When it’s time to unwind in Panama, there are few better places than Bocas del Toro. This province, which borders Costa Rica to the northwest, comprises part of the mainland along with nine main islands that form an archipelago along the coast.
Much of the mainland is covered by tropical forests protected by national parks, but it’s the archipelago that serves as the main attraction. This island chain has all the Caribbean charm you could ever want, offering a laid-back vibe with plenty to see and do.
The main island is Isla Colón, and this is where you’ll find the capital of the province, which is also called Bocas del Toro (also known locally as Bocas Town). Here you’ll find most of the hotels, restaurants, shops and a lively nightlife scene, as well as a friendly population made up of Latinos, West Indians and expats. And while it’s tempting to just lounge around and soak up the atmosphere, it’s also very easy to hop on a water taxi and go exploring.
Many of the best beaches are located on less populated islands, such as Polo Beach on Bastimentos Island, which is undeveloped, pristine, but easy to reach during a day trip. Eco-tourism and aqua adventures are a big draw in the archipelago, so you don’t have to look far for scuba diving excursions. Deep boarding is a local specialty, and the area has some of the best surf breaks in Panama.
For wildlife spotting, meanwhile, you can head to Starfish Beach and hang out with the aforementioned starfish, or visit Sloth Island for a glimpse of its slow-moving inhabitants. At the right time of year, you can also see green turtles, hawksbills, loggerheads and leatherbacks on various beaches in the chain. Birdwatching is also popular, albeit largely underdeveloped in the area. Notable species include the brown booby, red-billed tropic bird and brown pelican.
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