Leaving Boquete was bittersweet. We really enjoyed our time in the mountains, but at the same time we were excited for some tropical beaches! We took the 7 am shuttle from Boquete to Almirante. It was about a 3 hour drive with gorgeous mountain views. During the trip we went from cool mountain breezes to tropical heat. From Almirante we took a boat taxi to Bocas del Toro, specifically Isla Colon. The half hour boat ride gave us a glimpse of the archipelago and the crystal-clear water. Bocas Town, in Isla Colon, is lined with colorful houses, hotels, restaurants, and bars along the water. It’s quite an inviting view from the boat taxi. Standing on the dock at Bocas Town I could see giant pink starfish in the water below.
We retrieved our backpacks from the boat and pulled up our first reservation for Bocas. We were staying about 15 minutes away from Bocas Town near Playa Bluff. We flagged down a taxi quickly and negotiated a price. This taxi was the first pickup truck taxi we had encountered. After placing our backpacks in the bed of the truck, we piled into the back seat of the truck. Since we were only half full, the taxi also picked up a man and his son who needed a lift to the bank. After, dropping them off he drove around town until he picked up another couple travelling in the same direction as us. We found this annoying, but later realized this was a typical practice in Bocas. Immediately after driving outside of Bocas Town we found out why our taxi was a pickup truck. The paved road ended once we hit the shoreline and became a sandy road full of enormous potholes.
About 15 minutes in, our driver turned left and we arrived at our home for the next 4 days, the Nomad Tree Lodge. Check this place out here. Asher and Amanda were fantastic hosts with 3 adorable dogs that roamed the property. Our favorite part about the Nomad Tree Lodge was that it’s located walking distance to the sea, but you feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle. We woke up to wild parrots and chestnut-headed oropendolas chirping. We sipped our morning coffee (finally a place with good coffee!!) at the main treehouse while watching howler monkeys navigate the treetops around the lodge. Asher and Amanda do not feed or encourage feeding the monkeys, so they don’t interact with (or harass) the guests or vice versa. They stayed within the treetops not taking notice of us at all. It was fascinating to see them in their natural habitat. We were even lucky enough to see a few baby and mother pairs climbing around.
Our first evening we walked to the sea, which was at the end of the driveway of our AirBnb. There was not really any beach, so we walked a little further down the road and waded into the water—it was warm in the most refreshing way possible. I’m used to Atlantic Ocean at Bethany Beach being frigid cold this time of year—to be able to jump into the water without bracing yourself for the freezing temperatures felt, well, luxurious! Wading our way down the shore we came across what looked like a private beach area where trees with low hanging branches blocked the view from anyone who was walking along the shoreline. The perfect little lagoon of solitude to hang out for a while and swim. While floating and enjoying the sunshine we heard crashing through the vegetation behind us on the beach. Out emerged this large dog who bounded right into the water without a moments hesitations. Behind him his owner followed, a sweet woman from Canada, who had just retired to Bocas del Toro! We talked with her and played with her water loving dog, who was a rescue puppy, until sunset. The dog loved Bryan and kept jumping on him and wanting Bryan to throw old coconuts (a beach dog’s version of a tennis ball). Walking back to our AirBnb we came to the conclusion that she had the right idea for retirement—tropical paradise.
The next morning we woke with a mission—to rent bicycles! We went down to Skully’s, a pirate themed bar-restaurant-hostel-bike & ATV rental (what doesn’t Skully do??) and negotiated a price to rent the bicycles for the next three days. With our mode of transportation for the next few days established we set out for Playa Bluff which was about a 20 minute bike ride along the tropical shoreline road. Piece of cake, right? Not so much. Again, the road was a mix of compacted sand and some remnants of concrete road that probably got washed out over the years. We dodged taxis and potholes filled with mud and water. We attempted and failed to bike up a few hills where the road became extremely rocky for some reason. No matter how much speed you had going into the hill those rocks stole your momentum without mercy. It was an adventure for sure, but certainly did not dissuade us from relaxing on the beach! We arrived to Playa Bluff a bit sweaty, but we were rewarded with a gorgeous beach all to ourselves. The first day at this beach the sea was calm enough to swim in. Usually during the rainy season there are rough rip currents, but we got lucky that first day. Our suggestion? Go to Playa Bluff. It is a quiet beach, but a gorgeous one. Bike past the initial Playa Bluff sign to the second or third pathway for a more private beach experience. You could bike another 20 minutes to the end of the beach, but that’s not necessary. If you happen to be there during turtle hatching season, you can visit at night with a guide and see the baby turtles make their journey to the ocean! We learned about this too late into our trip, but wished we could have done this!
Anyways, for the next 3 days we avoided the rain as best we could and took every chance we could get to bike to Playa Bluff. We even successfully biked up one of the hills without having to walk our beach cruisers up the hill! A dip in the refreshing pool at the Nomad Tree Lodge was always a perfect end to the sweaty bike ride back.
Our bike ride into Bocas Town to buy groceries, was a whole other experience because of the intense but short downpours of rain! Darting from store to store and waiting out each downpour became a lighthearted game for us. Luckily, it stopped completely on the way back to our AirBnb. On the way back Bryan saw a coconut tree that had coconuts close to the ground, so we had stop. With great determination he tried for about ten minutes, throwing objects at the coconuts until one finally surrendered. It was pretty hilarious to watch him throw large sticks and old coconuts at the tree. People and even stray dogs walked past giving him funny looks. Yes, dogs can give funny looks! We kept it for 2 days saying we would crack it open and enjoy some coconut water. And then we actually shook it and heard no water sloshing around. So, we threw it out. All that effort for nothing!
On our fourth day, we moved to Lula’s B&B in Bocas Town. We wanted to do some island hopping, and it was much easier from Bocas Town where all the docks are. Our first day we took Asher’s suggestion and ventured towards Red Frog Beach on Bastimentos Island. We asked our boat taxi to take us to Red Frog Marina, not Red Frog Beach. There’s a difference! If you take the boat taxi to Red Frog Beach, you are dropped off at a dock where you have to pay $5 just to walk down the path to the beach. However, if you go to Red Frog Marina, you get dropped off at the dock where the very ritzy Red Frog Beach Resort resides. We got off the boat, and an employee from the Red Frog Beach Resort greeted us immediately and asked if we were staying there. We said, “No, but we would like a day pass to La Rosa.” La Rosa is a restaurant/bar within the resort that has access to a separate and more private part of Red Frog Beach plus a gorgeous infinity pool! For $20 you can feel like a rich vacationer with access to La Rosa, the beach, the pool, the restrooms (which you would otherwise be charged to use), and a complimentary welcome cocktail! So, we decided to live in the lap of luxury for one day—and it was a gorgeous day at that!
The employee gave us wristbands and led us to the lobby of the Resort where we waited for a ride to La Rosa. When we arrived around 10 am, we both couldn’t believe our eyes. The place was gorgeous! It was absolutely worth the money. They also happened to have a 2 for 1 sangria special going…and no one else was there! We soaked up some sun and swam in the infinity pool for a few hours enjoying our complimentary cocktail and sangria's while conversing with the bartender.
We then decided to take a walk along the beach which looked like it belonged on a postcard. The light sand was soft under your toes and the light turquoise sea had gentle waves and was shallow for a good distance before the water came up to your shoulders. Along the shore we saw many private villas with their own private pools! We also spotted a sloth lounging in a tree on the beach, a hawk, and a tree with at least a dozen hanging nests of the chestnut-headed oropendolas bird. We were both awestruck by the speed these birds had entering the tiny entrances of their hanging nests. I also thought they looked hilarious when they chirped. They tilt forwards until they’re almost upside down. When I first saw one tilt forward, I thought they were going to vomit. But instead they just sing their bird song!
After leisurely walking along the shore, we headed back to La Rosa to continue to soak in a few rays of sunshine and swim in the pool. We came back to find that everyone shows up after lunch! We ordered some more drinks and relaxed a bit more before deciding to head back to the dock. We were thankful for arriving early and taking advantage of having the place to ourselves for a few hours. It was by far our favorite day of island hopping in Bocas, and we suggest it to any one looking for a day of luxury on a backpacker’s budget.
Our second island hopping day we wanted to go to Carenero Island. There was a vegan friendly café that I really wanted to check out, and I had heard there were some great beaches there as well. Unfortunately, when we woke up it was raining. And it continued to rain for the entire morning. This is the risk you take when you visit during the rainy season! The rain let up around lunchtime, so we decided to venture out to Leaf Eaters Café. It was a 2 minute boat taxi as Carenero Island is right across the way from Bocas Town. We enjoyed some great vegan tacos and an even better vegan chocolate cake with cacao chunks. Afterwards, we thought we would walk around and find some beaches as the sun had started to peek through the clouds. This turned out to be a mistake. After around 20 minutes of walking through a rundown neighborhood, I started to feel uneasy, so we turned back and caught a taxi boat back to Bocas Town. Note to self: figure out where the great beaches are before just walking around. Here’s what I would have done differently—after finishing lunch at Leaf Eater’s I would have grabbed a boat taxi to Bibi’s, which is on the other side of the island. From there we could have had a drink, rented surfboards, stand up paddle boards, snorkel gear and enjoyed the rest of our afternoon. Future visitor of Carenero Island, learn from my mistakes!
Our third and final day of island hopping we wanted to check out Solarte Island, as it is known for being a great snorkeling spot. After waking up to yet another rainy morning, I decided to try and catch an early morning yoga class at Bocas Yoga. I have heard only great reviews about the instructor here, and the class price was definitely within our backpacker’s budget. However, when I got there, the schedule on the door was different from the schedule at our B&B and on the Bocas Yoga website. They were closed for the day! I was determined, so I found out the instructor had an online class available for free on her website and did a yoga session at our B&B instead. Her instructions were easy to follow, and she had an encouraging and positive vibe in the video. If you are looking for a yoga class, I would suggest it! Just consult the schedule on the studio door as it does change.
Around 11:30 am the rain let up, so we prepared for snorkeling and ventured out. We ate at the Hungry Monkey for lunch in Bocas Town and had some fantastic vegan Banh Mi’s. Our waiter asked us what our plans were for the day, and we told him we were going to the Blue Coconut on Island Solarte for some drinks and snorkeling. He promptly reminded us it was Filthy Friday, and the Blue Coconut would be packed with people. In other words, the sea creatures would probably be scared off by the massive amounts of people partying. He asked some locals also dining and they suggested Hospital Point, which is also on Solarte Island.
Let me back up a second and explain Filthy Friday. It occurs every, you guessed it, Friday in Bocas del Toro. It’s essentially an island-hopping bar crawl that goes to some of the best bars around the islands of Bocas del Toro. You buy a ticket the day before, which includes your cover to all the bars, the fees for the boat taxis (you are hopping islands after all), a tank top, several free shots, and some other swag. Given that it was the day before we left town and being on a backpacker’s budget, we opted out of Filthy Friday this trip. However, if you are up for a wild party while visiting Bocas del Toro, we would suggest it. Everyone we talked to that went had an absolute blast checking out the bars and meeting people.
Now, back to Hospital Point. We decided to take the locals’ recommendation and rented snorkel gear in Bocas Town. We then took a boat taxi to Hospital Point which has no dock, so the boat pulled up as close as it could get to the beach, and we hopped off the boat and waded to the shore. We were warned that we should not bring anything valuable. This is because when most people go there to snorkel they leave their backpacks on the beach while they swim in the water. And once they get back, they find their backpacks have disappeared. There’s actually a sign on the beach naming it Thieves Beach. Well, we didn’t bring anything valuable and only left our sandals and t-shirts on the beach, so we did not have an issue. We put on our snorkel gear, and Bryan readied his GoPro and we dove in and swam around the area. Here’s where I have to be honest—we were not impressed. It could be because the day was cloudy and it had been raining in the morning, but there was little happening at Hospital Point when we snorkeled. In fact, I got nervous because a lot of the water was cloudy, and it was difficult to see what was coming ahead. After about an hour and a half of trying to make the best of our situation, we decided to head back early. Here’s lesson #2 future visitor: it’s cheap enough and well worth it to do a guided snorkel in Bocas as they know what the best spots are given the weather that day.
As I mentioned previously, there are no docks at Hospital Point. We had told our previous boat taxi to pick us up 2 hours after he dropped us off, but we were done with the area and just wanted to go back to Bocas Town. And so, we had a rare chance to practice our "Help! Save us we are stranded on a deserted island" rescue strategy with the boats occasionally passing by. After ten minutes or so we saw a boat not so far off in the distance headed towards Bocas Town we began to jump up and down while waving our arms (I knew I should have packed that flare gun). A few minutes later the boat pulls up, and we clamber into it. After getting situated, I realize the boat is not a taxi, but instead belongs to a family. Two children, a puppy, and a kitten (tied to a stick) are in the boat, and their father is driving. We were even more grateful when they dropped us off and didn’t charge us nearly the same price the boat taxi did. We walked by the boat taxi driver that had originally dropped us off as we went to return our snorkel gear.
And with that, our time in Bocas del Toro had come to an end. The last two days were not as picture perfect as the first five, and I left Bocas del Toro with mixed feelings because of that. As I’m writing this post however, I realize most of our stay had been what anyone would expect from an ideal tropical vacation. It’s silly to expect everything to go as planned, and where would the adventure be in that anyways? I would absolutely visit Bocas del Toro again and try to do what we missed, not to mention visit La Rosa again!