Bocas del Toro is actually a province of Panama that includes the mainland and the chain of islands most often referred to as “Bocas.” The Bocas archipelago is made up of 9 main islands, 52 cays, and thousands of islets. The islands outside of Isla Colon and Bastimentos are often referred to as the outer islands of Bocas. Each island in Bocas is very unique and accessible via a boat ride from Bocas Town. Here is a list of the best things to on the outer islands of Bocas. As always, we can help our guests arrange any of these activities.
Solarte is just south of Bastimentos and about a 10-15 minute boat ride from Bocas Town. This island doesn’t have much in the way of beaches because most of the shoreline is mangroves, but this island makes up for it with it’s amazing coral reef.
1. Blue Coconut: The Blue Coconut is an over-water restaurants and bar. For $5 you can catch a one-way boat ride from Bocas Town and get dropped off at the Blue Coconut restaurant. They welcome all visitors to enjoy swimming in the crystal clear water. It has a giant patio with lots of beach chairs to lay out and hammocks in the water. The water here is perfectly blue and about waist deep so you can get in for a swim and snorkeling. This is a great spot to watch the sunset! Lots of places on Bocas, especially on Colon, are facing the opposite direction of the sunset so there is few good sunset watching opportunities. Come to the Blue Coconut mid-afternoon to catch some sun and then stay to watch the sunset before heading back on a water taxi.
2. Snorkeling or Diving trip: Solarte is one of the best islands to snorkel and dive. Hospital Point and Coral Gardens are among two of the best snorkeling and diving spots. We suggest scheduling a fun dive with Panama Dive School. No padi certification is needed for this closely monitored and guided dive. Also, La Buga Dive often has snorkeling trips alongside their dives.
Isla San Cristobal:
San Cristobal is a large coral reef and mangrove lined island with some eco rentals. Many expats live on this outer island, but there is not much tourist infrastructure. It’s is most known for the Dolphin Bay area.
1. Dolphin Bay: Bocas has its own separated community of bottlenose dolphin that are unique to the waters of Bocas del Toro. Specifically, these dolphins hang out in the aptly named Dolphin Bay. A lot of tours make stops at Dolphin Bay as part of the tour. Most of the time, the boat drivers just chase the dolphins around to try to let tourists take photos, so I would be mindful of the tour group you take. The Zapatilla tour from Deep Board Under Sea also stops in Dolphin Bay. They are one of the more respectful tour groups when it comes to the dolphins. Their tour tries to spot dolphins in the bay, but don’t spend time harassing or chasing them.
2. Panama Horseback Adventures: The only way to see the interior of Isla Cristobal is to go on a horseback riding adventure. You can trail ride through the jungle of the island with view points out to the ocean while seeing wildlife and learning about Ngobe culture. Panama Horseback Adventures offers a full or half day tour, as well as an “expert ride” for people who are familiar with horseback riding. Boat transportation is included in the price of the tour. You can learn more about the tour and make a reservation at the website: www.panamahorseback.com.
Isla Popa/Loma Partida area:
Isla Popa is a stunning island with completely untouched beaches and shorelines. It’s about a 35-45 minute boat ride from Bocas Town, so it’s not a popular tourist stop, making it a great spot for the super adventurous types to explore jungle and beaches without other tourists in sight. Right of off Isla Popa is Loma Partida, another region considered one of the outer islands of Bocas. Loma Partida has a few eco lodges.
1. Monkey Island: The only tour in this area happens to also be a favorite among many visitors. Monkey Island is a mangrove inlet housing an educational wildlife tour focusing on the conservation of monkeys. The tour is about an hour long, but can also include lunch and/or drinks. Public tours allow the foundation to cover some of the monkeys’ many expenses (feeding, vaccinations & veterinarian care, enclosure maintenance, and enrichment). After your tour you’re welcome to snorkel and swim around the island.
2. Cayo De Agua: Cayo de Agua is one of the small cayos located just to the east of Isla Popa. Very few people ever make it out to Cayo de Agua but it is one of the best spots for surfing in all of Bocas. None of the breaks have names and you will rarely anyone surfing on them. This is because it’s complicated to get out there. If you do manage to make it there, you’ll have some of the best waves in Bocas all to yourself. For more Bocas surf info check out our surf guide. This area is also a great spot for fishing, snorkeling and diving. The trip isn’t cheap since it’s the furthest island in the region, but we can help arrange one if you want.
Written by Rebecca Hollman and Asher Kain
Photos by François Haché and Rebecca Hollman