There are two types of people in this world. Those that type “tropical beach paradise” in to google images and scroll through the images sighing and resigning themselves to the fact that those places will never be more than just a picture on a screen, and then there are those that work out where those beaches are and how much it will cost to get there and then live like peasants for then next 6 months until they can afford to go. If you belong to the latter crowd then I salute you. I would also like to offer you a new location to add to your travel porn: Bocas del Toro. This little cluster of islands sits just off the coast of mainland Panama, near the Costa Rican border and, if it isn’t already, it should be at the top of you to-go list. It has beaches, beauty and some tasty food outlets as well. Convinced? No? Here are some of the attractions that makes this little archipelago on of the best in Latin America.
1. Cycling Around The Islands
This is best done on Isla Colon. It’s not a massive island and there is a road that leads all the way from the centre to Paki Point (bad choice of name, I’m aware) where you can chill with a beer on a sun lounger or take a dip in the sea. The road winds its way along the coast line so if you don’t want to go somewhere as public as the main beach hangout, you can stop anywhere you like and throw yourself into the water there, thus creating your own private beach (kind of).
Fancy a cheeky nandos? Pollo Rosti might not look like much but I can guarantee you they have the best chicken I have ever eaten in my life. The taste is utterly divine and the price is mind-blowingly cheap for what is otherwise a pretty pricey island (by backpackers’ standards). Order either 1/4, 1/2 or a whole chicken (it comes with fries) and enjoy. Also this place is a bring your own drink so make sure you pick up a 6 pack en route.
Wanna see dolphins, sloths, starfish and other natural delights? These tours are tourist central and certainly have their flaws with regards to environmental responsibility but if you have some spare cash and a day to kill there are worse things you could do. The tours usually last the full day and are a good way to see some of the islands’ most beautiful spots.
4. Wizard Beach
This is the google image beach you’ve been waiting for. However, it comes at a price. From either Isla Bastimentos or Isla Colon you can hop on a water taxi, which will take you straight to the island, but it will cost you. If you are already on Bastimentos, you actually have the option to walk there. Or should I say hike. The walk from the main part of the island to the beach will take you a good 25 minutes and it is a trek that can only be described as hazardous at best. I recommend you go barefoot and take NOTHING valuable that could break if you slip in the mud. I also recommend you take water as the only source of hydration for a mile radius of this beach is packed full of salt and seaweed. Fortunately, this beach is more than worth the pains it takes to get there. It is often empty, perfectly free of litter and absolutely picture perfect. Unfortunately I have no photos of it because I took my own advice and didn’t take anything with me except a sarong and some water.
5. Chocolate Tour
Up in The Hill is an eco-farm located up on a hill (duh) that grows and sells loads of incredible, organic products including coconut oil, chocolate, cacao nibs and homemade lip balm. It is run by a couple who take pride in showing guests around their incredible property and teaching them all about the chocolate making process. Be prepared to taste an array of tropical foods such as a raw cocoa bean, jack fruit and noni. This place was the bomb. Go there.
There are loads of little places that will rent you a kayak and if you’re lucky enough to stay in a hostel that has one, be sure to use it. This is a great way of seeing the coast, finding secret coves to explore and getting a tan. It is also a pretty good work out if you’re in to that kind of thing.
Who the hell wants to do any kind of physical activity on a tropical island anyway? Number one thing to do here is kick back and watch the sunset, read a book, sip a bevvy, whatever. You’ve earned it.