I’ll admit it! 2 days was not enough time in Bocas del Toro. I think you need at least 3 nights in this region if not 5 days. However, if you are like me and have limited time but want to get a taste of what Bocas del Toro has to offer, then this post and travel guide covers everything you need to know on how to make your 2 days in Bocas del Toro a good visit.
Bocas del Toro Travel Guide
Before going straight into how to spend 2 days in Bocas del Toro, I’ll first start with some useful information about Bocas del Toro with this travel guide below.
Where is Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is an archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama, close to the Costa Rica border.
How to Get to Bocas del Toro
If you are arriving from Panama City, the easiest way to get to Bocas del Toro is to hop on a quick flight from the capital. You have to book this flight directly from the Air Panama website. It’s about a 45 minutes flight. Panama City has 2 airports, the international one (PTY – Tocumen International Airport) and the domestic airport ( PAC – Albrook “Marcos A. Gelabert” International Airport).
The flight to Bocas del Toro is from the domestic airport or PAC. This airport is very small and close to Casco Viejo. The airport at Bocas though is even smaller. Probably the size of a large house in America! I simply walked in and out of the airport on foot! It was definitely the smallest airport I have been to! You can only take 4kg of luggage on the plane so even my small backpack was checked-in.
Another option is to fly to David in Panama, and then take a 4-hour taxi ride and a 30-minute water shuttle to Bocas town.
Take a 10-hour bus ride from the Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City and a 30-minute water shuttle. This is a 10 hour journey. The bus ends in the town of Almirante which is the the closest port town to the islands of Bocas del Toro. From here there is a 30 minute water taxi ride to Bocas del Toro. Check HERE for more.
If you are trying to save time, then flying directly to Bocas is obviously the best option. If you are trying to save money then taking the overnight bus maybe the option that also let’s you save day time as well.
Layout of the Islands and Where to Stay
There are 9 main islands, 5 of which are where the accommodations and tourism related action can be found. These are Islas Colon, Carenero, Bastimentos, San Cristobal and Solarte.
Where to stay will depend on what you want to do and how much you want to spend. Accommodations range from luxury hotels and overwater bungalows to hostels. I highly recommend booking early as possible if you want to have a good selection to choose from.
The main island of Colon is popular as there are a lot of options for accommodation as well as some of the other facilities like ground transportation (taxi’s, buses) and restuarants. The capital of Bocas del Toro, Bocas Town is also on this island.
Isla Carenero is where I stayed and it is a small island located right next to Isla Colon. It’s very easy to get to Colon from Isla Carenero.
This is Bocas del Toro’s second most popular island. Most of the accommodation options are in the Old Bank area with a few more in Red Frog Beach, Bahia Honda, and Punta Vieja.
Isla San Cristobal and Isla Solarte
There are a few accommodation options on these 2 islands.
As you can see there are quite a bit of choice in picking where to stay. If you want to stay close to the action, Isla Colon maybe a good option for you. If you want to stay away from the crowds then a San Cristobal or Solarte may be a good option. I found Carenero to be a perfect blend of peace and quite without being too far away from the main island (Colon). You may even want to stay in different places each night just to experience a different setting. This is totally doable with the water taxi system.
Click HERE if you want to check out where I stayed. It’s a small 4 bedroom villa over the water with the best sunset views! The owner is simply lovely! So welcoming and helpful! I highly recommend this place!
How to Get Around Bocas del Toro
Next on this Bocas del Toro travel guide is getting around the islands. As I mentioned, Isla Colon is home to the capital of Bocas Town. This is the only island with a good road system. You can either rent a bike, hire a taxi, hop on a public bus or walk to get around. The rest of the islands are not as developed but you also may not need to go from place to place within these islands itself so this is not really an issue.
The best way to travel to and from each island is to hop on a water taxi. These range in price but are usually $1-$3 for a closer ride and up to around $6 for a ride further away. Best is to ask your accommodation provider what the going rates are. My provider told me the rate is $1 during the day to Isla Colon from Carenero and $2 after 10 pm. She also told me to keep the money ready and just hand it over instead of asking how much and getting into a conversation about the cost. I thought this was great advice and thus am sharing it with you!
To get a water taxi from Isla Colon, simply to go one of the taxi docking stations. To hail one from one of the other islands, just stand on the pier and put your hand out (just like a regular road taxi!). If you are in a more remote island, you may have to ask your accommodation provider to call you one. Note however, that they will not come to just random spots on an island. You have to be at either a pier at your accommodation or a designated spot.
Panama uses both its official currency, the balboa and the US dollar as legal tender. The exchange rate is 1:1. There is one ATM in Colon, the main island. Make sure you have enough dollar bills for taxis and water taxis.
What to Bring
In addition to dollar bills, an important must bring is bug spray. I got bitten by sand flies and was itching for days! For a general list of what to pack for a beach stay, check out my beach packing list HERE!
Where to Eat in Bocas del Toro
This Bocas del Toro travel guide would not be complete without places to eat! Here’s a list of places that I tried or that were recommended to me.
Leaf Eaters – Leaf Eaters is a vegan/vegetarian restaurant on Isla Carenero. It’s a highly rated restaurant known for it’s good food and great sunset views. This over water restaurant has a sister restaurant in the same location called The Big Fish. I had fish tacos here and it was honestly the best fish tacos I have ever eaten!
Coco Fastronomy – This is a popular restaurant in Bocas Town. The menu has everything from sandwiches and wraps to bowls and seafood dishes. There’s something for all levels of hunger here!
Octo – Located also in Bocas Town, this restaurant serves Caribbean and Panamanian dishes, including seafood. They specialize is using local ingredients.
The Fire Fly – Located in Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos, this restaurant has a Caribbean and Asian tapas style menu in a romantic setting.
Coquitos Beach – Remember that beach bar in Eat.Pray.Love? It’s like that but a lot more laid back! Great for cocktails and pizza/tacos next to the beach. This one is located on Isla Carenero.
Om Cafe – Perfect spot if you are looking for some Asian and Indian food. Also located on Isla Colon (Bocas Town).
Trattoria Pane e Vino – For anyone who is craving Italian food. My accommodation provider recommended this restaurant and even gave it a chef’s kiss as she was explaining it! This is also in Bocas Town.
What to Do In Bocas del Toro
There is so much to do in Bocas del Toro. Here are some of the popular things to do. With just 2 days in this area, you may have to pick and choose which ones you want to do and which ones you may have to save for another time.
- Visit the other islands and beaches
- See various animals
- Frogs (cute but poisonous)
- Scuba Dive and Snorkle
- Take a chocolate tour at a local farm
- Surf or take surfing lessons
- Be a beach bum
How to Spend 2 Days in Bocas del Toro
How you want to spend your limited 2 days at Bocas del Toro is really up to you! Unlike me, you may just want to lay on the beach for 2 days and do nothing but relax! The plan I have laid out below is more for people who want to see some of the highlights of the area within the 2 days of their stay.
With just 2 days in Bocas del Toro, you really have to make a plan to make sure you hit these highlights. The best way to hit some of the highlights is to take a tour or tours which cover some of these highlights. It’s so much more efficient from a time perspective and cost effective than trying to do it on your own.
Arrive early morning and book a tour. Tour operators can be found near Barco Hundido (on the opposite side and a little past) There are a few options to choose from. Don’t book the first one you see and shop around for the best price and options. It was only when I started speaking to tour operators that I realized, I can’t just go from island A to B on my own to see the attractions I wanted to see. Meaning some of the attractions were in remote parts of these islands, where water taxis didn’t necessarily go to and therefore I had to book a tour to see these places.
I booked a tour that included seeing dolphins, Isla Zapatilla, snorkeling and seeing starfish. This covered quite a bit of what I wanted to see. I was promptly picked up from my hotel in Carenero at the time I was told to be ready and off we went on the tour.
First up was Dolphin Bay. We saw one or two dolphins but it was nothing to write home about. I had seen a lot more dolphins in Sri Lanka. From there we went to Isla Zapatilla, which is a remote island know for its beautiful beaches and turquoise waters. We spent quite a bit of time on the island which was nice! Next up was lunch at Isla Bastimentos. We saw a few more dolphins while having lunch here. Lunch was followed by a snorkeling session where we saw fish and various colorful coral. Lastly, on the way back, we stopped at some mangroves that was home to hundreds of small star fish. This was definitely my highlight!
The tour was from 10 AM to 4 PM. After being dropped off right at my hotel, I went to a bar on the island (Coquitos Beach) I was staying at to have a drink. This was followed by watching the sunset from the pier of my hotel. I then hopped on a water taxi to Isla Colon for dinner and dessert!
You have a few options here! Against depending on what you want to do. I will highlight 2 options that you can do.
Morning – Visit a cocoa farm
Afternoon – Visit Starfish Beach
Morning – Take a half day tour to see red frog beach (book tour the same way as the previous day)
Afternoon – Visit Starfish Beach
Note – you can visit Starfish Beach on a tour as well but this is one place you can actually go on your own so I think it’s best to pick an attraction you cannot visit on your own for the tour.
Visit a Cocoa Farm
There are a few cocoa farms in and around Bocas del Toro. The most popular one is the ÖREBÄ Chocolate tour, but it’s a little further away and therefore takes more time. Since there’s only half day for this activity, this other 2 hour tour is probably more attainable. Check it out HERE. You have to call ahead to reserve. Contact both and see which one makes more sense for you given the time you may have.
Visit to Starfish Beach
Starfish Beach is a beach on the Northern side of Isla Colon that is home to massive starfish! Note this is not the same place where I saw starfish the previous day as a part of the tour. These were 5 times the size of those starfish and you can actually get super close to them. Just remember never to remove them from the water as this causes them harm.
To get to Starfish beach, you have to take a bus from Bocas Town (at Simon Bolivar Park) to Boca del Drago. The ride takes about 45 minutes. Once at Boca del Drago, you can either take a water taxi to Starfish beach or trek 20 minutes through the jungle to Starfish Beach. You know you are at Starfish Beach when you see all the bars and resturants on the beach!
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