Three houses connected by thin walkways over the water on the islands in Bocas del Toro, Panama

The Best Things to Do in Bocas del Toro, Panama

So, you’re going to Bocas del Toro in Panama, and you want to know what there is to do there. Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a lot to choose from! Bocas del Toro is made up of nine main islands, surrounded by thousands of mini-islands (known as islets). Bocas del Toro is a really great place to visit in Panama, firstly because it’s absolutely beautiful, secondly because there is so much to do there, and finally because as tourism trade there is growing, it is becoming more easily accessible and adapted to foreigners.

Throughout this guide, I’m going to give you instructions as though you’re staying in Bocas Town, the largest town on the main island of Isla Colón. This is mostly because that’s where I stayed when I went to Bocas del Toro, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up staying there, too! If you end up staying somewhere else, you’ll still be able to follow this guide. What with being a group of islands and everything, most of the activities I’m going to cover simply involve going to the dock and hopping into a water taxi or onto a boat tour. For the things to do on Isla Colon itself, all you need to do is hop into a water taxi to Bocas town and then follow my instructions from there!

If you’re wondering how to get to or from Bocas del Toro (because it’s not always the easiest!) check out this article on how to get to Bocas del Toro from Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. Soon I’ll be bringing you another article on how to get there or back from Panama City, too, so watch this space!

Read more: Is it safe to travel alone in Panama?

When is the High Season in Bocas del Toro?

For general activities, the high season in Bocas del Toro aligns with the high season in the rest of Panama and Central America, which is December to April. This is simply because the weather is the best (aka, the warmest and the driest, although it did rain a LOT when I went there in January this year…). If you want to go scuba diving, they say that the best time to go is September and October, because this is when the waters are stillest.

If you’re especially into beach activities, check out last week’s article which covered the best beaches to visit in Bocas del Toro!

Go To The Beach

Okay, I’m going to try not to list out all of the beaches again, because I already wrote quite a bit about them in this article about beaches in Bocas del Toro. However, I’ll give you a really quick overview here:

Starfish Beach

This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a beach full of star fish on Isla Colon, just a short taxi or bus ride from Bocas Town. It’s an amazing experience and pretty low-maintenance in terms of travel!

Red Frog Beach

This beach is on Isla Bastimentos, and it’s probably the third most common/touristy area to stay in after Bocas Town and Carenero Island (Isla Carenero). They even have a Selina there! I’m not the biggest fan of Selinas, but generally in Central and South America, if there is a Selina around then it’s a sign that it’s a good destination to visit and there will be other great hostels around, too!

Wizard Beach

Wizard Beach is another beach on Isla Bastimentos, but it’s more out-of-the-way and to get there from Bocas Town you can take a water taxi to Old Bank (the main town on Isla Bastimentos) and then hike through the wilderness to Wizard Beach. Or, you can take a water taxi straight there… but that’s less fun!

Click here for more on beaches in Bocas del Toro.

Scuba Diving

Now, I don’t scuba dive myself, but I met so many people that had gone scuba diving in Bocas del Toro, or who were learning to scuba dive in Bocas del Toro, that it had to make this list. There are so many incredible things to see in these waters, that even as someone with a huge fear of open water, I was tempted to try it. (But spoiler alert: I didn’t.) Bocas Town is a great place for beginner scuba divers, as it has the most diving schools and dive shops.

Dolphin Bay

Whether you’re scuba diving or not, you can’t give Dolphin Bay a miss. Dolphin Bay is a tranquil lagoon close to Isla Cristobál. It’s one of the best places in Panama to go dolphin watching, because they are attracted to the calm waters of the lagoon. The best time of year to go is between June and July, but you have a good chance of seeing dolphins year round at Dolphin Bay.

Read more: What to Pack for Backpacking in Central America

Take a Boat Ride

Now, this sounds a bit basic. You’re going to an archipelago of islands, of course you’re going to take a boat ride! But sometimes you can get so swept away by other activities and the sheer number of boats you’ll take just to get around Bocas del Toro that you’ll forget to do the obvious.

Boat rides are not cheap, especially when you compare them to the low cost of getting around by water taxi, but it’s well worth researching some of the more hidden beaches and bays that you want to visit and book on to a tour. There are a lot of places in Bocas del Toro that you simply can’t see without a tour, and tours offer great value for money in that you’ll get to see a lot of places in just one day.

Filthy Friday

Granted, this isn’t for everyone, but it’s such an iconic thing to do in Bocas del Toro that it had to go on the list. Filthy Friday is, according to their website, the first island-hopping bar crawl in Central America. Included in your $40 ticket you get a t-shirt and some other miscellaneous goodies, free shots, free entry into three parties lasting all day (each one on different islands), and transport in between.

When I was staying in Bocas Town (where the party starts), I wasn’t feeling an all day party. Starting at 11.30am was more of a twenty-year-old Isabella thing to do, so I waved off my friends and spent the day catching up on some work and relaxing in the hostel.

Later on, another friend and I took a $1 water taxi to Isla Carenero and paid $10 entry to meet everyone else at the last party, which seemed like a fair compromise to me. The party was full, fun, your typical beach party vibe; my friends had had a great day and told me that the best party was on the second island. We had a great time at the after party, too! 

Visit the Floating Bar

Just off the coast of Isla Colon is The Floating Bar, a pretty apt name if you ask me! They offer food and drinks, live music, and the chance to jump off their decking into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea below. You can also snorkel after sunset for a chance to see bioluminescent algae glowing below the surface. If you do want to snorkel, you’ll have to take your own equipment (if you don’t have any, ask at your accommodation if they have some you can borrow or rent!).

Nivida Bat Cave Tour

I’m back at you with another tour that is technically a boat tour, but with a twist. Visiting Nivida bat cave is a truly unique experience, but probably not for you if you get claustrophobic. This trip is always part of a guided tour (a local family runs the tours to the caves, and you can do it as a standalone tour or as part of a longer tour that includes other stops). It’s a great way to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat! You can usually book a tour that will pick you up with a shuttle bus (or boat) depending on where you’re staying.

​Water Sports

Now I could list each of these individually, but I think they’re pretty self explanatory. The most popular water sport to do in Bocas del Toro is snorkelling, of course, because what better way to get a close-up look at the coral reef? But there’s plenty more to do: kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding (SUP) and surfing (depending on the beach!)

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