Bocas del Toro is one of Panama’s leading destinations. A popular stop with travellers heading down from Costa Rica, this archipelago is known for its breathtaking beaches, exotic wildlife and wild parties.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Bocas del Toro, you’ve come to the right place. Bocas might be a beach destination but trust me when I say there is far more to do than laze on the sand, Balboa in hand! Travellers of all stripes will find something to suit on the many islands, from jungle trekking to dolphin spotting!
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19 Things to Do in Bocas del Toro, Panama
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1. Spend a Day at Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella)
Starfish Beach is one of Bocas del Toro’s most popular day trips. It is easy to visit independently from Bocas Town and boasts a truly incredible beach. As you’ve probably guessed from the name, Playa Estrella is famous for the starfish that call this area home.
When you’re visiting the beach, make sure to pay attention to any warning signs and don’t touch the starfish. It can be very harmful to them if people continuously lift them out of the water.
Be aware that this is a bustling strip of sand that you are likely to share with a whole range of travellers. Be prepared for busy beach bars, a myriad of seafood restaurants and catamarans floating not too far from the shore.
2. Head to Red Frog Beach
So-called after the strawberry poison dart frogs that call this area home, the beautiful Red Frog Beach on Bastimentos Island is a must-visit spot in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Unlike Starfish Beach, this beach has escaped the perils of over-tourism (so far) and retains much of its original charm.
While there are a couple of beach bars and cabanas, much of this sandy stretch has been left well alone. Rent a volleyball from one of the cabanas or do yoga on the deck around the corner overlooking the ocean. Shady spots are fairly limited but if you get there early, you can always pitch up under the palms if you’re looking for a more traditional kind of beach day.
If you’re staying at Selina on Isla Bastimentos, you can walk to Red Frog Beach in around 10 minutes. If you’re travelling from Isla Colon, hop on a water taxi to the Palmar Dock for between $5-8USD. A $5USD fee is charged to enter Red Frog (unless you stay at the Selina hostel) but this money is channelled back into the maintenance of the beach and trail.
3. Go Wild on Filthy Fridays
This may not be something that appeals to everybody but it would be remiss of me not to say that Bocas del Toro is a popular destination among gap year students and those backpacking for the very first time. As such, there is a thriving bar hopping scene that comes into its own every Friday.
The Filthy Friday bar crawl is an all-day island-hopping party experience. It is legendary among backpackers in Panama and many people visit the islands solely for this experience. Tickets cost around $40USD per person and include transport, entrance fees, shots throughout and a branded t-shirt.
4. Drink at Isla Colon’s Floating Bar
If Filthy Fridays sound a bit too crazy for you but you still like the idea of sipping a few cocktails in a beautiful place, check out the Bocas del Toro’s floating bar. A water taxi costs around $2USD from Isla Colón and the location boasts some incredible snorkelling. Don’t miss the sunset here, it’s a really special event.
5. Surf at Playa Bluff
Bluff Beach, located on Colón Island is a surfer’s paradise. As the breaks here are so powerful, it is not possible to swim or paddle but is a great place to catch some waves. The area around Bluff Beach is a popular base for visitors to Isla Colón and there are places to eat and drink nearby.
Colectivos leave from Bocas Town a few times a day (ask at your accommodation for more information) or you can cycle there in around an hour. Taxis are also available.
6. Wildlife Spot on a Jungle Hike
Although most people probably come to the Bocas del Toro archipelago for the beaches, it is home to some truly astounding Panamanian wildlife too. There are loads of great walking trails in the area, many of which take you through forested areas where it is possible to see a variety of animals. Keep an eye out for strawberry poison dart frogs, sloths, monkeys, geckos, toucans and more!
If you’re looking for some good hikes in the area, I’d recommend using the AllTrails app. I found some incredible treks including the very scenic (albeit a little wet) hike to Starfish Beach from Bocas del Drago.
It is always good to have an offline copy of your trail map. After all, phone signal comes and goes, especially in more remote areas! To make sure that I don’t get caught out, I use AllTrails Pro. It allows me to download trail maps direct to my phone and also tracks my journey, compiling my stats at the end. I also love sharing my adventures with the AllTrails community! Try a 7-day free trial of AllTrails Pro here.
7. Check out Nivida Bat Cave
Located on Bastimentos Island, Panama’s Nivida Bat Cave is a great activity for adventurous travellers. Near on impossible to access without a tour, the bat cave can only be visited with a guide. It isn’t the most glamorous activity (expect to get pooped on by plenty of bats 💩), but it is a novel way to spend a morning on Bocas del Toro.
A trip to the cave will see you explore a short tunnel, with thousands of bats overhead before you plunge into a cool rock pool at the end of the trail. Bring a wetsuit if you have one (the poop really stinks) and keep your eyes peeled for creepy crawlies in the dark!
8. Marvel at the Plastic Bottle Village
Visiting the Plastic Bottle Village is perhaps the most unusual thing to do in Bocas del Toro. This impressive castle, built using over 40,000 plastic bottles and standing four storeys high has even been recognised by the guys over at Guinness World Records.
Owner Robert Bezeau aims to educate the adults of tomorrow through his upcycling creation. He has even introduced the concept of ‘repent vacations’. These allow guests to stay at the Plastic Bottle Village and repent for their plastic crimes. Upon leaving, visitors are given a certificate of repentance and a repent t-shirt. That is certainly a way to make your Bocas trip one to remember!
9. Stay on Isla Cristóbal
This beautiful island is relatively untouched when compared to more popular parts of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Still, there is plenty to see and do here. I recommend staying at the incredible Dolphin Bay Hideaway where you can get plenty of tips from owners Brian and Amy.
Wildlife is easy to spot in this quiet part of the island and howler monkeys can sometimes be heard in the distance. For a really special day, enjoy a few cocktails overlooking the bay where dolphins frolic in the wild and top it off with a nature walk to learn about the conservation work that is being done here.
10. Visit Bocas del Drago
Easily accessible via colectivos which leave from the main square in Bocas Town, Bocas del Drago is home to a small but breathtaking beach. As most people use Bocas de Drago as a jumping-off point for Starfish Beach, the beach here sees far fewer visitors than it deserves.
11. Take a Day Trip to Cayos Zapatilla
The most popular day tour in the whole of Bocas del Toro, the opportunity to explore Islas Zapatillas should not be passed up. These two uninhabited islands form part of the Bastimentos National Marine Park and boast beautiful beaches, crystalline waters and colourful coral reefs.
The Zapatilla Islands are also hugely important spots for the sadly endangered hawksbill turtles that nest on these shores. Tours to these islands usually cost around $50USD per person, depending on where you are leaving from.
Tours to Zapatilla Island usually last all day and include a few other stops, including Sloth Island, Cayo Coral (a popular snorkelling spot) and Cayo Zapatilla.
12. Hire a Kayak or SUP
Although some of the beaches in Bocas del Toro are not suitable for swimming or paddling, there are some very beautiful bays if you know where to look. Hiring a kayak or stand-up paddleboard is a great way to explore these calmer waters. Dolphin Bay, Isla Carenero and Hospital Point on Isla Solarte are popular spots.
13. Go Snorkelling or Diving
There are plenty of great snorkel and dive spots all over the archipelago for marine enthusiasts, from shipwrecks for divers and mangrove reefs for snorkelers. To get to many of these, a tour is often the best option. In fact, many of the most popular trips such as the one to Zapatilla Island will likely include a few snorkelling stops as part of the itinerary. If diving is more your thing, check out Bocas Dive Center.
14. Experience Bioluminescence
Did you know that Bocas del Toro is somewhere you can experience bioluminescence? Caused by bioluminescent dinoflagellates (that’s plankton to you and me), these marine organisms emit light when they are disturbed, resulting in light flashes through the water, creating a blue glitter effect.
This cool natural phenomenon can be seen in the darkest parts of Bocas del Toro where there is little light pollution. To get the best view of the bioluminescence, I recommend jumping on a kayak or paddleboard. Read more about experiencing bioluminescence in Bocas del Toro here.
15. Explore Old Bank
Located on Isla Bastimentos, Old Bank is the largest settlement on the island. It is a typical Caribbean town, characterised by colourful wooden houses which sit on stilts. The Afro-Caribbean community that lives here speak the Creole language Guari-Guari, helping to preserve their culture.
16. See Dolphins in the Wild
Many of the water taxis offer tours to see dolphins in the wild. Unfortunately, not all of these are as ethical as you would hope. Many of these motorboats will actively chase the dolphins, causing stress to the animals.
While it is definitely recommended to see the dolphins, I’d advise doing your research to make sure you’re heading out with an eco-conscious tour provider. By far the coolest way to see the dolphins is to do so from kayak or paddleboard. This allows you to get close to the dolphins without being so intrusive.
17. Hang Out at Wizard Beach
This remote beach makes for a quiet and chilled day out. Situated on the eastern side of Bastimentos Island, you have to hike to Wizard Beach along a jungle trail. The easiest way to get there is to first head to Old Bank and then follow the trail from there. The locals, many of whom speak English, should be able to direct you if you get stuck.
Be warned, Wizard Beach is not safe for swimmers. It is also largely untouched so you’ll need to bring everything you need with you. Don’t forget sunscreen and snacks!
18. Check Out Bird Island (Isla Pajaros)
This jungle island floats off the Boca del Drago side of Isla Colon. Although it is not possible to land there, boats often do a lap of the island to enable visitors to see some of the rare and exotic birdlife which calls this island home.
Keep your eyes peeled for the stunning Red-billed tropicbird as well as terns, frigates and pelicans. Tours sometimes visit Bird Island as part of a wider itinerary. Alternatively, you can charter a water taxi to take you here from Bocas del Drago.
19. Do a Cacao Tour
Up in the Hill Ecolodge and Cacao Farm is a great place to go if you want to mix up your beach days with a bit of Panamanian food culture. This family-owned farm is nestled on Isla Bastimentos and offers chocolate tours to foodie travellers.
Consisting of a walk around the farm and cacao plantations, you’ll learn all about how cacao is grown and made, while also being able to try it at every stage of the process. Tours cost approx. $40USD per person.
And, for a stay you won’t forget, you can also book a night in one of their cute eco-cabins in the jungle. Book direct via their website or reserve on Airbnb.
How To Get to Bocas del Toro, Panama
Flights depart from Panama City for Bocas del Toro. There is also the option to catch a bus from the Aldbrook bus terminal in Panama City. These take you to Almirante where you’ll need to catch a water taxi to Isla Colón. Check to see whether this is included in the cost of your ticket.
Many people head to Bocas del Toro from Costa Rica. Flights leave from San Jose for Bocas del Toro. If you are getting a bus from Costa Rica, you’ll need to catch a bus to the Sixaola/Guabito border. Once you’ve crossed the border, there will be colectivos running to Almirante where you can jump on a water taxi to Colón Island.
Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro, Panama
There are loads of accommodation options available on Bocas del Toro. Here are a few that I recommend:
Selina Red Frog (Isla Bastimentos): This rustic yet charming offering set in the jungle is a great spot just a stone’s throw from Red Frog Beach. There are a variety of rooms available including cute teepees and bungalows. Yoga classes run daily on the upstairs deck or at the beach.
La Loma Jungle Lodge (Isla Bastimentos): For outstanding Panamanian hospitality, look no further than La Loma. This beautiful jungle lodge includes breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a wonderful place to relax. If you’re wanting to escape the bar crawls and find some calm, this is the spot for you!
Dolphin Bay Hideaway (Isla Cristobal): Arguably the best accommodation in the entire archipelago, this luxury stay will cater to all of your needs. Hosts Brian and Amy are first-class and will do everything they can to make your stay memorable. A highlight of any visit here is the nightly communal dinners.
Koko Acqua Lodge (Isla Colón): The waterfront bungalows of Koko Acqua Lodge are an Instagrammer’s dream! While the bungalows offer everything you could need for a stay on Bocas, it is the evening drinks with ocean view that make this place really special.
What are your favourite things to do in Bocas del Toro, Panama? Share your recommendations in the comments!