Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of islands in the northeast corner of Panama. In 2011, this group of islands was my first experience in Central America, and one of the reasons I chose to backpack this part of the world. Recently, I was very excited to be able to park it here for awhile on my backpacking trip through Central America.
I highly recommend taking a boat tour to check out all of the islands, but my favorite island, and the place where most people end up staying, is in or near Bocas Town on Isla Colon.
Despite the fact that you can see the ocean from pretty much anywhere, you might have a hard time finding a good beach to go to! Don’t fret! With a little insider knowledge you will have no problem discovering some of the best beaches on Isla Colon. From the center of town it is possible to walk to many of the beaches on this list if you are up for a trek, and my favorite way to get to them all is by bike. You can also, of course, hop on a bus that will zoom you across the island or hail a taxi that will trek through the jungle to get you to some of the best beaches in Bocas del Toro.
There are minimal roads in Bocas which makes navigating pretty easy. There is only one way out of town along the main, beach road. When this road comes to the end (past the Smithsonian research center) you can go left toward Drago or straight toward Playa Bluff. Thats it!
Playa el Ismito aka Cabanas aka Bahia Sand Fly
This is the closest beach to Bocas town, though not the most beautiful or relaxing place to hang out. The beach runs parallel to the main road, so the sound of cars zooming by is prevalent. Many restaurants line the beach and you will often find kids playing soccer or volleyball. This beach is ideal if you are hanging out in town and need to go for a swim, or even better use it as a place to get some exercise: Run up and down the beach then hop in the ocean and go for a swim.
How to get there: Walk(15 minutes) or bike (5 minutes) from Bocas town down the main road. The beach will be on your right.
Playa Y Griega
Right after Playa el Ismito, Playa Y Griega is much nicer than the local city beach, and not very far away! The sand on this beach is golden and soft, and the water turquoise and clear. Still very close to town, this would be my choice if I wanted to go for a quick swim but didn’t want to bike all the way down the coast. La Rumba Hotel is a nice place overlooking the water to sit and have a drink or a meal!
How to get there: Bike along the coast past Cabanas Beach. Playa Y Griega is right at the crossroad of the main beach road and the road to Drago.
If you are a surfer, you want make your way to Paki Point. Not a surfer? No problem. Lounge on the beach with a cold drink from Paki Point Bar and watch the surfers do their thing. Paki Point is not the best for swimming, but it can be done. It is a great beach to recline in a chair or get cozy on a couch while sipping cocktails and listening to island music.
How to get there: About 15-20 minutes from the center of town Paki Point is a few minutes ride past La Tortuga hotel on the sand road toward Playa Bluff.
A huge, secluded beach, with intense waves, this is probably my favorite beach on the island. You will hear the noise of the waves before you see them. A quick walk on a path through palm trees, vines and jungle brush opens up to a huge beach. You sink deep into the soft, golden sand as you trek across the sprawling beach. There are minimal people, no shops, no food carts, no houses. Playa Bluff is isolated, pristine and the perfect place to hide out for the day.
The waves are powerful and most people will tell you to not go swimming here, though I have swam safely here many times. If you do swim, just be careful and definitely do not do it alone! There are two ways to get to Playa Bluff, taxi and bike. The bike ride is a 40 minute beautiful ride, much of it along the beach. Taxis will get you to Playa Bluff, but after a lot of rain they won’t make the journey.
How to get there: By bike: Ride out of town down the main road. When you come to the turn for Bocas del Drago, go straight. You will pass Playa Tortuga Hotel and Pukalani Hostel, then the paved road turns to sand. Bike along the beach passing Paki Point, a few houses, and eventually coming to the small lot for Playa Bluff. By taxi: Tell the driver Playa Bluff and arrange for him to pick you up. It should cost about $30
Bocas del Drago/Starfish Beach
Starfish Beach is on the other side of the island in a calm and secluded bay. Perfectly clear, shallow water with no waves makes this is the most popular beach on the island. Despite the crowds growing over the years, the starfish colonies that lay on the bottom of the ocean are still pretty abundant. Three years ago, I had this beach to myself. Now, the beach is crowded with boatloads of tourists, and many vendors selling food. Don’t let that deter you though! It is big enough that you can find a little spot to yourself. When you get to Bocas del Drago you can walk along the beach for about 15 minutes to get to starfish beach, or hop in one of the boats and pay for a ride over!
How to get there: By bike: a 15km bike ride through the quiet, hilly roads of Bocas, I highly recommend biking if you are physically able to. From the center of town, follow the road out and turn left onto the road to Drago. By bus: Small shuttle buses make the trip to Drago every 2 hours or so and cost $5 for a round trip. Pay when you get on and the driver will give you a ticket for the ride home. About 30 minutes.
Playa Punta Caranero
Not technically on Isla Colon, Isla Caranero is very close and only a 5 minute boat ride. The island is tiny, easy to walk completely around it, and only has a few hostels and restaurants. There is a little cove of crystal clear, shallow water that has the perfect amount of sun and shade. The beach is not big and is dotted with rocks and branches, but there is enough room to lay down and spend the day.
Walk along the path through the jungle (watch out for snakes!) and head to the point of the island. Here there are some rocks that you can jump off, and another rocky beach to lay on. Playa Punta Caranero is a jungle beach! It is quiet, beautiful and perfect for an adventure. How to get there: Get in a water taxi and have him take you to the playa. It should cost about $2 each way. There are many other beaches on the island, including a secret beach called La Piscina that I was not able to find! Whatever you fancy; surfing, drinking, sunbathing, body boarding, crowds or seclusion, Bocas del Toro’s Isla Colon has got it!
What is your favorite beach in Bocas del Toro?