When visiting places that are still hidden gems and unknown to the entire world, a little insider knowledge is super helpful. We’ve personally lived on two different islands here, own land on a third island, and have thoroughly explored the remaining islands. Knowing what to expect and how to navigate the islands helps maximize your experience here.
This is the main island, home to Bocas Town. It’s a fairly large island, but town is small enough to walk in its entirety, or grab a $1 cab ride to explore the bars and restaurants. This is the only island with roads and is the jumping off point for most tours and activities on all of the outer islands. Visitors can explore the tourist town or enjoy beautiful and remote beaches for surfing or swimming. A few notable beaches are Bluff, Paunch, Drago, and Starfish Beach. However, you can rent a mountain bike or ATV and explore tons of hidden and amazing beaches on Isla Colón.
Carenero is the closest island to Bocas Town. Jump on a $1.50 water taxi and you will be there in a few minutes. The island is small and the perimeter can be hiked in about an hour. Carenero doesn’t have any roads, but it does have a few restaurants. This island is known for their abundance of small bitting “chitras” or “no-seem sand flies.” Don’t let that keep you away, but bring bug spray. The beach next to the Restaurant, Bibi’s, is great for swimming. Carenero Point is one of the longest left surf breaks in Bocas. A beginner break can also be found here.
Bastimentos is a larger island and home to the town of Old Bank. Old Bank is a small, one-sidewalk town housing many of the locals. It’s not for everyone as it’s more rustic, but if you would like to explore the local village you can grab a water taxi from Bocas Town. Bastimentos does have some great remote beaches, most notably is Wizard, Red Frog, Polo, and Long Beach, however, without roads you will need to grab a boat to explore the shoreline. Even from Old Bank, a boat is required to enjoy most of Bastimento’s beaches, so to save some money, skip Old Bank and head straight to the beaches.
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. It’s one of the best islands to snorkel and dive. It also has one of the best 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 and have a great reef marked for exploring next to the restaurant.
San Cristobal & Isla Pastores
San Cristóbal is most know for an area of the island called Dolphin Bay, which is home to an extended family of bottle-nose dolphins. They can often be spotted swimming in the calm bay water. The island is another mangrove island without any sandy beaches, but it boasts great shallow coral reef for snorkeling. Another smaller island just west of San Cristóbal is Isla Pastores. This island is often a forgotten area because it’s a little out of the way from Bocas Town, but it’s truly a beautiful island. The calm water and amazing reef offers some of the best snorkeling around.
Isla Popa & Cayo Agua
Isla Popa and Cayo Agua are both stunning islands with completely untouched beaches and shorelines. Isla Popa is 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. There is plenty of great fishing holes and reef out this way. Plus, discover some of the area’s best hidden surf breaks in Cayo de Agua. These breaks have no names and most days these lonely waves go completely unridden.
Last, But Definitely Not Least, Cayos Zapatilla
Zapatillas makes up two islands and are one of the most visited places in Bocas, second to Isla Colón, and for good reason. The two small islands are part of the national marine park, devoid of human inhabitants, and a picture-perfect example of a Caribbean island. The entire shoreline of these islands offer perfect beaches and although a popular destination here among tourists, you can still walk to parts of the island where there is no one in sight. These islands are also important ecological sites for the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles that nest on their shores.