It only took three years of me talking about Bocas Del Toro for us to finally make it there – only slightly longer than the amount of time it took Krista to get dive certified (which is wild given that that was the reason we became friends). So, after dropping Jeiny off in San Jose, Krista and I took a shuttle bright and early at 5:30 am that would get us to Bocas 10 hours later. The journey was far more comfortable than when I did it in college, not to mention the shuttle stopped in Puerto Viejo and included lunch… all for the low price of 40ish USD a person #ballingonabudget. I am sad to say though, the border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama has definitely gotten an upgrade since 2015. I’d hyped up my last walk across the wooden bridge with missing planks and was excited to do it again (don’t worry, it was still strong wood), but we settled for the new, asphalt bridge that wouldn’t collapse under the weight of a few cars/backpacks.
After crossing the bridge, we paid the tourist tax of buying a face shield because we were told they were required for transit in Panama (fun fact- I never wore it again and neither did anyone else in the country). An hour or so later, we arrived at the boat landing where we hoped on the ferry whisking us to Isla Colon in Bocas… finally! Our hostel was only a short walk from where the ferry docked and before we knew it we were checked into our room at Selina.
We had stayed at a Selina brand hostel in Monteverde and loved it, so staying at another one was a no brainer (which is good, cause I have no wrinkles). On top of that the hostel had a deck on the water you could jump in the ocean from and was in the middle of the town (all 8 blocks of it). Sadly, the hostel had some serious construction going on that really took away from the relaxing time we had been hoping for. On top of this, the hostel didn’t assign bunks, which, if you’ve ever been to hostel, is usually standard practice at check-in. Not having that made knowing which bunks we could take rather confusing for us, and the housekeepers who came in each day trying to decide which bunks to clean. So, while I wouldn’t recommend staying here right now, perhaps things will get better after the remodel.
Bocas Del Toro is fairly well known among a few small groups of people, namely surfers and backpackers of Latin America, so if you haven’t heard of it, thats why! Bocas, as they call it for short, is a group of islands in the north of Panama that is famous among the aforementioned groups due to its incredible waves and inexpensive cost of living. I personally remember it fondly from my weekend spent there while studying abroad in Costa Rica (it is closer to San Jose than Panama City… and contrary to what Google kept trying to tell me, I mean Panama City, Panama, not Florida).
Sadly, it appeared that the islands had been hit hard by COVID-19; several of the bars and restaurants had limited hours or, in some cases, no longer existed. We didn’t have any plans for our time in Bocas other than just hanging out, but I was excited to go back to my favorite bar there, Barco Hundido. The bar is built on the water, with a deck that surrounds a sunken ship! Once you’ve had enough liquid courage, you can jump in and see the wreck up close. As this saga of unfortunate events goes… the bar wasn’t as I remembered either 😔
When my group in college went there and had one heck of a night, but this time it was overrun by a gang of young children running amuck 😒. Due to this, we didn’t even stay for a drink. This unfortuante event actually turned our luck around though, as we found an awesome craft beer store that was filled to the brim with Panamamanian and Belgian beers. We each grabbed a couple and headed back to our hostel to enjoy our last night on the water, and the suspense of watching a bunch of guys try to move a solid bar without breaking it or their egos.
The next afternoon, we left Bocas to take an overnight bus to Panama City. The journey began around 4:30 pm and lasted until 4:30am the next morning, when we arrived at our hotel. I don’t know if I’ve ever praised 6 lb 8 oz baby hammerhead as much as today when our hotel, the Courtyard Metromall, had a room ready for us even though their check-in time is 10.5 hours later.
Even though this trip to Bocas was nothing like my previous trip, I would still recommend making the trip there. The people are so friendly, the food is great (our personal favorites were Cafe del Mar and El Patio), and scenery is top notch! Plus, if you surf, or want to learn how to, there’s few places in the world better for it. And definitely don’t skimp out on the bus to Panama City, it’s quite the experience to ride a Latin American bus for that long (and if I can give you one piece of advice for it… holy hackeral, bring a coat) Oh, and make sure to use the bathroom beforehand!!