WHAT TO DO
in Bocas del Toro
The List of Things to do in Bocas del Toro is Endless...
The Bocas del Toro archipelago is one of the most unique and diverse destinations in the world and is only recently being discovered as one of the world’s top destinations for travelers.
PirateArts Experience Resort is located on the tiny and wave-rich Carenero Island, just a quick boat ride away from Isla Colon and the tour operators, restaurants, nightlife, and dive and surf shops that can be found there.
This guide details the things you can do that are specific to PirateArts Experience Resort, as well as the many things that you can do all around the Bocas Islands!
What to do at PirateArts Experience Resort
Kayak & Paddle Board – Guests of our resort have free use of our kayaks and stand-up paddle boards that can be used to explore the bay in front of our property. You can also venture out much farther and even do a lap around the entire island when the ocean is flat!
Surfing – Our guests also have the unique ability to walk to Carenero Point in under 10 minutes due to our incredible location. If you are a surfer, one of your fondest memories of Bocas del Toro will be making the quick jungle hike out to Carenero Point before and after each session!
Snorkeling – Snorkeling around Carenero Island is one of the best things to do from our resort when the weather and waves permit. We recommend bringing the paddle boards with you to help you navigate around and to also signal to boats that snorkelers are in the water. If you are going for a shore dive, just be sure to stay close to the rocks where boat traffic won’t go. The north side of the island has nice shallow reef and rock formations that are full of fish!
What to do on Carenero Island
Carenero Island is a slender strip of tropical paradise located just a few minutes away from the main island and is perfectly shaped to create a coastline dotted with amazing surf spots. Like most of the Bocas Islands, the interior of Isla Carenero is covered in thick tropical rainforest that is full of exotic bird and plant species. The southern point of the island, closest to Isla Colon, is densely populated by an indigenous village and expats that have settled here over the years. The coast is lined by restaurants, hotels, and bars, but the north side of the island is still raw and unpopulated.
Isla Carenero is mostly known for its waves, including the world-class left hand point break at Carenero Point. It is also an intensely beautiful island with several small beaches, trails, and look out points to be explored. When the seas are calm it is a great place to snorkel right off the beach, and when the waves are in season, it is one of the best islands to be located as you can walk to all of the spots and not have to spend money on water taxis.
The locally infamous Aqua Lounge hostel and bar is located here, which now houses a fantastic restaurant at JJ’s Real Food, as well as being the final location for Filthy Friday, the world famous Island Pub Crawl. It is also a great place to relax and have a beer when it is not one of the big party days!
Some other great restaurants on Carenero are Bibi’s on the Beach, Leaf Eaters Cafe, The Cosmic Crab, and the newly re-opened Receta Michila, which are all within a short walking distance from PirateArts Experience Resort!
Things to do on Bastimentos Island: Explore Old Bank and Up in the Hill
Old Bank Town on Isla Bastimentos is one of the most unique towns in all of Panama. Its population is mostly Afro-Caribbean, giving the town a culture and vibe that is distinct from the other islands. The people here speak their own special dialect called Guari Guari, which is a special blend of Creol English with French and Spanish influences. Some of the best local food in Bocas del Toro can be found on Bastimentos, and we recommend checking out Alvins and Kecha’s Restaurant in Old Bank if that is what you are looking for!
Up in the Hill is a great place to visit on your day spent exploring Old Bank and Isla Bastimentos. They are located about 15 minutes up off of the main concrete sidewalk in Old Bank and are completely immersed in the jungle. They have an amazing cafe that serves all kinds of organic delicacies, home-made and fresh, like their famous brownie and banana bread. They also have a trail that leads down to Wizard Beach, so it is a great place to stop at before you head over for a beach day!
Things to do on Bastimentos Island: Wizard Beach and Surf and Chill
Wizard Beach is one of the main attractions on Isla Bastimentos and is one of the most raw and beautiful beaches in Panama. Unlike the more touristy Red Frog Beach and Starfish Beach, at Wizard Beach you won’t find a single man made structure along the entire coast. The waves here can also be world class when the conditions are right!
The trail to Wizard Beach is about 20-30 minutes and can be very challenging especially in the rainy season or if it has recently rained a lot. The best footwear for the journey are the heavy-duty black rain boots that can be bought in town for around $18. Flip Flops are a no-go!
Safety on this beach has been a problem in the past (mostly theft), but has improved greatly since the police started posting guards here during the day. Just be sure to bring only what you need, like a water bottle, sunscreen, and a snack, and like a local sign says, “Don’t Take no Value Wit You.”
Surf and Chill is a small, family owned restaurant and bar serving simple but delicious veggie burgers, coconut water, fresh juices, and cold beer that absolutely hit the spot after adventuring around Wizard Beach for the day. They are located just off the main trail to Wizard about a minute after the cement path from town stops. They also rent surfboards, give tours and surf lessons, and have jungle cabins available for short and long term rent.
Things to do on Bastimentos Island: Visit The Zapatilla Islands
The Zapatilla Islands are the most popular day trip option in Bocas del Toro. The name, “Zapatilla,” is given to the islands in reference to God’s slippers, and on a sunny day with calm seas, you might just believe it! White sand and turquoise water wrap around the islands’ dense jungle interior which occasionally spills out right into the ocean.
The Zapatilla Islands fall within the Bastimentos National Marine Park which has helped protect them and the wildlife from development and over-fishing. This also makes these islands one of the best snorkeling and diving spots in Bocas del Toro!
Zapatilla Island Tours can be booked in Bocas Town for around $30 per person that will include a few stops at other places like Sloth Island and Cayo Coral. You can also hire a private boat and often be able to negotiate a better price per person depending on your group size.
*Many Zapatilla Island Tours include stops in Dolphin Bay and we ask that you do not support these tours as they have a huge negative impact on the local Bocas Dolphin population!
Things to do On Bastimentos Island: Visit Polo Beach
Polo Beach on Isla Bastimentos is named after the old man Polo who has lived in a shack on the beach for over 50 years selling fish and lobster plates to the occasional passerby. This area is less popular with tourists as it is farther away and harder to get to, which makes it all the more desirable for a day trip!
To get here you can either hire a boat that can take you directly to the beach through the open ocean, or you can take a water taxi to Red Frog Beach and hike there. The water taxi from Bocas Town takes about 20 minutes and should cost about $20 depending on your group size. The hike from Red Frog Beach takes 30 minutes to 1 hour and is a nicely groomed road built by Red Frog Resort.
Polo Beach is protected from the open ocean by a barrier reef that stretches out over 50 meters from the shore. This makes the water directly in front of the beach perpetually calm and good for snorkeling. Beware of venturing out too far though, as the two deep channels on either side of the beach can generate strong currents that will suck you out to sea!
Things to do on Bastimentos: Nivida Bat Cave Tour with Rutilio Milton
Explore the Nivida Bat Cave with the man who first dared to explore the cave over 18 years ago! Rutilio Milton is a leader of the Bahia Honda community of the Nogbe indigenous group that are native to the archipelago. The story goes that the Ngobe living in the area had known about the cave but never entered it for fear of dangerous animals and evil spirits. It wasn’t until a group of Dutch University students came to Bocas and helped Rutilio turn the cave into a tour, providing a source of income for him and his community.
The Nivida Bat Cave Tour starts off with a slow, meandering cruise through the tranquil bay between Isla Solarte and Isla Bastimentos and then up the creek that leads deeper into the island. It is common to see sloths, cayman, snakes, spiders, and tropical birds during this part of the tour. You will eventually reach the end of the creek where another small indignous village is located. From here it is another 10-15 minute hike through the jungle to the cave entrance.
The cave has 3 distinct sections, each marked by a pool and passageway you must cross to get to the next one. Although challenging, the Nivida Bat Cave Tour is one of the most beautiful and unique tours in the islands. It is a great way to experience one of the more remote parts of Bocas del Toro and see how some of the indeginous people live, while also directly supporting that community through the tour and cave entrance fee.
The tour costs $35 per person and includes pick-up and drop-off at PirateArts Experience Resort. For an extra $5 you can add lunch at the community restaurant, a delicious plate of chicken or fish and coconut rice, just confirm with Rutilio that this option is available. Check out Rutilio’s tour page, Tomorogo, here.
Things to do on Isla Colon: Flying Pirates ATV Rentals
Renting an ATV from Flying Pirates and taking it out on their trails is one of the most exciting things you can do in Bocas. Many places around the world offer ATV rentals but none are quite like this one! The trails lead you around the coast to a few of the most beautiful and least visited locations on Isla Colon including La Piscina and the Blue Holes where calm, bath-tub like water awaits you.
After stopping here to relax and wash off the mud and sand, the trail snakes back into the jungle where howler monkeys, sloths, and more mud happily greet you. When you finally make it out of the jungle you have a chance to drive through an old drug smuggling facility and airstrip that was allegedly used by none other than Pablo Escobar!
Things to do on Isla Colon: Visit Bird Island
Bird Island off the Northeast corner of Isla Colon is one of the most spectacular sites to see in Bocas and is one of the most popular day tours. Bird Island is famous for its natural beauty and Jurassic Park feel as well as for the rare birds that nest there, including the Red-Billed Tropicbird and Brown Booby.
Bird Island is a wonderful place to visit to take in the dramatic landscape and watch the birds soaring around above, but boat tours normally just cruise around the island for a bit and then continue on to the next destination. Some snorkeling can be done around the island on calm days but it is not known to be a top snorkeling spot. The best tours out to Bird Island usually include stopping at La Piscina for a swim and then continue on to Starfish Beach after seeing the birds!
Things to do on Isla Colon: Visit Starfish Beach
Starfish Beach, located in Boca del Drago on Isla Colon, is a picturesque tropical beach with distinct Caribbean flavor. The water around Starfish Beach is bath-tub calm and mostly clear due to its location on the bayside of Isla Colon. Thatched-roof beach bars and restaurants line the entire stretch of coast here, offering rum filled pineapples, fresh fish and lobster, and extremely laid back caribbean vibes. The beach here is slim and well shaded by palm trees and on one side of the strip you can find a big sandbar with a volleyball net.
Starfish Beach is named after the once abundant starfish population that lived here. However, due to the beach’s popularity, now only a few can be found at any given time. It is important to note that if you do visit Playa Estrella, do not take the Starfish out of the water and be careful where you step! Starfish Beach is very popular among tourists and locals, so be ready for big crowds in the high season and on holiday weekends!
Things to do on Isla Colon: Sea Turtle Tour
Bocas del Toro is a nesting ground for the Hawksbill and Leatherback species of Sea Turtle, and in rare occasions the Green and Loggerhead turtles can be seen. This magnificent wonder of the natural world is a favorite tour option for more environmentally conscious visitors to Bocas del Toro. Nesting season occurs from March to November and it is possible to go on a nightly tour with The Sea Turtle Conservation out to Bluff Beach from April to August.
Sea Turtles around the world are under constant threat from human activity and Bocas del Toro’s turtles are no different. As the tourism boom continues throughout the archipelago, the work of local conservation groups is becoming increasingly important. As a visitor to this region, you can help by donating money or time. If you are interested in volunteering, please check out The Sea Turtle Conservation.
Things to do on San Cristobal: Horseback Riding
If you are looking for a more peaceful way to connect with nature and explore the jungles around Bocas, then check out Panama Horseback Adventures. They offer half day and full day tours exploring the wild landscapes of Isla San Cristobal, one of the lesser visited islands in the archipelago. Isla San Cristobal is about a 10-15 minute boat ride away from Bocas Town, and Panama Horseback Adventures offers free pick-up included with your tour! Check out their website for more details!
Things to do in Bocas: Scuba Diving
Scuba Diving is one of the most popular activities in Bocas del Toro and our resort is located just a quick 2 minute boat ride from some of the best Dive Shops in Bocas Town. Many people chose to take their diving certification courses in Bocas because of the high-quality, cheap prices, and huge variety of dive spots. Check out our full page on Scuba Diving in Bocas del Toro for more information on the best spots, dive shops, and seasons to go Scuba Diving!
Things to do in Bocas: Surfing
Surfing is what originally put Bocas del Toro on the map for tourism and for good reason; it is said that Bocas del Toro has more surfable waves in a 2 mile stretch of coastline than anywhere else in the world! It is also a great place for beginners to learn how to surf and there are many good surf school options to choose from. Guests of PirateArts Experience Resort also have the unique ability to be able to walk to Carenero Point and Black Rock surf spots in only 10 minutes! Check out our Bocas del Toro Surf Spot Guide for more information about surfing in Bocas!
Things to do in Bocas: Fishing Tour
Fishing is another popular Bocas del Toro activity and can be practiced year-round. The best times for fishing in Bocas is when the swell is small to flat, but even when the swell makes the outside of the islands inaccessible, you can still cruise around the bay in search of fish. On days with good conditions it is possible to catch Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and plenty of other lesser quality species. Tarpon, which use the islands as a breeding ground, are also commonly found throughout the archipelago!
Plenty of people offer fishing tours in Bocas del Toro but not everyone offers top quality. Depending on which style of fishing you are after, we have some recommendations for who to go with!
If you want a good local guide with a lifetime of experience fishing in Bocas del Toro then check out Byron from Biriba Tours. He’s a Bastimentos native that has good quality fishing gear and very reasonable prices. He’s passionate about fishing and consistently wins local fishing competitions, and he also speaks English.
Our other recommended sport fishing operator is Sean from Sportfishing Bocas del Toro. He’s high-energy, high-fun, and a master captain and fisherman with experience all over the world. He has two boats that he uses depending on group size and has a great track record of offering great tours and consistently landing fish with his clients.
Things to do in Bocas: Watch the Dolphins
Bocas del Toro is home to a resident population of around 80-100 bottlenose dolphins whose DNA is uniquely different from any other species of bottlenose dolphin. The Bocas Dolphin has evolved into its own species over time due its limited interaction with other dolphin groups by staying mostly in the small area of the archipelago. The Bocas dolphins use the islands as a breeding ground and can typically be found in large quantities in the area known as Dolphin Bay off of San Cristobal Island.
Similar to that of the starfish and sea turtle, the Bocas dolphin is under immense pressure from the tourism industry. An estimated 100 or more tour boats pass through Dolphin Bay, per hour, during the high season. This amount of boat traffic causes serious problems for the dolphins and a recent report suggests that the only way to change the situation for the dolphins is to stop visiting Dolphin Bay all together.
The good news is that proper Dolphin Viewing techniques can be used, such as keeping a distance of 100 meters (200 meters if calves are present) from the dolphins and limiting the boats to a maximum of 2 per dolphin group.
As a visitor to Bocas del Toro, you can help by educating yourself on the Bocas Dolphin, avoiding tours that include Dolphin Bay, and if you see a group of dolphins while boating around the archipelago, please encourage your boat captain to obey the 100 to 200 meter rule, or by donating to local conservation efforts.
Article Written by Drew Berger
Drew is a web designer and blogger who has lived in Bocas del Toro since 2015. He is the owner of The Bocas del Toro Blog, a travel blog about Bocas del Toro. Drew is passionate about surfing, spearfishing, and showing people the best that Bocas del Toro has to offer!