Hanging around in surf towns can be quite fruitful if you wanna discover new surf spots. That’s exactly how we got tipped off on this tropical archipelago in the Panamanian Caribbean called Bocas del Toro (map). Wait, what? Waves in the Caribbean? Good ones? As far as I know this is quite unique. Bocas del Toro has been on our radar ever since, but we only got a chance to visit this beautiful place last September. And guess what, no waves. I’m not kidding. As September and October are the driest months, the waves disappear. There goes our Bocas del Toro Surf guide. However, we could use some sunshine (as rainy season was starting on our side in Costa Rica), and we figured this would be the perfect excuse to discover the “other side” of Bocas del Toro. We just gotta come back in December to surf those killer waves.

cycling bocas del toro panama
Best way to get around Isla Colon.
sunset bocas del toro panama
Sunsets in paradise.

What to do

Since our first visit to Bocas del Toro was in September, we found out pretty quickly that this was basically the flattest month of all. So, no waves, no surfing. What should we do with our lives?! As we spend ten days on the islands of Bocas del Toro, and weren’t bored once, I think we found some pretty awesome activities for those flat days.

beach bocas del toro panama
Welcome to Bocas del Toro.

Take the boat to Cayo Zapatilla

Every single hotel or hostel will be able to offer you a tour to these beautiful islands. However, you’ll be cramped in a boat with 20 others. Our wonderful hosts at Surfbreak at Paunch arranged a private boat for us, that took us out to Dolphin Bay, snorkeling around Cayo Coral and Cayo Zapatilla for 40USD each with just the four of us. We spend the whole day on the boat and saw some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. Not to mention that we could have our own schedule, therefore ditching the “masses”. I can highly recommend discovering those beautiful places this way, as it feels way more special.

Bocas del Toro boat trip panama
Take the boat to paradise.
Cayo Zapatilla Bocas del Toro Panama
Cayo Zapatilla looking drop dead gorgeous.
drone shot bocas del toro panama

Visit Isla Bastimentos

Just a ten minute boat ride from Isla Colon, but it feels like a completely different world. The people who live here actually speak a different language, that some of the people on Isla Colon won’t even understand. With true Caribbean vibes, music pumping out of nearly every house and shop, and lots of colourful houses, the town of Bastimentos is worth a visit. But not just its unique town is a sight, also the surrounding beaches and mangrove forests are absolutely stunning. So spent a day (or a few) here and walk around the little town, visit Red Frog’s beach or Wizard’s beach and go for a surf, or stop by for a sunset dinner at the Firefly.

Isla Bastimentos Bocas del Toro
Even on gloomy days so colourful.

Playa Boca del Drago & Playa Estrella

Maybe the most famous place in Bocas del Toro is Playa Estrella, also known as Starfish Beach. The crystal clear waters and white sands are home to a population of beautiful starfish. However, due to some idiot tourists who want nothing more than holding starfish for their perfect Instagram picture, the population is dying and by far not as abundant as it used to be. So please, please, pretty please, when you go there, don’t touch them or pick them up. They are wild animals that will die if you do.

Playa Boca del Drago Bocas del Toro Panama drone shot
This place leaves me speechless.
Playa Estrella Bocas del Toro
Traveling here in September/October gave us the chance to visit places like Playa Estrella without seeing many tourists. Be aware that it might be slightly different in other months of the year.
restraurant Playa Estrella Bocas del Toro
The spot for cheap lobster.

Take the bus to Playa Boca del Drago

That being said, I can also recommend to take the local bus to this place. Not a boat tour, because you’ll miss out on the real gem. You can catch the bus on the Bocas Town square, which will take you to Playa Boca del Drago. From there on it’s about a 15 minute walk to Playa Estrella. This walk is absolutely gorgeous. Little private beaches, fifty shades of blue and green water, dolphins playing around if you’re lucky, and palm trees in abundance swaying in the ocean breeze. This walk is magical, and you definitely don’t wanna miss out on it!

Playa Boca del Drago house Bocas del Toro

Take the bikes to Bluff Beach (and beyond)

Thanks to our friends at Island Plantation we got to rent some bikes and discover the beautiful surroundings of Bluff Beach. It has an end of the road feeling, with its sandy road along the beach. At the end of Bluff Beach you can actually keep on biking towards the Blue Lagoon and some other deserted beaches where you can go for a swim. We did’t come across any soul (just some howler monkeys) and absolutely enjoyed this hidden part of Bocas.

Cycling Bluff Beach Bocas del Toro
Make sure to be ready for a bit of adventure while cycling the surroundings of Bluff Beach.
Bluff beach Isla Colon Bocas del Toro
One of the many gems you come across while cycling around Isla Colon.
Bluff Beach Bocas del Toro Panama
A long stretch of golden beach with not a single soul on it. Beautiful Bluff Beach.
Blue lagoon Bocas del Toro Panama
So pretty, right? The Blue Lagoon is the perfect destination of your cycle tour on Isla Colon.

Where to eat

Capitan Caribe

Dear guys of Capitan Caribe, we miss your burgers. We talk about them all the time. There isn’t any chance we can get the recipe, right? Or kidnap one of you to take home? What we would do to have one of their burgers right now. And their ceviche. Did we already say we miss it?

Capitan Caribe Bocas del Toro Panama
Fish burger at Capitan Caribe Bocas del Toro Panama
The fish burger at Capitan Caribe. Delicious. Although their beef burger is a must try as well.

Octo

Hidden in one of the side streets of Bocas town is this little garden restaurant. The idea is simple; seafood on the grill. And it is delicious. Their octopus just melts in your mouth with so much flavour to it. Absolutely fingerlicking good. And so is their tuna sandwich. Every bite makes you longing (yes, longing) for another one. Especially when it’s your buddies burger, and not yours.

Cafe del Mar

We literally stumbled upon this little cafe in Bocas Town. It’s the perfect hangout for breakfast or lunch with some delicious coffees. Try out their smoothie bowls, wraps or paninis. You’re totally allowed to come back every morning in order to test their whole menu.

Cafe del Mar lunch spot Bocas del Toro Panama
Cafe del Mar is such a good breakfast and lunch spot.

Ciao Pizza

It seems like running a business on your front lawn is a thing here in Bocas del Toro. And it also seems like these are our favourite places to eat. Ciao Pizza is easily one of our favourite hangouts for a quick dinner. While sitting on picnic tables waiting for your deliciously smelling pizza from the wood oven, you can’t help but think, damn life is best when it’s simple. The crispy thin wood oven pizza covered with anchovies and artichokes was our absolute favourite, although it was hard to pick one with all the serious competition on the menu.

Ciao Pizza restaurant Bocas del Toro
So many good pizza options at Ciao Pizza.

Where to sleep

Surfbreak at Paunch

As we mentioned earlier, during our stay in Bocas del Toro we stayed at Surfbreak at Paunch. There couldn’t be a more suitable name for this place. Playa Paunch with its surf break is literally down the little hill, and from your balcony you can basically check out the waves. You can’t get much closer to one of the best surfs on the island. Want to be the first in the water without having to wake up in the middle of the night? Than this is your spot! With their comfortable cabinas surrounded by nature this really is a great option to stay.

Surfbreak at Paunch drone shot Bocas del Toro
Isn’t this spot just gorgeous?
View Surfbreak at Paunch Bocas del Toro Panama
I mean, this view.

When you’re all surfed out after your sunrise surf, there’s nothing you want more than a killer breakfast, right? Well, they know how to satisfy those needs at Surfbreak at Paunch. With a daily changing breakfast menu with yoghurt and granola, juices and all kinds of hearty dishes you will be sure to be one happy camper before it’s even 10am. Make sure to take the breakfast casserole when it’s on offer, because it’s everything you need after that surf session.

Surfbreak at Paunch Bocas del Toro Panama
Surrounded by nature and awesome views.

Island Plantation

Feel like you need some pampering after all that traveling? Than Island Plantation is where you wanna stay on Isla Colon. It feels like a five star retreat, without the arrogance that sometimes comes with these kind of places. The rooms are spacious, the beds are dangerously comfortable, the pool is gorgeous and the food is delicious. Add the extremely welcoming vibe to this and the fact that walking around barefoot all day long is the bar, and we were sold. The place is absolutely gorgeous, and only footsteps away from beautiful deserted Bluff Beach. A surf spot for the dare devils among us (as it is close to shore, steep and some unforgiving reef underneath), or the ultimate beach bar for some horizontal relaxing.

Drone shot Island Plantation resort Bocas del Toro Panama
Not going home any time soon.
Swimming pool at Island Plantation resort Bocas del Toro
Serious pool goals.
Island Plantation resort Bocas del Toro Panama
Welcome at Island Plantation.

Casa Comunal

How about a surf trip with 6 or 13 of your friends? Doesn’t that just sound like the best holiday? We found you THE coolest spot to stay only footsteps from Paunch break. Casa Comunal might be our dream house, with its industrial architecture and design. I mean, hammocks and swinging beds in the living room? You can either rent out the whole house and get a big group together, or half of the house with just the 6 of you. The house comes with a massive kitchen and equally big dining table, made for long after surf dinners (or take away pizzas from Ciao Pizza just across the road).

Casa Comunal drone shot Bocas del Toro Panama
Private beach, surf break in the front yard, and serious interior goals at Casa Comunal.
Casa Comunal Bocas del Toro Panama
Perfect for long dinners with a group of friends or family.
Casa Comunal Bocas del Toro Panama
Perfect spot for a surf trip with friends, don’t you think?

Plenty of reasons to go back to Bocas del Toro

Like we said, Bocas del Toro is a playground. For both surfers and non surfers. There’s plenty of things to do and explore, although we couldn’t help but think we gotta come back for those notorious surf breaks. We still owe you a surf guide, right? I guess we gotta sleep at the exact same places, eat in the same restaurants and spend our days in the water to find out more about this secret surf spot! See you soon Bocas del Toro!

Marthe

Playa Estrella Bocas del Toro Panama
Sunrise Playa Paunch Isla Colon Panama
Sunrise hour.
Bocas Town Bocas del Toro Panama
Boy Playa Estrella Bocas del Toro Panama
Playa Boca del Drago Bocas del Toro Panama
Can you picture yourself laying there with a Piña Colada?
Palmtrees Playa Boca del Drago Bocas del Toro Panama
Playa Boca del Drago on Bocas del Toro
Stunning Playa Boca del Drago.
Bocas del Toro beach playa Boca del drago
The beautiful walk along Playa Boca del Drago.
Casa Comunal Bocas del Toro
Beautiful Casa Comunal with Paunch in their front garden.
Casa Comunal living room Bocas del Toro
Easy like Sunday morning at Casa Comunal.
interior Casa Comunal Bocas del Toro
Dream interior at Casa Comunal.
Playa Paunch Bocas del Toro
Sunrise hour at our private beach at Casa Comunal.
Paki Point Playa Paunch Bocas del Toro
Paki Point is the perfect spot for a bit of rest during your cycle towards Bluff Beach.
dog bocas town Bocas del Toro Panama
Puppy love in Bocas Town.
Bocas del Toro town Panama
Colourful Bocas Town.
Island Plantation hotel Bocas del Toro Panama
Beautiful Island Plantation.
swimmingpool Island Plantation drone shot
All day, every day.
balcony room island plantation bocas del toro
Our hangout at Island Plantation.
lunch island plantation bocas del toro
Best lunch at the best lunch spot on the island. Living the good life at Island Plantation beach bar.
Sunset bocas del toro panama
Good night.
Bocas del Toro Cayo Coral Panama
Impressive views and ocean slides at Cayo Coral.
dolphins bocas del toro panama
No matter how often you’ve seen dolphins, it’s always magical.
Cayo Zapatilla drone shot Bocas del Toro
Cayo Zapatilla from above.
Beach of Cayo Zapatilla Panama
Cayo Coral people bocas del toro
Making friends over dresses.
Cayo Zapatilla drone shot Bocas del Toro
Washed ashore on Cayo Zapatilla.
Cayo Zapatilla boat trip Panama
Can it get any better?
Cayo Coral Bocas del Toro Panama

Photos by: M. Barends & J. Roeland©.