Bocas del Toro – Part 1 – Isla Colón

by Tracy Kuyat

When Guy & I first decided to head south, we had visions of imbibing rum drinks on the beach right outside our front door.  Plans of mice and men.  We now live in a mountain town, Boquete, an hour and a half away from any beach.

Not that we’re complaining or anything.  We love the mountains as well, and it’s been perfect for adjusting to living the expat life.  Life is wonderful in Boquete.

But the draw of the ocean is always pulling at us. Although we’ve visited a couple beaches on the Pacific side of Panama, they are not our favorites. After the beautiful drama of the California coast, the flat beaches here were rather boring. And the dark, sometimes brown looking water didn’t invite like the sparkling, blue waters of the Caribbean.

Our friends, Josh and Pamela, recently moved over to Bocas del Toro. We had yet to see the Caribbean since moving to Panama, so we headed over the mountains for a little visit and an introduction to life on an island.

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago off the northeast coast of Panama in the Province of Bocas del Toro, right next to Costa Rica.  It’s a 3 hour bus ride from Boquete through some beautiful mountains.

The one way bus shuttle tickets, cost $30 per person, include the water taxi fare.  The shuttle is run by Hostel Mamallena, a local hostel near the central park here in Boquete.  Our bus is a smaller bus, holding 20 passengers or so.  It’s fairly comfortable but I was really happy for the chance to get out and stretch about halfway.  We stopped at the Enel Fortuna Visitor Center, which is near the Enel Fortuna hydro generator.  It’s my understanding that you can get a tour of the facility.  For all you hydro generator buffs, click on the link for a brief history of Enel Fortuna, which is, by the way, the second largest hydro generator in Panama.

Finally we arrived in Almirante, the mainland town where we got dropped off to catch the water taxi.  As our luggage was being offloaded, a couple little local boys began to speak with me.  I think they thought I was from China.  Asians in Panama are not unusual, but most are Chinese.  They seemed a bit surprised when I told them I was from California.  One of them asked if I needed help with my luggage.  When I said no, he sadly said, “Oh S#*t” in perfect English.  Rather humorous.

Guy wheeled our suitcase down the road a bit to the taxi building.  We waited for about 10 minutes for the boat to arrive.  We had a larger suitcase than most, but the guy loading the boat didn’t seem to know what to do with it.  He finally put it in the back where there was space for luggage.  Hmmm….

After a 20 minute ride, we arrived on Isla Colón.  We stayed at Bocas Paradise Hotel.  Our room was on the third floor, which was fine except that Guy had to lug our suitcase up the stairs…no elevators.  Initially our room was located on the side of the hotel next to the bar.  That night it seemed like the speakers were in our room.  But the management moved us to the room next door and the sound was less intrusive.  Especially as the music doesn’t quit till 4 in the morning on the weekends.  If you ever want to book a king bed room, ask for room 306 (definitely NOT 305.)

After we got settled in, our friend, Josh, had to meet some clients, so we, along with his dad, Alex, took a drive out to Playa Bluff.  It’s a long stretch of sand on the east side of the island.  The clients, Harolf and Chris, own Island Plantation Resort.  On the property is a beach bar & grill.  The BBQ plate was amazing!  And we shared several pitchers of Jungle Juice.  It was delicious and highly recommended.  After lunch, while Josh discussed business, Pamela, Guy & I walked along the beach.  It was so cool to be walking along a beautiful, deserted beach with no footprints around but ours.

Bocas Town is a small town.  There are few cars, mostly pedestrians and bicyclists.  The main drag is a small strip of street so getting around on foot is easy.  We got to try a few really good restaurants.  There’s not a ton to do at night as we don’t frequent bars, but we did get to watch the MMA fight, that is, until the electricity went out.  This is, apparently, quite a common occurance here in Bocas.

Next post…the Botanical Gardens & Isla Bastimentos!

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