We only booked three night in Bocas Del Toro. We didn’t really know what we were going to do with it. Did we want to island hop? Did we just want to stay in Bocas Town? Would we even like it or would it be swarming with young folks loudly having The Fun? We were deposited on a jetty, shuffled through Bocas Town in search of our accommodation, realised we couldn’t check in for an hour so headed to a nearby resto bar called JJ’s for a little drinky. We already liked it here, the whole vibe is spot on. We promptly started looking for somewhere to extend our stay for an extra two nights.
We’d booked a micro suite which is exactly what it sounds like. They’ve managed to cram a bunk bed, a kitchenette and a bathroom into a space roughly the size of our living room at our last flat in Brighton and you could describe that as pokey and you’d still be being generous. But it was our own space for a teeny tiny price, plus there was AC that we could use whenever we damn well pleased so we were chuffed to pieces. We’d just get used to the drain stench.
Anyway! The first full day thing we did was take a water taxi to Isla Bastimentos which we knew would be eyewateringly expensive because we’d spoken to people who’d been here. You’re looking at US$5 to get to the town and US$8 to get to Red Frog Beach. Each. One way. And as we wanted to go to Red Frog Beach because I’m not going to lie, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the bouncy little shits, we were looking at a whopping US$32 for an hour round trip. Try to breathe try to breathe try to breathe…
It was a bold move, especially as we didn’t see a single toucan on a route known as the Toucan Trail, and we sat in silence by a sign announcing the fact this was a quetzal habitat and not one of the flappy green fuckers showed up. Red frogs at Red Frog Beach? Good luck, sunshine. It’s a nice stroll through the resort from the dock though, they’ve done well to keep a bit of a jungle habitat which was highlighted when a troop of monkeys made their way through the trees right by us. Amazing! We stood and watched them for a while. I’m not any manner of expert but I think they may have been capuchin monkeys.
It was overcast, the perfect weather for walking, so we found an inhole for the jungle behind the beach close to Palmar Beach Lodge and started looking for the elusive poison-dart frogs, shoving leaf litter around. I think they’re okay if you accidentally touch them, just maybe don’t put one in your mouth. Hard, I know, they look like sweets, I kind of just want to lick them. Probably a good thing that we didn’t find any. The already vague trail petered out to bugger all so we headed back to the restaurant at Palmer Beach Lodge and bought a couple of frighteningly priced smoothies. You’re paying for the location obviously.
The nice sunbeds directly in front the lodge were for guests only but just west of them in front of a little bar called Nachyo Momma were several beds in various states of repair under parasols made from plastic imitation dead palm fronds. Now if only they had a source of palms they could harvest for dead, fallen fronds hey. The beds really are shite, I wouldn’t be surprised if they foraged them from a dumpster when the posh resorts weren’t looking, but they do the job for a mere US$5 each, and they’re especially worth it given that there are definitely bitey things in the sand. We had to jam sticks into the mechanism that keep the backs up but that was a small price to pay to retain most of our blood.
Then commenced an absolutely glorious late morning slash early afternoon. I fucking love a sunbed. The sun forced its way through the clouds, we’d had the foresight to bring a picnic and a couple of beers so we applied those to our faceholes inbetween popping in and out of the Caribbean Sea. I’d read you couldn’t really swim, it was a bit too rough, but you could absolutely go in and get battered about by the waves. I was still a bit nervous about getting my ear wet even though I went back to the doctors in Boquete and whilst he assured me my eardrum wasn’t perforated it was still infected and I was still chucking Amoxicillin down my neck twice a day.
We’d told our water taxi driver that we’d be ready to be collected by 3pm because six hours seemed very reasonable before we realised that sunbeds existed here. We wanted to have another look for the red frogs too. It’s a nice beach and all that but we could have gone to a beach on Isla Colón for a fraction of the cost, we wanted to see at least one frog though we knew chances were low. We tore ourselves away and went looking around a little footpath at the eastern end of the beach that led to a lookout platform.
Nothing. Not a croak. We slowly shuffled back moving leaves around. Still nothing. Honestly at this stage I think we knew we weren’t going to find one. There’s a café which looks permanently closed called The Point, we had one last ditch attempt around the back of that, staring intently at the ground, and nop…. oh fuck, wait! Frog! An actual bright red little frog! We fucking found one! I couldn’t quite believe it but there it was. It was only a few centimetres long but it was Coke-can red. We harassed the poor little sod for ages before it retreated beyond our reach but we were so bloody happy with that. We headed back through the resort to the dock, grinning massively and high fiving like we’d achieved something beyond locating and bothering a tiny amphibian.
I’d say that was a perfect end to a perfect day but we weren’t done yet. There’s a bioluminescence tour you can do here so we’d booked ourselves onto that. We picked up a huge group of Americans two docks over, collected two other people from another island then off we fucked. He told us there were these plankton in many places (there are nine different types here and we were going to see three) but we were going to head a fifteen minute ride from Bocas Town to get as far away from the light pollution as possible. There weren’t many clouds either, the stars were epic, and when he killed the engine in the mangroves they reflected off the still water. As if that wasn’t magical enough, you hang your arm over the side and agitate the water and there it is! This is one just for the eyeholes, you can’t capture it on camera. Little pinpricks of light appeared around our hands as we waved them through the water. It was so incredible!
We stayed there for a while as everyone marvelled at the phenomenon, then our guide explained what we were looking at. These bad boys are phytoplankton, they’re microscopic and the light they produce is a response to the stress. They’d probably have a lot less stress if tourists weren’t showing up to stir the water around but they’re pretty safe here in the mangroves as nothing eats them. Then we moved onto another spot which still had the same phytoplankton on the surface that we’d been battering around, but also there were bigger phytoplankton on the bottom. He demonstrated this with a paddle, hitting the bottom so they’d briefly light up. It was pretty awesome. We passed the paddle around so we could all have a go.
It wasn’t far to the third stop where there were the first type we’d seen but there were also zooplankton here. These guys are animals albeit tiny, clear animals that you can’t see with the naked eye in the daylight. They eat the phytoplankton. And guys, this bit was so incredible. Our guide shone a torch into the darkness for several seconds and when he switched it off hundreds of lights in the water glowed brightly. A gasp went up from the boat. Honestly, what the actual fuck? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen! They only glowed for a few seconds but wow!
This is where we were allowed to get in the water with a mask and snorkel and if you think it’s amazing from the surface you should see it under water. Every minute or so he’d light up the water to activate the zooplankton, and in between, as we splashed through the water we’d activate the phytoplankton. You could see outlines of other humans as they moved about, haloed by the tiny pinpricks of light. I couldn’t get any photos or videos with my phone or my camera but I guess like the fireflies in Bohol and the bioluminescence in Lovina, this is just for the eyeholes.
But what an absolute highlight. I’m so pleased we were here at a time they were running the tours because they don’t do them when the moon is up. There’s no point, you can’t see them if it’s too bright. We’ve seen bioluminescence before and I’m sure we’ll see it again but this whole experience, being able to snorkel with the plankton, that was something else. It’s well worth the money and it’s well worth timing your trip to Bocas Del to do this.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Isla Bastimentos, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Stayed at: Sun Havens Apartments & Suites, Bocas Town
Useful shit to know…
- There’s a water taxi office around coordinates 9.338728, -82.240237 and this is who we used to get to Bastimentos Island.
- It costs US$5 each one way to go to the town on the island, or US$8 each one way to go to Red Frog Beach.
- We had to choose the time to return and we collected us right on time.
- We paid the boat driver the full return amount when he dropped us at Red Frog Resort.
- It costs US$5 each to access the resort for the day.
- Sunbeds are available for rent from Nachyo Momma for US$5 each.
- They’re all a bit knackered but they do the job and there were definitely bitey things in the sand so they’re worth it.
- They only have a limited amount though and the beds in front of Palmar Beach Lodge are for guests of the hotel only.
- We used Kawi Voyage for the bioluminescence tour.
- You can WhatsApp them on +507 6555-9954.
- It cost US$30 each.
- They have you pay a 50% deposit through a secure link (there is a 2% fee) then you pay the rest in cash on the evening.
How To Get From Boquete To Bocas Del Toro By Bus
- Buses from Boquete to David leave from Avenida Belisario Porras near the corner with Calle 4ta Sur. Coordinates 8.776145, -82.431869.
- It took just over an hour and cost US$2.
- You’re dropped at the front of the terminal in David. Walk through and ask for the buses to Almirante or Las Bocas.
- You’re looking for the guys in red t-shirts. You’ll be ushered onto the correct bus which was the bus to Changuinola and this is what was written on the front.
- It took 4 hours and 20 minutes from David to Almirante and cost US$8.45 each.
- We stopped for 20 minutes at a rest stop for lunch and toilet.
- We were met by taxi drivers at the terminal who charged us US$1 each to take to the port.
- You can absolutely walk this but with several ports listed on Maps.ME and us not knowing which one to go for we rolled with it.
- He drove us 1.3 kilometres around the corner and led us into an office, coordinates 9.293094, -82.401044.
- The water taxi cost US$6 one way for foreigners, or US$10 for a return valid for a month. You have to show your passport.
- The crossing took about 25 minutes.
- Total cost: US$21.45 (but we have a return ferry ticket to the mainland)
- Total time: 7.5 hours.