Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bocas Del Toro: First week!

Welcome to Bocas!

So it has now been almost two weeks since we left Toronto. The day we left was around -30c outside. You could not ask for a better time of year to fly to a tropical island. We had 6 weeks in in Panama ahead of us. We decided to head to a group of islands* called Bocas Del Toro since it had great surf this time of year, beautiful beaches, it was inexpensive and had lots of great little islands to explore.

We were delayed on one of our flights due to the severe winter weather in the US and had to stay the night in Miami. Luckily, we managed to catch our connector from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro last Sunday and arrived on time. At least we weren't stuck in the snow storm of Chicago, am I right? ;)

Mareiguana Hostel - Bocas Del Toro
For our first week, we stayed at Mareiguana Hostel on the main island. This was a classic tropical hostel and we loved it. All the common rooms were open air outdoor areas. This included a bar/dining room, kitchen and a lounging common area that had an abundance of hammocks and view of the ocean. The ocean view deck also has free wifi which turned it into a Facebook-posting-hammock-zone pretty fast. It's a fairly small hostel, only about 20-25 people staying here so you get to know people pretty well. On our last night, they had a big steak BBQ so that was pretty cool. 

Bocas Town
Bocas del Toro consists of three main islands that most tourists visit. Isla Colon, Isla Bastimentoa and Isla Carenero. We were staying on the biggest of the three, Colon, which is also just referred to as Bocas since the main town - 'Bocas Town' is on this island. One of the coolest things here are the water taxis (see pic below). There are these small tin boats driven by locals that transfer you from island to island. They range from $1 to $5 each for a ride (everything is in USD for here for some reason). These water taxis comes in very handy when hopping from one island to another.

Here is a brief overview of the three islands below:

Isla Colon (Bocas)
  • Main Bocas Town on this island 
  • Biggest of the 3
  • Colourful buildings line the water that are mostly hotels with restaurants/bars looking out onto the water. You are almost always dining over the water on a dock type floor
  • Includes a long 'jungle highway' that connects Bocas town to 15km of gorgeous beaches for surfing and swimming. (more on this in my next post)
  • Lots of taxis, trucks, motorbikes and cruiser bikes up and down road 

Isla Bastimentos
  • Next biggest island
  • No cars on this island except for some of the resorts or tours 
  • Gorgeous beaches like Red Frog and Wizard Beach, great for surfing
  • Has a national park/jungle area 

Isla Carnero 
  • Tiny little island with no cars
  • There is a small walking path around entire coast, took us about 3 hours to circle the whole island. 
  • Amazing beaches with chrystal clear water and tons of coconut trees 
  • Lots of surf spots off the reef on one side of island (water taxis can drop you off right at surf break)
Isla Carenero
Along with all the awesome beaches and gorgeous sunshine, there are some negatives as well. 
Here are a few:
  • Spanish. We wish we knew more. A lot of locals don't speak a word of English so conversations are tough. 
  • Bugs. They are bad. We both have over 30 bites and they are incredibly itchy and painful at times. Through reading a bunch of sites, we have figured out that they are sand flies (called Chitra's here) The only real way to avoid if to slather coconut oil on your legs and arms. The little buggers drown on you before they can bite. Seems to be working :)
  • Cold showers. Most places in Bocas don't have hot showers. And if they do, it's just for a few hours a day. These aren't bad at all if you have just come in from the 39c heat. But if you have already cooled down, it can be tough. I know there are some parts of the world where clean water isn't even an option so I will suck it up and be happy for my icy cold shower :) 
  • Cheese. I guess good cheese is extremely had to get on these islands. Every time we order cheese on a sandwich, we get what looks like a Kraft cheese single, still in the plastic! Weird. 
  • Island time. This isn't necessarily a bad thing it just takes some time to get used to... No one is in a hurry. Your food might take an hour to come, your bill might take 25 mins, but no ones cares. It's the islands. We are trying not to make any arrangements that include times. There is just no point. 
A water taxi at the back of our hostel

Interesting facts:
  • Hammocks are the key to success
  • Free wifi is critical if you are traveling around a foreign country with no phone
  • Never sit under a coconut tree. Nathan's rule. A falling coconut is deadly. 
  • Beer in Bocas is $1.50. Everywhere.
  • Happy Hour - just in case $1.50 was too steep, happy hour has $1 beers and $2 cocktails. It also usually includes reggae music and a sunset ocean view. 
  • *Archipelago means a 'group of islands' 
  • We slept in bunk beds for the first week we were here 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kate-

    Glad to hear you're having a great time. Carolyn and I went to Panama a couple of years ago (when we first met) and we had a blast. We spent the majority of our time in Bocas and the San Blas. I'm actually really writing this comment to try to convince you to spend some time in the San Blas if possible. We happened to luck out and spend time on an amazing Catamaran that sailed through the San Blas and it really was a highlight of my travel life. It's a gorgeous part of the world. Take a look at some of my pics on the facebook page (I have a dedicated Panama album).

    Anyhow, enjoy the rest of your trip! We're planning on going to either Chile, Argentina (or both), Rio or New Zealand at the end of February. We haven't decided yet because traveling with a newborn is new for us :) and we're really not sure what to expect. Cheers!