There are plenty of things to experience in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. There is the vibrant night life, surfing, beaches, quadbikes, …. A quick search on the net reveals a range of island tours, beautiful beaches (wizard beach, polo beach, red frog beach) and bat caves on Bastimentos, awaiting your arrival. We trust you can read for yourself and will only share our favorites (in random order):
Loose you bikini bottom and top while playing in the surf on Bluff Beach:
A visit to Bluff Beach is high on our list. Thousands of turtle eggs hatch during September/ October on this beautiful, long, virtually deserted beach on Isla Colon. The nicest way to get there is to rent a bicycle. There are many bike rental places in town, but Arthuro from Rasta bikes offers the best deals. The 10 km bicycle ride to Bluff runs over tarmac for the first half and the next half over dirt road. The season and rainfall determines the condition of the dirt road, but expect some puddles, gullies and potholes. As the road runs along the beach, cycling affords you views on the sea and jungle. Once the tarmac ends, the jungle around the track gets thicker, providing more shade and coolness. Paunch beach (where the tarmac ends, fine for a first stop if you are horribly out of shape) and Bluff beach are known for its surf. On Paunch you can observe surfers have a go at the waves. When you cycle on, notices of killer waves and rip tides on the approach of Bluff beach alert you to the fact that the sea is not known for its tranquility over there. We have not yet seen any surfers waiting for one of those killer waves. Once you get to Bluff, the first thing you’ll want to do is jump in the sea to wash all the sweat off. It is wise to temper your enthusiasm a tiny bit and watch carefully how high the dumpers are that day. In July, August, September they were a few meter. The kids and Arthur found it great to body surf or be tumbled and sloshed around like in a laundromat. The girls discovered, almost instantaneously, they were wearing the wrong apparel for the occasion as they walked out wearing there bikini pants on their heads and tops around their ankles. They wisely retreated to the calmer cool waters of a nearby stream…
Discover the peculiar ecosystem of mangrove islands in Dolphin Bay:
The amazing thing about the Bocas del Toro archipelago is that you have numerous secluded hide-aways you can go to. Dolphin Bay is on the list of all the guided tours, but the bay is large and all the tour boats are going to the same spot at the same time and only stay there for a little while. We discovered a far better place on the outer edges of the bay and took our dive boat to explore the different mangrove islets around us. We were on the look-out for different fish species and halfway expected not to see much on the bottom, taking the drab obtuse claylike mangrove soil of Ibo island as a reference. Our first stop was already a big success: we realized that the mangrove islets here catch tons of nutrients between their root system and attract loads and loads of fish. There were baby parrot fish, baby grunts, lots of bait fish, humongous barracuda, and all sorts of non-defined particles/ plankton/ future fish, shrimps/ jellies floating around.
But the most amazing thing was that these islets actually create the perfect environment for growing corals. In a depth of 50 cm to 1.5 meters the most colourful, fresh corals we had ever seen were laid out, for our eyes only. The added advantage is that you don’t even have to dive down, you can lazily snorkel over the infant reefs and study all the minute details of the different species of corals, which type of fish and other sealife they attract and so on. Only after snorkeling around for an extensive period did we notice that underneath the hanging root forest (looking like a cave with overhanging vines) lurked some huge fish, keeping their eyes on us, doubtlessly protecting their broods.
It looked kind of surreal to see mussels and corals growing on the extensive roots and have several pairs of fish eyes follow our every move. As far as we are concerned, this peculiar interaction of the mangrove root system with the nutrient rich currents that sprouts fresh corals and hosts fish nurseries, is a definite much see.
Discover sloths and monkeys on the walk to Starfish beach:
To get a different view of Isla Colon, consider hopping on the local bus to Boca del Drago. Ignore the stupid fantasy movie they put on and keep your eyes peeled on the jungle. You have a good chance of seeing some monkeys or sloths along the ride. From Boca del Drago, follow the path to Playa de Estrella, Starfish beach. While you walk, it is quite likely you will get a close-up from some monkeys and sloths. Once on the beach, enjoy lounging around between the starfish that are lying helter skelter in the shallows and remember that these animals do not like to be picked up to be on the picture with you. It scares them to death to be touched and lifted out of water. As we tell our children, look with your eyes not your hands!
Tours to the Zapatilla (flipflop) islands are sold on a daily basis, as it is a ‘must see’ place. But as with all popular spots in Bocas, it is not as bad as it sounds. There is no mass tourism here, so it all stays quite amicable and tolerable. Some tourists arrive on watertaxis at 11am and leave at 2pm, leaving these two beauties open for your exploration before or after the sun has passed its zenith. Most tourists, in any case, stay put where you drop them off, so it is very easy to avoid them and find a spot you have entirely to yourself. The sail to the Zapatillas is nice. You can anchor close to either one of the islands, hop on your dinghy and tie your dinghy on the moorings they have made for visitors. Do not try and land your dinghy or panga on shore in case of heavy surfbreak, as that means asking for trouble and you might end washed up on shore, with your toddlers and lobsters, shooting flares and waiting for a rescue team on Christmas morning… The flipflop islands are somewhat remote, and almost pristine islands. They are part of the Bastimentos National Park, a protected marine area. One of the Zapatillas has a small research station on it. We recommend not only enjoying the Caribbean, turquoise waters but also walking around the island. There are a few noticeboards on which you can read a bit more about the research being done and mainly urging you to leave alone all the marks you can find on the island (each plastic tape carries a number indicating which bird, turtle, rodent, lizard is nesting in that tree or shrub).
Walk around Carenero and be eaten alive by chitras while you are at it:
If you are new to Panama and Bocas you may consider walking around Cayo Carenero. This islet is not very big and gives you a taste of the diversity. Start at marina Carenero and head towards Cosmic Crab, follow the path and admire the expat villas with beautiful gardens full of tropical flowers. Walk up where the coastal trail ends, along the undeveloped jungle plots. Sniff up the aromas and the density of the jungle. Walk through one of the cleared plots and climb down towards the beach. Continue along the beach, go past Carenero point, past black rock beach, and the next beaches. Finish off walking through the indian village for a cultural experience. Before you take off on your walk, cover yourself in coconut and citronella oil, otherwise the chitras will make your life very unpleasant. Chitras are ‘no-see-ems’. A distant relative to mosquitos, with the main difference that they are tiny. You cannot see or hear them. You only feel them and then it is already too late! Before you know it your body is covered in small welts that last a minimum of 3 days and can be very itchy.
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