Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Boquete to Bocas del Toro
The travel day to Bocas del Toro was a huge effort, in particular for Toby who had just returned from an all-night hike to the highest point in Panama with no sleep. We left just after midday on a bus to David (1hr – $1.75ea) then a bus to Almirante (4hrs – $8.45ea). The scenery went from hot and humid David, through lush green mountainside and onto a fairly undeveloped local town. Luckily we made it in time (around 6pm) for the last water taxi to Bocas del Toro (25 mins – $6ea). The ride was awesome as we passed all the basic houses on the river and seeing how the locals live next to the water.
Bocas del Toro (town)
When we arrived we knew it was the start of Semana Santa (Easter/Holy week) and that accommodation was going to be hard to find since both locals and tourists love to come to these islands at that time. We spent about an hour walking around Bocas del Toro asking if anyone had anything available before finally finding a local run hotel for $30 per night. Our first perception of Bocas del Toro was – wow this place is filled with tourists and this almost always means it wasn’t going to be cheap to do anything. The high volume of signs in English was also a big tip off to the quantity of tourists coming here. Luckily Rodora found a local restaurant near our hotel that was filled with locals so we knew it would be cheap and good. For $4.50 we got a meal of chicken or meat, banana chips, rice and beans. It was delicious and great value considering how touristy the whole town was.
The next day we decided to enquire about getting to the more deserted (and less tourist packed) island of Isla Bastimentos. We knew that a water taxi would likely cost about $5pp each way but luckily stumbled into the Red Frog Beach Resort office to get some information. They had a special for easter week (Semana Santa) with free boat to the island and $12pp/pn to stay in a dorm at Hostel Bocas Bound (usually $15). We’d already booked and paid for an extra night in our current hotel, so decided to book the deal for tomorrow.
With a day to explore, we decided a trip to Playa Carenero would be just what we needed. You are again at the mercy of what the water taxi people want to charge you on the day, but we paid $1.50 each from Bocos del Toro directly to the dock at the beach about 10 minutes away. We later discovered you can easily just get any boat to take you across the short stretch of water from Bocos to Isla Carenero ($1pp) and walk the approximately 20 minutes around the island to get to the beach. The island itself instantly has a more laid back feel than the main town. There are some budget hostels if you wanted to stay here and a walk around the island would take a few hours and you might find some interesting animals and other sights. The beach itself is quite pretty with white sand and clear blue waters. Snorkelling is a common activity in the area especially if you’re carrying your own gear.
Along our travels we’d been tipped off on this place and for good reason, it really is worth a look. The biggest draw card for Toby was “Red Frog Beach”, given its name by the Red and Black Poison dart frogs that live nearby. The main town of Old Bank is nearest to Bocos del Toro and worth a brief visit. It’s also the only place on the island to get any groceries, so if you’re not staying here then bring it from Bocos. We stayed nearby to the main resort at a hostel called Bocos Bound. For those of you looking for a lively hostel atmosphere, for some reason it doesn’t exist here. Maybe it’s the frequent resort people coming to the restaurant and shared open area that kills the mood. The other downside is that the restaurant isn’t particularly cheap as it has resort people willing to pay large amounts of money for food and drink.
Searching for Red Frogs
We’d planned to be here for Semana Santa weekend and had hoped for a bit of atmosphere, but found it lacking. We made the best of the situation and upon arriving in the morning were off on a cross island walk in search of red frogs and pristine beaches. A less than 10 minute walk along a trail gets you to red frog beach.
This is the most popular beach on the island and at times was packed with people. There are several other nearby accommodations that supply people along with it being the nearest to the marina where day trippers get dropped off. We continued our way down the beach and found ourselves at deserted but beautiful beaches. Once we hit the end of the beach, we were looking for a trail and luckily spotted this sign.
This is where we’ll admit to getting lost as we followed the direction another person had come from. It was a stroke of luck as we soon stumbled across a treasure chest full of red frogs. These guys are maybe only a couple of centimetres long and can be hard to spot at first. We spent the next half an hour searching for more and trying to get some close-up photos before they jumped off. Toby was determined to get some proof that we’d spotted the frogs and the results were pretty good.
As we left the frogs, we realised we’d walked around in a short loop back to Red Frog Beach. Unsure where we’d gone wrong, we tried it again and realised we’d taken the wrong turn at the exact moment we’d met the other person coming from the wrong way. We popped out onto what we think is called Wizard Beach and stopped for lunch with the many crabs inhabiting the beach.
More exploration was needed and we continued along the beach and took the trail to the main town of Old Bank. A slight detour to the “Up in the hill coffee shop” was probably not worth the effort in our opinion. Food and drink was fairly over priced and no one else was there at the time when we got there in the early afternoon. We enjoyed the shade and seat for 10 minutes and continued on our way to the town.
The town is fairly small but has a local Caribbean feel to it. We stopped for a drink and a few photos before turning back to walk back to the hostel. You can take a water taxi from here back to the marina if you’re not so keen on walking. The walk back gave us some time for a swim on the beach and more looking for red frogs.
Exploring Isla Bastimentos
On one of our other days in Bastimentos, we explored some of the other part of the island. You could literally walk around for a few days if you so desired, though we’re not sure how far the trails go. When arriving at Red Frog Beach we continued in an easterly direction for a few hours walking through jungle and on beaches. Eventually we found a spot where boats bring snorkel trips with clear and calm water. We hung out for a while, eating some lunch and enjoying a swim. The weather was a little uncooperative as it was threatening to rain at a couple of different times. Luckily we stayed dry except for the swimming.
All in all, the time in Bastimentos was a whole lot more enjoyable, peaceful, non touristy than our time in Bocos del Toro town.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/