BOCAS DEL TORO
Global Mark : 15.43
Ratings by criteria :
Ratings by backpackers :
Comments : This is usually where people base themselves as it offers most of the facilities in a lovely relaxed atmosphere
What to do ? Wander around the charming colonial buildings, the colorful wooden houses and the few historical relics (cannon, anchor, old fire truck, etc) / Learn about Christopher Columbus landing here in 1502, the banana industry or the sea turtles in the middle of the parque central / Learn even more at the IPAT exhibition floor and discover the other natural treasures of the area / Admire a superb aerial photo of the area, excellent to decide where to go / Meet Indians in traditional costumes, usually by colorful souvenirs / Walk toward many beaches / Lye down on many beautiful sands / Splash in many dangerous waves / Snorkel toward many colorful fishes / With a bit of luck, see dolphins, turtles or rays / Kayak the peaceful mangrove / Walk around an island / Dream at splendid sunset, a cold beer in hand / Spot snakes, crabs and possibly monkeys and alligators ! / Visit a cave full of bats / Spot a few of the 350 species of birds found in the area (Birds Island) / Share experiences with the English-talking Afro residents / Listen to reggae / Degust rice & beans in coconut milk / Examine tiny red frogs / Learn how to scuba dive or speak Spanish / Just relax and forget it all !
What you may not like ? The orientation of the place toward mass tourism and the cost increase during the high season (Dec to April) / The slightly higher cost of food / The lack of good nearby beach on Isla Colon / The rubbish on some beaches / The taste of the water (chlorine) or the lack of taste of the water (safe to drink ?) / The mosquitoes / The heat & humidity in the forest / The dangerous rip tides, on most beaches, making swimming a very hazardous activity / The number of islands and the need to go on a tour to see a few of them / The limited cheap rooms for Sgl travelers / The cost of the boat for the 10mn crossing to Bastimentos ($2 when residents pay $1 only) / The slightly higher cost to learn how to scuba dive (US$190 Open Water, $40 for two tanks) or speak Spanish
How long ? You may completely loose the notion of time in the area and spend weeks exploring the archipelago. At least three days for a limited but acceptable tour.
Where to stay ? There are plenty of hospedaje & hotels in town, some of them offering incredibly value for money (at least in LS) .
- On Calle 3 or nearby, turn right from the pier :
- On Av Norte :
- On Calle 4, from North to South :
- Turning left from the pier :
Backpacker's Tips : Ari Gladstein, USA (Sept 04)
Internet ? The center inside the IPAT building is the cheapest at $1.5 per hours (min). The place by Restaurant El Lorito (same owner) is more expensive at $3 per hour but the minimum time is 5mn only ($0.25) and it opens until late at night.
Tours ? The cheapest way to snorkel around the archipelago is unfortunately by joining a tour with one of the few companies located by the pier. Prices are fairly standardized at $15 for a day tour (9am to 5pm) with dolphin watching & snorkeling or $20 up to Zapatilla Cays, the best snorkeling spot that however charges the $10 park admission fee (not included). Some agencies also have shorter trips for $10. Most companies requires a min of 5-6 people and therefore do not go every day in the low season (and not everywhere). If you are with a group of people, it could be cheaper to rent a boat from one of the fishermen for $30-40 a day. You will however need the snorkeling equipment : most places charge $3-5 but Pargo Rojo on Carenero Island is more reasonable at $2.
Learning Spanish ? Picking up some vocabular would be a good excuse to spend more time in the archipelago. "Spanish by the Sea" (email@example.com) is a serious & professional accreditated school that organizes different programs around 2, 3 or 4 hours of Spanish per day, five days a week. It isn't cheap however with prices ranging from $70 for 2 hours per day in a group of four to $190 for private lessons 4 hours a day. Accomodation, food and excursions ($100 for three trips) are extra ! Remember also that most people on the island speak English... Guatemala may therefore be a better bet !
Scuba diving ? With one of the most diverse & colorful underwater ecosystem of Central America, it would be a pity not to breathe a few tanks ! A couple of schools offer the usual PADI products and prices, thought not as cheap as in Honduras, are reasonable nevertheless : US$40 for two tanks, $190 for open water, $180 for advanced, etc. This would also be an excellent way to explore the archipelago...
Backpacker's Tips : Anthony Asael (March 04)
Backpacker's Tips : Carol Boisvert, Canada (Dec
The turn off (there is a sign) is about 2km away, passing the cemetery and walking the narrow isthmus by a very dirty beach to Isla Colon. Turn right for Playa Bluff (a 4km long white sand beach with big waves and dangerous current, 7km away) or left for Boca del Drago. This way isn't too flat and the shading area is limited. Nevertheless, the scenery is quite enjoyable, with many big trees and different species of bamboo.
About one hour later, you should reach the tiny village of Colonia Santena (Coca-Cola sign). Take the small path on the right and, 100m later, you will reach a small Catholic shrine by a river cave. You can venture inside but beware : beside the bats, it apparently also host one alligator ! Do not venture too deep into the river...
Boca Del Drago is another 8km or so away, about 2 hours extra walk. This is an estimate as I was picked up by a group of friendly Americans heading to their Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (firstname.lastname@example.org) . It was an interesting bumpy ride that took around 30mn. On the way, the driver stopped to pick up another passenger : a snake that he had spotted on the road. As a good ecologist, he released him after analysis. Just before arriving, there is a series of lake, all of them apparently hosting alligators. And then the village !
Well, not exactly : the "small fishing community" is actually composed of two families managing two guesthouses and one restaurant ! There was no boat and the end of the road was a private property. Certainly disappointing ! The beach fringed with palm trees was certainly very nice but it was very narrow and quite short. The water should offer some snorkeling opportunities but the equipment rental is expensive at $6 per day. There is a longer beach on the other side maybe worth exploring...
Accommodations in Boca Del Drago are limited to Cabanas Estefani
(7743168) and Casa Nina (2607135), both overpriced : $5
camping, room without shower $18-20 or cabanas (up to 8 people) $55. Generator
from 6pm to 11pm only. From May to Sept, the place is likely to be
busy with students from the above Institute. The restaurant however is reasonably priced at $2.5 for tipico chicken dish ($6 up for fish).
As a whole, if you are looking for a beach experience,
it would be best to head to Isla
Bastimetos first ! It is not an unpleasant countryside walk however, at least if you are
not short on time...
The trip to Boquete via Almirante and David : SSS / L & R / $3 + 7 + 1.2 / 15mn + 3.5 hours + 1 hour / Boat + Minibus + 'Chicken' bus
Walking toward the pier for Bocas Marine Tours, I was stopped by a black guy : "This company is closed now. They take turn, each for 15 days. You need to go with Taxi 25. Their pier is near the IPAT Office". With the same price and same service, I could not care less. The short trip was as lovely as on the way in but unfortunately even faster : no time to dream at the early morning lights... The ferry schedule is quite inconvenient as leaving at 5pm four times a week only.
As soon as we landed in Almirante, taxi touts jumped on us, insisting to carry our bags straight into their pick-up. Why take a taxi, I wondered, the bus station is only 200m away ! I understood why 200m later : minibus to David where not leaving from it ! They depart from Changuinola and do not bother entering town. And as the main road is a good 15mn walk away (follow the rail track to the left), the $0.5 taxi may not be such a bad idea after all, especially if loaded with bags...
A minibus was waiting by the road. It was nearly full but, on Saturday, the next one would probably be full as well. My bag therefore reached the roof and I reached my seat. It was a long 3 hours trip : the road was well paved (this is a recent connection) but it was very curvy and hilly. A few stomachs did not appreciate and plastic bags were handed, not always on time however. The 15mn break was a relief and an opportunity for a few to refill their stomachs...
The scenery was nice, with a few good panoramas on both side but it wasn't the spectacular trip that I had expected. The minibus was however as colorful & kitschy as it is possible for a minibus to be, with lot's of weird stuff pending from the roof, lot's of stickers and the kind of decorations that you usually find in a grandma's flat only (and one without any taste). The loud music completed the atmosphere...
The busy bus station in David was certainly very entertaining but probably not for more than 5mn. Chicken bus (yes, they also have this kind of transport here !) fortunately leave every 30mn or so to Boquete. Before leaving, double check the schedules for your onward trip as you do not wish to be stuck there...
I had expected the road to go up. I was therefore a bit surprised to spot (on the right side), after a mostly 45mn flat ride, the village below in the valley. Most people got off at the Parque Central and so should you.
See also the trip from Guabito (Costa Rica border) via Changuinola