Last updated on January 31st, 2024
Bocas del Toro is a stunning archipelago on the Caribbean coast of Panama where people tend to get stuck — in the very best way. Once travelers taste the sweet nectar of these nine magical islands, they are temporarily immovable. Sun-seekers are transfixed by the stunning beaches, laid-back Caribbean vibes, and the water taxis that transport them between Isla Colon, Isla Carenero, Isla Bastimentos, Isla Solarte, and the dreamy Zapatilla Cays.
Between Bocas’ palm-lined streets, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for whether that’s world-class surf or great beaches, wonderful seafood, or wondrous vistas. Bat cave tours, hiking, birdwatching, snorkeling, and diving are also reasonable pastimes here (diving schools are literally littered all over the place). Also, the novelty of actually having to take a scenic water taxi as your primary means of inter-island transport never, ever wears off. Wi-Fi is also decent for getting work done (if you’re able to pull yourself away from the beach). This is one of the best places in the world to live if you love island hopping. Read on for the ultimate Bocas del Toro digital nomad guide.
Fast facts about Bocas del Toro
No one is entirely sure where the archipelago gets its name from (Bocas del Toro means “bull’s mouths” in Spanish), but rumor has it that the last chief who ruled over the region was called “Boka Toro”.
Bocas del Toro is a part mainland, part archipelago province in Panama on the Caribbean Sea. Bocas del Toro has nine main islands, dozens of cays, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the form of Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park (which was the first marine park in Panama). The US dollar is the currency in Panama and you can expect warm temperatures year-round, but the most picture-perfect weather in Bocas is between October and November.
The three primary islands in Bocas del Toro are Isla Colon, Isla Carenero, and Isla Bastimentos. Bocas Town on Isla Colon is the main hub of activity with the most hotels, restaurants, and shops. More and more digital nomads are discovering this little slice of paradise and some digital nomad communities like Hacker Paradise and Noma Collective have run programs here.
Photo Credit: Azul Resort, Isla Bastimentos
Where is Bocas del Toro?
Bocas del Toro is an aesthetically blessed archipelago in the west of Panama. Many cross over by land from the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica to reach it.
Bocas del Toro Map
How to get to Bocas del Toro
There are two ways to get to Bocas from within Panama. The nice and easy method is to fly there within an hour from Panama City. Flights start from USD 105 one-way with Air Panama. I include only one-way prices as many tend to intentionally miss their return flights. It’s about an hour’s flight from Marcos A. Gelabert Albrook Airport (be sure not to go to Tocumen International). Once you land at Bocas airport, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s only a five-minute walk to the town center on Isla Colon (Bocas Town).
The slightly more long-winded, treacherous bus route takes ten hours and favors the penny-wise. The journey involves a long, overnight bus to Almirante, then getting a taxi to the dock, and then taking a 30-minute water taxi to Bocas Town on Isla Colon, the main island. Bus tickets can be purchased in Panama City at the Albrook Bus Terminal. The total journey (including the bus ticket to Almirante, the taxi to the dock, and then the 30-minute final leg of the journey by water taxi costs around $40 in total.
For the trip, it’s best to dress like you’re going on an extended outdoor expedition in the Arctic, as that’s how cold the air-conditioned bus is. If you manage a wink of slumber or two, be sure to wake up at Almirante and not the final stop, which is Changuinola.
Where to work in Bocas del Toro
Selina Bocas del Toro (Isla Colon)
Most digital nomads in Bocas del Toro will inevitably head to Selina in Bocas Town at one point or another. This is the place with the most reliable Wi-Fi on Isla Colon and the views are great. There is a dedicated coworking space upstairs that’s quiet and a private phone booth is also available for calls.
Selina Red Frog (Isla Bastimentos)
If you’d like to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bocas Town, over on Isla Bastimentos, Selina Red Frog will provide beach lodging and a coworking space where monkeys and sloths hang around in the nearby trees.
La Ranita (Isla Colon)
A supremely cozy cafe at Hotelito del Mar that’s open until 2 PM daily. This is one of the best coffee shops in Bocas for remote workers to plug in and log in with good Wi-Fi speed. Work and dine on hearty sandwiches, toasties, and smoothies in a host of tropical flavors. Service is friendly and there is no shortage of wall sockets.
Cafe del Mar (Isla Colon)
A stone’s throw from La Ranita, Cafe del Mar has a few tables, a convivial atmosphere, healthy meals, and delectable smoothies (try the Bocas Passion). This is also a prime people-watching location.
Bocas del Toro budget hostels and hotels
Bambuda Bocas Town (Isla Colon)
Occupying what used to be Mamallena Hostel, Bambuda Bocas Town is a comfortable hostel with dorms and private rooms with balconies. Guests and non-guests alike love the bar and lounge area where there are board games galore and an action-packed nightly event schedule including movie night and jazz night. If you plan to do some island hopping and spend a few nights on Isla Solarte, spend a night or two at Bambuba’s first Bocas del Toro outpost, Bambuda Lodge, which has a 150ft slide that dips straight into the sea.
Spanish by the Sea (Isla Colon)
When you stay at Spanish by the Sea, you’ll find yourself having shared dinners and conversations over cards against humanity. The hostel is situated a little bit further away from the action of Main Street, but that adds to its charm. It has a large, open kitchen, which is one of the focal points of social interaction, as people will often cook together there. It’s a Spanish school as well as a hostel so there are lots of breakaway areas and desks for working. Taking Spanish lessons is also one of the popular things to do in Bocas del Toro. If you visit Boquete, this language school also has an outpost there called Spanish by the River.
Photo credit: Booking.com
Aqua Lounge (Isla Carenero)
Aqua Lounge Bar and Hostel on Isla Carenero used to have a trampoline that you could bounce directly into the water from but that has since been done away with. There is still however a tightrope and a high jumping platform that invites copious amounts of water play. You probably won’t get the best night’s sleep of your life here though owing to the loud music from the bar.
Selina Bocas del Toro (Isla Colon)
Selina Bocas Toro is certainly the biggest powerhouse hostel in all of Bocas del Toro. The rooms are air-conditioned (which is much-appreciated in the Bocas heat) and the Wi-Fi here is strong enough to stream your favorite shows from back home. They also have a buffet breakfast every day as well as a lovely lounge area with a swing and a dock for swimming.
Bocas del Toro mid-range and luxury hotels
Bocas Paradise Hotel (Isla Colon)
A hotel practically so new that you can smell the fresh licks of paint, Bocas Paradise Hotel was remodeled and reopened in December 2019 with a pleasing pastel color palette. A waterfront cafe is where hotel guests and nonresidents alike enjoy photogenic dishes (many of which are vegan and gluten-free). Late check-out is available for $10 per extra hour.
Gran Hotel Bahía (Isla Colon)
Stay in one of Gran Hotel Bahía’s 19 luxury Caribbean-style rooms and you’ll be treated to a generous buffet breakfast each morning. The building’s first plank of wood was laid in 1905 and its owners have since restored it to become one of the loveliest accommodations on Isla Colon.
Eclypse de Mar Aqua Lodge (Isla Bastimentos)
Sequester yourself in nature at Eclypse de Mar, an over-the-water bungalow resort on Isla Bastimentos. Snorkel, kayak, and paddleboard to your heart’s content, or enjoy spending time in your private ocean-top bungalow, all of which have glass panels for marine observation.
Azul Paradise (Isla Bastimentos)
Make all your dreams come true at once with a stay at the fabulous over-water bungalows at Azul Paradise. Here one may unashamedly binge on all the blessings the water brings: fresh seafood caught by the on-site staff, decks stretched out onto the water for night stargazing, as well as water sports galore – pedalos, kayaks, and paddleboards. They don’t call it paradise for nothing.
Photo credit: Azul Resort, Isla Bastimentos
Azul Paradise Bocas Town (Isla Colon)
Azul Resort’s Isla Colon outpost, Azul Paradise Bocas Town is the most stylish and modern hotel on the lively Main Street. This boutique property is a relatively new addition to Isla Colon’s collection of hotels and all rooms are pristine with blue and white accents, luxury rain showers, and the on-site restaurant, Azul Paradise Oceano, is just fabulous.
Things to do in Bocas del Toro
Read the Bocas Breeze
To keep up to date with all the cool things Bocas, bookmark The Bocas Breeze, an English-language print newspaper and digital magazine run by a boisterous guitar-playing long-term resident.
Hit the Pool
With temperatures rarely dropping below 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 Fahrenheit), you are sure to feel hot while in Bocas. If you’re staying in Bocas Town, you’ll notice that the closest beach, Playa Istmito, isn’t exactly the loveliest. When you need a super urgent dip, head to Merén Pool Club at Tropical Suites Hotel for a delicious day in the water.
Listen to live music
Bocas del Toro is a melting pot of cultures and you’ll definitely notice that you can always hear music wherever you are. You should be able to find a rocking band playing on Main Street (Calle Principal). One surefire spot to find some sweet live jams is at La Buga, a dive shop with a restaurant on the water and an outdoor rooftop deck and bar. The soft sound of the waves crashing around the restaurant doesn’t hurt either.
Do sunset at Bibi’s on the Beach (Isla Carenero)
If you take just one thing away from this Bocas del Toro digital nomad guide, it’s that you mustn’t leave the archipelago without visiting Bibi’s on the Beach. Though many come to Bibi’s primarily for the best piña colada of their lives made with locally sourced coconuts, you are urged to try the seafood creations, too. The seafood soup crammed with octopus, shrimp, potatoes, and mussels is simply divine. Also, just by peering over the corner of your table, you might see a manta ray or two. Take note that bar/ restaurant hopping on Isla Carenero is one of the top cool things to do in Bocad del Toro on a Sunday. Bibi’s, Receta Michila, and Aqua Lounge all have alfresco festivities involving special food and/ or live music.
Best Bocas del Toro beaches
Red Frog Beach (Isla Bastimentos)
The most famous beach on Isla Bastimentos got its name from the red poison dart frogs that can be heard croaking thunderously throughout the day. You won’t have many neighbors here as it’s a little on the quieter side, but you can always pop into Palmar Beach Eco Lodge, which is directly on the beach for a snack and on to play on the swings when you’re once again ready for human contact.
Palmar Eco Lodge on Red Frog Beach, Isla Bastimentos
Paunch Beach (Isla Colon)
Fabulously, at Paunch Beach you can choose to lay on the sand or on the seriously snug lounge chairs at Paki Point — you’ll enjoy melting into them. Accessing Paunch beach will require getting on your bike as it’s off the beaten track on Isla Colon but it’s a scenic and noteworthy journey during which you may see crocodiles resting.
Bluff Beach (Isla Colon)
Surfers love to hang out at Bluff Beach. In fact, household names in the sport like Kelly Slater have come here to ride the waves. There’s an annual bodyboarding competition here too (Bocas Invitacional). Bluff Beach is where you can come to hide out when you have had a bit too much party in Bocas Town and prefer to spend your days with birdsong and crashing waves.
The Zapatilla Cays are two uninhabited paradise islands in Bocas. You’ll want to bring your own picnic gear as there is no infrastructure whatsoever. No restaurants, no shops, nothing but bliss. If you ever wanted to feel like Tom Hanks in Cast Away for a day, Zapatilla is just the place. Day trips to these cays often include snorkeling stops and a visit to Dolphin Bay.
Starfish Beach (Isla Colon)
What Starfish Beach lacks in waves, it makes up for with the abundance of gorgeous echinoderms (starfish to you and me) trickled all over the bottom of the ocean. The waters are ever so still there, the main sounds that will envelop you are from the local families who come ridiculously well-prepared for their beach days with chairs, tables, parasols, board games, boom boxes, and multiple coolers. There are also a delightful number of beachside restaurants, each selling juicier octopus dishes than the last. Starfish Beach is a wonderful place to just lie, watch, breathe, and exist. Don’t leave your snorkel gear at home.
To get to Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella), take the bus from Isla Colon’s Main Street towards Boca del Drago. The bus departs from the central park and one leaves every 30 minutes. From Boca del Drago you can take a short boat ride directly to Starfish Beach or walk for 20 minutes.
Boca del Drago (Isla Colon)
Boca del Drago tends to be a pit stop on the way to Starfish Beach but it’s gorgeous in its own right, and a tad calmer on weekends. Stop at Yarisnori restaurant for a refreshing drink and snap up one of the white beach cabañas.
Carenero Beaches (Isla Carenero)
You know you’re at Carenero when you see the pretty yellow houses on the water (Hotel Faro del Colibri). Many will argue that Isla Carenero is more picturesque than the main island of Isla Colon as it “looks more like paradise”. Be prepared to make friends with all the fiddler crabs traipsing along merrily. Carenero is certainly quieter than Isla Colon. With the exception of Aqua Lounge, there isn’t too much going on here. Long stretches of white sand beach and jungle are all yours for the taking. All yours.
If your beach day extends past sunset, be sure to look all the way up; there are more stars to be seen from Isla Carenero at night than from Isla Colon. Walk up to one of the extended boat docks so the water surrounds you, lay flat on your back, and look at the stars. If that isn’t bliss, I don’t know what is.
Music to listen to in Panama
We curated this playlist of songs from and about Panama for you to dive deeper into the destination.