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Sleepy islands, hell hole or expat heaven?

Bocas Del Toro described as a “sleepy” little group of islands, a “hell hole” of a town and “the idyllic place” to settle.

Having spent a few days there, I am not sure which description is the most accurate. Bocas Del Toro is in fact a small group of Caribbean islands off the northeastern coast of Panama.  The main island of Isla Colon is where Bocas town is located. Depending on your age, expectations and location, Bocas town can be a “hell hole” or paradise.

Its reputation as a party town means that it is a mecca for backpackers planning to have a little fun, the drinks flow readily (as do other substances) late into the night. Music blares across the neon lit water of Bocas town and the neighbouring Isla Bastimentos. The water taxis shuttle their happy passengers back and forth at what seems like break neck speeds with optional running lights.


Move away from Main Street with its plethora of bars and you get to experience the real town. Reaching out from the shore are homes built on stilts. Not as picturesque as Bora Bora’s idyllic cabanas perched over the sparkling blue seas of the South Pacific, but with much more character.


Travel further out of town and you can explore miles of beaches, Bluff beach is spectacular and accessible by land. If you are there between March and July you could be lucky enough to experience a turtle laying her eggs or maybe even spot a hatchling make its way to the sea. Please use only the environmentally sponsored turtle tours (cost $15) as they are less disruptive to the turtles.

We were lucky enough to secure a 3rd floor room right on the waterfront for a very reasonable $50 per night, prices are normally a lot higher here as are food and drink prices nearby. Having spent some time in Panama, we were experiencing major sticker shock.

For a very reasonable $4 lunch of chicken rice and beans fare, go to Toms Restaurant, located above the municipal market. You may need to ask directions and make sure you get there before mid-afternoon; they shut down when they sell out.  Breakfast is fast and funky at Bocas Blended, the “Bus” with a new life as the funkiest eater in town. For a drink with a difference, check out “Riptide” as she floats at her permanent moorings, on the outskirts of town. Just be careful that you can still keep your footing on your way out though, that dock could be treacherous for the unwary.


Bocas is also home to a growing number of friendly expats, who live in town, further out along its beaches and neighbouring islands. A good place to connect with them is The Bocas Wine Bar, where everyone seems to drop in for a regular chat.

I would not call it a “hell hole” unless you had expected a quiet little island paradise. Whether you intend to party or not bring earplugs unless you can sleep through loud music, roaring engines, drills, saws and all the life that goes with this loud little town.

We enjoyed our time there and although not “paradise”, we are making plans to go back in the not too distant future.


About the author: Born in the UK, with what must be more than a dash of Romany blood in her veins, Yvonne loved to travel even before she met Michael. Yvonne has a varied career history, which includes several laborious years as a laboratory manager, followed by a fun few years as a scuba instructor and crew in the British Virgin Islands, and then many boring years in financial services. Her discontent along with the passing of a dear friend was the prod that led to the realisation that there was a lot more do in life. It has taken almost 40 years to come full circle to realize what Yvonne’s English teacher saw all those years ago……… Yvonne’s true passion (apart from travel) is writing and now finds herself fortunate to have the time to follow her bliss and combine the two as a blogger and travel writer. Yvonne loves to tell stories and talk to lots of strangers (the best way to get the real scoop on the place). Yvonne is a “rainmaker” and makes things happen!

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