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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.
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?
- Don’t miss my Complete Panama Backpacking Guide if you’re traveling around the area!
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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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.
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 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.
This is an organic pineapple – each plant only produces a couple of fruit each year!
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 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 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.
A very happy little guy playing with his friends on Bastimentos
Bastimentos Island Places to Eat
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
This place is next to Selina and has craft beers and a dance floor at night.
These little guys are all over the islands!
Bookstore bar has a more chilled out vibe and has live music most nights with great artists.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
Don’t forget to pin this so you remember all the things to do in Bocas del Toro!
Don’t miss my Complete Panama Backpacking Guide if you’re traveling around the area!