and bicycles have the right-of-way in the streets but a few small electric
cars weave their way through and taxis beep at everyone as they try to
get by. Ice cream vendors pedal their ancient three-wheeled bicycles with
ice chests secured on the front and are flagged down by people on park
benches using their laptops. It's a good mix and easy to get used to.
and many nearby islands have in the last few years become the top tourist
destination in Panama. Europeans, North Americans and South Pacific Islanders
have quickly taken to the area's beauty and spread the word. More and more
the town is catering to the tourists. Several dive shops have opened complete
with instructors, boats and gear for snorkelers and SCUBA enthusiasts.
For those wanting to explore on their own, one- and two-man kayaks can
be rented. Half-day and all-day fishing trips can be arranged through many
companies in town. There is also a surf shop with boards for sale and numerous
stands along the main drag with boards for rent. Bicycles and small motorcycles
can be rented too but as of yet, there are no car rentals. A few bars have
opened for the night-lifers, some with loud music, others with television
screens for sports enthusiasts.
around the town and the island is almost entirely by taxi and water taxi.
There are a few small buses that also traverse the island, usually carrying
town workers back to their Indian villages and a few tourists to more secluded
beaches. The water taxis can be hailed from almost anywhere along the waterfront.
Some are simple dugout canoes that can only transport three or four perfectly
balanced passengers. Others are modern fiberglass rigs that can take ten
or more visitors on short trips or all-day excursions. Prices are usually
negotiable but should be agreed upon in advance.
Most of the
island's restaurants and hotels are on the main corridor through town,
Third Street. Prices for a room can be as low as $5 a night for nothing
but four walls and a bed, and as high as $135 for a luxurious oceanview
suite with a jacuzzi tub and kitchenette. The average rate for a room with
a queen-size bed, private bathroom with hot water and cable TV is $35.00
but rates vary with the seasons.
There are many
excellent restaurants on Isla Colon and the island of Carenero, just a
few hundred yards and a $1-water-taxi-ride away. Fare of nearly every kind
can be found, including Italian, seafood, steaks, fried chicken, hamburgers,
Thai and Indian. A good breakfast can be had for just a couple of dollars,
a big lunch for $3.50, and dinner easily less than $10. It's easy for travelers
on tight budgets to save money here and most end up staying longer than
they had originally planned.
For us, it's
not destinations that count but the journeys themselves. So we've been
taking our time building our home and are enjoying island life to the fullest.
If the surf is good, we may not go out to our property for days. If it's
flat and the water is crystal clear, we might take the kayak out for hours
finding new snorkeling spots around Carenero or Isla Col¢n. The coral
reefs are spectacular. We see dolphins, sea turtles, lobsters, crabs, octopus,
cuttlefish, nurse sharks, remoras, eels, stingrays, electric rays, manta
rays, and every kind of reef fish imaginable. The variety of the coral
itself is awesome - so many different colors, shapes and sizes.
We spot sloths
and monkeys nearly every day and still stop the truck and get out to watch
them. We have both two-toed and three-toed sloths and five species of monkeys
including the noisy howlers and the cute white-faced Capuchin. Some of
the ponds have alligators, caimans and/or crocodiles in them. We come across
snakes on occasion and finally got a decent reptile identification guide
so we can know what we're seeing. The long, thin, neon-green vine snake
that looked so harmless turns out to be quite venomous. We also have coral
snakes, bushmasters and the dreaded fer-de-lance or velvet snake. Well,
after all, this is a tropical rainforest island. Better watch where you
constantly squawking as they fly erratically overhead and we have counted
more species of birds in the last few months than we saw in years back
in the States. From tiny hummingbirds to the magnificent frigatebirds,
the variety is stunning. As a recent visitor pointed out, it's like being
in the huge bird cage at the San Diego Zoo. Only better.
this place and its pace are not for everyone. We were at the beach not
long ago having a picnic after snorkeling for a few hours. Some tourists
walked over and started up a conversation. They had heard about Bocas del
Toro and instead of taking their annual trip to Cancun, decided to give
it a try.
we make a mistake," one guy said. "In Cancun we can stay out all
night barhopping and never hit the same place twice. There we can drink
and dance all night, sleep all day and party all week. This place needs
to come alive."
They can go
back to Cancun.
I hope this
place stays just the way it is.
fly to Tocumen Airport in Panama City and most arrive in the afternoon
or evening. Since flights to Bocas leave in the early morning and early
afternoon, an overnight stay in Panama City is usually in order. I highly
recommend sending an e-mail in advance of your arrival to Jose Saenz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
saying when you will arrive and what price range hotel you wish to stay
in. If you're bringing a surfboard, he needs to know that, too, so he can
pick you up in his 15-passenger van instead of a smaller car. Also, let
him know if you plan to leave on the morning or afternoon flight to Bocas
and he will make your reservation in advance - you just pay at the counter
when you check in. Jose will take you from Tocumen Airport to your hotel
and pick you up the next day to take you to the regional airport for the
one-hour flight on Aeroperlas to Bocas. He charges for his services but
no more than the taxis do and he's the safest driver in town. He can also
take you sightseeing and speaks excellent English.
leave hourly (or thereabouts) from Almirante and Changuinola during daylight
hours. Passengers pay $5 for the 30 to 45 minute trip. The car ferry leaves
Almirante Wednesday through Sunday at 9:00 a.m. and takes almost two hours
to arrive at Bocas. Cars pay anywhere from $20 to $35 at the whim of the
ferrymaster. He may even pull out a primitively typed up sheet that says
you should actually be paying $45. Pedestrians pay $5.
contact the Bocas Yacht Club and Marina in advance to reserve a slip. (www.bocasmarina.com)
Stay In Bocas
choices in the moderate range:
Laguna Hotel (www.hotellaguna.net)
La Veranda (www.laverandapanama.tripod.com)
Posada Los Delfines
Hotel Bocas del
On The Island
The Om Cafe
Da Claudio -at
the Laguna Hotel (Italian, German, Seafood)
El Pecado (Thai,
The Pirate (Hamburgers,
The Reef (Hamburgers,
Bahia Hotel (Italian)
Bocas del Toro
Hotel (American, Caribbean, Seafood)
(Pizza, Italian Pasta, Seafood)
Buena Vista Bar
& Grill (American, Caribbean, Seafood)
Liki Tiki (Mexican,
Don Chicho (Various
Bumper's Bar &
Grill (Clam Chowder, Fish, Chicken)
Sunset Grill (Mexican
Food, Seafood, Steaks)
Pargo Rojo (International
with Emphasis on Seafood, Middle Eastern)
(Seafood, Caribbean, Daily Specials)
To contact Allene