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Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

Chicago, Illinois
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Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

Backpackers!

I am planning a solo 10-14 day trip to Bocas Del Toro this holiday season and would like some advice on activities and must do’s. I will be in Panama City for Christmas and in Bocas Del Toro for New Years. I would love to spend both holidays as the locals do, and immerse in the local traditions. Any highlights? Any fun tribal New Year’s parties on the beach in Bocas?

I will be taking the bus from PC to Almirante just to see the country, no matter how long it takes=) For the scenery aspect, is it worth it? I have been advised to dress warmly=) Anyone have any theft on the bus?

So far I plan to take Spanish classes with Spanish by the Sea and partake in some of the excursions on the water and rainforest. Any tips?

I am also planning to cram into the schedule diving certification with Yellow Jack and renting a room with them for a few days.

I would really love to “island hop” between the archipelagos. Any must sees or great camping areas directly on the beach with palm trees for a hammock?

Any feedback on Coral Cay Cabins and The Buccaneer Resort? They seem to be affordable for a backpacker (under $100) and offer unique rooms; cabana & over the water features. Any other cheep over-the-water rooms I should check-out?

Thank you all for your help!

Cheers!

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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11. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

oh right Silverbacks. What I meant was Bastimentos is not a big surf party town, Not to say it cant be LOUD, but tourists are not doing the partying, its the locals. What is the B&B on Christobal? I have always wanted to go somewhere cheap on one of the other islands but everything I know is very pricey.

Munich, Germany
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12. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

I am soooo jealous! YOU are gonna have a great time.

I spent 3 weeks in Bocas in July to do a Spanish course and go diving.

Went to Spanish by the sea, which was great if you get the right teacher.

I dived with Bocas water sports (Colon) - the owners are really nice. La Buga is also a nice outfit. There is a 3rd shop in town, but i didnt find them at all helpful - they never bothered answering emails etc. If you dive with BWS you will have a great time at fair prices.

Regarding places to stay in Bocas, I stayed in Cocomo, which is a small guest house with 4 rooms. I really liked Cocomo, it was about 50$ per room, with a delicious breakfast and friendly staff. Though it does seem always to be busy, so it probably books up really quick.

Some people I met at spanish school stayed at Hotel Las Olas, which was also great (its under new management, and better than the older descriptions in Trip Advisor). Cocomo and Las Olas are both directly on the sea.

Lulas was also very nice, a small guest house opposite Cocomo. It looked clean and new. Its the place recommended by Jon and Stacey the owners of Bocas Water Sports.

The Bocas Condos were in a great location and are slightly more modern with respect to the amenities. Limbo by the sea also looked OK.

There are plenty of hostels in Bocas, the grand kahuna looked good. Mondo taitu had a fun bar and was always really busy.

There were some great restaurants. I loved Casbah, El ultimo refugio, Guari Guari, 9° (in the tropical markets) and Kannibal (next to bocas tropical suites). Kannibal is owned and run by a surf teacher who cooks for fun. His food is amazing and really great value for money. Lilys was good for breakfast, but the service was often pretty crap - though has fab views.

Over on Bastimentos island, hidden in the jungle (10 mins walk from the town) is a fantastic thai restaurant... amazing food, really cheap (6$ for a main meal!), fun place to get to! They will arrange a lancha to pick you up and drop you if, if you like.

Bocas is a BRILLIANT place to go out and party. Every night there is another bar with a ladies night (free drinks for the girls!) - thats the party place that night. Aqua Lounge on Carenero island is kicking on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Barco hundido is busy most nights and is a great place. Also Iguana bar is great fun. The music in all the bars is mixed from reggae, reggaetón, salsa, merengue and dance music.

You can go over to Carenero island by water taxi, there is a cute beach there... near the Pickled Parrot beach bar (nice food!). Also the Cosmic Crab is a great place for sundowners.

Dont miss a trip out to the Zapatilla islands... its paradise! Also dont miss Starfish beach at Bocas del Drago (take the minibus from the park in town)... you can see the most beautiful starfish there. Its also definitely worth visiting the various beaches on Bastimentos, as most beaches on isla colon have a lot of chitras.

There is a nice Yoga studio (in the purple house on 3rd street?), which offers great yoga and pilates lessons for 5$ each. You can also get massages there.

If you go (which I hope you do!) you will have such a great time. I would love to be going to Aqua Lounge tonight!! Have fun and drink a panama beer for me!

Bocas del Toro
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13. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

there is a lovely place, with very nice owners, called Dolphin Bay Hideaway On Isla Cristobal, on the side of Bocatorito.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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14. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

Dolphin Bay Hideaway is 95-120 a night. Way way way to expensive for me. That is not what I meant when I said a cheaper place.

Bocas del Toro
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15. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

The reason places on the other islands outside of either Bocas town, Carenero and Bastimentos town, or the more remote places are more expensive is because of the boat travel costs involved - traveling by boat is not the cheapest way to travel, but to get to these places you have no other choice. I dont know of any "cheap" places in remote areas here, and Erica's place is, IMO, the best place on Isla Cristobal. There is a woman renting her house in the Finca Buena Vida development for $45/night, not far from Dolphin Bay Hideaway actually, but then you are on your own - you are just renting the space. You need to get yourself there, cook etc etc. If you are just there a couple of days and add the transport cost it may not be loads cheaper - If you stay longer than it is cheaper of course. Even remote places on Isla Colon are a bit higher. Bluff Beach Lodge is in the $90 range and Bluff Beach Retreat is higher. Tesoro Escondido has cheaper rooms in the $35 range but you have to add transport to that. So "cheap" wise, your only options are Bocas/Carenero or Bastimento town hostels and as far as Carenero and Bastimentos are concerned, you still need to factor in your transport there - although it is not hugely expensive.

panama
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16. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

You really should check out Tesoro Escondido for part of your trip - Monique offers transport to town - her prices are very low for a beautiful spot on the ocean & you can cook for yourself or her French cook is amazing and offers dinners for $8.50. You cant beat it for what you are looking for.

Isla Bastimentos
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17. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

Hey tmchf, read trip chick Munich's review of the Bocas experience above, that is the type of review I like to hear about. I live and run a small resort on Bastimentos, and we have been getting a few bad reviews about our beautiful island and Bocas in general, but trip chick munich's post puts a big smile on my face.

Atlanta
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for Jaco, Bocas Town
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18. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

I have to agree tripchick knows what she is talking about. Can I just say "Ditto"?

Munich, Germany
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19. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

Thanks guys! But it does also help that I read and replied to the original post and the original questions!

Chicago, Illinois
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for Isla Mujeres
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20. Re: Arriving this December for the holidays! First Time!

As a fellow Chicagoan, I'm jealous that you'll be in Bocas for the holidays while I'm stuck in the snow, which is falling even as I type. Bocas is the kind of place where you can travel easily without formal plans. My wife and I opted to stay outside of town but wouldn't make that mistake again--Bocas Town is a happening place and it must be wild on New Years! There are a number of small places to stay right in town for very reasonable rates. We spent more than $100 in 5 days riding cabs back into town a couple of times a day.

Trip-Chick hit all my fave spots--a photo of Starfish Beach now serves as my wallpaper on my home PC--and every time I see it I check the real estate listings. Pickled Parrot has great food and great view--try the "Firecracker Shrimp," a dish that features the biggest shrimp you'll ever see. Red Frog Beach is a must--but I understand that it is less accessible at certain times of the year (we were there in Sept. 2008). And I can also highly recommend Bocas Water Sports--run by an expat couple (Jon & Stacey) who served not only as our divemasters but our reference point for all things Bocas. We still email them occasionally more than a year later.

Last thing--as a Chicagoan I insist you try the lobster pizza at Hotel Bocas del Toro. Trust me. You'll never look at Giordano's the same way again.