Bocas del Toro Panama photo tour
Travelers consistently say that Bocas del Toro Panama is among their favorite parts of Central America, especially for backpackers and travelers. Bocas is an archipelago (group of islands) with beautiful beaches, wildlife, adventure, and great backpacker vibe. It also has good food, and a great party scene that attracts backpackers from around the world.
Most people have only heard of Bocas del Toro Panama 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.
5 days of Island Hopping in Bocas
Every day we chose an activity or an island to go to – then hopped in a boat to go check it out.
31 photo tour of Bocas del Toro Panama
Here’s a 31-photo tour, with some highlights from our five days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro Panama:
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!
Playa La Estrella, the most beautiful beach in Bocas
Tip: please do NOT touch the starfish or take them out of water – it actually kills them.
Sunsets in Bocas del Toro Panama:
The views are amazing all over the Bocas del Toro archipelago – it’s even more beautiful after the sun goes down.
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.
Red Frogs are fascinating but tiny – most were an inch long (about the size of my pinky finger)
Dolphins in Bocas del Toro Panama!
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 Panama.
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).
Surfing in Bocas too!
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.
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.
Snorkeling & kayaking around the islands
Take a boat trip to go snorkeling – ours was relaxing and came with a delicious lunch. Rent a kayak and enjoy the waters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 del Toro Panama 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 on Bocas del Toro Panama?
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, Alex in Wanderland, Choosing Figs.
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”
Panama’s on my list of sites to visit and I’d love to include this area. So colorful and that water is enticing. Great roundup of things to do.
thanks Elaine – it’s beautiful!
What a beautiful group of islands! And the color of that water, and the sand… and the red starfish! Oh, you made me want to hop on a plane and go to a tropical place. I haven’t visited that part of the world, but it seems I’m missing something great. Thank you for sharing this.
You’re welcome Anda – do it! I’ve visited nearly every country in Central America, and found things I love about each country.
Thanks for sharing your comments and tips about Bocas! We’ve never been there, so it’s good to know what to expect. I love how clear the water is! Lovely place!
I love everything you described in here (especially the food). I have been to Panama but not to Bocas del Toro. Would like to do a trip including the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and Bocas del Toro.
Thanks Ruth! If you fly into Panama City, I really wish I would have made a trip to the San Blas islands as well. I’ve heard great things!
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.
We got so lucky with the rain – it was a huge concern in trying to determine when to visit. When would you recommend for the least rain?
8 years in Bocas sounds awesome.
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.
I want to get back too Katie! When I get back to Panama, my top destination to check out are the San Blas Islands. Did you go?
The surfing and kayaking looks like something I’ll need to check out! The sunsets look beautiful!
There were some really stellar sunsets Brooke!
Awesome post, Todd! Amazing photos too. Makes me want to go back to Bocas so badly!
Thanks Monica! I’d sign up for that too! When I make it back to Panama, I really need to get to San Blas as well. Did you go?
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!
I did, thanks Amila! Starfish beach was my favorite!
You have no idea how much I would love to do island hopping here. The landscape and the beach is just stunning. Simply beautiful!! 🙂
I can’t wait to go there!
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.
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!