The Main Island

Isla Colón, the main island in the Bocas Del Toro archipelago, is home to one of the most popular beaches, Playa Estrella, so we thought we’d hop on a bus and see what all the fuss is about. It’s called Starfish Beach in English on account of all the starfish. No point in straining your brain to name shit when it practically names itself. Anyway, we hopped on a minibus and off we fucked to sit stock still in the middle of our sarongs, gingerly brushing sand off the corners.

Fucking hell, it just knows how to wow around here doesn’t it?

The bus deposited us at Boca Del Drago and we walked the last kilometre or so to the beach and guys, even the trail is a bit of a stunner. The water comes right up to the trees so there’s no beach until you get to the… uh, well, the beach, but you could easily get in for a paddle if you wanted to. Palm trees line the way all gorgeous and photogenic. The trail is flat and well defined. It’s almost as if your destination is beckoning, calling your name, inviting you to come and relax.

Yeah you can see why it’s popular.

The beach itself is pretty much exactly how you’d want a beach to be. Loads of shade should you want it. Full sunshine if you just wanted to crisp yourself. Golden sand, clear, turquoise water, palm trees. There are probably a few too many bars and restaurants but they must have enough demand to keep them running. When I say bars and restaurants I mostly mean shacks with plastic chairs and tables but what more do you need really? We did pass a few sunbeds but they were in full sun and there’s no way I could handle that for more than a few minutes. Honestly, the older I get the less I can handle the heat. I’m going to have to start packing myself in ice if it gets above 25°C.

All that glorious albeit potentially deadly shade. Try not to get too close to the coconuts.

We positioned ourselves in the shade close to the water, inspecting the trees above for coconuts before we put our sarongs down. Hot tip: never settle underneath coconuts because if they fall that shit will brain you. As if on cue a nut broke loose from a tree a few metres away and hit the floor with an almighty crack. Yeah. Cool. We moved a leeeeetle bit further away from the trees. To be fair this never occurred to us until we were in The Seychelles and a bloke called over to us and suggested that maybe we don’t stand under the palm tree laden with coconuts. It obviously doesn’t occur to many people from countries devoid of tropical trees producing nuts as big as your head because another couple set up right underneath the tree that had shed its load earlier on.

Cushion starfish. Please do not maul them.

The first thing to do on this beach is go looking for the starfish. You don’t have to go far, they’re right there in the shallows. They’re pretty awesome actually. I mean, they don’t do much other than just… starfish. There are signs up everywhere imploring you to please not move, touch or in anyway play with the poor little buggers so they’ve probably been thoroughly harassed in the past. Once you’ve gawped at them there’s not much else to do but retreat to your sarong and drink a beer or four.

There’s actually quite a lot of fish to gawp at in the shallows. It does drop off quite quickly and deeply.

The only downside to this paradise are the bitey little shits in the sand. It got a bit too much but the sea here is still and calm and the perfect temperature, ideal for sitting in up to your neck whilst you sip the delicious, cold can of Balboa you purchased from a little bar. So that’s what we did. Fuckers can’t get us in here! That was pretty much our day, sprawling and snorkelling and drinking tasty cold motor impairment beverages until we figured we should head off for showers and dinner.

Try and get us here, you bitey little shits!

We were both suffering with itchy bites though. You can’t really see the full extent of the damage under my tattoo but my right arm reads like fucking braille. I don’t know if they’re sandflies or sand fleas and I made the mistake of Googling the difference and, quite frankly, they can both fuck right off! Turns out that sandflies could cause a rash that could lead to hospitalisation if you scratch it too much and it gets infected, and female sand fleas can burrow into your fucking skin, lay eggs then die. Like, under your skin. So you could be going about your day whilst unwittingly incubating the next generation of sand fleas whilst the corpse of their mother rots nearby. I’m not sure I ever want to go to a beach again. I certainly want to remove my entire epidermis.

So there’s a resto bar near us called JJ’s and that’s where we went to treat ourselves to dinner and a bottle of wine. Oh my gosh, the buffalo wings! This is the kind of food-from-home we crave. The burgers were Brighton standard and we take our burgers pretty fucking seriously in Brighton like the pretentious wankers we all are. You have to pass a food snob test when you move to Brighton or they won’t let you pay 90% of your wages to live in a cramped flat with mould in the corners which is essential if you want to complete your Brighton Bingo card. You also have to get mugged by a seagull for your Tescos meal deal and be profoundly insulted by a drag queen. The wine was lovely and dry too. It was a great evening and it’s nice to splurge on dinner and drinks every now and then.

We were informed by a couple of Americans we met that live in Bocas that these were the best wings on the island. I’ve nothing to compare it to but I can’t stop thinking about these bad boys.

We had to move rooms the following day. We decided against island hopping in favour of staying in Bocas Town. The odd bit of isolation every now and then is nice but I do so like being able to pop out for a Mars Bar, or nip around the corner for a couple of beers. Our micro suite wasn’t available but a larger apartment was and honestly, the jump in quality for the price was more than worth it. I kind of wish we’d just booked this for our whole time here. We decided just to bum around Bocas Town for the day whilst we waited for our new room to be ready.

The fire station has four fire engines but I think three are antiques. The one on the left certainly is. The one on the right is the one they actively use.

I did pop to the doctors so they could have a look at my ear. I’m due to finish my antibiotics tomorrow and I just wanted confirmation that my ear was normal and fixed. There was enough wax in my ear to hold Buckingham Palace together and he had to scrape that out so he could see what was going on but yes. Eardrum is intact, infection is clear, I can dive to my shrivelled, blackened heart’s content.

Tourists gonna tourist. In our defence the firemen asked us if we wanted to get in and offered to take photos. Clearly we’re not going to turn that down.

Tarrant found a plant based café whilst I was being aurally probed so we hung out there for a while safe in the knowledge that the cake wouldn’t cause a full digestive rebellion in Tarrant’s gut, then we meandered past the fire station where they have old fire engines. One of them is nearly 100 years old and they let us sit in it like the massive children we are. That was fun. My day also got a whole lot more exciting when a plane soared past on the way to the airport, terrifying close to the buildings. I fucking love planes! We checked Flight Radar, another plane was due in an hour so we had a couple of beers in El Patio right by the flight path just so I could get a photo. Man my inner nerd was being so fed today.

Low flying aircraft.

We hadn’t been able to stop thinking about those buffalo wings we’d had at JJ’s last night so we went and got some more of those bad boys before we headed home, moved into our new room, blasted the AC and hacked at the tiny red welts in my flesh that may or may not be a sand flea nest. I’m really enjoying Bocas Town actually which is great given how apprehensive about it we were before we got here. Panama is stunning us turn after turn. We’re hoping to head into Costa Rica on Saturday all being well but Panama really has captured our hearts.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Isla Colón, Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Stayed at: Sun Havens Apartments & Suites, Bocas Town

Sun Havens Apartments & Suites. This isn’t the micro suite, this is an apartment we moved into afterwards. Brilliant AC and comfortable beds. The micro suite had a better equipped kitchen but the apartment had way more space and was very much worth the extra money. Can’t fault it for the price and location.

Useful shit to know…

  • To get to Playa Estrella / Starfish Beach you need to take a colectivo (like a minibus) to Boca Del Drago from Bocas Town.
  • You can find these at the north west corner of Parque Simón Bolivar.
  • Coordinates are around 9.340254, -82.240767.
  • It cost US$2.50 each one way and took about 40 minutes as the roads are in poor condition and there’s a lot of work taking place right now (April 2023).
  • Once you’ve been dropped off it’s about a fifteen minute walk along a well defined trail to the beach.
  • You get the bus back from the same place you were dropped off.
  • There’s a bus schedule on the wall here but I think they’re more likely to wait until they have enough passengers before they leave rather than adhering to it.
  • The schedule does say the last bus from Boca Del Drago is at 7pm and the conductor on the bus to Boca Del Drago did tell me the last one was at 7pm when I asked.
  • If you need to see a doctor in Bocas Del Toro you can try the Dental & Medical Clinic.
  • Dr Ben was recommended by a couple of ex-pats we met in a bar.
  • He was very good and is fluent in English.
  • It cost US$25 for the consultation.

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