Island Hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama Visit50

Island Hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama

5 days of Island Hopping in Bocas

Bocas del Toro might be the best part of Panama, especially for backpackers and travelers. Bocas is an archipelago (group of islands) with beautiful beaches, wildlife, adventure, good food, and a great  party scene that attracts backpackers from around the world.

Most people have only heard of Bocas del Toro from the TV series Survivor (17 countries filmed there) – it’s a real place and worth a visit. While many people visiting Panama only get to Panama City, Bocas is a hidden gem.

Every day we chose an activity or an island to go to – then hopped in a boat to go check it out. Here’s a 31-photo tour, with some highlights from our five days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro:

Playa La Estrella – Starfish Beach

While it doesn’t get nearly as much acclaim as the other beaches, Playa La Estrella has easily the most beautiful water next to their nearly private beaches. The name literally translates to Starfish Beach, and you can see why – they’re everywhere!

Starfish everywhere! - Playa La Estrella, Bocas del Toro is a must visit when island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Starfish everywhere! – Playa La Estrella, Bocas del Toro

Playa La Estrella, the most beautiful beach in Bocas

Starfish beach in Bocas del Toro. Playa La Estrella. A must visit when island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Have you ever seen this many starfish?

Tip: please do NOT touch the starfish or take them out of water – it actually kills them.

Sign says: "Star Beach - please don't touch the stars!". Still it's a must visit when island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
“Star Beach – please don’t touch the stars!”
The water at Playa Estrella is as clear as any Caribbean beach. If you're island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama, visit Star Beach!
The water at Playa Estrella is as clear as any Caribbean beach
Crystal clear water at Playa Estrella, the most beautiful beach in Bocas. I highly recommend a visit while Island Hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
With water up my neck, you can still see the starfish – and my feet. It was THAT clear.

Sunsets in Bocas del Toro

amazing colors after sunset at Pukalani Hostel, our home base while Island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
this was actually part of our hostel, Pukalani Hostel

The views are amazing all over the Bocas del Toro archipelago  – it’s even more beautiful after the sun goes down.

Beautiful colors while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Photo from ecocircuitospanama
roundhouse kick! This was our martial arts afternoon workout at Pukalani Hostel. It was our jumping off point while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Roundhouse kick! This was our afternoon workout.

Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos

Red Frog Beach is the most famous of the Bocas del Toro beaches. It includes the combination of hiking and rare Red Frogs in the forests right near the beach. I liked this beach, but found La Estrella to be more of my idea of relaxation.

Photo from Chris Goldberg
Photo from Chris Goldberg

closeup of a Red Frog from Red Frog Beach in Bocas del Toro

Red Frogs are  fascinating but tiny – most were an inch long (about the size of my pinky finger)

surfing at Red Frog Beach Bocas del Toro
Lots of people were learning to surf at Red Frog Beach. You can see the lush green forest jet out on the right.
Jumping pic on Red Frog Beach, one of the most popular beaches while Island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Jumping pic on Red Frog Beach! I take jumping photos in nearly every country I visit
Tiny Red Frog from Red Frog Beach, one of the most popular stops while Island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Tiny Red Frog from Red Frog Beach – they’re all this small

Dolphins!

There’s dolphins all around the archipelago. You can book a dolphin tour, but we saw lots of dolphins just on our various boat trips to snorkeling while island hopping in Bocas del Toro.

You can take a dolphin tour, but we saw dolphins on our way to snorkeling and other boat excursions while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Photo Credit: dasoaz on Flickr

Delicious food in Bocas!

Nearly every meal comes with a beautiful view. We couldn’t get enough of the seafood, which was super fresh, being a busy archipelago. Most of the restaurants are on Isla Colon, but a few others are just a short boat ride away. Dress at most restaurants, even the fancier restaurants, are “beach town casual” (as we call it).

Most of the restaurants have seating either overlooking the water or on a deck in Bocas del Toro
Most of the restaurants have seating either overlooking the water or on a deck
The seafood was delicious - one of the benefits of being on islands. Yum! Seafood might be the best part of the experience island hopping in Bocas del Toro!
The seafood was delicious – one of the benefits of being on islands. This was fresh tuna, caught that morning. Yum!
Barracuda restaurant in Bocas del Toro -
Tasty dinner at Barracuda, which ironically is an italian restaurant with few seafood options. Still it was delicious!
Meals are right on the water in Bocas del Toro. Yes! Delicious food while while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Meals are right on the water. Yes! Dress is beach town casual, even at the nicer places.
Delicious meals in Bocas Del Toro Panama. Eat your way around the archipelago while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
While there’s plenty of inexpensive backpacker options, there’s plenty of of delicious moderately priced seafood. That top photo is a “surf-n-turf” – lobster tail and steak. The bottom included a mix of seafood (calamari, shrimp) in marinara sauce.
Hmm...do I want Chicken in a Hole or Porridge?
Hmm…do I want “Chicken in a Hole” or Porridge? Like many countries that don’t natively speak english, there’s a few curious english descriptions. Another example is directly below…
Begging for a caption - see sign above us
Begging for a caption – see sign above us. “Killin me man sauce”
The Bocas waterfront is this colorful. Loved it! Island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama was so much fun!
The waterfront is this colorful. Loved it!

Surfing!

There’s a bunch of spots for surfing, and each surf company seemed to have their secret spots, depending on what level you are, and what time of day we’re going out. We were complete novices (I learned how to surf in Bali but apparently you don’t become an expert of going just once). There’s apparently really good surfing in Bocas, as the one of the top surfers in Panama is actually from Bocas del Toro.

Surfing in Bocas del Toro - there's plenty of places to surf while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama. This photo was unfortunately not taken in one of them...
We snapped this photo after we got back from a morning of surfing. There’s no waves in the photo but there were plenty when we were out on the water.

Tip: Our surf lessons were at a secluded area right off the beach. Do NOT leave anything of any value on the beach. Don’t leave your wallet, phone or camera – it will disappear. While Bocas is generally very safe, it’s not the richest of areas, so leaving anything by the beach is just begging them to walk with your stuff. Bring your rented board and that’s it – we were warned that even t-shirts get disappear. Bocas isn’t dangerous, but your belongings are valuable to others.

surfing in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Time to find some waves! There’s plenty of places to surf while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama. Unfortunately this was not one of them (just a posed photo after our morning of surfing).

Snorkeling & kayaking

Take a boat trip to go snorkeling – ours was relaxing and came with a delicious lunch. Rent a kayak and enjoy the waters.

Kayak around the islands! If you're island Hopping in Bocas, take a kayak as a new way to experience the area
Photo from Energy

The Bocas archipelago has 9 main islands, 52 cays, and thousands of islets with coral reefs and mangroves. Kayaks and boats aren’t the only ways to get around –

Transportation in Bocas

Isla Colon is the main island where the vast majority of restaurants and bars are located. There’s guys on the docks just waiting for your business – it was never difficult to find someone to take us on boat to the other islands. We also took taxis, bikes, kayaks, and more.

The taxi actually drives onto the beach - there's no road for them to drive on. I assumed I'd have a long walk to the get home. Surprising!
The taxi actually drives onto the beach – there’s no road for them to drive on. I assumed I’d have a long walk to the get home. Surprising!

Check out the quality the bicycles before you rent them. We rented bikes for just $5 for the day - as it turns out they were appropriately priced. My didn't even have handles and had a slow leaking flat.

Check out the quality the bicycles before you rent them. We rented bikes for just $5 for the day – as it turns out they were appropriately priced. My didn’t even have handles and had a slow leaking flat.

Getting to Bocas - your only option might be a quick flight on  a prop plane from Air Panama from Panama City. Upon arrive, it's time to go island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama!
Getting to Bocas – your only option might be a quick flight on a prop plane from Air Panama from Panama City.

Pukalani Hostel

We stayed at the oceanfront Pukalani Hostel, located right on the water and even includes a pool! It’s located away from the craziness (and noise) of Bocas Town, but close enough to take a quick cheap taxi to and from the party.  It was perfect for us, although it’s a bit far from the action.

Pukalani has a swimming pool, pool table, punching bag, BBQ, and decent free WiFi. The family that runs it are super friendly and welcoming. They have a kitchen too – the food was adequate for when you can’t make it into town.

Pukalani "hostel" - photo taken from outside my room. Can you believe this is a hostel?  It was our home base while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama
Pukalani “hostel” – photo taken from outside my room. Can you believe this is a hostel?

Location: It’s a short taxi ride, and while it’s walkable during the day, after dark there’s no street lights so you might consider the taxi. At times you might wish you were closer to the restaurants and bars staying in Bocas town, but this location gives you a chance to recharge and actually sleep when some bars are still raging. And did I mention it’s right on the water with a pool?!? It was our home base while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama.

This is a hostel? It was our home base while island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama

15 more things to do in Bocas from the CrazySexyFunTraveler blog here.

A dose of reality –

Keep in mind that it rains quite a bit in Bocas; I was lucky to have a dry week, but I’ve heard that’s not typical. Also, not all beaches are as beautiful as Playa Estrella. We were a little disappointed with the quality of the beaches until we stumbled upon Star Beach. The best part of Bocas was the backpacker community.

Bocas nighlife!

The best part of Bocas may be the Bocas nightlife, where travelers from around the world all go out and meet each other over a few libations. Check out my post on Bocas after dark.

Want more perspectives?

15 more things to do in Bocas here.

If you’re craving more photos, info, and perspective on Bocas, check out these featured posts from Girl About the Globe, Globe Trottica, Barefoot Blogger, This American Girl, Alex in Wanderlandaroundtheworldinktdays,Choosing FigsWeek at the Beach.

Note that everyone doesn’t fall in love with Bocas – Cruising Couple felt it was too touristy. Avoid the tours and focus on the great vibes.

Check out my other posts from Panama, including the Bocas nightlife.

20 thoughts on “Island Hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama”

  1. We are in our 8th year of living in the Islands of Bocas del Toro. They are just as beautiful as you have described. All visitors should be aware that it rains a lot in these islands. It is warm tropical rain often mixed with warm sun throughout the day. But, be prepared for rain. We love this place. It is perfect for us. But it is not perfect for everyone. The rain and humidity can be difficult for some people. But, that being said, this is the most beautiful beach vacation area in Panama.

  2. Great post! Thanks for the shout out! I love Bocas so much, I cannot wait to get back! There are so many incredible things to do in this neck of the woods.

  3. This starfish beach is really beautiful and glad to see these cute starfish here and there.Seems you had a wonderful time!Even the sunset looks wonderful!
    #WeekendWanderlust
    [email protected] recently posted..Kataragama Kiri Vehera-Sri LankaMy Profile

  4. Wow! It’s beautiful! I love the variety of things to do and just how scenic everything is especially Starfish Beach and those sunsets. Panama has been high on my travel wish list for awhile now but now I must spend a longer time there to explore this area.

  5. I liked it Agness! Note that while Starfish beach was stunning, most beaches were not. I’ve heard San Blas has the best beaches in Panama. It was so much fun!

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