13th-17th December 2015
Our trip from Costa Rica to Panama was the most stressful yet – without going into detail it started with our bus not picking us up so having to wait 4 hours for another, involved a man singing ‘No Woman No Cry’ to us very awkwardly in the middle of the most confusing border crossing we’d experienced, and thankfully ended up with us safely and happily on a water taxi heading to the tropical islands of Bocas del Toro. Which were amazing. Even the drive over convinced us Panama was something special in terms of beauty, and the islands really were a fantastic place to start off.
There are loads of islands and cayes in the area, so we stayed two nights in the main town (Bocas Town) on Isla Colón, and then another two in a fun hostel called Aqua Lounge on the smaller Isla Caranero (thanks to Joy for a great suggestion there)
There is lots to do around the different islands, and the tour prices were actually very reasonable. However since we’ll be doing a lot of island hopping over our Christmas trip to San Blas we kept this visit pretty chilled and didn’t wander too far. I loved it, the whol place had a very relaxed atmosphere and it was great either going out and doing stuff or just taking in the view. You don’t get tired of that when you are surrounded by completely clear water and jungle covered islands in all directions. A few highlights:
Snorkelling at Hospital Point
Since we’d had such a great time snorkelling in Belize, we decided to give it a go without a tour here, to save some money and also for a bit more of a relaxed day. Hiring masks and snorkels from the hostel and asking where was best to go to, we hopped into a water taxi and headed to a nearby cove called Hospital Point.
What we didn’t realise when arranging this was that there is nowhere as such for the boat to drop you off, so they can just go as close to the shore as possible a d then drop you off into the sea, to wade to the shore. I was incredibly poorly prepared for this, fully clothed with a backpack on, and of course immediately had sea soaked denim shorts. If that wasn’t enough, while I was complaining about said wet shorts I simultaneously tripped over a rock and got hit by a wave, falling face first in all my clothes into the sea and getting everything I’d brought with me absolutely soaked. At least it was hot and sunny…
The snorkelling itself was pretty great – there was a small reef of coral just off the shore which was teeming with all sorts of different types of fish. We spent an hour or so swimming around seeing what we could (I wish I knew more about marine life to describe it but the only thing I know the name of is brain coral, the rest of it included things I can’t name such as stripy fish, very small fish in big gangs, large shiny blue fish, etc etc). After that we sunned ourselves on our own little ledge of grass overlooking the sea, before our water taxi returned for our journey back (I’m not actually sure how you leave the island if you haven’t arranged a return water taxi… I guess some just come past every now and then?)
Still loving all the food. Since we weren’t spending money on excursions we had a bit more cash to be spending on food instead. Fresh seafood has definitely been a highlight of our seaside stops, and Bocas was no exception.
The highlight was probably a restaurant we went to on Isla Caranero, where we had some amazing cocktails (Piña Coladas taste so good when you can see the trees the coconut has come off for it) and very tasty fish. We talked about all the great things about travelling, and how even though I’d made a list in a previous blog entry of all the things that were bad about it (and for the sake of balance, there are things that are bad), there is so much amazing stuff to make it more than worth it. Eating fish straight out of the sea while watching the sunset, being our own boss and having so much control over where we go and what we do, the enormously friendly people in Central America who far outnumber the scammers we’ve come across, and generally just all the amazing things we see and do. It’s something worth spending my savings on for sure anyway.
The walk back from that restaurant was cool too. It was dark and there are no roads there so we walked by phone-light back down by the sea, and saw lots of gigantic crabs hanging out on the beach.
The hostels we were staying in, Selinas in Bocas Town and Aqua Lounge on Caranero, were both fun places in their own way. Selinas was massive and filled with tons of travellers, some long term and some just on holiday, and had a nice bar/restaurant out back to hang out in. Although we’ve tended to prefer smaller more family-feeling hostels, sometimes it is just nice to stay somewhere where everything is very efficient and made very easy for you. With comfy beds and air conditioned dorms however, we did tend to bypass the social atmosphere of the hostel for our preferred pastime, sleep.
At Aqua Lounge we were more sociable, as the daytime entertainment was mainly to chill out around a decked area of the sea (set up like a pool, but a strange one since it contained a number of large starfish, the odd little striped fish swimming around, and on one occasion, an eel). Although not many people were actually staying in the hostel, it attracted a daytime crowd of people jumping into the pool, chilling on the loungers, or doing impressive flips from the trampoline/rope into the pool and showing up my terrified pencil jumps from the platforms.
As per usual we were generally too sleepy in the evenings to be too sociable, except for our last night there which was ‘ladies night’ (e.g. yet another hour of free drinks for us), and one of the big parties in the area. Plenty of free tequila and rum and cokes led to a fun night and meeting lots of American students on Winter Break, although a slightly less fun 12 hour bus journey to Panama City the next day…
So far we are loving Panama. Although once again it’s a bit pricey (we’re definitely on the more Americanised side of Central America), it’s very beautiful and fun, and it would be easy to spend a long time hanging out in Bocas. However Christmas is coming, and since we’re booked onto a boat headed Colombia way on the 24th we decided we’d like to have a non-rushed end to our mainland Panama time in the city and sort out all our admin before heading on to a new part of the world.