Bocas del Toro Travel Guide
Bocas del Toro Local History
The islands of Bocas del Toro form the essence of Caribbean Panama. They are located in the extreme western part of the country, only 40 kilometres from the Republic of Costa Rica. In this archipelago you will discover a large variety of aquatic species, coral reefs, mangroves, tropical forest, beaches with crystal clear water and undisturbed jungles with all the flora and fauna you can imagine.
The most famous visitor of this piece of paradise was the Admiral Christopher Columbus who landed here on the 6th of October of the year 1502 on his fourth and last trip. He entered with his two vessels into a wide bay that the indigenous people used to call Carabaro (nowadays called Almirante Bay) and took in provisions on the present Bastimentos island. At the beginning of the 19th century, the brothers Snap from Jamaica, arrived with their slaves, at the same time as the Shepherd family who inhabited Shepherd Island. Later on various Scottish and English families emigrated from the San Andres and Providencia islands, also together with their slaves, in order to evade tax payments.
An important commercial exchange started between them and the Indians of the region. Bocas del Toro possesses a rich, ethnic culture that is reflected in its traditions, customs, gastronomy, music and dances. This rich cultural heritage combined with the indigenous culture that is still intact leads one to the roots of the American continent.
Bocas del Toro Attractions
Diving and Snorkelling - The best places for diving are Hospital Point, Coral Key, Dark Wood Reef and Punta Juan buoy. For snorkelling, the Garden near Cayo Nancy, Hospital Point and Punta Juan buoy are excellent. When diving in Bocas you will see some of the best preserved hard and soft coral in the world. You will also have the opportunity to see sting rays, lobsters, many species of crabs and a countless variety of tropical reef fish. Serious snorkelers can explore a wall dive near the cliff to about 45 feet and then relax on the small beach near the Hospital Point.
Sightseeing - If you can manage to get to the Zapatillas Keys which can be a dicey proposition when a strong north wind is blowing, it is well worth the visit. These two islands are gems. The form part of the Bastimientos Island National Marine Park and they have beautiful, white-sand beaches and clear, shallow, snorkel-perfect water. (If you want to escape the heat, the adjacent forest offers shade.) Don't expect a crowd as it is very isolated and the only residents are park rangers.
Panama Jet Boat Explorer Tours - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel (507) 604 7736. They specialise in day trips from Bocas del Toro to authentic Indian villages of the Ngobe Bugle Indians. This is a once in a lifetime encounter with a 2000 year old culture. The adventure begins in Bocas del Toro's Admiral Bay from which you'll jet up a river with stunning jungle scenery and views of the villages of the Ngobe Bugle Indians. At one of these villages you'll learn about their fascinating way life. Very little has changed since the Columbus discovered this region. Also on offer are jet boat eco-tours of the Bocas del Toro region. The tours are available as day trips from Panama City, Boquete and Bocas del Toro.
Spa Flora Bella - La Posada Los Delfines hotel, just 1 block from the main street of Bocas, Email: email@example.com, Tel (507) 757 9086. This is an all natural Day Spa where you can indulge your senses as you recapture your skin and body radiance. A full range of services are on offer from massages, facials, body scrubs, hot stone, manicures, pedicures and much more. Full and half day packages and customized services are available.
Vaqeros Isla San Cristobal This way cool thatched roof bar is hard to get to,but well worth the trouble,Cold beer,great drinks,wait till you hear the sound system.Hire a boat in Bocas
submitted by Bob, 15/12/05
Mondo Taitu bar If you're a traveler seeking a wilder night, head out to the Mondo Taitu bar. The intimate setting makes it quite easy to meet travelers and since the bar offers a late happy hour and drink specials throughout the night, it won't cost so much either!
submitted by Ed, 28/04/05
Bocas del Toro Shopping
Near the end of Bocas' Main Street, as you walk towards the sea on the right you will find Bribri, a marvellous handicrafts store. The friendly owner has a wide selection of fine local Indian crafts and is happy to explain about the work and culture of the Indian artisans.
On the opposite end of the main street, is a street side display of molas attended by the Kuna Indians. Panama is famous for its molas - colourful reverse applique cloth designs. You have the added satisfaction of purchasing directly from the Indians and knowing your dollar will go a long way to helping these worthy people.
The handmade chocolate bars available at The Chocolate Shop at La Veranda Hotel is not to be missed. Cacao is a Bocas native crop. The owner makes her bars from organically grown cacao beans and uses an artisan age-old method and local recipe. She will be happy to show and explain to customers about the process.
Bocas del Toro Parks & Gardens
Bastimentos Island Marine National Park - Covering 13.226 hectares, of which 11.596 hectares are part of a marine area, Isla bastimentos national marine park was set up in 1988. It lies in the vast archipelago of Bocas del Toro in the province of the same name. In the morth of the protected area, the Caribbean Sea crashes impetuously against the rocky coastline of bastimentos island and larga beach, a very important place for nesting marine turtles.
On the south coast of the island, there is peaceful Almirante lagoon with its many channels winding among the mangrove islets, surrounded by corals and sandy shallows covered in meadows of sea grass (Thalassia testudinum). The park has the largest area of Caribbean mangrove swamp in the country as well as the best conserved coral reefs on that coast, where the so-called red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) and white mangrove (laguncularia racemosa) are predominant.
Bocas del Toro Beaches
Bluff Beach - On Isla Colon. You can take a taxi or bicycle a few miles to Bluff Beach, the easiest one to reach and the first really pretty beach. Just before Bluff Beach is Punch Beach , a less scenic beach but one with a reputation for great surfing. Neither of these beaches are safe for swimmers - just for getting wet.
Bocas del Drago - Another beautiful beach on the main island and a bit farther away. When the seas are calm, the snorkelling is good.
Red Frog Beach - On Isla Bastimientos. This is Boca's most beautiful beach. And you won't miss the red frog with black polka dots who calls out to you as you walk through the rainforest. Isla Bastimiento is the only place in the world where this scarlet creature lives. Not safe for swimming.
Playa Larga - Another lovely beach on Isla Bastimientos and if you camp out you may see the famous sea turtles.
Bocas del Toro Restaurants and Bars
Some of the best cinnamon rolls in the Americas are baked in a Bocas bakery. You can buy them at the Laguna Hotel restaurant and in The Gourmet Shop near the main plaza. Also available at The Gourmet Shop are Boca's famous homemade chocolate bars by Heather Guidi.
Bocas del Toro Restaurants
El Pecado - Situated on the main street. This restaurant is known for its seafood. Here you will find dishes that will satisfy the sophisticated palate but reasonably priced. The lobster is especially good.
La Laguna Hotel - Across the street from El Pecade. The hotel offers mostly Italian dishes including delicious pizzas. It has street side seating making it the best place in town for people watching. They also offers a fun all-you-can eat Sunday brunch for $5.
The Bahia Hotel - This hotel has a good Italian restaurant with some of the best pizza in town.
The Sunset Grill - Outside the town of Bocas, Tel (507) 757-9915. It only takes a 5 minute boat ride by water taxi to Isla Carenero, where this popular place, offers wonderful Texas BBQ and Mexican Cuisine. It serves grilled steaks and a variety seafood with gourmet sauces. Enjoy ocean views as you dine. Call for reservations.
Restaurant Coral Cay - For seafood in incomparable surroundings take a water taxi to Restaurant Coral Cay, perched on stilts over the sea. Your lobster will be picked live from a sea cage and you will enjoy gorgeous sea views all around as you wait for your dish to be prepared.
Bocas del Toro Bars & Clubs
Nightlife in Bocas is a low-key and it is easy to meet with fellow travelers in this friendly town. There is usually a party going one in some places or other. Start with the Barco Hundido bar and the Buena Vista Deli & Bar, both known for good times and good food.
Looking for organised tours in Bocas del Toro?
Useful Bocas del Toro Links
Panama Travel Bureau
Photos, videos and maps of Panama and Bocas del Toro.
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