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Confession: I’ve totally used this post title before. But I can’t really think of a better way to sum up the euphoric twelve days we spent in Panama’s Bocas del Toro archipelago. This laid-back Caribbean getaway is getting plenty of buzz these days thanks to its balance of ramshackle charm — you won’t find any five star chain hotels here — and traditional tourism draws like palm lined beaches, exotic wildlife, and azure waters.

In our twelve days we visited four islands, basing ourselves temporarily on three of them. While we had planned to settle into one spot for the full duration of our stay, we arrived to an endless row of “No Vacancy” signs and scrambled to piece together a Plan B. While our time was a bit more hectic as a result, we ended up with such a comprehensive view of this special part of the world I really think it was a fair trade off.

The largest and most developed of the islands is Isla Colon, which is also home to the provincial capital of Bocas Town. For many visitors, this is Bocas del Toro — and it’s not a bad view. Colorful guesthouses, dockside restaurants and bicycle traffic jams make up this traditionally Caribbean town.

After spending one night in an awful hostel (the only accommodation we could find upon arrival) we moved into , which I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s insanely popular, and rightly so. With cute clapboard rooms, a full kitchen, reasonably priced food and drinks, and a dock stocked with innertubes for just $32 a night, I was pretty much ready to move in. I was pretty crushed they only had three nights available for the entirety of our time in Bocas, so learn from my mistake and book ahead if you’re interested!

Our favorite part about Casa Verde was that we loved it so much we barely left. We just lazed in his-n-her hammocks, practiced Spanish with the sassy receptionist, floated in innertubes, cooked our own meals, and gave ourselves severe food poisoning.

Oh, right. That last one wasn’t the most idyllic of experiences. Once a year or so the universe likes to swoop in and remind me that I am a failure in all things domestic, and that when possible I should leave challenging tasks like cooking and laundry to the professionals. Otherwise I could end up turning an entire load of work uniforms pink, setting off the fire alarms for an entire apartment complex, or frantically researching the severity of undercooked-kidney-bean toxicity at 3am while barely clinging to life, just to cite some totally unspecific and non-personal examples.

Domestic disasters aside, Bocas Town gave us plenty of tempting reasons not to cook our own meals. Our absolute favorite was , which was notable not just for its deliciously healthy wraps and smoothies but also its, how shall we say, unique presentation. Once we got lucky and nabbed the best seats in the house — ocean views included. Other favorites include , where we splurged on an oceanfront dinner for Valentine’s Day (of which I spent the majority trying to explain to Anders the joy that is , obviously) and , which is quite accurately named. We also stocked up on all kinds of snacks at , which had an exciting array of imported goodies from home.

Tours and activities in Bocas are pretty pricey, and so while the Spanish lessons and yoga classes and hiking trips and boating expeditions and chocolate tours were all very loudly calling my name, we had to be picky. While we splurged on some excursions you’ll read about this week, we balanced them out with cheaper ones, like our bike ride out to Boca del Drago.

Boca del Drago, also known as Starfish Beach, can be reached by water taxi ($25 round trip) or land taxi ($30 round trip). Bikes, on the other hand, were a mere $7 per day — no extra charge for the 20 miles of round-trip cycling workout! The ride was quite a bit more difficult than we expected with plenty of hills, and cut clear across the length of Isla Colon.

The only thing that would have made the day better would have been visiting the La Gruta caves, which we cycled right past. Unfortunately we had forgot our headlamps and gave it a pass. Otherwise it is a very remote and rural ride, and it’s almost a shock to arrive in Boca del Drago and be met with the crowds there. The starfish were a bit scarce and we both agreed we wouldn’t have enjoyed the day half as much had we simply hopped in a taxi. The satisfaction of the sweaty ten mile ride in each direction was what really made it worthwhile.

Can you see yourself vacationing on Isla Colon? Stay tuned for our adventures on Cayos Zapatillas, Isla Bastimientos and Isla Carenero!

Practical Info

Where I stayed:
Where I ate: , , , and were the standouts.
How I got there: We paid $25 for a shuttle from Boquete to Bocas, including boat transfer, through Mamallena Hostel in Boquete. It took a few hours and saved us several bus transfers.
Bonus Tip: Book ahead in high season, as the quality of accommodation ranges wildly and the good spots are snapped up fast. Bring a reusable water bottle in order to refill at the purifying stations around town — this is one of the few areas of Panama where you can’t drink from the tap, and bottled water is both wasteful and ridiculously expensive.

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50 Comments...
  • Katie
    April 15 2014

    Enough already, just when I think Panama can’t get any better, you post something else AMAZING! I’m seriously taking notes for our potential (and more likely each time you post) trip in August. Thanks for all the tips, makes my job as our travel planner soooo much easier!
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Believe it or not there are only three posts left! I can’t believe it šŸ™‚ I feel like we’ve been in Panama forever here on Wanderland!

  • Justine
    April 15 2014

    i have always, always wanted to visit bocas del toro. and now i feel like i seriously have to rethink my travel plans because panama is REALLY calling my name! also, your photographs are awesome. it really does look like a little sliver of paradise!
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Thanks Justine! This post is definitely a mix of my iPhone, dSLR and dearly departed underwater camera. They are all good little machines.

  • Camels & Chocolate
    April 15 2014

    I want to go here! This whole trip looks like a dream, Danish hunk included šŸ˜‰
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Ugh, it was. And now I’m sitting in Albany staring out my window at snow. Bring me back!

  • Andi
    April 15 2014

    I can totally see myself vacationing there! LOVE the starfish pics!!!
    Andi recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      I can see you anywhere with blue sand and palm trees, Andi šŸ™‚

  • My bf has been saying he’ll go on a backpacking trip with me (he’s a 5 star hotel kinda guy- so it was like pulling teeth to get him to agree) I want to get to S.A. so bad and he wants to do it in Asia. I have a new game plan… I’m going to get him a little drunk and start showing him your blog pics until they put him in some kind of south america trance so that when he wakes up in the morning he’s been hypnotized and we can bliss out too.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      I support you in this critical venture, Rachel! On one hand I totally understand your boyfriend’s attraction to Asia…. I’m obviously obsessed. But so far, Central America is the absolute runner up in my mind.

  • Meihoukai
    April 16 2014

    Really lovely, it reminds me of Bonaire in much wilder…and greener! Thanks for your reports and adresses, bubbles from Dahab!

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Thanks Meihoukai! I always assumed Bonaire would be way more built up than this, though I still want to check it out someday for the diving!

  • Sam
    April 16 2014

    I hope Anders truly appreciated the awesomeness of Galentine’s day after your explanation! Anyway, looks heavenly…don’t think it’d taken me much imagination to see myself lounging on those beaches!
    Sam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      I can make a Parks and Rec fan out of just about anyone šŸ™‚ What a show!

  • Jen Seligmann
    April 16 2014

    I looks so beautiful Meihoukai. A friend of mine is off there soon and can’t stop telling me so (grrrrr). I will pass this on to her as I think she will appreciate the tips.
    Jen Seligmann recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Definitely pass along, and let her know I have a few more posts coming up! She will love it!

  • Dad
    April 16 2014

    Cool place. Does anyone over 40 go there?

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Definitely! I don’t think Bocas is only for the youngsters. We met plenty of travelers of all ages. There is a party scene but nothing obnoxious. You would like it.

      • Rashaad
        April 16 2014

        How was the party scene there?
        Rashaad recently posted..

        • Meihoukai
          April 17 2014

          There was definitely a pretty pumping party scene in Bocas Town and on Isla Carenero (more details to come!), but it was the perfect balance — easy to partake in, easy to escape.

  • Melissa
    April 16 2014

    That beach water is crystal clear. Picturing myself there now. I went to Panama with family but was too young to remember the trip. Perhaps it’s time to finally make it back there.
    Melissa recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      I would say so! I just got back and am already planning a return šŸ™‚

  • Sofie
    April 16 2014

    That place looks amazing!
    So colorful and chill.
    Wouldn’t mind getting there like… NOW šŸ™‚
    Sofie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      Tell me about it Sofie! We’ve had another dump of snow today in New York… I’m ready to return!

  • Erika
    April 16 2014

    That just looks so bright, fun, and relaxing, Meihoukai! I’ve never heard of this spot but it looks like the perfect getaway!
    Erika recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      It’s definitely becoming a bit more buzzed about but it’s still off the beaten path… perfect time to go!

  • Amanda
    April 16 2014

    I can DEFINITELY picture myself spending time there! It looks gorgeous and relaxing. Methinks I need to add Panama to my bucket list…
    Amanda recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 16 2014

      The amazing thing too is that it’s not too hard to get to! Panama City is only a five hour flight from NYC! I don’t normally think of paradise as being so accessible.

  • Louisa
    April 16 2014

    Okay, that just looks like heaven. I’m so Vitamin-D starved from the UK winter, I am dying to see that kind of sun. You look totally blissed out in your photos!!!
    Louisa recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2014

      Hey Louisa! I actually have started taking Vitamin D supplements since I arrived back in the US, ha. I really think I’ve become accustomed to a very heady dose now and can’t survive without it!

  • Donna
    April 16 2014

    My husband and I are well over 40 and have a home in Bocas del Toro on one of the outer islands. We love it there for all of the reasons you have listed and more! So in answer to Dad’s question, yes there are plenty of people over the age of 40!

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2014

      Thanks for chiming in, Donna šŸ™‚ You have a beautiful adopted home!

  • Diana Edelman
    April 17 2014

    Oh, this does sound absolutely BLISSFUL. Want. Want. Want.
    Diana Edelman recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2014

      I hope your upcoming Europe trip has some beach time built in šŸ˜‰

  • Hannah
    April 17 2014

    I was in Bocas a few weeks ago on the last leg of my Central American adventure, I really loved it there. I actually also stayed at Casa Verde, that place is amazing. It was nice to relive it again through this post, that place really is heaven on earth.

    Oh, and also, everyone should try the Bocas Hot Sauce, it’s enough to blow your head off but damn, it’s good!

    • Meihoukai
      April 17 2014

      I don’t eat spicy stuff, so I’m glad you’re here to give the recommendation šŸ™‚ And ah, Casa Verde! I would love to be back there right now…

  • Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler
    April 20 2014

    I am in Bocas right now for the 3rd time so I get you. I love Bocas Blended bus too and I eat there almost every single day šŸ˜€
    Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 20 2014

      I can imagine why… not many healthy options for those who like to focus on that! Thank goodness for that little blue truck.

  • I visited Bocas years ago and I now remember why I need to go back!

    Also, your photos in this post are amazing! That one where you can see your bf (I assume that is him) snorkeling and Casa Verde in the background might be my favorite!

    • Meihoukai
      April 22 2014

      I love that one too — shows how clear the water is! Amazingly my camera died for good maybe an hour later.

  • tammyonthemove
    April 23 2014

    Aww, love the starfish. This looks like the perfect place to chill out for a bit.
    tammyonthemove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 24 2014

      Apparently there aren’t as many as there used to be due to people pulling them out of the water for too long and generally harassing them :/ We tried to be respectful to the ones we found!

  • brittany
    June 4 2015

    Hey Meihoukai,

    So I fell upon your blog while looking at diving options in Bali and have a few questions for you. If you could shed some light that’d be awesome. First a little about myself…I have spent the last three years living and teaching ESL abroad in SE Asia. However, I began my diving by getting my open water in Vietnam and just absolutely fell in love with it. I did fun dives in Cambodia, Malaysia and the Phillipines. I even did a SSI free diving course in Thailand. Well now I want to pursue my DM and on to instructor. Love to teach but hate the classroom setting. The ocean seems more my setting. I am currently in the process of taking my online course work with PADI for my advance and rescue. I’ve been in New Zealand for the last six months traveling and now back home in Louisiana seeing family and friends till August and then I’m hopping on a plane to Bali (never got to Indo while I was over there so I’ve had my heart set on checking it out). I’ve always been pretty lax with my travel plans, never really fully sussing out my destinations. Figured I would land and check out the dive shops from there, much like you did. Do you suggest Big Bubble as a reputable place? Good learning environment and top of the line instructors? Did you PADI or SSI? Also, how was finding a place to live over there? Easy or difficult task? My biggest question I have for you would be working over there. I would need to work for some extra income while doing my dive master. I am a certified esl teacher and have three years under my belt, however, everything I have read about working in Bali sounds like an utter nightmare with visas and untrustworthy operations. While living over there did you find many expats working? What kind of work seems available? Any light you could shed would be great. Keep on doing what you’re doing. Also nice to find someone with a passion for travel and underwater life.

    Thanks,
    B

    • Meihoukai
      June 6 2015

      Hey Brittany! First of all, congrats on your exciting life changes coming up! I did PADI and I found it was very easy to find housing on Gili Trawangan IF you don’t need internet. If you do, things are trickier. Did you check out all my posts on the island? I did a cost breakdown that explained the living situation pretty well.

      Some expats are working admin in Gili at villas, restaurants and dive shops but to be honest it will be hard finding work immediately. Most of the people I knew working those jobs were semi-long term expats on the island and got the gig by knowing someone. As for picking a dive shop, things change so fast in the dive industry I really just recommend arriving on the island and walking into every school that interests you and seeing who you click with! Best of luck… sounds like you are in for an amazing ride.

  • Breanne
    November 9 2015

    Hello Meihoukai!

    Thanks for your detailed posts about Bocas Del Toro šŸ™‚
    I’m heading there in February and we booked two accomodations on Bastimentos. Both have very high ratings and unbelievable reviews. But now I’m wondering if we should have stayed half the time in Bocas Town. What do you think?

    Breanne

    • Meihoukai
      November 11 2015

      That’s what I would do! I enjoyed staying in different spots and checking out different parts of the archipelago that way šŸ™‚ Though really, you can’t lose!

  • Harry Gordon
    June 7 2016

    Hi!

    Do you think Bocas del toro would be a great place to do a dive instructor course? I’m looking for a place with a really youthful atmosphere with a great night life and obviously great diving! somewhere that I would never be bored. How would you say it would compare to places like Roatan/ Utila, Belize or Costa Rica?

    Thanks!

    • Meihoukai
      June 10 2016

      Absolutely! It would definitely meet your topside requirements. Depending on your diving experience you might not be wowed by the dive sites but you’ll be busy focusing on your course anyway, and if you need some serious underwater excitement you can always make a trip to Santa Catalina for some five star diving. I haven’t dove in Belize or Costa Rica. Good luck deciding!

  • Danica
    October 29 2016

    Hi Meihoukai!

    I am looking at a possible week in Panama and remembered this hostel, however I am having trouble finding it! Any idea if it has been replaced or something?

    Thanks!

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2016

      Hey Danica! I’m sorry, I haven’t been back or had friends head there lately so I have no insider intel. I apologize! Best of luck!