Bocas del Toro – settling into the beach life

Bocas del Toro is a small archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama. After a 12 hour journey on the world’s coldest bus and a quick hop on a boat, we arrived on the main island, Isla Colon. Along for the ride were the Swiss couple and the Italian girl from our San Blas group, as well as some guys that we met in the immigration queue back in Capurgana. Central America’s a hell of a lot smaller than South America and there’s pretty much only two routes to travel – up or down – so we knew we’d be bumping into people a lot more often around here.

We checked into our hostel, Heike, and hit the sack. It had been a sleepless night and we were in much need of some rest. Besides, Bocas is one of those places where the pace of life is SLOW and it’s kind of expected that you’ll spend your days lazing in hammocks or on the beach. We were just trying to fit in with the locals! That evening was another quiet affair, with some lychee martinis and Californian rolls at a cute little cocktail and sushi bar.

Hostel Heike - Bocas del Toro

The following day and we were feeling a little more sprightly so we decided to hit the beach with our new friends. There are several beaches on the main island, but the better ones are on the surrounding smaller islands. We’d heard good things about Red Frog beach on Isla Bastimentos so we jumped in a water taxi for the 20 minute ride over. It’s a privately owned beach so you have to pay to go there but it’s only $3 and it’s well worth it.

Ok, it’s not the powder white sands of Thailand or La Miel but it’s still a very nice beach with clean sand, good waves and a volleyball net for those who are feeling more active. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the only physical activity that should be undertaken on the beach is turning from your front to your back or vice versa but the others certainly had fun with the volleyball until it got stuck up a tree! If you want something a little more desert island-ish then head out to Cayos Zapatilla, where they filmed Survivor.

Red Frog beach - Bocas del Toro

There was a big group of us down there, mostly from our hostel but a few others too, and we spent an enjoyable afternoon sunning ourselves until our boat came to pick us up at 4.30pm. Then it was back to the hostel to shower and change before a quick bite to eat and drinks at the Sunken Ship bar, so called because of the shipwreck sitting beneath the decking which you can swim down to if you’re that way inclined. It was  ‘Ladies’ Night’ so it was free drinks all round for the girls, yay!  After a bit of a boogie on the dancefloor, Rich and I left at a rather respectable midnight, whilst some of the others jumped in a water taxi to Aqua Bar for a few more hours of partying. The funniest story I heard the next morning was of one guy thinking the dock went further than it did and walking straight into the water!

Sunken Ship Bar

Day three and things were relatively quiet as a lot of people seemed to be nursing hangovers from the night before. Rich and I decided to check out one of the beaches on the main island and hopped on the local bus to take us there. The journey is supposed to take around an hour, but ended up taking considerably longer since the driver had to keep stopping every few minutes to let someone on or off. A number of times it would stop to pick someone up, close its doors, travel no more than 10 metres, then stop to pick somebody else up. Why the people at the side of the road couldn’t stand together is beyond me but it became rather tiresome as the journey dragged on and on.

Finally, we arrived at the beach and hopped on a launcher to take us the rest of the way. It was a cute little spot with loads of starfish and very few people, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t as good as the previous day. It didn’t rain but it was pretty cloudy and it was only on the way home that the sun finally started to make an appearance.

Starfish beach - Bocas del Toro

That evening and it was another big group dinner, this time at a local Thai place. Despite having run out of green curry, it was still a delicious meal, marred only by the fact that we left our camera there at the end of the night. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get it back, despite being the last ones in the restaurant and going back to the place first thing in the morning. Hmmm.

Anyway, despite the camera incident, it was a fun few days and a great taste of the laidback vibe we’re hoping to experience more of as we near the end of our travels. Next stop and it’s a hop across the border to Puerto Viejo accompanied by the Stef, Stef (the Swisses), Paolo (Italian) and Josh (Alaska).