Everyone is always looking for the best way to maximize their stay in Bocas Del Toro. There are so many things to do here, so a little extra help planning goes a long way. At Nomad we love helping our guests plan their perfect stay. We don’t take a commision for any specific tour groups we recommend. We only recommend places we highly trust. Here are some of the best things to do in Bocas.
Day 1:Explore Paunch Beach Area – Isla Colon
Day 2:Polo Beach Hike – Bastimentos
Day 3:Starfish Beach and Playa Boca del Drago – Isla Colon
Day 4:Zapatilla Tour – Bastimentos
Day 5:Day on Carenero – Isla Carenero
Day 6:Mimbitimbi adventure and Playa Bluff – Isla Colon
Day 7:Up in the Hill – Bastimentos
Day 1: Explore Paunch Beach
Many of our guests enjoy starting their trip by getting to know the Paunch neighborhood. It’s a nice way to ease into your vacation. Even if you’re not staying at Nomad, the Paunch area is the best place to relax and enjoy the most accessible surf beaches of Bocas. We have some great beach bars to relax and watch the waves.
If you’re staying at Nomad you can walk 3 minutes down to the beach road and you’re already located right in the middle of the Paunch Beach neighborhood. When coming from town it’s a scenic and easy bike ride along the island’s one coastal road. Follow the road out of town and straight on towards Paunch Beach. At the end of the road you will find Skully’s, a unique pirate bar and restaurant with a pool. Start your day off right with a fun cocktail there. You’re on vacation, so why not?
After the paved road ends, follow the beach road to Paki Point, a beach bar and restaurant. Here you can relax in their beach loungers, watch surfers and get the coldest beer around. They also have great smoothies if you’re trying to pace your day drinking 🙂
After all the drinks you’ve had it’s time to grab some lunch. Follow the beach road to the Paunch surf break. Here you will find the Paunch Beach Club. This restaurant is located right at the surf break. This is the best place on the entire island to watch surfers. Plus, they have really great and affordable food and an awesome atmosphere. As the sun sets jump back on your bike and ride back to town before it get’s too dark. It’s possible to ride at night, but you’ve already had a full day of eating and drinking on the Paunch Beach shoreline.
Day 2: Polo Beach Hike
Now that you’ve had a relaxing day of eating and drinking by the beach it’s time to stretch those legs. There are a good amount of beaches on Bastimentos that are pretty much inaccessible to people, and are therefore completely empty and remote. Polo Beach is one of those beaches. This full day hike takes you hiking through the entirety of Bastimentos, which is really the only chance you would have to walk along the interior of the island and explore the jungle.
You will start off by taking a water taxi from Bocas Town to Old Bank, Bastimentos. This isn’t your average tour being sold in the center of town by all the tour groups. If you’re staying at Nomad let us arrange the entire trip for you. It’s easier that way, but if you’re not staying with us you can organize the tour with Bastimentos Alive (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The tour starts at 11am and goes until around 5pm. After hiking across Bastimentos, you will reach Polo Beach where Polo himself cooks you a freshly caught typical seafood lunch with rice and beans. After eating lunch, you can lay on the beach and swim. Then a water taxi will take you back around to Old Bank.
The tour is $45 per person and includes the lunch, tropical fruit tasting, info on medicinal and edible jungle plants, and transportation back to Old Bank by boat.
Day 3: Starfish Beach and Playa Boca del Drago
After a long day of hiking you’re going to appreciate this chill day at Starfish Beach. This is the most popular beach on Isla Colon because the water is so calm year round. It’s a perfect place to relax and float/swim.
To get started head to the town center park and get onto a $5.00, per person, round trip colectivo headed to Starfish Beach (the colectivos are small white vans with Playa Boca del Drago written across the front of the windshield). When the colectivo is full, they will start on the 40 minute drive to Starfish. After getting dropped off at Restaurant Yarisnori by the colectivo, grab lunch at the restaurant here and enjoy Playa Boca del Drago for an hour or two. Once you’ve had your fair share of Boca del Drago, follow the trail onwards to Starfish Beach.
Find Your Beach:
Stop at any spot along the trail where you can see a stretch of beach. The water is just as blue here, and there are probably more starfish. If you’re looking to avoid the crowd it’s better to spend more of your time here vs at the actual Starfish Beach. It can be extremely crowded whereas if you make your own little spot along the shoreline before Starfish Beach you will be alone all day.
I still suggest walking the rest of the way to Starfish Beach at some point. It’s a great place to grab drinks and snacks. Just know in advance it’s the closest thing in Bocas you will get to a “Miami Daytona Beach” experience. The official beach has small restaurant and bar shacks that sell snacks, seafood and drinks. Hop back on the colectivo after you’ve had your fill of the sun (the last colectivo leaves at 6 PM) and head back to town.
Additional adventure: Have the colectivo driver stop at La Gruta either on the way to or back from Starfish. You can walk through this limestone bat cave in about 15 minutes. After exploring the cave and listening to the thousands of bats, hail down another colectivo on the road.
Day 4: Zapatilla Tour
Zapatillas is the one trip we (Nomad Staff) take over and over, regardless of how many years we’ve lived here. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Bocas. It’s also a very popular tour sold by every company in Bocas Town. The Zapatilla tour being offered is essentially exactly the same with each provider. However, the level of service and dependability varies greatly. Here at Nomad we highly recommend the Zapatilla tour with the Deepboard Under Sea tour company. We can personally arrange your reservation with them. We also put together private tours for our guests, but the group tours are the most affordable on your own.
This is a full day adventure, so I highly suggest getting up early and eating before the tour. Deepboard Under Sea provides an optional lunch for $10 extra per person, but you can also bring your own lunch, or even just snacks. After meeting with your tour group, you will spend the whole day snorkeling, looking for wildlife, and enjoying the beautiful white beaches of Zapatilla.
Most Zapatilla tours start around 9 or 10am and go until 4:30pm. The average price is around $35 per person. Regardless of the tour company you select it will always includes a stop at Sloth Island, a mangrove island where you can see sloths right from the boat. Also, plan on spending 15-30 minutes looking for dolphins in Dolphin Bay. Followed by snorkeling at Cayo Coral for about 45 minutes. Most tour companies provide snorkeling gear. Cayo Coral is a coral bed you access by jumping off the side of the boat.
The remaining portion of your trip will be spent on the white sand beaches of either Zapatilla 1 or 2. Named after the Spanish word for Shoe. These two islands look like two shoe prints. Deepboard Under Sea provides a bonus feature here that includes snorkeling in Zapatilla with their unique boards toed behind the boat. It’s super cool and a highlight of our guests trip to Zapatilla. On the way back to Bocas Town they make a quick stop at “Hollywood Row” where you can see a good amount of starfish from the side of the boat.
Day 5: Day on Carenero
It’s time for another more laid back adventure after your Zapatilla tour. A day on Carenero is the perfect plan. Start by taking a $2 water taxi from Bocas Town to Aqua Lounge. Bocas Stand Up Paddle Club is located at Aqua Lounge and you can rent a SUP from here and paddle around the calm water in the area. After exploring the calm water around Carenero you can follow a small trail around the island, stopping along the way to get in and swim or lay on little remote beaches. After taking a lap around the island, stop at Leaf Eater’s Cafe for an amazing and healthy vegetarian lunch and smoothie.
Once refueled, head farther along back to Bibi’s and spend the rest of your afternoon either laying on the beach next to Bibi’s and relaxing in the sheltered sand bar. Watch the sunset on Carenero, while either laying on the beach or enjoying a drink at Bibi’s restaurant or Aqua Lounge. Pro tip, bring bug spray if you’re going to be on Carenero all day and especially around sunset. They have tons of nearly invisible sand fleas called “no-see-em’s.” Don’t let them stop you from enjoying this island, but come prepared. Bibi’s restaurant provides a variety of bug spray options for their guests 🙂
Day 6: Mimbitimbi adventure and Playa Bluff
You’re going to need to get an early start for this adventure. Make sure to bring a packed lunch, plenty of water and a snorkeling mask. You can bike to the end of the Bluff Beach road from Nomad, or we will arrange a cab to take you to Island Plantation on Playa Bluff. From town you can also grab a cab or colectivo to Island Plantation on Bluff. From here, you’ll have to hoof it the rest of the way. Walk along the road until you reach a padlocked gate. The gate is locked to keep out a specific ATV company from their competitor’s trails, but you’re more than welcome to pass by foot or bike (we have confirmed with the owner). After the gate, the Playa Bluff road turns into “The Jungle Highway.” Follow this (always sticking to the right if the trail splits) until you reach La Piscina.
Spend an hour or two swimming in the beautiful, calm bay of La Piscina. After you’ve had enough swimming, head on the same trail farther along until you reach a branch where there are two signs (one green arrow and one red X). Stick to the right and head to the Blue Lagoon. Put on your snorkel mask and hop into the Blue Lagoon. Explore all the different areas of the lagoon and watch the fish and small sea life along the reef walls.
This is honestly one of the most beautiful and hidden places in all of Bocas so I would spend a good amount of time here snorkeling and enjoying the serene waters. It needs to be a sunny day for you to enjoy the lagoon so plan accordingly. If it’s been stormy recently the rain runoff will mix with the salt water and make the visibility poor. Also stormy conditions will increase the wave size and bring in a current into the lagoon, again making visibility poor. Try to pick a sunny and calm day.
From here, head back to the green arrow and red X point and keep to the right until you reach an intersection marked The Blowhole. There is no actual blowhole but this trail is a nice extension that brings you into more of the jungle and then also out into even more remote beaches and mangrove inlets. If you go to the right towards “The Blowhole” you will eventually reach a split where a very small path leads to the right through chest high grass. Take this trail if you just want to go to a nice mangrove inlet with a great place to swim. If you want to take a farther trail, go straight.
Finally, head back to the Blowhole sign and head straight across from the trail you were on past the Blowhole sign onto the trail opposite from you. This will lead back to Playa Bluff. Spend the rest of your day laying on Playa Bluff and walking along the 5 miles of beach. There are a few restaurants along Bluff if you already ate your lunch and are hungry again. Grab a colectivo or cab back to Nomad or into town.
Day 7: Up In The Hill farm tour
Last, but not least is your tour of the Up In The Hill organic cacao farm nestled up in the jungle of Bastimentos. Reservations are required for the 2 hour tour. The tour costs $25, per person tour. We can arrange the trip for you here at Nomad. If you’re not staying with us you can hike up to their cafe and schedule a reservation for the tour. Make sure to bring lots of water and sturdy shoes because you will be walking up hills and moving around the property.
Once you’ve secured your tour spot, take a water taxi over to Old Bank, Bastimentos. Make sure to arrive in Old Bank at around 10:30am. This gives you enough time to hike 15 minutes up the hill for your tour starting at 11am. Up In The Hill is a small family farm started by an expat couple in 1998. They cultivated the mostly barren land into an amazing jungle farm producing enough native food to feed their family and guests at their small cafe/coffee shop. You begin with a very detailed tour of their property and farm. The husband, Javier, leads the tour teaching you about biodiversity, permaculture, sustainability and all the tropical fruits and trees. After the guided tour you experience a tasting of all the food grown and learn about the cacao process during the tasting.
After enjoying all the amazing food, head back down the trail out of the front of Up in the Hill and back to Old Bank. Catch a boat ride back to Bocas Town from the same dock in Old Bank. Now you have plenty of time to explore Bocas Town for the rest of your day.
Written by Rebecca Hollman and Asher Kain
Photos by François Haché, Rebecca Hollman and Nomad friends