The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is a scattering of over 200 small to medium sized beautiful islands on Panama's Caribbean coast close to the border with Costa Rica. The beaches and their crystalline waters are some of the most beautiful in Panama, and the region is one of the most frequently visited by travellers. Apart from the beaches - sailing tours, scuba diving, snorkelling tours, visits to indigenous communities, hikes through rainforests and surfing can all be organised in Bocas del Toro.
The main island in Bocas del Toro is that of Isla Colon, where the regional capital and airport - Bocas Town - is located. The neighbouring island - Isla Careno - is a short taxi ride away, and has a quieter location with a few hotels. More intimate are the hotels found on the more remote islands of Isla Bastimentos and Isla Cristobal.
Bocas Town & Isla Colon Hotels
The closest decent beach to Bocas Town - Bluff Beach - is 5 miles away. Bocas Town has the best nightlife and the widest range of amenities, including various budget hotels. Some of the better hotels in Bocas Town include Hotel El Limbo on the Sea (poor service apparently), Tropical Suites (condo style that rather lacks charm, but does have kitchenettes), Bocas Inn (good friendly service) and Cocomo on the Sea.
Elsewhere on Isla Colon, Punta Caracol hotel is expensive but ideal for a romantic getaway in Panama, with 9 lovely bungalows and a lovely beach nearby, while Punta Manglar is peacefully isolated and not at all expensive.
Isla Carenero Hotels
Isla Carenero is just a 2 minute water taxi ride from Isla Colon, but is a far more tranquil island in which to spend your vacation in Panama's Bocas del Toro. Careening Cay Hotel is a small resort with highly personalised service found in a lovely setting. Less expensive is Casa Acuario, a four bedroom hotel on stilts over the water. Hotel Dona Mara is a motel like complex but has a lovely beach front location. Tierra Verde Hotel has an equally lovely beach front setting and is popular with surfers.
Isla Bastimentos Hotels
This island, the second largest in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, is home to the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, and is found far away from the busy Bocas Town. The second largest town in Bocas del Toro is found here - Bastimentos Town - which is a rather haphazard and run down place. Some of Bocas del Toro's most beautiful beaches are found in this region - such as Red Frog Beach and the beaches on the Cayos Zapatillas. Diving and snorkelling are also the best here.
Hotels on Bastimentos Island include Casa Cayuco (a jungle style lodge good for families with a calm beach nearby); Al Natural (a remote setting with thatched roof bungalows with sea views); Hotel El Limbo on the Beach (located in front of one of Bastimentos Islands finest beaches, but overpriced and apparently poorly managed); Jungle Lodge (just a few thatched roof cabins, ideal for nature lovers); and Tranquillo Bay (a small resort - the most upmarket on the island).
This island is well known for the dolphins that frequent a nearby bay (Laguna Bocatorito). Consider staying at Hacienda del Toro, which also offers horseriding tours.
Travel to Bocas del Toro
Bocas Town on Isla Colon has a small airport that is served by flights with both Air Panama and Aeroperlas - this is the simplest way to arrive. Air Panama and Nature Air also flies from San Jose in Costa Rica to Bocas Town. For those travelling overland, their are very frequent (ever 30 minutes or so) boats from the town of Almirante during the day for about $5 per person.