- Ciara Faber
Panama 🇵🇦 - Getting gnarly in Bocas del Toro
Learning to surf has been on my bucket list for years, but it has just been one of those things I have never got round to doing. So when my fiancé mentioned the idea of going to Bocas del Toro in Panama for a week of surf, sun and smoothies I was sold!
Bocas del Toro is an archipelago located to the west of Panama City, on the Caribbean Sea. It is known for its rich vegetation, lush rainforests and epic surf. Exactly the reason we were there!
We hopped on a tiny plane from Panama City, and about an hour later we were transported to another world. Flying over tiny islands with amazing greenery and white sandy beaches, I knew already I wouldn’t want to leave!
We stayed on the main island of Colon for the first 5 days so we had easy access to our surfing lessons. We stayed in Hotel Bocas Town which was in the center of everything and had a great hotel bar perched above the water. Most of the restaurants and bars are built right on the water and you get little taxi boats between the islands. It has a really chilled, laid back, surfy vibe...and shoes definitely seem optional! (Brings me back to my childhood summers growing up in New Zealand!)
For our last 4 nights we stayed on the Island of Solarte in an amazing eco-hostel called Bambuda Lodge. This place was absolute paradise! It has an open bar and restaurant area overlooking their luscious fresh water pool perched above the ocean. And the best part...there is a massive water slide from the bar straight into the sea! They pride themselves on zero waste and an amazing eco programme which they have won several awards for.
We stayed in one of the private rooms with our own little balcony overlooking the jungle. There was only a mosquito net between the shower and the jungle so we really felt like we were connecting with nature! Their restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and family style dinners which was great for meeting other travelers. For a hostel the food is amazing, with lots of vegan and veggie options too. Best of all, their bar is open all day serving the most delicious cocktails. We tried most of these while soaking up the sunshine in the hammocks and nets by the pool, and I have to say that the mango daiquiri was the winner. Made with fresh mango from their fruit trees, it was delish!
Our main objective for our time in Bocas, was that we wanted to learn to surf. We booked in for a 5 day package of surf lessons with the Mono Loco Surf School. I really recommend these guys! I was a complete beginner...like I don’t even think I’ve barely touched a surfboard before! By the end of the 5 days I was standing up on the board, and (sometimes) catching a wave! If these guys can teach me to surf, they can teach anyone!
In the mornings or afternoons, we would do a small bit of theory work before being taken out to the reef break in a boat. We would then surf for a couple of hours and be taken into the main island again.
After our 5 days of lessons were up, we were so hooked on surfing that we actually just rented boards from the surf school and went by ourselves for a few hours. There is such a surf culture in a Bocas that I really felt like I was one of the cool kids (at last!). It was super easy to take your board and get taken out to the break in a taxi boat, then you arrange a time with them and they pick you up a few hours later.
Bocas is small, but there are a lot of good food options! We had come here after traveling Cuba, so we were really excited just to get some fresh veggies and salads! There are quite a few cute little spots where you can grab a delicious breakfast and smoothie to fuel you up before a day of surfing, but these were a few of our favorites:
La Buguita Ocean lounge was one of our most visited eating joints. The food is healthy and tasty, and the cocktails are delicious! Perched over the water, it’s a pretty cool little spot to just come and chill too. There were a few times we actually came here for lunch AND dinner. Their banana, cacao and coffee Frappuccino made a perfect pre-surfing snack!
Leaf Eaters Cafe says it all in the name really! Really good vegetarian food, but they also combine with the restaurant next door for fish dishes also. This cafe is on the island of Caranero, just a $2 water taxi from the main island. Their veggie tacos....yum!
Bambuda Lodge is the hostel we stayed at on the island of Solarte. You can only eat here if your staying here, but this place is seriously epic so I recommend you staying here anyway! Their food is simple yet tasty, and their dinner menu changes each day. Dinners are served family style on a big table, so we met so many other travelers this way! They have 40 types of fruit trees on their property, so all the fruit for their breakfasts, smoothies and cocktails are picked fresh each day! I think I had a few too many mango daiquiris in my 4 day stay at Bambuda, but it’s fruit...fruit doesn’t count right??
Falafel Bocas turned into our post surfing spot. When we were famished from a few hours catching waves (or trying to!), this was the perfect place to come! Their falafels are really good, their portions are decent and it was on our walk back to our hotel from the surf school...bonus!
Nachyo Mommas Taco Bar is on Red Frog beach on the island of Bastimentos. If staying in Bocas town, Red Frog is about an $8 water taxi away so it’s nice to come here for half a day or so. Red Frog beach is one of the main beaches on the island. Surrounded by lush rainforests, it’s such a beautiful setting and really feels like you are far away from everything. Nachyo Mommas is perched right on this beach and you can eat delicious fish tacos while your toes are in the sand. This long sandy beach is truly beautiful and a perfect place to relax after a morning of surfing.
We bought a 3 dive package with Diving Pirates which was about $120 which included all rental equipment. One of them was a night dive around a shipwreck which was absolutely amazing! The water in Bocas has a lot of bioluminescence, so at one stage of the dive we turned our torches off and waved our hands around in the water. It was like being amongst a million stars! So magical!
Unfortunately when we did our 2 other day dives a few days later, it had been raining really heavily so the visibility wasn’t that great, but I have heard here is a lot of amazing marine life to see!
Since Bocas del Toro is made up of a group of islands in the Caribbean, a great thing to do is explore the beauty of these islands. There is so much beautiful wild life in these jungles. The smaller island of Caranero is easy to walk around. There is a path that leads all along the coast and it takes about 1.5 hours. The whole island is lined with tiny beaches and palm trees. I was amazed to discover the little village here. All the houses are built on stilts as the island is so low to the water.
Another thing I recommend when you are not surfing, is hiring bikes and cycling to Bluff point on the main island of Colon. We hired bikes from Bocas town for about $10 and spent half a day cycling on the little coastal roads. When we were there, there was a surfing contest held here so that was pretty epic to watch. We stopped off at an awesome little beach bar called Skullys. Lined with hammocks and beach beds floating above the water, this is the ultimate place to chill!
Hiking through the jungle was also one of our favorite things to do when we were staying at Bambuda lodge on the island of Solarte. There is a jungle path that leads from the lodge to many sights on the island. We headed to Hospital Point which is a beautiful little spot with a little beach. We also came across a few of the Ngöbe villages where the local people still live. We kept our distance as we were aware of giving them privacy, but I have heard that they don’t mind you going up to them and checking out how they live.
Bocas is definitely somewhere you could come back to and easily stay for a month. I met a few people that had rented a little shack for a few weeks and were just surfing everyday. That is the dream! Our next holiday we may do just that!