After Puerto Viejo left us a little blue, or rather, a little wet...we pondered what months of rainy season travelling might look like. As it turns out, managing your expectations in either direction is an essential travelling hack. Having preconceived notions of how events will unfold, can impact your ability to elude disappointment. Though I must admit, it is rather nice when something greatly exceeds your expectations, even if you run the risk of setting the bar quite high. In this instance, that something is actually a somewhere. Bocas del Toro, our first Panamanian stop was as the kids say, dope. A backpackers paradise, where ecotourism meets party town, meets conservationism, meets island hopping galore. It was scheduled to rain the entire week that we were there, but...joke’s on the weatherman; it only rained one day. This extremely welcomed forecast folly paved way for what we now dub our most favourite stay thus far.
Views of Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro
The province of Bocas del Toro is made up of a group of islands or is an archipelago, if you want to get fancy with it. The main Island is Isla Colon where the capital Bocas Town sits to the south. This is where we called home for a week. Our accommodation was well out of the centre of town, but cheap cab rides, collectivos and plain old walking made getting around quite simple at any time of day or night. They also have bicycle and scooter rentals for those that want a more advanced look at the island. There is so much to do and see on the main island, it would be tough to get through it all in a week, never mind visiting the neighbouring islands that you can visit through tour operators or by water taxi on your own. Given that we weren’t quite ready to leave at the end of our stay, we would recommend you give yourself a minimum of 10-14 days to really soak it all in. Although we did concentrate 3 very full days at Diving Pirates, a local Padi affiliated diving shop, where we studied our butts off and earned ourselves Open Water Diver status; certification and all.
Diving at 18 metres in the Caribbean Sea
I hadn’t imagined writing exams while on vacation, but here we were cramping our writing wrists, and our brains for that matter. What an experience though! You go from your very first descent where you are almost guaranteed to have a panic attack to seemingly breathing and living like a fish at the bottom of the sea. Considering that I had never voluntarily put my head under in salt water before, and that I had no idea how to use fins, it’s a bit of a miracle that I passed the certification. It really came down to practice, and repetition. I suppose I’m a bit proud of myself for pushing through. Our 13 hour days that began at 7:30am each day, were entirely exhausting, and very rewarding to say the least. We are so glad we took on this adventure, as now we simply cannot wait to get to the Galápagos Islands in July. The Little Mermaid’s ‘Under The Sea’ will surely come to life and be an event to remember for the rest of our lives.
The remainder of our stay was spent a tad more leisurely (and was much needed). We did manage to get out for a boat tour (10-4:30) operated by Total Adventures. Our first stop was dolphin watching in their natural environment (not trained for tourists), and you couldn’t get in the water. We simply loved this. To see them so undisturbed or interrupted and totally wild, was incredibly beautiful. It was also my very first time seeing a dolphin, making this extra special. The captain did provide one very cool interaction with them, which the dolphins seemed to appreciate. He created waves by circling the boat and they danced and jumped through them with excitement like little kids enjoying a new toy. Our second stop was Starfish Beach where the water is so shallow and so clear, it almost looks like the starfish are decoration under a giant glass coffee table. Stop number 3 was Zapatilla Island for beach time and snorkelling. It’s quite possible that the white sand beach with the surrounding turquoise waters is one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen. It was the kind of beach you see in movies; truly stunning. Our next stop was more snorkelling from the boat followed by lunch (you can bring your own), and finally we made our last stop at Sloth Island, where again you do not disturb the wildlife, you simply observe from the boat, if you get lucky enough to spot one or two.
I can’t say enough how happy it made me that tour operators in Bocas del Toro are so respectful and protective of the ecosystems, habitats, and wellbeing of the marine and wildlife. They will do their best to try to ensure you get to see what you paid for, and by that I mean cautiously steer the boat as close as possible without disrupting anything, but they do not manipulate or train, or harm the natural order of things. It’s lovely. I suppose I could write several more paragraphs if not more about Bocas del Toro, but the other cities and towns and islands, might get jealous. It’s a funny thing, apparently you either love Bocas, or you hate Bocas and there is no in between, but I just don’t see how that’s possible. I had heard grumblings that it was unsafe, expensive, and overrated. I had also heard that it was the most beautiful way to enjoy the Caribbean Coast in Panama. I can only agree with the latter. Never once did I feel unsafe, even walking around town late at night. In comparison to Costa Rica, I did not find the prices extraordinary in the least. And well, as far as being overrated is concerned, perhaps the best way to find out is to pack a bag and check it out for yourself. I really think you should. Price Details:
Open Water Diving Certification @ Diving Pirates $260 USD pp Collectivos $1 USD pp depending on where you are going Taxis $2 pp depending on where you are going Total Adventures Boat Tour $30 USD pp
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