Snorkeling at Punta Caracol. Photo by Flickr/Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough
Beautiful beaches in Bocas del Toro. Photo by Flickr/Roman Königshofer
Beautiful beaches in Bocas del Toro. Photo by Flickr/Roman Königshofer

Travel to Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro has the same old soul one might relate to New Orleans. Some places are just so full of this old world charm that they make you feel like time has left them behind. You can see it in the buildings and hear it in the music that drifts from pulsing bars late and night.

Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama, made up of an archipelago off the Caribbean coast. Isla Colón is the main island and it is home to the capital, Bocas Town. Bocas Town is a hub for dining, shopping and nightlife, and music flows from bars into the night. It’s also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Panama, and one of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen.

Let’s start off with the most beautiful beach, because really, it can’t be missed.

Visit Red Frog Beach

This beach is the one you dream about when your mind wanders to tropical paradises. The water is crystal clear, and if you aren’t a strong swimmer like me, you’ll be fine. The water is relatively shallow most of the day, to the point where you can walk quite a distance from the shore in the water. The water, when you go in the summer months, is almost hot tub warm. The sand is soft. You can rent surfboards or search the island for bread fruit, a fruit that when cooked and salted tastes exactly like bread.

Red Frog Beach, Panama. Photo by Flickr/dronepicr
Red Frog Beach, Panama. Photo by Flickr/dronepicr

Take a little walk down the island and you’ll see Punta Lava Beach Bar and Grill, the perfect place to flip through a surfing magazine, get a drink and a bite to eat before heading back to the beach. For the adventurous type, you can search for frogs on the island, take zipline tours or snorkel. The best part is, even in the middle of the day in the middle of summer, the beach is not crowded.

Book a Tour with Hotel Swan’s Cay

This hotel is a great pick to embrace the old world shipping vibe of the city. There are gold mastheads in the lobby and rich wood staircases. Hotel Swan’s Cay arranges tours for guests interested in touring Bocas Islands’ main attractions, including Zapatilla Cays, Bird Island, Red Frog Beach, Starfish Beach, Dolphin Bay and Hospital Point. It’s good to explore the area with a knowledgeable guide because there are so many islands and places to get turned around.

Observe Dolphins in Their Natural Habitat

Dolphins can be found in Dolphin Bay year-round. It is spectacular to watch groups of them play in the water. When booking a trip, find one that doesn’t chase the dolphins, or use an engine to get close to them, because this scares the dolphins away from the areas they call home. When done right, you can see these friendly animals in their home habitat.

Snorkeling at Punta Caracol. Photo by Flickr/Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough
Snorkeling at Punta Caracol. Photo by Flickr/Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough

Snorkel Above Coral in Panama

Diving in Bocas requires a good chunk of time and money. Snorkeling is a much cheaper and easily accessible way to see the coral. You don’t need experience to snorkel in these shallow waters. You don’t even really need to be able to swim because you can snorkel with a life vest on. Floating on top of the calm water is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Snorkeling in Bocas is amazing because of the clarity of the water, the amount of fish and the beautiful coral. You can find a boat to take you out near the coral, but just make sure to go where it is deep enough that you aren’t standing on the coral or touching it. Standing on coral can damage it!

Explore Bocas del Toro Town – Street Vendors and a Vibrant Night Life

When the sun goes down in Bocas Town, a whole new world opens up to the traveler who is willing to immerse themselves in the local culture. Barco Hundido is easy to miss during the day. At night, it fills with people dancing and singing. If you can’t find it on a map, you can find it by walking to Central Park, turning left at the fork in the road and then following the music.

The main street in Bocas del Toro. Photo by Flickr/Roman Königshofer
The main street in Bocas del Toro. Photo by Flickr/Roman Königshofer

To get to the Aqua Lounge Bar, you’ll need to take a water taxi. Don’t worry about getting stuck on the island, because they run almost all night. If your Spanish is rusty, saying “Aqua” at any dock will usually do the trick for the price of $1. Here, you can swim in the ocean in between drinks.

If you walk around town, you’ll find plenty of shops open well into the night, and many bars, bakeries and ice cream shops. If you don’t know where to go, just pick a direction and head out to explore.

If You Go

Getting there:

Author Bio: Kelsey Nelson is an assistant editor at Go World Travel. She has a passion for travel, reading and editing anything she can get her hands on.

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One Comment

  1. Lovely post – for me visiting the starfish beach was surely the HIGHLIGHT of my trip to bocas del toro. Would love to revisit for red frog though.