Blowing The Budget In Bocas

Published: March 28th 2016
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Bocas del DragoBocas del DragoBocas del Drago

The best beach on Isla Colon.
My typical underestimation of how much time I had and the stubbornness of my search for silk boxer shorts in the Albrook Mall (do they not make them anymore?! Why?) meant that I didn’t have enough time to have a shower before getting on my overnight bus to Bocas del Toro. Which is a little bit of an issue in Panama since walking around all day in hot and humid Panama City works up quite the sweat. I can’t sleep well if I am feeling disgusting but I think in this case it was more to do with the fact that this was the COLDEST BUS EVER. I asked the driver to go easy on the air-con but no dice. This was how it had to be. Some bullshit about needing to balance the temperature inside with the temperature outside.

Kurt, the German guy sitting next to me, agreed.
When he wasn’t passed out due to only getting a couple of hours sleep the night before, Kurt was good chat and good company so we decided to hang out together once we arrived in Almirante.

Almirante is the town on the mainland closest to the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, six islands of densely forested, tropical paradise and
Cayo ZapatillaCayo ZapatillaCayo Zapatilla

The best beach I visited in Bocas del Toro.
perhaps Panama’s main tourist draw.
Thus, Almirante serves as the gateway to Bocas via water taxis and there is a horde of taxi drivers greeting the bus when it arrives, ready to overcharge dreary backpackers for taking them to the port – a mere ten minute walk away.
There was confusion as to where the public boat to Bocas left from and it was difficult to decide whether to trust the locals we were asking. Was a US$6 water taxi the only way to get over to the islands and had we really just missed the only public boat of the day? The locals here feed off tourism and fair enough, but in expensive Panama, we were looking to save every dollar we could.
In the end we got on the small 30-minute water taxi along with half the bus, over to Bocas del Toro town, the hub of the archipelago of the same name.

A Uruguayan girl I met in Panama City had recommended Aqua Lounge as a place to stay but they were unfortunately booked out; Selina’s, where Kurt was heading, sounded like the town’s party hostel but had some bad reviews, so I wasn’t too keen

THE party hostel of Bocas.
on staying there; so I needed to find a place to stay when I arrived on the island.
Rocking up to Lonely Planet’s top choice in Hostel Heike, there were beds available so I was sorted!
After a shower and a quick nap, I then met up with Kurt to go to…

…Bocas del Drago, apparently the best beach on the island we were on, Isla Colon.
And at first sight, it definitely appeared to look like paradise. Clear, turquoise waters, golden sand and coconut trees. There were no waves, so it was perfect for swimming.
The only thing was that there was only a very narrow strip of sand between the jungle and the water, so there wasn’t a lot of space. Add loads of tourists into the mix and the place wasn’t as tranquil as it could’ve been. It was still a relaxing afternoon however, marred only by the late arrival of our colectivo to take us back to town.

Though not the best place to stay, Selina’s did arguably have the best party in town, so Kurt and I sank some supermarket-bought beers – buying beers at the hostel bar would have been far too
Cayo CrawlCayo CrawlCayo Crawl

Beautiful clear water...a perfect spot for some snorkelling.
expensive – while we waited for things to pick up that night.
Then wouldn’t you know, I bumped into Willy from Sweden, who travelled with me over the border from Ecuador to Colombia! It was a rather abrupt non-farewell last time so he told me that him and the American girls felt bad for leaving me behind – but it was no problem, as these things happen when you travel, and there were no hard feelings. Just a couple of tequila shots to really get things going!
While the alcohol got us going, the same couldn’t really be said of the bar itself. While the DJ was playing some really good house, the crowd just needed some familiar, singalong tunes which weren’t forthcoming. This DJ was too cool for that.

After more tequila shots and rum and cokes, we decided to head to another club just down the road that was more happening and was packed with locals. Stopping by Kurt’s dorm on the way out, we walked in on a couple having sex in there. Then the security guard came in and didn’t know which indiscretion to deal with first – the fact that I was not staying there and was in a private dorm, the fact we
'Pool' At Selina's'Pool' At Selina's'Pool' At Selina's

Located on a stilted building right on the water, Selina's had a 'pool' right off the bar.
were sneaking supermarket-bought beers into the bar, the fact Kurt didn’t have his guest wristband on, or the couple having sex in front of him. A picture of comedy, it was.
It also summed up why I didn’t want to stay here – the fact that Kurt stepped on the guy’s used condom by accident the next day totally vindicated my decision.

Anyway, the music at the outdoor club we had come to – Barco Hundido – were playing the singalong tunes that we were after so we had a good time there despite the place having the smelliest toilets I’ve ever been in and being chatted up by a ladyboy. I took both incidents as a cue to call it a night.

The next day was an admin day as we arranged a snorkelling tour for our last day and some logistics in terms of getting over to Costa Rica and beyond.
Walking around town, it seemed that there are a lot more short-term, mainly American holidaymakers here in Bocas which has pushed up the prices here. I was blowing the budget again (though perhaps not as badly as I did in Bogota) as I went through
Bocas del Toro TownBocas del Toro TownBocas del Toro Town

The main hub of the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
my weekly budget a day early. Costa Rica wasn’t looking any cheaper either.
In terms of logistics, things looked difficult. A lot of the best places to visit in Central America are difficult to get to and either require multiple connections or the booking of a tour or a shuttle. Either way, I found that I needed a lot more organisation and forward planning here than I did in South America.

Well, would you believe it. Having already experienced them in Mendoza, Valparaiso, Salento and Santa Marta, my bedbug curse struck again here in Bocas del Toro. Whenever you tell hostel staff about them, the first response is always denial but I have had them far too often so I know when I’ve had them. The second response is then to accuse me of bringing them with me – but if that was the case, then I would be getting them every night.
But I can understand the reaction – getting rid of bedbugs is expensive and potentially crippling for any hostel or hotel. Ugh.

The next day, Kurt and I went on our snorkelling tour. Getting on a boat, we would be visiting several places of interest
Dining On The ReefDining On The ReefDining On The Reef

Built over a reef (that has sadly eroded) we dined at this restaurant at Cayo Crawl.
in the archipalego on a tour similar to the one I did on Ihla Grande – except with a slightly less flash boat. It was the most efficient way to fully explore what Bocas del Toro had to offer.
The first place we went to was Dolphin Bay, where we saw some dolphins frolicking about. We weren’t seeing dolphins leaping fully out of the water or anything like that – they were really only popping up to the surface very occasionally – so it wasn’t really the swimming-with-dolphins encounter that I would like to do one day. It was a little underwhelming.
We then went to Cayo Crawl – basically a restaurant on a pier set on some eroded and quite frankly, bland coral reef. The snorkelling I did here was fun in the beautifully clear water, although there really wasn’t too much to see save for some slightly colourful fish. In what was supposed to be a snorkelling tour, this ended up being the only snorkelling I actually did all day.
The highlight of the tour for sure was Cayo Zapatilla. This virtually uninhabited island was home to golden sand, turquoise water beaches. It is perhaps churlish to complain about
Our SpotOur SpotOur Spot

Deserted spot where we chilled at Cayo Zapatilla.
the small number of people there, but you had the feeling that if we were the only ones there, the waves were smaller and the beach wider, then this would have been the perfect, picture-postcard beach. The water was almost perfect – if I was picky then I would’ve like it to be a little warmer – and after enjoying perhaps the best swim I have had on the trip so far, Kurt and I remembered for a moment that this was way better than being stuck in an office.

The sloth and starfish spotting that we did on the way back to Bocas Town was pretty average – I just really wanted to get back so I could pee – but to be honest, the trip was a bit average too. The best bit was chilling on Cayo Zapatilla, where I could have spent the rest of the day.

After finally sorting out my itinerary for the next week or so up to Nicaragua, Kurt and I decided that we had to try and stem the bleeding of cash that started the moment we both set foot into Panama. Pasta and tomato sauce would be our dinner
Aqua LoungeAqua LoungeAqua Lounge

The place has a swing and trampoline that you can launch yourself into the water from!
for the next couple of nights – US$2 meals as opposed to US$16 ones.
Then what was supposed to be a couple of quiet beers turned into a water taxi ride across to Aqua Lounge on the neighbouring Isla Caranero. The place lived up to the Uruguayan girl’s recommendation as the place was lively, with the bar/hostel’s residents on a mission to get crunk on beer pong.
Now I really did wish I had got a bed here as it was fun. There was even a Tarzan swing and trampoline off which you could jump into the water!
Heading back over to Bocas Town, we went to what ended up being the liveliest bar in town; the only problem was having to listen and dance to reggaeton for the umpteenth time. I really don’t want to ever hear reggaeton ever again. Especially when J. Balvin’s “Ginza” gets played three times in an hour. ¡No necesito reggaeton dale!
Kurt and I still had fun though, as we avoided getting dunked into the water off the side of the bar and got roped into dancing with several different groups of Argentinian girls.
Kurt then told me later that when he returned back
Me & KurtMe & KurtMe & Kurt

With an Argentinian girl who stole my cap in the background.
to his dorm, the couple we walked in on having sex were at it again. So not cool…
But overall, it wasn’t a bad night out for a Monday, and what was our final night in Bocas.
In terms of my stay overall, Bocas was nice…but it doesn’t trump Ihla Grande. Maybe if I had visited Bocas first, I would have a different opinion as your first time is always the most memorable…

One thing I definitely know and perhaps realised after Bocas was that I am definitely a city person. I miss infrastructure, I miss amenities and I miss organisation. As much as I say that I am a beach person, I will get bored of it after a while. This is why I think I liked Panama City as much as I did.

Well, I will have to do the beach thing a little bit longer – it really isn’t that bad, so don’t start feeling sorry for me now – because my next destination is Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, a laid-back beach town on the Caribbean coast.

Hasta luego,

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


Approaching BocasApproaching Bocas
Approaching Bocas

Approaching Bocas del Toro town in the water taxi.
Spot The LizardSpot The Lizard
Spot The Lizard

Spotted at Cayo Zapatilla.
Waterfront RestaurantsWaterfront Restaurants
Waterfront Restaurants

Along with Selina's, there are several restaurants right on the waterfront.

Buildings on the waterfront of Bocas del Toro town are all accessible by water taxi.
Plantain StopPlantain Stop
Plantain Stop

Literally. Have seen this before - a road barrier with a plantain transporter built on to it so that the plantain can cross the road.

29th March 2016

Spring break
In Canada and the U.S. spring break generally falls in late March, early April so many families and students will head south to enjoy warmer climates. Hence the crowds and the higher prices. Sounds like you made a good decision not to stay where Kurt stayed.

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