While living in Costa Rica, we have to renew our visas every 90 days (sometimes shorter depending on the Customs Agent we get). Last year we ventured north to Nicaragua for a few days and this year we decided to head south and visit Panama. The islands on the northwest side of Panama called Bocas Del Toro had been recommended to us by a number of friends, so we figured that would be a great place to start. We honestly didn’t know what to expect.
After a short flight from San Jose, we landed on the main island in Bocas Del Toro called Isla Colon. As soon as we walked off the plane, we all commented about the absolutely perfect weather and temperature. It was humid, but not wet, warm but not hot and had a slight ocean breeze. It was almost like a non-temperature, it was so perfect.
The airport terminal is a small building with a metal detector and a few offices. We had our bags searched briefly and then waited in line for entry into the country by the lone customs agent. Unlike the modern airports with scanners and computers, the customs agent had to hand write our names, passport numbers, etc into his giant log book one at a time. It took a while.
After getting cleared for entry into Panama, we were met by Muhammed, the owner of the condo complex we were staying at and he led us to the taxi he had hired to bring us to the condo. Both Muhammed and Edwards (our taxi driver) spoke perfect english, so they gave us a quick tour of Bocas Town as we made our way to the condo. It was a very short tour, as Bocas Town is a very small town. I’m guessing it’s about a 1/4 the size of Tamarindo, but I’m not sure.
Bocas has a very Caribbean feel to it, the buildings are brightly painted and it is super tropical. It’s also very dirty. Everywhere you look there is trash and it’s clear that they do not have a very good infrastructure for collecting and maintaining garbage. We’ve seen that quite a bit in Central America, but it was even more so in Bocas Town. And then you have the water. The Caribbean Sea is a primary focus around Bocas and it is stunning. Crystal clear water, every waterfront restaurant and hotel is either over the water, or has a dock that extends out into the sea. There are boats everywhere. I love being on the water, so the water element alone made me feel at home.
The condo we were staying at was about a mile outside of town and next to the only gas station on the island. This turned out to be a huge benefit because we took cabs everywhere and we were pretty much guaranteed cabs since they all need to get gas eventually.
The condo was perfect. It wasn’t fancy or nice, but it was clean and safe. We had a view of the ocean through the trees and even though we were right off of the main road, the sound of the waves was stronger than the sound of the cars driving by.
We arrived in Bocas at 8:30 am, so our condo wasn’t ready when we pulled in, so we dropped our bags and our taxi took us back into town to get some breakfast. He took us to the most popular breakfast spot on in town called Lilli’s. It was right on the water and was very tasty.
After breakfast, we ventured into town on foot to try to find cell phone SIM cards and a few supplies for the condo. Bocas town is alive with tourists and residents alike, and it was fun to take our first walk around, gathering in the sights, orienting ourselves and getting ideas for what to do for the next 7 days in Bocas. Every tourist town has their “vendors” and Bocas is no different. Maui has the tour operators, Tamarindo has the vendors of pottery, jewelry and bird whistles, Grenada has the horse carriage rides, and Bocas has the water taxi drivers.
We walked the whole main street from start to finish and back again, then we decided to walk back to our condo rather than catch a cab so we could see how far it was on foot and orient ourselves even more. It turned out to be a longer walk than we had expected, so that was the last time we made the journey without a cab 🙂
Muhammed met us at the condo, gave us a run down of Bocas and a list of his favorite places to eat and see. Erin and I jumped onto Trip Advisor and explored some more, and after some down time, we headed back to town for a great dinner at the sushi restaurant, Raw Sushi. The kids discovered that they love Chicken Tempura and we had a great meal before heading back to the condo for bed.