Getting there by land and then boat can be a little rough. The port town on the mainland on Panama looks to be very poor and so the locals see the tourists quickly changing between the two transportation modes as their one chance to make a fair bit of money fairly quickly. They will try to take your backpack or suitcase from the minivan to the ferry terminal (which is all of about 3 metres) and then push you for a tip. The same will happen upon boarding the boat. They will insist on the luggage being placed under the seats by them, seeming like they work there and it is part of their job. Once seated on the boat, they will be awfully aggressive in squeezing tips out of the passengers.
In reality, you’ll see once in Bocas how the bags can be loaded onto, and unloaded from the boat with just a little bit of effort from their owners, and maybe a tiny bit of team work. I wouldn’t have minded so much had they asked if we’d like help, or had a charging system, but it was the bullish attitude of ‘we’re just taking these and will demand money from you for something out of your control’ that made the whole experience unpleasant.
On our return from the islands, our transfer was busy that day so 2 minibuses were used. One driver attempted to split my boyfriend and I up, despite the fact that we were headed for the border and he had both of our passports. The driver wasn’t listening to me and even had the cheek to push my bag to turn me around and then push me in the direction of his minivan. It was only when I became quite firm and let out my teacher tone did he give in and let my boyfriend into his vehicle too. In fairness to the bloke, I’m sure he thought the van was then full once I was assigned to it, but the rushed operation made for a lot of confusion and stress.
Despite some of the grievances with the journey to or from Bocas Del Toro, it is still worth a visit. A stunning island archipelago with plenty going on and a laid back vibe.
Tour operators in the town of Bocas can organise a full day boat trip for you. There are a couple of different types, one of a sail boat where you can relax and lounge on the deck. It doesn’t go to as many points around the archipelago however, and to add to this, it’s more expensive. The boat we opted for was a regular motor boat with rows of seats, packing in the passengers. Because we had a motor, we were able to cover more distance, and the extra passengers helped to keep the costs low. During our day trip, we visited dolphin cove where we spotted multiple dolphins. Our captain and driver were very good and ensured we didn’t get too close, and we certainly didn’t chase any. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for all of the boats in the cove however.
Next stop was the lunch spot where we briefly hopped off to make our lunch orders. After this, we were taken to an island with a spectacular sandbar. As the waters were quite choppy on this day, our captain could only get so close before telling us to jump out and swim – but of course after telling us what time to be back by.
Next we sailed to an area full of coral reef and tropical fish. The boat company provided us with snorkels and masks. Never having swam in this type of area before, I was having the time of my life, but was unaware that another girl in our boat had been badly stung by a jellyfish which no doubt ruined the rest of her day.
Lunch was a fairly standard affair. Truly breathtaking spot, surrounded by water, but as you would expect from an included excursion that isn’t exactly luxury, the food its self wasn’t anything particularly special. There were lots of hammocks on the dock and ladders into the water for people who finished their food early.
Later, we sailed by ‘Hollywood’ which was packed to the brim with starfish, and we also went by sloth island, which true to its name was home to several sloths.
Whilst in Bocas Del Toro, we also opted to rent a quad bike. We rented ours from the Flying Pirates who rent a huge amount of land in the north of the main island. They keep and maintain the trails and provided us with maps to help us not get lost. Along the way, we stopped off at a cute bar which offered food and drink, as well as access to their beach and a small pool. The trails varied between thick woodland, trails right next to the beach through to bombing it down the disused air strip. The main thing to be aware of were the huge mud pools. We were told to go around these, but for a reason I still don’t quite understand, my boyfriend decided to drive straight through one which saw us get stuck, and me, at the back, caked in mud. Alas, with the use of the tow ropes the company had given us (it’s like they knew) and some real arm strength on both our parts, we were freed. We rode through the woods for a fair distance with the mud setting and cracking on the skin the heat, but eventually we reached a beach where I could wash it all off.