Panama Secret Caribbean
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Panama’s Secret Caribbean

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - June 10, 2016

By Beatriz Torres Marin
CJ Contributor

“The place where you’ll change Uber for boat rides that will take you from island to island.”

A FRIEND and I wanted to go on a short getaway and do nothing but chill by the beach. Our friends suggested Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is a surfers’ paradise.

So we organized a 3 night stay in the island. But before getting there we flew to Panama and stayed the night at the historic quarter know as “Casco Viejo”. I was expecting to find old buildings and narrow streets but, to my surprise, the place is somehow really hipster.

The hotels, the houses and the art galleries might look old on the outside but once you go inside it really changes. Tántalo, our hotel, was super modern. The rooms and corridors have cool graffiti and paintings. And so have the rest of the hotels in the area. Most of the hotels have nigh time rooftops where you’ll be able to experience the contrast of being among huge graffitis while watching the old quarter buildings.

During our one day stay we strolled down the quarter’s colorful streets and markets. An afternoon is more than enough to walk around the area and visit a couple of art galleries.

You won’t see many tourists there and the locals are as picturesque as the buildings. Most of the buildings seem abandoned though.

panama city historic

The historic streets of Panama City.

The next morning we had an early flight to Bocas del Toro. We flew from a small airport in Panama and of course, once we got there all we saw where surfers from everywhere in the world. It was an hour long flight, so by 10 am we were at Bocas.

We went straight from the airport to our hostel, Selina. It’s a really affordable place with lots of young people. The hostel’s outdoor area is actually one of the island’s party places so don’t stay there if you are not ready to party and meet people.

chairs bocas

Each morning, while you have breakfast, you’ll see all the surfers by the small deck in the hotel’s bar waiting for the boats to pass by and take them to the best surfing spots.

Each day, after the surfers were gone we went island hopping! We would also wait by the deck for a boat and agree on a price with the boat’s owner so that he would leave us on an island and then pick us up to go to the next one.

bocas del toro driftwood

The first beach we visited was at Starfish Island. Yes, the shore is full of starfish. This was one of my favorite spots. It wasn’t really crowded and they have local food and juice bars by the beach.

starfish island

That night we had dinner at one of the town’s restaurants, and then we had a couple of drinks. The crowd in Bocas is really young and the restaurants and bars are really casual. At the end of the day, it’s a surfer town! The next day, we jumped on a boat again and visited more islands. While on the boat, ask the captain to take you near the trees so that you can see the sloths! They come down the trees once a week so it might be difficult to see them.

ships bocas

Another one of my favorite islands was Isla Zapatilla. Really different from Starfish Island. This beach is really big and you can even hike around the interior of the island. What I liked the most were the horizontal palm trees as you can see in the cover pic of this post. Plus, no need to mention the turquoise waters. There weren’t many tourists and I have to admit we felt like castaways.

After a couple of hours, our boat driver picked us up to take us to Blue Coconut, a restaurant in the middle of the water. The food was good and did I mention you can chill with a drink in one of their hammocks inside the water?

Blue Coconut

The restaurant owner will offer you snorkel gear and even boards to do paddle boarding. Although you might have to share the board with one of her dogs.

dogs bocas del toro

To tell you the truth, after discovering Blue Coconut we didn’t wanna go anywhere else. So, we spent our last day there drinking amazing cocktails, meeting new people and chillin’ at the hammocks.

Beatriz Torres Marin is the editor of Las Sufridoras.

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