Starfish Beach, known locally as Playa Estrella, is a must-visit spot for travellers heading to Panama’s Bocas del Toro province. This beautiful beach can easily be visited on a day trip from Isla Colon via a tour or independently – if you know what you’re doing!
If you’re looking to experience Starfish Beach in Panama, you’re in the right place. This article will tell you everything you need to know, from how to get there using public transport, associated costs and what to expect from your visit.
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- Experiencing Bioluminescence in Bocas del Toro
- Visiting Nivida Bat Cave, Bocas del Toro
A Guide to Starfish Beach, Panama
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Starfish Beach Map
Best Time to Visit Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro
In order to heighten your chances of seeing starfish, you’ll want to visit Bocas del Toro during the dry season. February to April is a great time to visit with September and October also offering generally dry weather.
November and December can be rainy which doesn’t make for the best beach days! The water also tends to be choppier around this time, making it a great time for surfers but less good for those wanting to lounge. Therefore, if possible, try to avoid these months.
Starfish Beach is not a surf beach so if you are heading here for that reason, you’ll likely be disappointed. Instead, opt for a day trip to Bluff Beach (Playa Bluff) if you want to ride some of Panama’s waves.
Starfish Beach: Tour vs. Independently
Many of the local accommodation options and tour agencies offer trips to Starfish Beach. It is usually a stop on a more comprehensive trip around the archipelago which will see you visit a few spots over the course of a day. These trips often include visits to Reg Frog Beach and Isla Zapatilla.
A tour can be a good option if you are strapped for time because you’ll likely travel by boat, a quicker mode of transport. However, tours can be quite expensive, making them less appealing for budget travellers.
If you have more time on Isla Colon and want to visit Starfish Beach, I recommend visiting independently. Small buses (known locally as colectivos) depart Bocas Town regularly and don’t cost too much – this makes it a cost-effective day trip.
Getting to Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro
To get to Starfish Beach, you must first make your way to the Bocas del Toro province. Flights depart regularly from Panama City as do buses. If you take the bus, make sure to stock up on travel sickness pills, the roads are very windy!
Once you’re in Bocas, you’ll have the option of visiting Starfish Beach as part of a tour or independently. If you’re on a tour, you’ll likely travel to the island by boat. Trips run from both Isla Colon (where Starfish Beach is) and Isla Bastimentos, the other large neighbouring island.
To get to Starfish Beach independently, you’ll need to first head to Plaza Simon Bolivar in Bocas Town. This is the main town and buses depart from here every hour. Look for the bus which says ‘Bocas del Drago’ on the front.
The journey takes around an hour in total and you’ll need to get off at the very last stop. It costs approx. $2.50USD one-way and $5USD return. The last bus back from Bocas del Drago departs at 5 pm so make sure you allow enough time to catch the bus back to Bocas Town!
Once you arrive in Bocas del Drago, you have two options to get to Starfish Beach. The first of these is to get a boat to the beach. As soon as you depart the bus, you’ll likely have local boatmen offering you this option. This will cost around $1USD.
Alternatively, and the option I recommend, is hiking to Playa Estrella. The trail is marked on AllTrails and is easy to follow. The walk takes around 15 to 20 minutes and showcases some truly stunning scenery.
Be warned, the trail is wet in places so water shoes would be the best choice. I had to paddle through a shallow lake at one point! Hiking sandals or Crocs would be ideal but if you’re happy to go barefoot, go for it!
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.
Things to Do (and Not Do) at Starfish Beach, Panama
In all honesty, there isn’t loads to do on Starfish Beach, however, that is entirely its appeal! Enjoy a guilt-free day away from your laptop, chilling on a beautiful Caribbean beach.
- Relax on the beach
The most popular activity to do when visiting Starfish Beach is to relax! The white sand makes for the perfect place to throw your travel towel and pitch up with a good book.
- Enjoy a Panamanian lunch
Despite the photos you may have seen, there are A LOT of restaurants on Starfish Beach. The locals know that this spot is popular with tours and therefore, commercialisation has followed.
As a result, there are a number of places to enjoy local Panamanian cuisine. Opt for a seafood dish for the freshest meal.
- Sip on local beer
As well as restaurants, there are several bars dotted along the sand. Pick up a local Panamanian beer for as little as $1.50USD!
As you’d expect from a beach famed for its underwater life, snorkelling is a cool thing to do here. However, I didn’t see anywhere renting snorkels on Starfish Beach. If this is something you are interested in, I’d recommend buying your own (so you can use it for your entire Bocas del Toro itinerary) or renting one in Bocas Town somewhere.
And what is the one thing you shouldn’t do?
Do 👏 Not 👏 Touch 👏 The 👏Starfish
Under no circumstances, should you touch the starfish or lift them out of the water. There are signs all over the beach warning visitors against this but a surprising amount of people do it anyway. It can kill them. It shouldn’t need to be said but an Instagram snap is never worth more than a life! *Now repeat it for the people at the back.*
What to Bring to Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro
The following items are recommended for visitors heading to Starfish Beach.
- Change of clothes
- Action cam (I didn’t bring mine and severely regretted it!)
- Reef safe suncream
- Insect repellent (if you don’t plan on swimming)
- Beach towel
- Water shoes
Places to Stay Near Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro
A great budget-friendly offering for backpackers, Cliff’s bright and colourful hostel is set in La Gruta. There’s a laid-back vibe which makes it easy to get to know other travellers and the whole place is really clean.
For a more upmarket choice, head to Mosana Reef Garden, close to Bluff Beach. Beautiful views are a guarantee here and the hosts are some of the best that you’ll find. Unlike Bocas Town where you’re likely to be kept awake by thumping baselines, Mosana is set in a really quiet area, meaning you’ll be able to drift off to the sound of the waves.
These luxury cabins sit over the water on Isla Colon. Despite each bungalow being its own standalone accommodation, they all form part of a larger company. This means that the owners can easily arrange tours for guests and there is an extremely well-rated restaurant on site. If you are planning to visit Bocas for your honeymoon and are looking for something special, this is the place!
Starfish Beach is a destination not to be missed on your Panama itinerary. Just one section of breathtaking coastline in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, beautiful beaches and exotic marine life are par for the course in this special part of the country.
Have you visited Panama’s Starfish Beach yet? Let me know your experiences in the comment section below!