I don’t know about you guys but this gloomy weather has had me dreaming of a relaxing beach getaway for some time now. Somewhere tropical with crystal blue water that makes you contemplate leaving the Big Apple and moving to an island. Well, that might just be my daydream but I’m sure you can relate in some way or another. Booking a trip to Panama made my dreams a reality and exceeded my expectations. If you have been having the same thoughts, Panama might just be the ideal location for your next trip.
Ironically enough, Panama has never been on the top of my extremely long bucket list of countries to visit. I knew that I wanted to visit the Panama Canal one day but being naive, I wasn’t sure what else Panama had to offer. Located in Central America, Panama has a rich history of European, African and Native Panamanian culture. Learning about different cultures while traveling is so important to me so I had to visit this diverse country. While doing research for my trip, I came across photos of Bocas Del Toro (a province of Panama) on Lonely Planet’s website and I was immediately taken aback by how gorgeous the beaches were. Photos of clear blue water, palm trees, and powder blue skies filled the screen of my laptop — it was perfect and exactly what I was looking for. I expressed to my boyfriend that I wanted this trip to be super relaxing. I’m talking about sleeping in, taking naps on the beach type of trip. In the past, we always booked a ton of activities for the week, which usually entailed waking up early and that is totally fine but for this trip, I wanted our schedules to be wide open and to just “go with the flow.” He agreed and so we proceeded to look up flights.
While booking our travel we realized that there are no direct flights from New York to Bocas Del Toros. We learned this the hard way and assumed that we could drive to Bocas from Panama City but that is not the case, you will need to fly from Panama City to Bocas. So, after booking our flight to Panama, we had to look for a connecting flight from Tocumen International Airport in Panama City to Isla Colon International Airport in Bocas Del Toro. Don’t worry, it’s only an hour flight and it will actually work in your favor. The layovers are perfect because now you can stop by the Panama Canal! It is really magnificent to see this engineering masterpiece in person AND to see it in action. It’s a part of history that you should not miss. If you have more than a three-hour layover in Panama City, you can also explore Casco Viejo – a historic district filled with shops, churches, restaurants, and lovely colonial houses.
If you have time, another great stop to make is at Albrook Mall. With more than 700 stores, 100 restaurants, a bowling alley, a video arcade and a movie theater, Albrook Mall is said to be the largest shopping mall in Latin America.
Not only did I want this to be a relaxing trip, but I wanted it to be affordable as well. Maybe I’m asking for too much but when I have a vision, I go after it. That’s when we discovered STAY Bocas, a super cute, affordable, and clean Bed & Breakfast. I honestly could not find one negative review about this B&B! It was conveniently located next to the airport, so close that we actually walked there from the airport! The airport is so small and the flights are so infrequent that we had no issues whatsoever staying close by. Every morning there was a beautiful array of free, healthy breakfast (yogurt, granola, cereal, fresh fruit, coffee, tea). Our host was amazing and had to be one of the most personable people we met there. He suggested the best beaches the town had to offer and we had the opportunity to visit a different beach every day. Besides beach hopping, we took surf lessons which was a great experience and a yoga class.
Now, to my favorite part of the trip — the beaches. Out of all the beautiful scenery, we had the chance to set our eyes on, the beaches had to be my favorite! So here it is, I narrowed it down to the top three beaches you MUST visit on your stay in Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
Boca Del Drago
Getting to Boca Del Drago was roughly a thirty-minute bus ride from our hotel but well worth it. The shuttle bus costs $2.50 per person each way. The official currency in Panama is the Balboa, named after a Spanish explorer who discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. One Balboa is equivalent to one US dollar, with that being said you won’t have to exchange currency.
After a morning of surf lessons, we spent the entire afternoon at Bocas Del Drago. With its gorgeous, warm water and beautiful palm trees, you will really feel like you’re in paradise. We also ordered a delicious lunch from one of the huts close by which included tostones (fried plantain slices), fresh garlic shrimp and a salad, all for less than twenty dollars!
The only downside I’d have to say is that the ocean had a lot of seaweed. It didn’t bother me but it may be a nuisance for some people.
Red Frog Beach
Red Frog Beach is another spectacular beach where you can spend an afternoon soaking up some Panamanian sun. To get there you will need to take a small boat from the “water taxi” in Bocas. There are boats waiting there to take you on a 15-minute boat ride to the beach. They cost approximately $8 per person and there is also a $5 entrance fee once you arrive.
After a few hours of enjoying the ocean and relaxing, we stopped by their taco bar and had a nice lunch. The tacos were so fresh and tasty!
Unless you’re a certified lifeguard, I’d have to say that Red Frog isn’t much of a beach for swimming or for children. I say this because the waves are very rough, not ideal for swimming at all. I strongly suggest staying close to the shoreline just to be on the safe side.
I decided to save the best for last. Starfish Beach was by far my favorite beach in Bocas Del Toro. A five-minute boat ride from Boca Del Drago and you’ll arrive in heaven. The boat ride costs only $1.50. Here you can go snorkeling and swim with starfish and swordfish, or just sip on coconut water and close your eyes while laying on your beach chair. There is a strip of huts that serve lunch and all types of beverages.
Starfish Beach has some of the clearest and shallow water I have ever experienced. The calmness of the ocean really puts you in a state of serenity. At one point, I actually fell asleep on my beach chair, and that is the type of tranquility you need on vacation.
If I were to give one tip — it would be to experience a trip where you’re not always on the go, be spontaneous and take one day at a time. Believe me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with planning ahead, actually, I’m the queen of making a ‘to do” list, but there’s also nothing wrong with living in the moment too. I believe Panama is the perfect getaway to do just that.