A few days of chilling on Isla Bastimentos – Bocas del Toro Archipelago. Exploring the sleepy Islands sandy beaches and crystal clear waters
Bocas del Toro, or ‘Bocas’ as it’s generally referred to, is a cluster of islands surrounded by mangroves and beaches. Different Islands offer different experiences, so it’s best to decide what you want to get out of your stay before you go! We elected to stay on Isla Bastimentos for our 3-day visit.
Isla Bastimentos appealed to us as we were looking for a quieter stay, away from bars and parties. After an action-packed 3.5 months travelling through Africa, we were keen to rest, relax and watch the world go by. Our location right on the water’s edge at Rafael’s Sleep Inn was perfect, and we spent most of the first day laying in the hammocks and chilling on the jetty.
Over the following 2-days, we explored Isla Bastimentos by land and sea. With beaches, snorkelling, diving, kayaking, surfing, boat trips, and walking trails, there’s something for everyone. There were a couple of beaches to choose from – Wizard Beach and Red Frog Beach, with pro’s and con’s for both. When we googled Wizard Beach, the first things that popped up were articles about muggings and robberies on the beach. And, when we looked into Red Frog Beach, we saw information about a potentially overpriced and overly commercialised beach, only accessible by boat (which isn’t strictly true).
Preferring quieter, budget-friendly beaches and after a little further research into safety, we opted to visit Wizard Beach. There were a couple of routes to get this beach and we elected for one that went via a coffee shop and organic farm. Aptly called ‘Up In The Hill’, this was a great place to get a caffeine boost for the remainder of the journey and to search for the famous Strawberry Poison Dart Frog. It took about 15-minutes to reach the cafe and the path was a little confusing at times. From Up In The Hill things got a little muddy and slippery for the 35-minute walk to the beach – We definitely recommend wearing decent footwear, as we didn’t! The trail was pretty easy to follow and not too strenuous, just very slippery and muddy when wet.
When we reached the beach it was pretty much deserted, with only a couple of other tourists and a handful of local surfers around.
Although nice and quiet, it was not quite as idyllic as we had hoped. Due to past issues with tourists being robbed, the beach area was patrolled by police, which was reassuring. But we just didn’t feel like we could really fully relax. There were still big signs warning tourists not to take valuables to the beach and as we had our camera with us, we were on constant guard. So we took it in turns to take a dip.
In fairness, since the police patrols started several years ago our understanding is there have been no issues on this beach. So don’t be put off by scary old online articles. But, as always, be aware and don’t leave items unattended on the beach. This goes for here and anywhere in the world! To learn more about safety whilst travelling in Bocas Del Toro click HERE for insider tips and advice.
If you like wildlife like us, keep your eyes peeled. Apart from the aforementioned Strawberry Poison-Dart Frogs, there was plenty of birdlife around the island and on the trails. We saw Hummingbirds, Manakins and lots of Montezuma Oropendola.
With plenty more beach time and hikes ahead of us on our future travels around Central America, we chose to spend our final full day exploring our surroundings, making use of our complimentary kayaks, thanks to Rafael’s Sleep Inn. That gave us a different perspective of the island and a nice way to burn a few calories!
Our favourite time of the day was sunrise. Our accommodations position right on the water’s edge, meant we had front row seats to enjoy it, coffee in hand. And with jet-lag still messing with our sleep clocks we were up everyday to enjoy it!
Having a few days to relax was exactly what we needed and Isla Bastimentos was the ideal place for it. We felt 2 full days was the perfect amount of time to enjoy it without getting bored. We think a longer stay would warrant some day trips to the others islands, to see what they had to offer.
That said, we had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets and walked away feeling totally revived and ready for the rest of our Central American adventure to continue! Next up the search for the Resplendent Quetzal in Barú Volcano National Park from our base in Boquete.
Getting Isla Bastimentos – Bocas del Toro from Panama City
- We caught a taxi to the bus station in Panama City and purchased an overnight bus/boat combo ticket for US$33.60p/p. Best to get to the bus station early to ensure you get a ticket, especially in high season, or consider buying the day before.
- The bus departed Panama City at 6.30pm and was very comfortable and safe. It stopped once for 30mins for food/drinks/bathrooms. We arrived in Alimantre at 3.30am.
- From Alimantre bus stop, shared taxis were waiting to take us to the boat dock – 5mins US$2p/p.
- The first boat to Bocas Town departed around 6am and took about 45mins.
- From Bocas Town, we caught a water taxi to Bastimentos, which took about 10mins and cost US$3p/p.
Getting to Boquete from Isla Bastimentos – Bocas del Toro
- Catch a water taxi from Bastimentos to Bocas Town – 10mins US$3p/p.
- Take a water taxi Bocas Town to Alimantre – 45mins US$6p/p (buy your ticket at the dock).
- Catch a taxi from Alimantre dock to bus stop – 5mins US$1p/p.
- Take a minibus from the bus stop in Alimantre to David (Biqueye bus station) 4hrs US$8.45.
- From Biqueye bus station in David, catch a chicken bus to Boquete 1hr.
- Eating out can be expensive in Bocas. There are small shops with limited options on Bastimentos, especially fruit and veg. It’s worth self-catering if you’re on a budget and even taking some supplies with you.
- Look into what your accommodation offers. Having free kayaks to use at Rafael’s Sleep Inn was a big incentive to stay there.
- We had no issues on Bastimentos, but there definitely have been some problems in the past. Speak to your accommodation staff about which trails are safe and whether you should be hiking them alone.
- Wizard Beach has been a hotspot for robbery in the past, so only take what you need. If you are going in the sea, make sure someone is with your bag. If you do choose to leave it unattended make sure it is clearly visible to you and in an open area.
- Wear decent shoes if walking to Wizard Beach, The trail from ‘Up In The Hill’ to Wizard Beach can get very wet and slippery and there are some steep sections.
- Wizard beach can have dangerously strong currents so be careful in the water, especially if you’re there alone.
- Take plenty of water with you if walking to Wizard Beach. Other than at ‘Up In The Hill’, there’s no opportunity to pick up water.
- There was a lot of rubbish and debris lining the waterfront and scattered across the island. The majority, as always was plastic waste. Rafael’s House, as with many other accommodation providers in Central America provided water refills, so travel with good size reusable water bottle. It not only saves money, but far more importantly, saves on plastic waste.