From Taboga Island, we bid farewell to Soz (Moo’s mum) and made the hellish (and freezing cold) overnight bus ride from Panama City to Bocas del Toro, located in the far north west of the country. Once again, I am reminded of the fact that I’m no longer a backpacker. And while the $350 flight was a LOT more expensive than the $30 bus, the forty five minutes it would have taken to fly compared to the eleven hour bus, was probably worth it. Sorry for complaining, it’s just I’m thirty three years old now. From the archipelago of Bocas del Toro we fled to the crisp mountain air of Boquete to sample what the bean industry refers to the Geisha plant as ‘the champagne of coffee’. So let’s get into it, back to the Caribbean once again in Bocas del Toro & then Boquete in Panama.
Bocas del Toro
On arrival (and by that I mean, after the horrible bus ride and hair raising speed boat) to Colon island. I got the feeling pretty quick that three nights wasn’t going to cut it, neither was five to be honest. We scurried out of the seedy backpacker port town up to Paki Point by taxi and dove headfirst into our spacious airbnb. Bocas del Toro is famous for lingering travellers, age old US expats and dive obsessives. Colon island and it’s surrounding cays will suit everyone; if you want to party, chill out, animal spot, surf or snorkel it’s all just a boat ride away.
I will say this though, the weather in Bocas del Toro is known for being a little tumultuous and to be honest was downright indecisive.
Given neither of us dive, we figured we’d base ourselves on Colon island and day trip from there. Well away from the bustling town. Getting to and from town was pretty easy with the frequent taxi service, but did end up costing a fair bit once we added it up over five days ($6 USD each way). Having a bicycle would have been most convenient, however the intermittent rain did make sight seeing in general a little tricky.
So, if you’re heading to Bocas del Toro and you’re not a diver, here’s what you can do!
Bocas del Drago
After a few sedentary days recovering the bus ride (last time I mention it, I promise). We opted to cycle from town out to Bocas del Drago and back. It was about the same price to hire the bike for the day ($5 USD each) as the bus. On arrival, we tied up the bikes to a palm tree and walked the fifteen minutes around to Starfish beach. Admittedly, we saw more starfish elsewhere, but it was a beautiful walk. I would recommend you swim and relax back at Bocas del Drago for clearer waters and less crowds.
Regarding the cycle, I will be honest, it was a tough 18km ride (each way)! Expect a lot of undulations, potholes, speedy buses and a sore bum the following day. A decent practise for our upcoming cycle I suppose.
Over the past two weeks in Panama I’ve become obsessed with sighting a sloth in the wild because, well. They look INCREDIBLE. While cycling was difficult for that, we did cycle past a gang of noisy howler monkeys which were hard to miss. We also passed…
The Plastic Bottle Village
Made entirely out of plastic bottles, the plastic village of Bocas del Toro was a pleasant surprise. With the slogan ‘One man’s trash is another man’s condo’, I was even more intrigued. We’d noticed a lot of anti-rubbish related advertising on the cycle and on approach I could see why. Seeing the sheer volume of plastic in one place reminded me how innocent one bottle can feel – but when seeing millions of bottles all at once, quite honestly, it was sickening. I highly recommend you check out the website for more information.
Take a private boat to Zapatillo Island
There were an abundance of tour touts trying to persuade us on a full day tour of the neighbouring islands. After a little research we figured we’d rather not be shuffled to and fro with twenty other people, and were keen to avoid chasing dolphins, which the tours seemed to include. Instead we opted to hire a private boat for the day. We mostly wanted to visit Zapatillo Island (a throwback to our days in Barbados) plus a quick zip past Sloth Island. For reasons mentioned above. We managed to haggle the price down by including our bus tickets to Boquete so the cost was $140 USD for both of us, all up.
We took our own lunch for the day trip and were pretty smug when the tour groups had to leave paradise after a short two hour stay. Our time was spent snorkelling (not much to see), exploring and mostly chilling out on the white sand and turquoise water.
Unfortunately Sloth Island was rather underwhelming, sure we saw the little brown blobs from the boat (they’re safely hung on the branches within the mangrove trees.) But that’s really what they were to us, brown blobs. The search continues.
Visit Caranero Island
We briefly visited Caranero island for lunch – as you do. It cost $1 USD each for a private boat across the gap and before we knew it we were at Leaf Eaters Vegan Cafe chowing down on tacos and salads, the smoothies were delish!
Snorkelling for coral!
We’d heard all about the EPIC diving in the area, specifically how good the coral was but were a little reluctant to join a tour or hire another private boat. Having seen not much else but weed on Zapatilla Island, we still had an itch to scratch. We turned to the professionals at one of the local Padi Dive Centers who were offering us a three hour trip to Hospital Point (one of the premier snorkelling spots) for just $5 USD, including snorkel, mask and wetsuit. Jackpot!
I have the say, the photos below do not do the reef any justice. This has got to be some of the healthiest, most vibrant coral I’ve seen outside of Australia.
After a six hour boat and bus transfer from Bocas del Toro we had finally reached the mountains. Not to put too much pressure on Boquete, but a lot was riding on this small town to win us over. Our time in Bocas del Toro had been fun, but not A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. We did have to second guess why it had made so many lists of Top Places to go in Panama.
Known for its beautiful waterfalls, endless hiking trails and sumptuous food scene we were very excited to be visiting Boquete. But if I’m honest, I was here for one thing: the coffee.
Coffee tour at Finca Dos Jefes
First up, Moo and I can safely say that this coffee farm tour turned out to be one of the best tours we can remember. Our guide Amy was so passionate and informative, and we got to see, touch and feel every step of the process on the small farm. It was also really refreshing to hear an honest explanation of what is a pretty exploitative and damaged industry.
The only downside was that the coffee tasting came at the end of the tour, by which point I was gasping for my fix!! It was worth the wait, tasting the difference between medium and dark roasted beans was really informative.
Ten points if you can see the baby hummingbirds in the picture below.
Las Tres Cascadas ~ The Three Waterfalls
Alas! We reneged on the ten hour hike to Volcan Baru, one of the few places you can see both Atlantic and Pacific oceans and opted for a less intense day trip instead. Simply catch the Bajo Mono collectivo bus to the start of the falls, pay your entry and off you go. It was a beautiful hike through the forest (we even glimpsed a sleeping sloth in a tree, woe is me, still a brown blob). Each of the three waterfalls was nice, Moo was game to swim in the third one, I was not.
Before leaving town it was essential to try a ‘Geisha’ coffee, the most expensive coffee in the world and commonly known as ‘the champagne of coffee’. The barista at Buckle & Tip let us watch his long brewing process, and taught us all about the B60 (a type of filter). All in all, it was a seriously good coffee. Probably not a daily drink at $14 USD though!
So why is it so expensive? First of all, the Gesha tree (renamed Geisha to appeal to the Asian market) requires very specific cultivation conditions and are extremely demanding to both grow and harvest. Secondly, demand for premium Panama geisha coffee beans in the world is so high, naturally the price increases with demand.
From Boquete, we caught the one hour bus down to David before the long but comfortable eight hour bus back to Panama City. At this point you’re probably wondering where the coronavirus comes into things, well, it doesn’t. But it kind of does! On arrival back into the city, we were suddenly surrounded by masked people – how long had we been away from civilisation? It struck me as comedic that the media can persuade so many people by fear mongering and mass hysteria with something that is less distructable than the common flu. Maybe we should stop believing everything we see on T.V?
Sadly next week will be my last post in Panama. After then, you’re brought up to speed on where we currently are in Mexico.
Until then xo