Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro Travel Blog

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Well unfortunatley for us, our great plans of swimming and sunbathing in the beautiful archipelago of Bocas del Toro was rather short-lived. The brief spell of sunshine which welcomed us onto the island was the only sunshine that we got for the entirety of our 3-day visit.

We thought that we might have left the rain behind us in Puerto Viejo, but this was not the case. Leaving Puerto Viejo was a bit of a nightmare in terms of weather, as just as we had got to the bus stop, it decided to start raining torrentially. So by the time we got onto the public bus to the border, we were soaked through, although luckily we had had the sense to keep our raincoats out for the journey. The bus was very stuffy and hot, which made things slightly worse. We couldn't even open any of the windows as it was raining so hard that everytime we did, the local man behind us was getting soaked, which he quite understandably wasn't enjoyng very much.

It took us about an hour to get to Sixaola, the border town from where we could get into Panama. We had been told that this border could get really busy and take ages, but getting up for the 6.30am bus seemed to have paid off, as there was only a small queue at Customs to leave Costa Rica. The border itself was awesome. Once you had cleared Costa Rican exit customs, you had to make your way across to Panama across what must be an old railway bridge. It was crazy, as the bridge went across the river, and half of the wooden slats were missing, so you really had to watch your step. At one point we had to move so that a lorry could pass over, and the part of the walkway that we were standing on didn't have a fence, so there was nothing between ourselves and a 20m drop down into the river, which wouldn't have been too fun with our rucksacks on!

We were lucky that we had an onward flight from Panama, as the customs on that side won't let you into the country unless you have proof that you'll be leaving again. So the other people who were with us, and were unaware of this, had to buy bus tickets back to San Jose (you couldn't get them just to over the border), and had to pay $11 for them.

It took us about an hour to get from the border to Almirante, the town where we got the water taxi to Bocas from. Our first impressions of Panama were very different to Costa Rica. The buildings all seemed a lot more run-down and everything looked a lot shabbier. The same greenery was present, as with the rest of Central America, and we passed a huge banana plantation and lots of dense woodland.

The watertaxi was definitely the best of the 3 that we have taken so far. It was also the cheapest (at $4 for half an hour's journey) and was very comfortable. It was in a covered speedboat, which probably only took about 20 people. As I said earlier, the sun did indeed welcome us to the island, but it didn't stick around for very long.

We went to have a look at 'Hostel Hansi', where we had decided that we wanted to stay, but didn't even look inside in the end, as when we got there we found that it had a rather noisy building site next door, so decided to look elsewhere. As so often happens, we were picked up by a local who wanted to show us where we should stay, and as we had no bright ideas, we let him take us to a hotel on the main street just opposite the park. Apart from being $5 more than he told us it was (after we had decided to take it and he had dissappeared), the room seeemed pleasant enough, so we dumped our stuff, gave in a bag of laundry and headed out for some lunch.

It seems rather ironic now, given the weather we had afterwards, that we chose to sit in the shade as it was too hot in the sun! Anyway, we had a lovely lunch (although the service was so exasperatingly slow, something we've found a lot out here), so we decided to head over the island opposite Bocas town after lunch. By the time we had got our stuff together and got over there it was about 3pm, and we arranged with the water taxi man that he would pick us up again at 4.30pm. And just as we walked around to the beach and got into the sea, it started to rain. And we didn't have any towels with us because we had sent them to the laundry! The worst bit was that it was really cold rain, so we decided to just stay in the sea whilst it rained as we had nothing to dry ourselves with! In the end, it finally stopped, so we were able to get out and have a little look around before our taxi came to pick us up again. It was obvious how beautiful the islands would be, and how perfect to relax on, if we had had better weather, which was rather annoying for us.

We decided to cook for ourselves on the first night, and only then discovered how horrendous the kitchen supplies in our hotel were. There were only two "plates" (actually bowls) that we could find. One camping-looking fork and a few spoons. It was even worse the next morning, when Rusty found himself eating his cereal with a huge serving spoon. Because of this, along with a couple of other things, we decided to have a look for another hotel, and we found one just up the road, called Hotel Las Brisas. It was slightly more expensive, but had ac, and a lovely decking area off the back with armchairs and hammocks, and a platform and steps for jumping into the sea.

The next day the wierdest thing happened. When Rusty and I were sitting eating our lunch outside, I suddenly noticed a girl walking down the street who I recognised. Then I suddenly realised that it was Ali Earl-Gray, one of my closest friends from Benenden. So there was a lot of screaming and 'oh my god'ing (rather reminiscent to meeting my medic girlies in Antigua) and although she was leaving the island then, she was going to be heading to Panama city at the weekend, so we promised to have a night of catching up on Saturday, as we'd be there at the same time. She was travelling with Hattie, another of my school friends, and brought her along to say hello a few minutes later. It was all very strange, but really nice.

We pretty much spent the day just wandering around again as it was once again torrentially pouring with rain. Once the rain had let off for a bit, we decided to head over to one of the other islands, which was a bit further away, but was meant to have a beautiful beach which was great to swim at on it. This was definitely true. There were waves there, and it was great fun just swimming around in the swell and jumping through the waves. Rusty made a sandcastle, which he was very proud of, and it was a really good way to spend a couple of hours. Just as we were getting our stuff together to leave though, it started to rain. We really hoped that this would be a passing light shower, as our boat that had brought us across (and would be returning to take us back) was one which didn't have a roof! It, predictably, was not a passing shower, and the 10-15 minute back in the rain was so ridiculous it was just hilarious. As we tried to keep our heads ducked against the rain (it was so hard that you couldn't look forwards as it hurt too much), our driver was bailing water out of the back of the boat with a bucket. Needless to say, by the time we arrived back at Bocas Town, we were soaked. It also, ironically enough, had stopped raining there, so we got some rather strange looks walking back to our hotel!!

It was annoying that we weren't able to enjoy the beauty of the area any more due to the weather, as there were meant to be plenty of great beaches and places to chill out. It was a good fun place just to hang out in, and a bit of retail therapy managed to take our mind off the weather.

We booked our tickets for the 8am 10-hr bus from Almirante to Panama City for Thursday morning, and got our stuff together to get the 6.30am boat off the island.
Forrest_Walker says:
I lived in Bocas for four years. Your experience with your friend is wonderful, if not uncommon for that town. You should have stayed at the Agua Lounge, the rain would not have bothered you at all!
Posted on: Apr 10, 2011
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