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Published: April 14th 2013
So we were looking for some balance in Panama...and after experiencing modernity of the capital, mild climate of the cloud forest and hills we were finally headed towards the coast. We did not expect much. In fact we were not even very excited. We thought Bocas del Toro will be well too touristy for us, too modern and too overcrowded. However, we wanted to be on the beach for a while and it was the best choice around.
So far Panama had been very pleasant and we did not encounter any tourism-related problems i.e. scams, overcharging, theft etc. But the moment we got off the bus in the port town of Almirante we noticed different behaviour towards us. Suddenly the taxi driver wanted 5$ for a silly 1km journey and would not let go and follow us along the street when we walked towards the port. When we approached water-taxi booths people started to lie to us to get us on their boat. 'This one is full
'; 'This one is charging 8$ and we can take you for 5$'
; 'This one does not go for another 30 min'
etc. Yeah, like we were going to fall for that!!! We just
ignored them and kept walking and asking about the schedule and prices and we found out that all the taxis go every 30 min and cost 4$ each.
When finally waiting for a boat, we were approached by a little boy who wanted to talk. At least I thought so but Tomek gave me the 'are you serious'
look. Usually I am the one who has the 'scam radar' on but this time I just wanted to talk to the boy. Of course he was only interested in tips but who taught him that? Tourists of course. He comes around, tells them stories about the village and islands and then gets a dollar or two. Of course everybody has to make the living so it is ok, but surprisingly people only behave like that when they have encountered too many tourists....
We arrived on the island and were already positively surprised of how it looked like. Nice and tidy, small scale, kind of like a fishing village filled with hotels of different standards. We walked, and walked around and could find nothing for less than 50$ but finally we made it - waterfront guesthouse with double room for
30$ with TV and air-con. Mission accomplished:-)
So far so good but, there was no beach around, majority fo people were surfers and we knew that to see something nice we would have to travel far. Not the type of island we would normally enjoy but we would not give up so fast, right? The next day we decided to take a shuttle bus (8$ return) to the Starfish Beach on the other side of the Colon island. We did not expect anything amazing to be honest, but just wanted to swim and relax. It was one of those situations when our low expectations made us so amazed that we could not stop smiling.
When the bus stopped, in front of our eyes spread a beautiful strip of white sand beach with palm trees and tranquil, turquoise waters around. So pretty we could not stop staring. Really that beautiful!!! We followed people for a while and made a decidion to walk to the Starfish Beach and back. We had the whole day for this visit so we could check many spots around. The more we walked the more people we saw but there were also spots that were completely
wild Starfish Beach
empty and wild. How is that even possible on such island as Colon? Maybe it is a similar place to Koh Tao in Thailand where non-divers have beaches to themselves. People come here to surf not to sunbath or snorkel so Starfish Beach is little paradise.
We spent some time over there, appalled by some behaviour towards starfish. Even though there are signs with 'DO NOT TOUCH STARFISH' written in big white letters, some still cannot resist and take them to take a photo. Then the poor starfish float on the surface before being thrown out of the sea to die.
We walked back to find some nice spot and finally got to the little bay with nothing but palm trees and beautiful white sand. We could relax, talk and read books with nobody to be seen around. When we finally got hungry we had lunch in a nice seafood place and then were ready to go back. It was a beautiful day and we loved every bit of it. We wondered what else this place has to offer.
Bocas town has way too many supermarkets but for people who want to cook it is nothing but
a huge advantage. We could find any produce we felt like buying and could cook our favorite meals. Also very surprising thing about this place were prices of fruit. So far we have learnt that prices on islands are doubled or tripled when it comes to fresh veg and fruit but not here. Every day we could indulge ourselves in tropical fruit salads for lunch. Because of majority of our co-guests were Argentinians, and we all know their travel budget is usually huge, everyday there were products left in the kitchen for others to use. We were sometimes able to cook the whole meal out of stuff somebody left behind haha It would be shame to leave it behind right? I guess we became kitchen dumpster divers haha
The one thing we did not like about this place, were costs of water taxis to other islands. To get to Isla Bastimentos we would have to pay 10$ each for less than 5 minutes on the boat. The famous Red Frog Beach is there and there are also nice walking trails but we simply did not think it was worth it. Much better priced was a day excursion to the
Cayo Coral and Cayos Zapatilla which we heard is a must do. For this pleasure including snorkel gear all agencies wanted 25$ only. We pre-booked it under condition of good weather (in case of rain we could get our deposit back) and the next morning were on the way to the local paradise.
Once again we did not expect much and we kind of liked the dolphin bay and Cayo Coral. Because the captain was afraid of rain later during the day he decided to take us to Cayo Zapatilla first for some sand and swimming time and left the snorkeling for the afternoon. When we arrived at this tiny island we were astonished by many things. The white sand, the multilevel colours of water and wild forest in the middle. It was beautiful. We got 3h to spend there and everybody went into different directions. At first we chose a spot on the eastern side but the waves were way to big for swimming. It was the western side that really surprised us. Even more wild and beautiful with tranquil waters and reef around. So pretty. The snorkel was not amazing as the reef is quite destroyed but
we could observe some rare species of fish and coral.
I dont even remember why we thought this place would not appeal to us. Maybe because we were told by some people, who only saw Bocas town and the Red Frog Beach, that Bocas del Toro is a very plain and ordinary place. We can honestly say that it is nothing but extraordinary. We suddenly thought of Indonesia and Philippines again. For some reason we had thought that no place like Asia can have islands like that. Of course we have yet so much to see and learn about our beautiful planet.... Additional info:
• there is much more to see and do around Bocas - please see this link
to check all the possible trips around. Costs range between 25$ and 200$ (fishing trip) depending on how many people you gathered and how far you want to go.
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