted on the boat before getting ready to go out.

After dinner we got a water taxi and it was time to hit the town! Bocas is knows for its great nightlife, and we checked out a couple different bars for an eventful and awesome night.

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Sailing in Panama Day Two: Cayos Zapatilla and Island Seafood Dinner at Cayo Coral

On day two, we woke up, brushed off our hangovers, and took a group out to surf. It’s not quite a trip to Bocas without getting out in the waves at least once! It was a slow morning with breakfast on the boat until the surf group got back, at which point we prepared the Green Flash to sail.

On today’s agenda were the lovely remote Cayos Zapatilla, which are two tiny islands on the outskirts of the Bocas archipelago that look like something out of an actual fairytale. You know when you imagein a tiny Tropical Caribbean island?? These are them. You can walk around either of them in about half an hour, crossing fallen trees on the sand and traipsing through untouched protected jungle.

Today we got out a few surfboards to paddle in, got out the SUP, and even brought a massage table to the sand for the ultimate massage experience. The boys even brought in a cooler with beer, because, obviously. 😛

After a few hours relaxing at one of the islands, it was time to sail to dinner. We anchored off the coast of Cayo Coral – tiny little mangrove island on the far edge of Bastimentos island – for a lovely seafood dinner. For a set price we each got a jaw-dropping plate of lobster (cut in half with the entire body for presentation!), fish, salad, plantains, and rice. It was to-die-for! Add in some tropical cocktails and it made for an awesome meal.

Read More: Things to Do in Bocas del Toro: Travel Guide for Every Kind of Traveler

 

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Sailing in Panama Day Three: Bastimentos Island: Old Bank Permaculture Farm, and Sunset Dinner

The next day we woke up and had our boat breakfast before heading over to Bastimentos Island. We first stopped near Red Frog Marina for some snorkeling and swimming, and then we went over to Bastimentos’s largest town – Old Bank. After having a few beers at Bubba’s Place bar on the water, we did a small hike to a permaculture farm called ‘Up in the Hill.”

A 15 minute hike lead us to an amazing little space surrounded by every kind of vegetation you could imagine. We did a two hour tour of the permaculture farm that this family grew from the ground up (literally) twenty years ago, and are now beginning to (literally) see the fruits of their labor! 😛

The tour was pretty eye-opening and we were able to understand how all plants work together to for a self-supporting environment at a permaculture farm. Since they started growing all this food, the ecosystem has boomed for all kinds of animals and insects too, and they can fully eat and support themselves from farmed foods like papaya, bananas, yucca, dragonfruit, cacao (in many forms), eggs, jackfruit, coconut, and pineapple! At the end of the tour we had a feat fit for kinds of all this fruit, and LOTS of cacao (brownies, nibs, and drink!)

At the end of the tour we headed to a lovely restaurant/hotel to relax before dinner. The place was called the Firefly, and it was another one of those places I could see myself ending up living for quite a long time. The space was amazing and cozy, there was a yoga deck, and it faced the sea right toward the sunset! We all enjoyed some cocktails and drinks before ordering their tapa-style dishes for a lovely Caribbean dinner. Some of the guests went out on the town afterwards, and some chose to stay in!

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Sailing in Panama Day Four: Red Frog Marina + Beach

On day four we docked at Red Frog Marina on Bastimentos Island, and spent the whole day at the incredible, picturesque, tropical beach! There are lots of trails and hikes to be done in the area, but the guys decided to open a tab at a beachside bar and alternate between drinking fruity cocktails, eating chicken wings, and swimming in the bright blue Caribbean Sea all day!

Truly, this beach is one of the most beautiful I have seen, so I was happy to spend a day relaxing in this dreamlike location. That is, until it was time to head back to the boat to make yummy fish tacos for everyone to eat after a day of salt and sun. They really hit the spot!

Tonight some of the guys had their eyes on the Villas at Red Frog Resort, and decided after a day of cocktails to rent one to spend the evening and next morning enjoying the remoteness of the island from above. Others, again, went out in Bocas town!

 

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Sailing in Panama Day Five: Bat Caves, Sail-Up Bar, Burgers, and A Last Night in Town

After bringing breakfast to the villas and getting everyone together, it was time for the most unique adventure of them all: the bat caves. We didn’t know what to expect of the so-called bat caves, but we quickly found out we were in for a bit more of an adventure than we had anticipated!

We took a small boat through tiny mangrove pathways to an even more remote point on Bastimentos island, and walked for a little while through the forest to an opening in a rock face. At first our senses were overwhelmed by the sight of dozens of bats above us, the sound their high-pitched squeaks, the scent of their bat shit, and trying to feel out way down into this darkness with our headlamps. But, as soon as we got through the opening of the cave and got used to the scary massive crickets on the wall, we understood how amazing this place really is.

 

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We went from splashing around in ankle-deep water, eventually to leaving our belongings on a rock and swimming through barely head-high cave openings! It was such an adventure – we explored what must have been 5-700 (maybe more – it’s hard to judge distance inside a narrow dark wet cave) into this cave. We just kept going and going and being wowed by all the formations and bats whizzing past our heads too quickly for us to see.

After the bat cave adventure , we whipped up some lunch and began our dinner of vegetarian lentil+beetroot burgers. While we prepared the feast, we turned the music on and sailed back towards Bocas Town for our last night.

There was one more destination, however – a literal FLOATING BAR just outside the town! No, I’m not kidding, there is a sail/float/kayak – up bar here called Offshore’s which we went to and had an amazing time of laughs and cocktails. It was pretty surreal to say the least! After eating our burgers we went back into town for a night out of bar hopping and goodbyes.

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Bocas Del Toro Sailing in Panama – Adventures, Good Food, and a Bit of a Party

It was an awesome 5 days of the two best things Bocas is good at – adventure and party! But a trip on the Green Flash can be whatever you want it to be. They do kite surfing and yoga as well, and tend to be more adventure-focused than anything else! This week was an example of what a charter can be like, but you can make your week your very own. It was the perfect way to see different parts of Bocas and be able to relax in the mean time!

sailing in bocas del toro, Panama on the Green Flash Catamaran - tailored adventure sailing tours with surfing, snorkeling, swimming, hiking, and more!
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Thanks to Green Flash Catamaran adventures for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to work onboard. As always, all words are my own!

April 2, 2018

Tribal Gathering Festival Review + Guide – What is Tribal Gathering?

Tribal Gathering Festival Review + Guide – What is Tribal Gathering?

Woah man, where do I even begin with Tribal Gathering? This festival, or should I say… more of an experience, more of a temporary beachside camping community in the jungle with a thousand likeminded and inclusive individuals, was so unique. It was unlike any festival I have experienced before. The entire duration of the gathering is 18 days – literally almost three weeks of camping in a remote Caribbean beachside jungle in Panama.
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What IS Tribal Gathering Festival?!

Well, it’s a lot of things. It’s a multi-faceted and complex entity of the festival world. And I’m going to be my very best to put it into words right here by starting with a few of the main aspects!

 

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Tribes

Before I get too far into it, I think mentioning how the actual festival works is quite important! 😛 This is not a normal festival whatsoever. Tribal Gathering is actually just that – a Tribal Gathering. It’s put on by a nonprofit called Geoparadise whose function is essentially to preserve and help indigenous cultures and ancient traditions. This festival each year is a time where they actually fly out different indigenous tribes, shamans, and leaders to come together and share their knowledge with each other and with festival-goers each year. There are tribes from all over North and South America, Africa, Central America, and more.

 

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18 Days of Awesomeness

Tribal Gathering Festival is 18 days of camping, again, on a remote beachside paradise of a jungle in Panama. The first 12 days are the ‘indigenous immersive’ part of the festival, where tribal workshops/ceremonies are paramount and you live, interact, and form relationships with the indigenous tribes each day. But it is important to note that after this first 12 day period is over, the tribes leave! They are only there the first 12 days and they leave before the ‘Dance Celebration” begins, and tribal art and workshops end.

The Dance Celebration is the last 5 days of the festival which are more focused on music and partying than the indigenous immersive part. During this period a new stage, the Lotus Stage, comes to life and plays psytrance almost 24/7! More on this later.

 

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An Actual Cohesive and Cooperative Community

This is a LONG festival. It’s not like the 3-dayer’s where you come in, go hard, and leave. It’s also quite small, with about 1000-1500 people, so you really see people over and over and get to know the community. When you are staying at a place for so long, you really feel like you live there. You live and interact with the community for multiple weeks, running into people and sharing experiences with so many different groups that you seem to slowly become one.

Volunteering is pretty big here and many people take part in different volunteering shifts at the kitchen, bar, front desks, tea bar, and medical tent. Each shift is 5 hours and you will be rewarded with $13 credit on your wristband (which is how you pay for things). This equates to approximately 2 meals or 5-6 drinks! It’s nice to be able to contribute and also to be able to save money by getting meals/drinks for free. Volunteering helps you feel like you really contribute to make the community work. It’s a very different and amazing feeling!

Traveling Overseas for a Music Festival?! – I’ve got exactly what you need! Check out my International Festival Camping Checklist – All the Essentials for a Destination Music Festival Overseas! 

 

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Workshops and Art

The tribes stay in their own little village in the middle of the festival, and are only there for the ‘Indigenous immersive’ 12 day first part of the festival. During these first 12 days people from the tribes teach workshops, hold art classes, and hold all kinds of different experiences to share their culture. The people from the tribes usually do speak english and seem to be very familiar with Western culture, but they grew up within indigenous culture and lifestyle just the same. It’s actually quite nice to be able to communicate so easily with people with such different and ancient knowledge!

Workshops/Talks can be anything from massage to making tribal jewelry and art to learning about how different tribes make cacao or tea or think the calendar should work. There are speakers and workshops all the time for the first 12 days, often from the tribes and sometimes others as well.

I found the 13/28 calendar talks very interesting; there were a few speakers talking about how the calendar should naturally work in a schedule of 13 months of 28 days, and a few theories as to why it was changed to the weird 12 month/random days schedule it is now. Some other of my favorite talks were hearing a man from a nomadic tribe from Mali talk about their way of life and how they learn from/follow the animals of the desert, and a Mexican/Aztec tribe woman teaching us how to make Aztec crafts that represented their beliefs in different human and cosmic energies. So fascinating!

 

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Plant Medicine Ceremonies

For 5 days in the middle of the first 12 days, tribal shamans will hold traditional plant medicine ceremonies in a special area of the festival known as the shamanic realm. Each ceremony will be held around a certain natural plant medicine that the shaman leading the ceremony’s people have used and respected for thousands of years. People must sign up for these at the Hub, and they cost from $50-$100 each for the medicine and the leadership of the shaman for the 2-4+ hour experience (and part goes as a donation to the charity too!). Some of the plant medicine ceremonies that occurred included: Ayahuasca, mushrooms, peyote, cacao, kambo (frog venom), and Bufo (another derived from a frog, I believe).

And yes, all cards on the table: these are quite intensely psychedelic substances. But this festival is a safe space for people to take part in these plant medicine ceremonies with well educated shamans and open-minded attendees! These medicines tend to be very mind-opening, enlightening, and profound, and many people experience life-changing actualizations while on them. Not everyone takes part in these ceremonies – in fact the majority may not – but they are available for a 5 day period for anyone who is interested.
Personally, I got there a bit too late to take part in any ceremonies. I didn’t check the schedule properly (the ceremonies end about 5 days before the ‘Dance Celebration’ begins) and I got to take part in a Cacao ceremony on the last day of ceremonies with a wonderful Mayan shaman from Guatemala. It was truly incredible – more on that later too!
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Tribal Gathering Location/Venue – Caribbean Beachside Jungle

 Tribal Gathering is held in Playa Chiquita, Panama. This place is an absolute paradise oasis of neverland, and probably could not be more perfect. But you definitely pay the price of how awesome it is in getting here… or attempting to. Apparently there are two Playa Chiquitas a few hours from each other, and they had basically no signage on the dirt road you had to take to get here. But I’ll go more into how to get to Tribal Gathering in my ‘transportation’ section below! 🙂
The Tribal Gathering location is fairly easy to comprehend. Once you manage to get yourself up and down a few intense dirt hills and into the festival gates, everything is pretty much right there. The gathering happens all along a beautiful warm beach with tiny light grains of sand and shells to be found all over the place. Along the beach are layers of palm trees and jungle where you can camp.
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The Hub

The Hub is where all the information you need will be contained. It’s one of the first things you see at the festival and is comprised of a few windows – a check in window, a volunteering window, and shuttle and lost and found window, and a wristband top-up window (money is all on your wristband). They also have a message board here where you can leave messages for friends because there is NO SERVICE here at all.
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Global Stage/Bar/Kitchen

This is the main area of the festival with the only stage that runs for the first 12 days. The Global Stage has all kinds of music throughout the day – from tribal drums to psychedelic rock to techno. You never really know what to expect here but it’s an awesome place where everyone congregates to hang out, dance, and relax.
The bar is right at the back of the global stage. Volunteers work shifts here and everyone of course frequents the bar! There is a pizza kitchen right by the bar where you can get pizzas for $8 (maybe the most expensive thing here but pretty worth it when you need it). Next to the pizza kitchen is a large shaded seating area near a massive kitchen that expertly prepares three meals a day. More on food and drink below!
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The Carny

Past the Global Stage you will find a beautifully constructed stage area with multiple little rooms and areas and even a cocktail bar. There was a ‘tattoo room,’ (not sure if it was used for this), another secret room, a tiny little theater room where they did comedy shows, and a few balconies that you could climb to annd around a big grass area in front of a massive outdoor stage shaped like a pirate ship. They had carnivals here each night put on by a massive British circus crew who would hoop, fire spin, do aerial shows, do comedy, dancing, and everything in between. The Carny happened around 7 each night and was so much fun to watch for everyone.
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Tribal Markets

There was a huge row of little market stalls right past the kitchen area where you could buy all kinds of crafts from crystal jewelry to Latvian whistles to guatemalan tapestries. There was a lot of good stuff on display!

Geohaven Stage / Tribal Village

This area was right at the entrance to the Tribal Village where all the tribes stayed in thatched huts. The Geohaven had a big schedule of tribal speakers, yoga, meditation, and all sorts of interesting stuff each day especially during the first part of the festival.
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The Creek

There was a freshwater creek that reached the ocean along the beach, where everyone would go to bathe! There were showers (where you had to use a watering can to ease yourself, ha) so the creek was a great option for many people to wash off and hang out. Beware of nakedness, though, people were all especially free here!
ARE YOU A FESTIVAL PERSON LIKE ME?  – Check out my review-guides for: Envision Festival in Costa Rica, Lightning in a Bottle, CRSSD, Coachella, and Joshua Tree Music Festival in California, Sziget Festival in Budapest, Tomorrowland in Belgium, Lost Village in the UK, Ultra Europe and Hideout Festival in Croatia, Traveling to Afrikaburn or the 10 principles of Burning Man culture, Southbound Festival in Western Australia, and Austin City Limits in Texas!
OR, for some inspo, check out the Best Music Festival Hacks to know before any festival, Transformational Festival in Australia to add to your bucket list, Transformational Festivals in South + Central America to add to your bucket list, or my Camping Checklist for International Music Festivals!

Tribal Gathering Crowd

The crowd here was really diverse. I would say the median age was definitely well into the 30’s – this was not a festival focused on youngsters partying! The crowd here was very mature and understood the idea of a functioning community. There were children, families, and even people in their 80’s. The people were probably mostly in their 20’s-40’s in general.
I would say that the crowd here was mostly from Germany and the UK. There is of course a massive range of countries but Germany and England really stood out to me as the most represented countries, followed possibly by Canada, other central European countries like Austria and France, and maybe the USA. The entire circus crew of 50+ was from England which probably influenced that population quite a lot.
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Vibe

The vibe here was amazing. It was not quite as inclusive as some festivals I have been to before, but I think that’s because everyone here was so real. Conversations at some festivals are quite surface-level and everyone is extremely nice for the split second you meet them. But here, I felt that conversations were more deep and meaningful, and you got to know people more (and not just in passing) because of the festival’s small size.
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Tribal Gathering Atmosphere/Decorations

The atmosphere here was very artistic and earthy. Everything was made from wood, palm fronds, and colorful accents. They didn’t go too out of the way to make it look beautiful because the place as it is, is AH-MAY-ZING. You really did feel like you were a part of the land here as everything looked like the could have made it from materials found in the area!

Tribal Gathering Lineup/Music/Artists

So, this is not quite the festival people come to for the lineup. Or, maybe they do come for the psytrance lineup but I wouldn’t know that 😛 That’s not to say that the lineup isn’t fantastic and talented, but the artists here aren’t known for being world famous.
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First 12 Days Lineup

Again, the first 12 days have only one stage, the Global Stage. A lot of attendees knew personally a lot of the DJ’s, but I really didn’t know anyone going in. This actually lead me more to appreciate the music that was playing rather than the name who was playing it. There was EVERYTHING at the Global Stage, from bass to techno to live rock bands to tribal music to glitch. I liked some music and didn’t like others, but it was so easy just to go chill at the beach or have a swim when you wanted to.

Last 5 Days – 2 Stages

They spent the entire first part of the festival working tirelessly to construct the Lotus Stage, which came alive for the last 5 days. This stage was in the middle of a grassy palm tree area directly on the beach, with an amazing breeze consistently flowing from the ocean. This stage played pretty much only psytrance. Some people I met knew some people on the lineup, but I really don’t understand how any psytrance sounds different than any other psytrance. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong 😛
I have never really gotten into psytrance before this festival, but I must admit that when I committed myself to it, I did have a LOT of fun dancing to it. After attempting to enjoy myself I learned that you just have to get literally into a state of psytrance, and strange experimental dance moves will come out and you will actually find yourself having a lot of fun! I danced to it for hours a few nights and was quite impressed with myself 🙂
On the last night, a DJ called Grouch played what I think was the absolute best set of the weekend. He incorporated live drum and a ‘jaw harp.‘ Seriously Google that, I had never known it existed before it was being played live in front of me during an awesome techno set and my mind exploded into a million pieces.
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Tribal Gathering Camping

Everyone camps at Tribal Gathering. Even all the staff. There’s no other option – it’s not like there are any 5 star hotels at a place you can only get to via unmarked dirt road. In this way, the camping amenities were the festival amenities! You can really camp anywhere. Once you get past the small central part of the festival, you get to the camping area which ranges to beachfront to a bit farther back in the jungle. Some people wanted to be by the waves, and others preferred shade. If you can find both, all the more power to you!
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Tribal Gathering Camping Amenities – Bathrooms, Showers, etc

There were actually pretty nice wooden drop toilet bathroom stalls at each end of the venue. These were cleaned very regularly and honestly weren’t that gross at all. People also wrote lovely little notes and quotes on the walls which were fun to read while doing your business 😉
There is one filtered water station near the Hub which was not inconvenient to walk to whenever you needed water.
The showers are free and consist of about 8 tiny bamboo stalls equipped with a watering can that you could fill at a tap. Not kidding. 😛 They were fine when you actually needed to wash your hair/face every few days but on all other occasions the sea and the creek sufficed just fine!
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Transportation/Hotels/Parking – Getting To Tribal Gathering

To get to Tribal Gathering you either have to take a shuttle from the Airport (Panama Tocumen) for $50, take about 3 public busses, or take a taxi/uber. The shuttle is pretty foolproof but is more expensive than other options.
If you wanted to take public busses from Panama city, I believe you would have to take one to Sabanitas, then one to Portobelo, then one to Playa Chiquita. Or something like that. Maybe it would cost like $20 but I actually don’t really know.
If you want to take a taxi or uber, SHARE IT. Post on the Facebook page to try and find buddies, because it will cost anywhere from $80 (the cheapest I heard – but honestly too cheap!) to $150+. I found three friends on the FB page who wanted to go on the same day as me. We found an uber driver and told him we would pay $10-$15 over uber’s quoted price to the venue, and he agreed. I think uber quoted it wrong, though, because it quoted $65 and it was a three hour journey and our driver got stuck trying to drive one of the dirt roads by the entrance. We ended up paying him $90 for 4 people.

Basic Tribal Gathering Directions Written by Me

(Look at Google Maps) From Panama City, you go north to Colon and take the road going right/east at Sabanitas. Take this road a long way – past Portobelo, Palenque, and all the way to Cuango. On Google Maps you will see a little creek/river here. Take a right turn at a dirt road at the end of Cuango (before you get to the creek) and follow it inland and east over said creek and along into where Google Maps says Playa Chiquita (the road is not on the map!). Drive quite a ways on this road and eventually you will see a sign that says Playa Chiquita. Keep going and eventually you will see a road on your left which will probably have a few people/cars around it (it looked like a construction site to us at night but this was the unmarked entrance.) Drive down this road only if you have 4wd (!!!) and if not, get out of your uber/car/taxi there and walk to the festival. If you don’t have 4wd I’m sure you could do it but our uber got stuck and another car had to be dragged out while we were leaving. The parking lot, however, is down this road so if you want to access the parking lot you must brave this road.
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Food/Drink at Tribal Gathering

Tribal Gathering Food

There were two food/drink areas at Tribal Gathering. One was inside the venue – the kitchen and bar near the global stage. The main kitchen served three meals a day and had a certain menu each day for each. Usually there was a meat/veg option, a choice of a few starches, a choice of a few salads, and a few other options. You could choose a medium plate for $6 (where you should have either/or options for many dishes) or a large for $9 (where you could basically have all they could pile onto a plate). I won’t go into listing certain things they had but the options were always good (especially at the beginning of the festival!) and if you didn’t like it you could always get pizza or get food outside.
The pizza kitchen was right next to the kitchen and served pizzas at lunch and dinner time for $8 a pop.
Right outside the venue (literally basically connected to The Hub) there were about 6-10 little food vendor stalls, some of which accepted money from your wristband and some of which did not. One had burgers, hot dogs, candy, and other basic items, some had different Panamanian options each day (fried plantains, different meats/salads, beans, rice), one was a vegan cafe, one had crepes and ice lollipops, one had vegan burgers and other yummy options, and one had chocolates and other snacks. There were definitely enough options!
However, for anyone who had the drive to plan ahead, cooking in campsites was very popular. Many people made fires and brought pots and pans to cook each day. I even saw a group with their own ‘kitchen tent’ with tons of canned items! I would bring as much food as you can to save money!

Tribal Gathering Drinks

The bar sold drinks for $2 each. Beers, juices, sodas, wine, and all shots were all $2. This means if you wanted a mixed drink of, say, rum and coke, it would cost $4 and they would give you the can.
The outside stalls sold some drinks and smoothies, and they opened up another bar when the Lotus stage opened. The stocks sometimes ran low because the area was so remote, but they usually refilled everything. A lot of people simply brought their own drinks in!
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Don’t follow me on instagram yet?! Get on it! I would love to have you along for my adventure! 

Tribal Gathering Price

There was a different price for the indigenous immersive (first 12 days), the dance celebration (last 5 days), and the full package (entire 18 days). If you buy early you could get the entire experience for $320, and I have heard it’s even cheaper if you buy for the next year directly after one year ends. Either part of the festival will cost you from $230-280 depending on when you buy it.
If you ask me, I would either do the full thing or just the indigenous immersive. By day 12 most of the people have already gotten to know each other, and people who just arrived may feel left out. I also feel that people who only booked the dance celebration did not feel satisfied because the festival was not packed and the stage stopped each night a bit early because of this.
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Tribal Gathering Security

There isn’t much security here – only to secure the perimeters and let you into the venue from the entrance. There are workers always floating around to keep an eye on things and make sure your wristband is the proper color for the part of the festival you’re in, but other than that they don’t really bother anyone much. Someone told me you aren’t allowed to bring in your own alcohol but I didn’t see it enforced personally – I hid my bottle just in case.
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Weather at Tribal Gathering

I expected it to be impossibly hot for Tribal Gathering, but I was pleasantly surprised by the bearable weather! It was hot and humid, sure, but it was comfortable. The ocean was always within a few minutes walk, and the BREEZE was a life saver on many occasions! The breeze was constant and coming from the sea, so if anyone was ever hot they could just go find a hammock at the beach. Some nights it even got – dare I say it – chilly! I think I put a thin sweatshirt on a few of the nights but promptly took it off as soon at the sun came up. To stay cool in your tent, make sure it has a ‘window’ or face the opening towards the breeze! I lived in a bikini most of the time but it was never unbearable and always breezy.
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Fashion

Fashion here was boho, island chic, and hippie if you will! There was no specific fashion and most of it was oriented around swim suits and warm-weather clothes, but people definitely got into it and had fun with some outfits, glitter, and face paint.

Tribal Gathering Time

During the first 12 days, morning wellness workshops and yoga would start before 8, and the Global Stage would finish usually by 2am (give or take a few hours depending on the DJ and sound crew’s mood). Workshops and speakers went until 8-9pm and then everyone would congregate at the stage, watch the carny shows, or have little powwows at their respective camps.
During the last 5 days, the psytrance stage was supposed to be going legit 24/7, or at least until 8am or so. This did not happen a few of the nights – it ended at 5am or so on a few of the nights – but I was (usually) not there to see it! 😛
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Money

As I have mentioned before, there was a wristband system here at Tribal Gathering. You could put cash (and I believe sometimes card when the system was up) on your card at The Hub, and simply scan your wrist to pay for everything inside the venue and a few of the vendor stands outside. Working a volunteer shift would load your wristband with $13 to use inside the venue.
I have heard though that you must bring enough cash to Tribal Gathering to last you the whole 18 days. It was just a rumor that you could actually use your credit card to fill your wristband, and on the website it says that you cannot! So – bring lots of cash. You will need it. Remember to budget for any ceremony you want to do ($50 or $100 each), however many $2 to $4 drinks (or $6 cocktails) you will drink in 3 weeks, a few $6ish meals a day, and any snacks or extras you may want – for 18 days. Bring plenty of snacks if you have room and maybe even cooking supplies because many people build fires on the beach.
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Final Tips – Things I wish I knew before attending Tribal Gathering

  • The tribes actually LEAVE after day 12. So if you want to take part in any tribal things, come before then.
  • The Ceremonies end on day 8 or so, and begin on day 4 or so. If you want any ceremonies, check the dates they are happening.
  • bring snacks. The communal kitchen is awful but many people build fires to cook.
  • Getting here is DIFFICULT. the shuttle drops you off somewhere you must walk a few hundred meters up and down hills. SO pack as lightly as you can, or just prepare for a tough walk in and out.
  • There are no road signs to get here. See my basic directions written above under ‘transportation’ that in my opinion are better than anything I could find online 😛
  • Spend as much time as you can with the tribes, do workshops, and attend wellness ceremonies. Don’t get too caught up partying – when else can you be in this close of proximity with amazing indigenous tribes?!
  • Face your tent entrance towards the ocean for maximum breeze
  • Make sure our tent is waterproof. Surprise monsoons may occur.
  • If you don’t think you like psytrance, just TRY IT. Trust me. Get into it and you will have fun! Watch how others dance, find your own groove, and the dance moves will ensue.
  • There are lots of naked people around – lots of people swim naked and bathe in the creek naked. It’s such a free place and its awesome to be so comfortable in your natural state!!
  • Bring enough cash for everything you may need. Lots of people I met ran out of money and literally had to work volunteer shifts to survive.
  • But, work volunteer shifts anyway! They are a great way to meet people, feel as if you are contributing to the community, have a little fun, and also score some free food/drinks while you’re at it.
  • Explore the area around the festival site! it is SOOOOO beautiful and you can walk a long way on both sides of the festival along the water.
panama backpacking guide

March 30, 2018