Getting There & Departing
There are two ways to get to Bocas del Toro: via a land/sea combination, or by air. Considering the short flight (1 hr. from Panama City), most travelers opt to fly. If crossing into Bocas del Toro from Costa Rica by land, travelers head to Changuinola, where they can grab a boat shuttle to Bocas (1 hr.) or hop over on a small plane from Changuinola (10 min.). Tip: If traveling from Costa Rica, remember that Costa Rica is 1 hour ahead of Panama.
By Plane -- The basic but spruce Bocas International Airport (tel. 757-9208) is serviced by daily flights from Panama City, David, Changuinola, and Costa Rica. Both Airlines charge about $180 (£90) (including taxes) for a round trip ticket from Panama City to Bocas Town, but again, gas prices mean this is likely to go up.
Air Panama (tel. 315-0439; www.flyairpanama.com) has service to Bocas del Toro from Panama City, David, and San José, Costa Rica. From Panama City, there are two or three daily flights leaving at 6:45am (Mon-Sat); 8am (Sun); 7:15am (Mon, Wed, Fri); and 3:15pm (daily). Return flights from Bocas to Panama City leave 8am (Mon-Sat); 9:15am (Sun); 1:45pm (Mon, Wed, Fri); and 4:30pm (daily). From David, there is one flight on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only, leaving at 1pm; the flight from Bocas to David leaves at 8:35am.
Aeroperlas (tel. 315-7500; www.aeroperlas.com) offers two daily flights from Panama City to Bocas, weekdays at 6:25am and 3pm; Saturdays at 8:05am and 3:05pm; and Sundays at 6:30am and 3:05pm. The return trip to Panama City leaves weekdays 10:30am and 5pm; Saturday 10:15am and 5:15pm; and Sunday at 8:40am and 5:15pm. There are three daily flights from Changuinola to Bocas, Monday through Friday at 8:05am, 10am, and 4:40pm; the two daily return flights leave Bocas at 7:50am and 4:20pm; Saturday flights from Changuinola are at 9:50am and 4:50pm; Sundays at 8:15am and 4:50pm. From David, flights leave once daily, weekdays only, at 9am; the flight from Bocas is at 8:25am.
By Boat -- Bocas Marine & Tours (tel. 757-9033 in Bocas, 758-4085 in Almirante, or 758-9859 in Changuinola; www.bocasmarinetours.com) has daily boat service between Almirante and Bocas every 30 to 40 minutes, from 6am to 6:30pm (6:30am-6:30pm from Bocas to Almirante). They also offer service from Changuinola. Note: Owing to the increase in fuel costs, Bocas Marine & Tours operates with a minimum of six passengers; this means that when business is slow they might not leave on schedule.
Taxi 25 (tel. 757-9028) also operates between Almirante and Bocas, leaving every half-hour from 6am to 6:30pm. Both companies charge $3 (£1.50) per person, one-way, and leave from the Almirante dock; Bocas Marine & Tours is on Main Street in Bocas, and Taxi 25 can be found next to the ATP office. If you have a vehicle, there is parking for $3 (£1.50) a day at the lot at the Almirante boat dock. To get to the Almirante bus station for the 4-hour bus ride to David, take a $1 (50p) taxi that waits at the port.
From Costa Rica by Plane -- Air Panama has service from San José, Costa Rica, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10am; service from Bocas del Toro to San José leaves at 8:35am. The cost is $140 (£70) one-way for adults, $104 (£52) one-way for children, and takes about 1 hour. Nature Air, a Costa Rican airline that is represented in Panama by Bocas Air Adventures (tel. 656-0460 in Panama, 506/299-6000 in Costa Rica, or 800/235-9272 in the U.S. and Canada; www.natureair.com) has one flight to Bocas from San José (with connections from Quepos, Liberia, and Puerto Jiménez) on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, leaving at 8am and returning from Bocas at 10:30am; the flight costs $113 (£57) one-way, $226 (£113) round-trip. Note that Nature Air is known to increase prices during the high season (Dec 1-Apr 20).
From Costa Rica by Road -- Travelers entering Panama from Costa Rica by road at the Sixaola-Guabito border can take a taxi (about $15/£7.50) to Changuinola, then a boat to Bocas del Toro with Bocas Marine & Tours. Have your taxi driver take you to the dock at Finca 60, just outside of Changuinola. The boat journey passes through the San San Pond Sak wetlands and an old banana plantation canal, and is so scenic it could be considered a low-price tour. From Changuinola, boats leave daily at 8am, 9:30am, 11am, 12:30pm, 2pm, 3:30pm, and 5pm. From Bocas Town to Changuinola, boats leave at 7am, 8am, 9:30am, 11am, 12:30pm, 2pm, 3:30pm, and 4:30pm. The cost is $5 (£2.50) per person one-way. Remember, if you're crossing into Panama from Costa Rica, you'll have to go through immigration. This can take a long time on a 50-passenger bus, so be prepared for a 1 to 2 hour process. If you're arriving by car, immigration should only take 15 to 20 minutes.
Being Grounded -- Air Panama and Aeroperlas occasionally cancel flights when there are not enough passengers to make the flight profitable, or for any other unforeseen problem. It is a frustrating aspect of local air travel in Panama, especially when flights are canceled with short notice. If traveling to Boquete or David from Bocas, your second option is to take a boat to Almirante, and negotiate a fee with a local taxi driver at the dock (around $80/£40 one-way). It is about the same price as a one-way flight for two, and takes around 3 hours. Don't hesitate to negotiate the price and be certain to settle on a fee beforehand.
There is an ATP visitor center (tel. 757-9642; Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm) in a barn-size yellow building on the waterfront at Calle 1, near the police station. It appears that ATP blew its budget on this sparkling new office, because English-speaking, trained information officers, maps, and brochures are all in short supply. Around lunchtime, you'll be lucky to find anyone staffing the desk, though on the second floor you'll find a display on the natural history of Bocas, and there are public bathrooms here, too. For additional information about Bocas, try the Web portal www.bocas.com, which has links to hotels, tourism services, transportation information, and more.
Note: Though not dangerous by any means, there has been a slight increase in theft in Bocas Town, mostly due to the lack of economic opportunity for the native Afro-Caribbean population paired with the comparative affluence of ex-pats and tourists. Just keep an eye on your personal belongings like you would anywhere else; you are highly unlikely to be violently assaulted, but if you're careless with your wallet or camera you may not find it where you left it.
Money -- Many hotels and restaurants in Bocas del Toro do not accept credit cards, and of those that do, it's Visa and Mastercard only. Some hotels will request that you pay your deposit via PayPal or a bank deposit in your home country, then pay cash or traveler's checks for the remaining balance. There is a 24-hour ATM at Banco Nacional de Panamá, located at the corner of Calle 4 and Avenida E, and an ATM in the Expreso Taxi 25 building -- but bring extra cash in case both are down, which can happen here, especially during high season.
Everything in Bocas Town is within walking distance, but collective taxis are plentiful if you need one. Most hotels arrange pickup and drop-off for guests arriving by air, but there are also taxis waiting for every arrival at the airport. If arriving by boat, find out where your hotel is in relation to the dock -- you may already be close enough to walk. Taxis cost between $1 to $2 (50p-£1). There are two principal roads on the island: One runs along the coast and ends at Playa Bluff; the other crosses the island to Boca del Drago.
There are bicycle rentals on Main Street across from the plaza; all charge $1 (50p) an hour, or $5 to $8 (£2.50-£4) a day. Informal water taxis are available at the dock next to the ATP office, with service to neighboring Isla Carenero ($1.50/75p one-way) and Isla Bastimentos ($11/£5.50 one-way to Red Frog Beach). Hours are irregular, with service generally running from 7am to 9pm. Most people visit Isla Bastimentos as part of a day tour; resorts on that island include round-trip transportation in the price and an extra charge for additional trips.
Bocas is the only town on Isla Colón, centered around a bustling (though far from picturesque) Main Street (Calle 3) and Simon Bolívar Plaza. There are fewer than two dozen streets in Bocas, and most are unpaved. The airport is just a couple of blocks away from the main plaza, meaning you could walk to your hotel if you felt like it. Calles 1 through 10 run west-east and Avenidas A to H run north-south. There is no "downtown," but most hotels and restaurants are concentrated on the south end where Calle 1 meets Main Street. Internet cafes and shops are along Main Street between Avenidas E and D.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.