On Monday I joined some friends, Terri and her husband Brad, for an adventure to Bocas del Toro, a town on the Caribbean Sea.
Bocas is about a three or four hour drive north of Boquete, and the best way to get there is by taking a shuttle from Boquete. The roads are mostly OK, but there are quite a few places where there are so many huge potholes that it looks like the surface of the moon! The road goes through the mountains to get to the coast, so if the road isn’t winding back and forth, it’s going uphill and down. I learned about an hour into the drive that it isn’t a great idea to drink a cup of coffee on an empty stomach immediately before boarding the bus. I never get carsick, but I did on the way out. Fortunately, Terri had a plastic bag with her, or it could have been a lot more embarrassing than it was!
Bocas del Toro is actually a large group of islands just offshore from the mainland. Here’s a map of the area – our hotel was on Isla Carenero, just across the way from the main city of Bocas Town.
This area has a completely different vibe from the mountain town of Boquete – it has a much younger attitude and a definite Caribbean island atmosphere. It seems like a party could break out somewhere at any moment!
We stayed at the Cosmic Crab Resort, a cute and funky place just across the water from Bocas Town. Terri and Brad stayed in a casita on the water, and my room was in their garden area.
Since this area is a bunch of islands, the mode of transportation between them is via water taxi. The fare between Bocas Town and the Cosmic Crab is $1 per person, and takes just a few minutes to get there. There’s a phone at the restaurant at the resort to call the water taxi, and they usually arrive very quickly to take us into town.
We arrived on Monday afternoon, and after we checked in and had a light lunch at the resort, we explored Bocas Town for a bit. There are lots of little shops and restaurants, as well as hostels and interesting-looking hotels.
Around sunset, we stopped for dinner at El Ultimo Refugio restaurant. Since we were on the ocean, we all wanted seafood. Brad had seared tuna, Terri had tuna patties, and I had a baked fish fillet with creole sauce. They were all very good, and it was delightful to be seated on the deck near the water, with the cool evening sea breeze.
We were planning to go on an all-day island-hopping tour on Tuesday, but it started raining before sunrise and didn’t stop for several hours, so we couldn’t go. Instead, we had a leisurely breakfast at the resort, then went back to Bocas Town for a little shopping. We all bought beach towels and a few other things, then had a nice lunch at La Bugita Ocean Lounge. Then it was back to the resort for an afternoon nap under the A/C.
Plans changed again for dinner – Terri really wanted coconut shrimp at the Cosmic Crab, but they were out of shrimp. Brad wanted a burger, but they were out of hamburger meat. So we left there and went back into Bocas Town for the second time that day and had dinner at El Pirata restaurant. Since we had shrimp on our minds, we all had fried shrimp for dinner, and were very satisfied with our meal choices.
Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright, so we were finally able to schedule our tour. Our boat arrived at 10 a.m. and we, along with another Panamanian couple who were on their honeymoon, were finally off on our adventure!
The first stop was to see dolphins, and we were not disappointed! There were quite a few around the boats, and when one of the boats made some fast circles, the dolphins loved to play in the boat’s wake.
Our next stop was Sloth Island to view sloths in their natural habitat. We saw several, and Terri got a great photo of one of them. He was looking right at the camera!
Then we were off to Zapatilla 2 island. It was about a 20+ minute boat ride to the island, and the water was pretty choppy that far out. Terri and I attempted to drink a Coke on the way, but got more of it on us than in us, so we just held on to them until we got to the island.
We had heard that Zapatilla was a good place for snorkeling, but the water was a little murky because the current was pretty strong and stirred up the sand, so I didn’t see much point in keeping my mask on for very long. But the water temperature was perfect, and it was great just to be in the ocean. There was shade on the beach when we’d had enough sun, so it was a very pleasant two-hour stop on the tour.
Lunch was next on the agenda. There was a nice little open-air restaurant at Coral Key, which is at the southern tip of Isla Bastimentos. We had salad, grilled chicken, rice, and fried plantain (called patacones). More than I could eat, but very good!
Our last stop on the tour was to see starfish. The water was very shallow and clear around the island we visited, and there were lots of starfish ranging in color from pale yellow to deep orange. Some were quite large, and they looked so serene in their little world.
Then we headed back to the Cosmic Crab to take showers and rid ourselves of leftover sand from places where there should be no sand, and take a little siesta.
Dinner this evening was at the Cosmic Crab. I had been told how good their crab claws were, so I had to have them. And Terri finally got her coconut shrimp, which were delicious.
We headed back home Thursday around noon, and arrived in Boquete about 5 p.m. I didn’t get carsick on the trip home, but the girl sitting behind me did. Brad carried a ziplock bag with him this time, and she was much appreciative of his thoughtfulness in noticing her discomfort.
I was proud of myself for using more sunscreen on this trip to the beach, so I didn’t get sunburned like I did when I went to Las Lajas in June. And I had been warned to use plenty of insect repellent so I wouldn’t get eaten up by the bugs in Bocas. No burn, no bites – that’s a success in my book!
All in all, despite the weather delay, a good time was had by all. It was a great change of pace, and very relaxing few days. As always, I’m glad to travel, and glad to get back home.
Myra, you write so well! I could imagine myself there with you and your friends. The sloths, the dolphins, the starfish, it all must have been wonderful.
What a wonderful trip!
I always wanted to know what Balboa was like. Passed by a few times but never got a chance to go ashore. But that’s a whole different side.