Caribbean Getaway – Bocas Town, Isla Colon, Panama travel plan

The year round tropical climate, beaches, rainforests, and diverse ecosystem of the Bocas del Toro islands attract surfers, eco-tourists, and celebrities. Although the islands were not well known when Graham Greene visited in 1980, he soon adapted to the unhurried lifestyle of manana (tomorrow). Today, it is a popular vacation spot where the islands, untouched by hurricanes, offer tourists a wealth of natural beauty. Hundreds of species of birds and wildlife thrive in the jungle and rainforests, as well as a variety of marine life within the splendid coral formations of the sea.

The sun is, for the most part, shinning all day. There are rain showers (fewest in may), but they won’t interfere with the peace and fun you hope to get out of your vacation. I would advise to plan your next trip in May, when the rain showers are less frequent. The Caribbean is truly the best vacation idea whether you are looking for family holidays with your children or a romantic destination for your honeymoon. There will be plenty of activities for everyone: spa, surf, diving, jungle excursion, or simply swim and relax on the white sandy beaches. Our destination is Bocas Town on Isla Colon, the capital and main island in the Bocas del Toro group.

Day One:

Arrive in Bocas Town after a 1-hour flight and check into the small boutique Hotel Bocas del Toro where the rooms feature wood craftsmanship and nautical furnishings, modern amenities, and balcony views. Unpack and refresh with a tropical drink while watching the sunset over the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. Dinner tonight on the outdoor terrace of the hotel restaurant where regional and local specialties are featured; try the coconut bread, ceviche, and grilled seafood. Friendly service and very reasonable prices. Enjoy a drink and friendly atmosphere of the indoor and open air sports bar before returning to your room.
Rates – From $150-$175/dbl
Restaurant – All day dining, 6:30am-10pm. Prices – $6-$10.
Bar – Open 6:30am to 10pm (coffee in am, snacks, and meals), happy hour 5-7pm. Cocktails – Avg $3.

Day Two:

Wake up to a beautiful day and delicious, local organic coffee, Café Amigable Doa Mechi served in your room. Since everything is within walking distance in this small town, it’s only a short distance to the Red Frog Express water taxi. You’ll arrive at Bastimentos island in about 10 minutes and from here it’s a 15-minute walk to the small partially secluded Red Frog Beach. You’ll see rare sea turtles, monkeys, and red frogs on the way. Plan to spend a few hours snorkeling along the reef, swimming, sunbathing, or just snoozing in a hammock. If you get hungry, the Punta Lava beach bar and grill has sandwiches, snacks, and tropical drinks. For a full meal, it’s a 5-minute walk to KayuKos restaurant featuring a variety of appetizers, salads, and entrees.
Hours – 11am-10pm. Reasonable a la carte prices, or about $6.50 for the daily special.
Red Frog Express – $7 rd trip. Hours: 11am & 1pm.

Return to hotel and relax before going to the Barracuda restaurant on the town’s main street. Enjoy cocktails or beer and Italian cuisine on the terrace with a view of the sea.
Hours: 10am-10pm. Prices: Entrees – $10-$15, Cocktails – $4

Day Three:

Get an early start today with a big breakfast at Lili’s (recommended by Conde Nast) where the extensive menu includes all types of omelets, pancakes, French toast, eggs benedict, and huevos rancheros. Be sure and try Lili’s famous “Killin’ me Man” pepper sauce; buy some to take home.
Hours: 7am-10pm (Closed Sunday). Prices: $6-$10

Let’s go sailing! Join a Bocas tour for all-day island hopping and spinnaker sailing. Snorkeling at Mangrove Reef, Isla San Cristobal, and The Garden at Isla Solarte. Watch the dolphins in Dolphin Bay. Lunch onboard with drinks and music. Hours: 9:30am-4:30pm. Prices: $45/pp, includes lunch, snorkel gear, and fishing poles.

Head back to the hotel after a day of exploring the underwater wonderland of the sea. Reservations made for El Ultimo Refugio, where The Last Refuge sounds cool and inviting. Enjoy a passion fruit margarita or a Dark and Stormy rum cocktail before dinner. The unusual lighting, tropical plants, and local artwork provide a pleasant, intimate atmosphere. The menu, which changes daily, features an assortment of appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Hours: Mon-Fri, 6pm-10pm. Closed Sat & Sun. Prices: Avg $20. Live music. (Some artwork is for sale.)

Day Four:

After breakfast at the hotel, you’re looking forward to visiting the cacao plantations and learning how chocolate is made. It’s about a 15-minute boat ride to Almirante on the mainland and another 15 minutes to the Oreba Chocolate tour at Rio Oeste Arriba. Tour guides are native Ngabe farmers who explain how organic cacao is grown, cultivated, and made into chocolate. The tour through the jungle and cacao trees ends with a demonstration on making chocolate by the Ngabe women and a traditional meal. You can contribute to the welfare of the community by purchasing some chocolate products at very reasonable prices.
Tour hours: 9:30am and 1pm. Prices: $25-$37 (2-person minimum)

Back in town, a cold Balboa beer sounds good with lunch at the Buena Vista. Choose from burgers, wraps, and salads or a meal of enchiladas, jambalaya, or steak and lobster.
Hours: 12Noon-9:30pm. Prices: Sandwiches, $6-$8; Meals, $10-$20. Tropical cocktails, $4-$9. Beer, $1.50.

The afternoon might be a good time to do some shopping for local crafts, art, and handiwork at reasonable prices. Visit Bri Bri’s for beautiful, traditional molas, carefully stitched, woven cotton fabrics with colorful, intricate designs that can be made into clothing or wall tapestries. Two well known shops for souvenirs are El Cacique and The Garrimar. You definitely should buy more coffee and chocolate to take home at Pachamama. Vendors in Simon Bolivar Park sell everything from food to arts & crafts.

As evening approaches, there’s a nice breeze on the balcony and a hint of rain in the air. Reservations for dinner tonight at Guari-Guari, highly recommended by other travelers for excellent international cuisine, service, and atmosphere. Located on the edge of town away from the tourist crowd, it’s definitely worth the $1 taxi to get there. With only 6 tables, Guari-Guari is cozy and romantic, a top-rated dining experience.
Hours: Open late (call the day before for reservations). Prices: Avg $25, 6 or 7-course meal.

Day Five:

Back to Lili’s this morning for more delicious food. The vacation is coming to an end, and a trip to the clear, calm waters of Starfish Beach is on the agenda. The local bus to Boca del Drago leaves from the main square, about $5 rd trip. Then it’s a 20-minute walk to the beach, or by boat for $1. Look for bright orange starfish in the sand; rent a kayak, floating lounge chair, or a water bike. Bring your camera and a picnic lunch if you like, or visit the open-air Yasinori restaurant for fresh seafood or Creole dishes. Order patacones, fried green plantains, for a side dish.
Hours: 8am-7pm. Prices: $5-$16.

Have dinner tonight at the popular Nine Degrees restaurant (Bocas Town is 9 degrees from the equator). Fresh produce and seafood are on display in the Tropical Market in front. Choose from the menu of fine cuisine such as lobster chicken crepes, yellow fin tuna tempura, or Caribbean vol au vent of lobster and octopus. With a wonderful view of Bocas Bay, outstanding service, and a wide selection of wine and cocktails, Nine Degrees offers patio dining in a casual atmosphere.
Dinner Hours: 6-10pm. Prices: $25-$35 (incl appetizer, entree, dessert, & beverage).

Day Six: Leaving Bocas del Toro after 5 days of Caribbean island pleasure.

Getting there: Daily flights from Panama City on Air Panama, or Avianca from San Jose, Costa Rica. Prices: From Panama City – $180/rd trip, From Costa Rica – $358

(Note: Travelers should bring plenty of sunscreen, along with sunglasses, a hat, and light clothing.)

Sharon L Slayton

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