With beautiful landscapes, diverse culture and a strong connection to the sea – there is no shortage of island hopping adventures in Panama. I spent two weeks in April in Panama, starting in Bocas del Toro before traveling to a cloud forest in Valle Las Minas in the Chiriquí Province. There is lovely flower garden in the mountain city of Boquete that’s worth a visit and I experienced one night in Casco Viejo, a historic town in Panama City before sailing through the San Blas islands to Colombia.
The ocean water is crystal clear and ideal for spotting starfish, the people who live here are very friendly and laid-back, and there is a party every night of the week on Isla Colon. Panama’s official language is Spanish, and the currency is the US dollar. However, the country has its own coins. The weather on the coast can be sweltering, and in April there are occasional showers in the mountains. Traveling by bus around the country is easy and inexpensive. Be sure to bring a jacket for those long-haul rides because the air conditioning is usually on full blast. Ferry rides from island to island in Bocas del Toro range from $1-$5 US dollars, and you don’t have to wait long before the next boat arrives. In most areas you can drink the tap water, so you don’t have to spend money on plastic bottles.
Island Hopping Adventures in Panama
Let’s start with the crown jewel. There are 378 islands in the San Blas archipelago located in the Northwest of Panama in the Caribbean sea. The islands are spectacular and an ideal place to find inspiration, snorkel and explore the coral reef or learn about the Kuna culture from the native people who inhabit some of the islands.
When you are sailing from Panama to Colombia, you’ll spend time on several islands over a three-day period. You can read more about my experience here. Some of the islands are so small you can walk around them in just a few minutes, and most of the time they were empty during my visit. You can also visit the San Blas islands during a day trip, but I heard this can get very crowded.
Bocas Del Toro
Bocas del Toro is an island chain off the Caribbean Coast, and it’s one of my favorite places to visit in Central America. Isla Colon, also known as “Bocas Town” is where most people stay when they visit Bocas del Toro. I highly recommend that you take the time to visit Isla Bastimentos and Careneros too. I had an incredible time exploring several beaches, going on long bike rides with friends and dancing all night long.
Playa de las Estrellas
Known for its calm crystal clear water and abundance of starfish, this beach is a must visit when you’re in Bocas Del Toro. There are plenty of restaurants on the beach that serve snacks, beer, and fruity drinks so you can indulge during your stay. Take the bus from the center of town to Playa Boca del Drago, a beach with shallow crystal clear water. From here, you can either walk to Playa de las Estrellas or pay $1.50 US for a one-way ride on a boat. I suggest taking the boat to the beach, and walking to the very end to avoid the large crowds.
Rent a bike in Bocas for $5 for the day. A total steal and worth it so you can get to beaches like Paki Point. My girlfriends and I rode 15 minutes along the coast to get to this beach, sprinkled with seashells on the shoreline. We were headed to Bluff’s beach but decided to park it here and spend the afternoon at this beach. There is a restaurant with a comfortable lounge area where you can relax and spend an ideal day with your closest friends.
This over the water bar is a nice escape from Bocas Town. Located only ten minutes by boat from Isla Colon, come here to let any troubles melt away while sitting in the hammocks in the water. Enjoy your day swimming in the shallow, transparent ocean and take the time to disconnect from technology. If you are looking for a party, this is one of the stops for Filthy Friday – an all-day bar crawl with a $35 US entrance fee.
Where to eat
My favorite place to eat in Bocas is Hungry Monkey Bocas. The staff is super friendly and the cold press juices are a perfect treat to help you cool down from the heat. Breakfast and lunch is also reasonably priced!
Come for the sun, sand, and sea but stay for the party!
The party scene in Bocas del Toro starts at midnight, and the Reggaeton music doesn’t stop until 4:30 am. Start your night off at Selina Bocas for happy hour, then head to La Iguana Surf Bar or Summer Beach Club depending on the night of the week. The party scene is a laid-back island vibe, so you don’t have to worry about getting too fancy. Head over to Aqua Lounge for Reggae night and dance the night away!
Bastimentos Island was my first stop in Panama. The island has no cars, which makes it less busy than Isla Colon. Old bank is quiet, and many of the accommodations have ocean views. It’s a 20-minute walk to Wizard Beach, or you can take a quick boat ride to Red Frog Beach. You’ll have to pay a $5 US entrance fee to get to that beach, but it’s totally worth a visit.
Carenero Island is a smaller island located a short boat ride east of Isla Colon. It’s only $1 US to get here. The water is shallow and perfect for swimming. Aqua lounge is an over the water hostel and bar with excellent views of Isla Colon. Bocas Beach Club has over the water beds where you can relax and enjoy a drink. Walk around the island and soak in those coastal views, but watch out for those sand flies. Mosquito repellant is a must, especially during sunset.
To the mountains and other cities
Lost and Found Hostel
After several days at the beach, it was time to head to the mountains. I traveled to Lost and Found Hostel with my German friends after hearing great reviews from fellow travelers. Located in Valle Las Minas, in Chiriqui, Panama, the public bus leaves you on the side of the road, and you’ll have to hike 15 minutes with your suitcase or backpack to get here. (Thank you Anusch and Anika for helping me with my luggage. This is one of the very few times I wish I had a backpack instead of a suitcase and I’m so grateful for your help!)
The views from the hostel are spectacular, and if you stay three nights, the 4th one is free. I wanted to stay four nights, but I found out that the sailboat from Panama to Colombia was leaving in a few days, so I had to hustle to get to Panama City after only two days. Most people take part in scavenger hunts or take advantage of the tours offered here, but I just used the time to relax. Whatever you decide to do, visiting this place is well worth it on your journey through Panama.
Most people come to Boquete to hike Volcan Baru or take a coffee tour, but I was looking for another way to unwind. When you arrive in this mountain town, take a stroll to Boquete Brewing Company for a craft beer or walk through Mi Jardin es su Jardin. The entrance fee is only .50 cents, and there are spectacular views of many different types of flowers, the river, and mountains.
I stayed at Hostel Blasina for $10 US a night. This place is more like a home than a hostel, with free breakfast, tea, and cookies. There are very comfortable couches where you can watch Netflix and a spotless kitchen. Always a plus when you are traveling long-term and don’t want to eat out all the time.
To get to Panama City from Boquete, you have to travel to David and continue the journey from there. I started this adventure at 6 am and arrived in Casco Viejo around 3 pm. I only had one night to spend in the city, so I decided to check out this historic district in Panama City. The views of the skyline from Luna’s Castle Hostel are spectacular, and I wish I had stayed a little longer to explore more.
Have you been to Panama? What’s your favorite thing to do here? It would mean so much to me if you could leave your feedback in the comments section!
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