Our plan in Central America is to start in the Northwest corner of Costa Rica, and wind our way south and east, ending up in Panama City a month or so later, but not before stopping to enjoy a few of the best spots along the way.
With the Costa Rica leg of the journey behind us we headed for the Panamanian border, our first time visiting Panama!
We used a shuttle service based in Puerto Viejo to deliver us to our next stop in Bocas Del Toro. They dropped us at the border where we paid exit taxes leaving Costa Rica and then walked across a sizeable bridge where a van and driver was waiting to drive us to Almirante after we cleared border control. The journey was slow but easy enough. Uneventful. Here’s us crossing a bridge over the Sixoalo River that marks the border between Costa Rica and Panama.
Bocas Del Toro, also known simply as Bocas, is an archipelago of Islands off the Northeast corner of Panama. We took a twenty minute water taxi at Almirante to arrive in Bocas town, on Isla Colon which serves as a kind of hub for visiting the area. We were drawn to Bocas because of it’s location – just a few hours south of Puerto Viejo – but after some research we were intrigued to learn the main mode of transport in Bocas is water taxi and that many of the villages that dot the landscape seem to cling to the water’s edge, or literally over the water itself.
We stayed in a suite at the Hotel Palma Royale . Bocas town has plenty of nightlife which means it can be loud. But our room on the far side of the hotel was at least partially shielded from the noise, and it gave us gorgeous views of the Carribean to our south.
Without going into great detail here are some of our impressions of the area. We visited several beaches with our favourite being the white sands of the Zapatilla Islands. We visited Old Bank, a tiny isolated Afro-Caribbbean town (with no roads) on Bastimentos Island. We visited Starfish beach on a Saturday and it was full of locals in full party mode. We were having a great time until the police closed the entire beach at 5pm. We were told they were enforcing Covied restrictions. Each of these excursions required a water taxi and, as expected, we enjoyed seeing the area by boat. As the days went by we got a little more savvy in negotiating with the local drivers, all of whom were very nice. Other than that we spent most of our free time hanging around Bocas town which was gritty and full of energy. Bocas really is a feast for the eyes. It’s an area that is really more popular with backpackers and twenty-somethings, but from our research we also know that it is becoming a popular spot for ex-pats looking for an affordable retirement destination.
We heard that Panama would be ‘cheaper’ than Costa Rica and we were instantly struck by the intensity of competition in the area. Whether it was the water taxis, the grocery stores, or restaurants there seemed to be plenty of competition for tourist dollars, and for a remote area the prices were quite reasonable. Here’s some photos.