20 things to do in Bocas for less than $20

Travelling to a new country can be exciting, but sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of going on tours to explore the area. However, going on tours can be expensive and you might miss out on some amazing experiences. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 20 things to do in Bocas del Toro, Panama, without having to pay for a tour. We understand that travelling to islands can be costly, but our list includes activities that cost less than $20. So, you can still have a great time exploring the area without breaking the bank.

1. Mimbitimbi – Blue Lagoon & La Piscina

Cost  
$3.50 – $15 Depending on how you get there, it can cost $3.50 to take the colectivo to the end of Bluff each way or $10-$15 to rent a bicycle for the day.

Located at the very north end of Colón, beyond Bluff, is an area known as Mimbitimbi. This part of the island doesn’t have any restaurants, homes, or hotels, which makes it a bit more challenging to reach. However, the flora of the island changes as you head north and becomes more like tall grass and open pasture, rather than the lowland tropical forest that covers the rest of the island. Mimbitimbi is famous for two spots – the Blue Lagoon and La Piscina.

La Piscina is a small bay where the ocean comes in and is sheltered from the relentless waves. It is an ideal spot for swimming as the water is calm. A little further along is the Blue Lagoon. Although it may not seem impressive from the surface, it offers an incredibly beautiful experience when viewed from under the water. The water is crystal clear for up to 15 feet, and there are caves, slot canyons, and other features of the reef that you can explore while swimming. There are tons of small fishes and other marine life that inhabit the seagrass along the side of the reef walls. It is highly recommended to wear a snorkelling mask while swimming here to fully enjoy the mesmerising beauty of the Blue Lagoon.

Blue Lagoon is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Colón. If you have time, more attractions are farther past the Blue Lagoon. There are bat caves and more beautiful unnamed beaches, but you will walk A LOT to reach this far, so start your day very early!

 

 

GETTING THERE:

 

Option 1—Walk/Shared Van: To reach La Selva, you can walk for 3 hours or take a 4-hour walk from town. Alternatively, you can take a colectivo from town to the farthest end of Playa Bluff and walk for 2 hours. This adventure would take a full day. Along Bluff, you’ll find a few restaurants, but beyond that, there are no facilities or places to grab food or water. So, it’s essential to pack a picnic beforehand! 

Option 2 – Bicycle: You can bike from town in about 2 hours. The road can be a bit bumpy but is overall in good condition. After passing the gate, follow the “Jungle Highway” trail along the coast. It is marked with signs occasionally and will always be the bigger and more maintained trail if it splits. You will eventually reach a sign that says La Piscina, and if you keep going straight on the Jungle Highway, you will reach a dead end: the Blue Lagoon.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

 

Technically, the area is leased by Flying Pirates but it is free to enter if you are walking or bicycling. The area is blocked by a gate after the end of Playa Bluff so only people and bicycles can go by unless you have the code from Flying Pirates. Besides Blue Lagoon and La Piscina, the end of Playa Bluff is equally as beautiful to explore. There are also ruins of one of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine processing buildings along the trail to Mimbitimbi.

 

2. Playa Bluff

Cost  
$3.50 – $15 Depending on how you get there, it can cost $3.50 to take the colectivo to the end of Bluff each way or $10-$15 to rent a bicycle for the day.

 

Bluff is the largest beach in Colón and is also the easiest to access. The beach spans over 5 miles in length and gives the feeling that one could keep walking on it forever. Bluff has the best sand quality due to its vast beach area to relax on and the vibrant orange colour of the sand. The contrast of the green palm trees along the beach edge, the orange of the sand, and the bright blue of the water is truly breathtaking. This beach is an amazing spot to have a picnic lunch and spend the day lounging in the sand, or you could drop by one of the local restaurants on the beach road for a meal.

However, Playa Bluff is NOT a swimming beach year-round. The waves crash in only 3 feet of water – so extremely close to the shore. These waves are heavy and powerful and the buffer zone is generally right where people get in to just wade around or play in the water. The rip tides and currents here are also very aggressive so it is easy to get swept out to sea. A handful of tourists drown here each year. If you want to swim at a beach, either Starfish Beach or Sand Dollar Beach. Playa Bluff and Paunch are not swimming beaches.

Bluff is a great beach to lay on and spend the day in the sun or walking up and down the long stretch of the coast. Bluff can also be a surf spot, depending on the swell. If you are a good surfer and the swell is smaller, then you could go for a surf at Bluff. However, Bluff is known as a board breaker since the waves are crashing pretty much directly onto the sand of the sea floor. Only surf at Bluff if you are at least an intermediate-level surfer.

 

 

GETTING THERE:

 To get to Bluff, you can take a colectivo from the park at the town centre or along the Nomad Beach road. Colectivo are small shared 20-person white vans labelled Playa Bluff across the windshield that will take you to Bluff for $3.50 each way. If staying at La Selva, you can walk to Bluff in an hour. You can also bike to Bluff if you have a rental bike. From La Selva, the bike ride is about 30-40 minutes. It would probably take 1.5 hours to bike from town. Taking a taxi is another option, but it would cost $15.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

 Playa Bluff is NOT a swimming beach year-round. 

 

3. The Floating Bar

Cost  
$4 $2 each way for the water taxi. Not including the price of food/alcohol.

 

The name says it all. It’s a bar, and it’s floating. This cute little bar is on its own platform just outside the Bocas Marina. They serve up delicious tacos and drinks all day and into nighttime. They have an upper deck, chairs to chill on, noodles to swim with, a platform for jumping off of, and plenty of sun. Bring a snorkel mask and swim to the nearby mangroves and shipwreck of The Southern Wind. You will probably see more starfish here than at Starfish Beach. This is a great place to hang out with friends, get some sun during the day, and watch the sunset over beer and tacos.

 

 

GETTING THERE:

You must take a water taxi from Bocas Town to get there. Get a boat from any water taxi spot and tell them you want to go to the Floating Bar. Most taxi drivers should know where it is. If not, tell them the bar past Bocas Marina.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

An important thing to note is that The Floating Bar is only open during Bocas high season – which is from January to April or May. The rest of the year the bar is not there.

 

4. Aqua Lounge & Bocas Stand Up Paddle Club

Cost  
$17 $1 each way for the water taxi. $15 for a 2-hour stand-up paddle board rental.

 

Aqua Lounge is a restaurant and bar located in Carenero, facing directly towards Bocas Town. This is a good place to chill during the day since they have a slackline over water, beach chairs to lay on, and a platform to jump into the ocean. It’s also a fun place to hang out to watch the sunset or get drinks at the bar at night. Bocas Stand Up Paddle Club is located at Aqua Lounge, so you can rent a SUP from here and paddle around the calm water in the area.

 

 

GETTING THERE:

This is probably the easiest place to get to from Bocas Town. Grab a water taxi for $1 and tell them you want to go to Aqua Lounge – it will take all of 1 minute to get there. You can either have Aqua Lounge call you a taxi back or you can just wave one down from the dock.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

Filthy Friday uses Aqua Lounge as one of its stops. It’s often impossible to go here on Friday night, but if it is, I suggest you still not go. Filthy Friday is a day-long party of backpackers that moves from bar to bar around the islands. I would avoid any place associated with the event on Friday unless you want to go to Filthy Friday—then sign up the day before and follow the set schedule.

 

 

5. The Blue Coconut

Cost  
$10 $5 for the water taxi each way. This does not include if you buy food or alcohol.

 

The Blue Coconut is a restaurant/bar located on the coast of the island of Solarte. It has a giant patio with many beach chairs to lay out on and hammocks swinging above and sometimes in the ocean. The water here is perfectly blue and about waist deep so that you can get in for a swim and snorkelling. They also have an area of reef marked for snorkelling nearby. The restaurant sometimes has snorkelling masks for free, but you have to ask them directly if you can use them. This is a good place to spend the day in the sun and swimming in the crystal blue water. This is also a great spot to watch the sunset!

 

 

GETTING THERE:

Grab a water taxi in Bocas Town and tell them you want to go to the Blue Coconut. The taxi costs $5 per person each way. The restaurant can call you a taxi whenever you want to go back, or you can arrange for the guy who dropped you off to come back and pick you up at a set time.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW: Filthy Friday stops at Blue Coconut. You cannot go there on Friday without signing up for the event and following their set schedule.

6. Starfish Beach

Cost  
$5 $2.50 each way for the colectivo. Not including any lunch/drinks.

 

Starfish Beach is on the other side of the populated area of Isla Colón, but it is worth the trip to the other side. Colón only has one major road that splits just outside Bocas Town – one leading up to Paunch and Bluff and the other splitting leading Starfish and Boca del Drago. Many of the beaches in Bocas have large, powerful waves, so Starfish’s calm crystal blue waters draw people to the other side of this relatively large island. This is the most popular beach on Isla Colon, so it’s not the place to go if you want to escape the crowds.

 

 

GETTING THERE:

To get to Starfish, you can take a colectivo from the park in the town centre. These small 20-person white vans labelled Playa Boca del Drago across the windshield will take you to Starfish Beach for $2.50 each way.  The colectivos leave almost every 30 minutes and come back from Starfish every 30 minutes (up until the last colectivo at 6 PM). The colectivo will drop you off at a restaurant called Yarisnori, which is on Playa Boca del Drago. You could sit on the beach chairs here at Boca del Drago and enjoy some time, but if you want to reach Starfish, you will have to walk for 15 minutes along a trail from Boca del Drago.

The trail goes from the restaurant along the beach past a few private homes (and across someone’s dock that says private property, but just keep going over the dock and past it along the trail). Soon, the trail will go out of people’s yards and into the trees, where you will follow it for 15 minutes to Starfish. All along the path are areas to stop and get in the water, arguably better than Starfish. The beach along this area is just as nice, has more starfish and WAY fewer people. Starfish Beach is nice, but it is generally very crowded. Once you follow the path to the end, you will reach several restaurants along the beach and many sitting areas.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

Although it is called Starfish Beach, and there are some starfish in the water, don’t expect thousands of starfish to be around. However, the water is insanely blue here and perfectly calm (versus the aggressive waves of Bluff and Paunch on the other side of the island). Because of that, this is the nicest swimming beach in Colón. Going to Starfish Beach, Playa Boca del Drago, and the Bat Caves (La Gruta) would make for a great day in Bocas. You can also take a boat tour from Bocas Town that will take you to Starfish Beach and Isla Pájaros.

7. Boca Del Drago

Cost  
$5 $2.50 each way for the colectivo.

 

As mentioned above, Playa Boca del Drago and Playa de las Estrellas (Starfish Beach) are right next to each other. You could spend the day at Boca del Drago alone, but if you’re going over there, you might as well visit Starfish Beach at the same time.

 

 

GETTING THERE:

You get to Boca del Drago as you would to Starfish. To get to Boca del Drago, you can take a colectivo from the park in the centre of town. Small 20-person white vans labelled Playa Boca del Drago across the windshield will take you there for $2.50 each way. If you have a group of people, you could also take a taxi from town, but it will be more expensive. The colectivos leave almost every 30 minutes and come back from Starfish every 30 minutes (up until the last colectivo at 6 PM). The Colectivo will drop you off at a restaurant called Yarisnori, which is in Playa Boca del Drago.

 

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

After getting dropped off at restaurant Yarisnori, you could walk to the right (instead of to the left towards Starfish Beach) to explore more of the Drago Shoreline

 

8. Bat Caves / La Gruta

Cost  
$6 $2.50 each way for the colectivo plus the $1 entrance fee.

 

About halfway from Bocas Town to Starfish Beach, there are bat caves called La Gruta that you can walk through and listen to the bats making noise. It is about a 10-minute walk to go through the caves, and there are literally thousands of bats hanging in there during the day. There is an old lady outside who will charge you $1 USD to enter the caves.

 

 

GETTING THERE:

To get there, get on a colectivo going to Boca del Drago in town. Tell the driver (or his assistant) that you want to stop at La Gruta. The first colectivo will drop you off at the bat caves, and keep going. After you go through the caves, return to the road and wave down the next colectivo you see. The only colectivos on this road will all be going to Boca del Drago.

You could also do it in reverse and have a colectivo drop you off at the cave on your way back to town from the beach. Ensure you give yourself enough time and don’t miss the last colectivo coming back (leaves Boca del Drago at 6 PM). You could always get a taxi to take you to the caves, but it would be more expensive. You would also probably want your taxi to wait for you to take you back because there are few taxis driving on this road.

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

This is not a huge cave system or the only bat cave in the region, but it’s the most affordable and accessible in Bocas.

 

GETTING THERE:

Start by taking a water taxi from Bocas Town to Carenero. You can start along the trail at any spot on the island, so it doesn’t really matter where you start or in which direction you walk. I usually have the driver drop me at Bibi’s dock and then start to the right of Bibi’s. No matter where you start, a boat ride from Bocas Town to Carenero should only be $2. From there, just follow the trail to either the right or left. If you can’t obviously see the trail, just keep walking along the water’s edge until you find it again.

 

 
OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

The trail is hard to see in some spots, but this is the only trail and/or walking path on the island, so it’s pretty easy to find your way back on. I would make sure to have decent shoes, a bathing suit and some water before starting your walk.

GETTING THERE:

Take a water taxi from Bocas Town to Carenero for $2. Have the taxi driver drop you off at Bibi’s dock. The beach will be directly in front of and to the right of the dock where they drop you off.

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

Carenero can have biting sand fleas during sunrise and sunset so that bug spray could be useful.

GETTING THERE:

Take a water taxi from Bocas Town to Bibi’s dock for $2. Tell your boat driver you want to go to Bibi’s on Carenero. They will drop you at a dock; Bibi’s is the first building to the right.

 

OTHER INFO TO KNOW:

If you’re not an experienced kayaker, you might want to stick around Carenero and not try island crossings.

Written by Rebecca Hollman and Asher Kain
Photos by François Haché and Rebecca Hollman
www.everydaytravelguides.com

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