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Getaway to Bocas Del Torro islands, PAN


March 5th, 2017

After dinner we retired early and the next morning pointed Tigger in the direction of the Caribbean coast as said the drive could take six hours and we wanted to get Tigger parked before dark and catch the water taxi to Isla Colon. The road was in okay shape, a few potholes and lots of climbing but couldn’t really complain. It sure wasn’t a busy road and we made it to Almirante, the mainland town where you park, in 3.5 hours. The parking shown on iOverlander did not work for us as it was quite full and the unfenced lot across the street just didn’t seem as secure (and cost more!). We managed to catch the ferry around noon, after parking Tigger at Cecilia’s parking (a fenced in area outside her hours for $5 for 24 hours) and checked into the Surfari B&B.

The water taxis and tour boats here do not put cushions on their seats and the rides can be quite rough – ask Doug! He tended to grab an extra life jacket and sit on it.

The weather here was not great but it was not super-hot either which was nice. It’s weird cause in Almirante, where we parked Tigger, it was both hot and humid, but here in Bocas Town, there’s a breeze and temps were a pleasant 26C/78F.

Jim and Charlene, from Thunder Bay, manage this hotel and welcomed us warmly. The price includes breakfast and there’s a communal kitchen for cooking if you so desire. We got a large room with private bath, a queen bed, a set of bunk beds and a futon with AC and fast internet.

We asked Jim for recommends on what to do for the afternoon and took his advice and grabbed a water taxi to a little restaurant on another island called the Blue Coconut. It began raining while we had lunch. The place is run by a Canadian couple from Alberta and they serve Caesars and poutine! They even had a guitar player playing tunes and later canned music. We had a nice reasonably priced lunch (no, no poutine for us!) including Caesars for Fran and then donned our swim suits and snorkel gear to check out the reef about 200 metres from the dock, not really expecting much.

We were pleasantly surprised; there were a good number of fish but more impressively the coral variety was excellent. The water was not that deep until you went way past the buoys and the water was fairly clear. Doug saw many starfish; Fran spotted a nurse shark hiding in the coral, lots of starfish attached to trunks of coral, some squid and just before getting out of the water Fran spotted a small ray on the bottom that was well camouflaged. It stopped raining while we were snorkeling and our “taxi” returned at five to pick us up.

We picked up some groceries for dinner and showered and ate at the hotel. We did our after dinner walk until it sprinkled on us and it rained most of the night.

Monday we had a boat tour already arranged but it was quite disappointing as it was touted as one thing and turned out to be very different. Also the weather was not very cooperative; it rained on and off all morning. We do not have much luck with the sun on the Caribbean side, that’s for sure!

We had friends who been here and were charged $35pp for such a tour and at first they tried to get us for $50pp so we should have twigged that something was awry.   He agreed to $35 when we told him and Alex picked us up at 9:45 to go to the boat. Onboard with us was a Costa Rican woman and her adult daughter and two young couples from Edmonton. Alex did not tell us there’d be a cooler on board and to bring our own drinks; lucky for us, having Canadians on board meant they’d feel sorry for us and share – which they did!

First stop was Dolphin Bay in which we saw maybe 8 dolphins but for the most part hardly out of the water; then we went to Coral Cayo where there was a little restaurant called “Jasmine’s” and we were told we could order lunch for when we came back later. It was super expensive so we passed as did our fellow Canadians, Jasmine, Bobby, Ken & Stephanie; only the two CR women ordered lunch.

Then it was off to Cayo Zapatillo, part of the marine national park. It’s quite a lovely little island that probably looks amazing in the sunlight but we did not get to see it that way. There is a little 1800 metre trail through the park which we took because our stop here was for 1.5 hours but other than two birds and a butterfly or two, we saw nothing. A majority of the tour is on a boardwalk which had several spots where boards were collapsed then you walk alone the shore back to the main beach.

Bobby shared some beer with us and Fran went for a dip in the water which was a lovely temp but there was quite a current not far from the shore. We could see waves breaking over a reef nearby but it was quite rough and no snorkeling was allowed.

Then it was back to Coral Cayo so two people could eat lunch along with the captain before he took us out off shore to snorkel for maybe 45 minutes. The water was super murky and although there was a fair bit of coral, there were hardly any fish. We did see a few jelly fish and Doug actually got stung.

Our final stop around 4pm was to Sloth Island where we did see about six sloths up in the trees.

We were kicking ourselves that we’d booked this tour before doing further research into it as it was not worth it. We’d been told there’d be four stops including lunch with two spots to snorkel; lesson learned.

Upon returning to the hotel, we showered, changed and went out to find a place with happy hour and food as we’d not had lunch. The Buena Vista bar had good drink prices and we enjoyed nice meals being entertained at first by a local guitar player named “Calypso Joe”. At the table next to us was three people who were from Winnipeg and we chatted with them for a while. Francoise and Ken were here visiting her sister, Monique who is currently living in Panama.

So Tuesday we had another full day and decided to take the local bus up the island to the far side to visit Playa Estrella (starfish) which we’d seen lovely pics up. The sun was trying to come out in Bocas Town when we left and it stayed with us up there. We caught the bus at the main square and the road there was paved for the most part but did have a great deal of pot holes. We got off the bus in Boca del Drago (end of the line) and walked less than a km along the beach to Playa Estrella. It was quite lovely but sadly, again, due to development (although minor), the starfish are no longer close to shore. We met a young Panamanian man with his American wife and son and her father, who told us that just eight years ago there were lots and lots of starfish in this area but now you have to swim out to see them and we had not brought our suits or our snorkel gear.

After enjoying the beach walk for a bit, we returned to the bus stop and caught the next bus back into town.

Bocas Town has paved streets, lots of restaurants and tour places. It seems to have a large number of small supermarkets and there must be a gas station somewhere as there are cars here but we didn’t see it.

That afternoon, we took another recommendation from Jim and caught a water taxi to yet another island to spend some time at Red Frog Beach; this too turned out to be a great choice. It’s a lovely light coloured sandy beach with coconut palms and it is way wider than most Caribbean beaches. There is supposed to be caiman in the little river and red frogs around, but we saw neither on the walk to the beach from the taxi dock.

We found a bar to sit outside of on chairs somewhat undercover and enjoyed a nice afternoon. The sun was out for a while, then it rained, then it tried to clear. We both went in for a dip once but for the most part we read and chatted with people. Four young men from Winnipeg (again!) sat near us late in the afternoon.

Upon returning to the hotel, we showered and changed and went to find a pizza for dinner before the rain started again.

Wednesday after another good breakfast made by Jim, we caught a water taxi back to the mainland when we got to Tigger, he wouldn’t start again. Finally after about a half hour, Doug got it going and we headed back west. We had contacted the mechanic Norman had set us up with by phone and arranged to go straight there today rather than first going to Norman’s and then driving to Neil on Thursday.