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Avoid the Hustle in Bocas del Toro

A quick 50 minute flight from Panama City and we found ourselves in†the tropical Caribbean paradise of Bocas Del Toro (a.k.a. Bocas). There are two regional airlines with daily flights to Bocas. Currently the cost for a one way flight to or from the city is as of '07. (Be sure to read my Letter: "Getting Around Panama" at for all kinds of tips on how to get around the country).

Bocas del Toro is an island community. Instead of a car most people own and get around by boat. I've heard Bocas referred to as 'Venice of Caribbean". Although the only similarity I notice is the getting around by boat part! I would describe Bocas more like the Wild West than Venice. In fact, when we arrived in Bocas is was a little intimidating. Although there are a number of restaurants and bars in the town of Bocas on Isla Colon there is really little to do. If you are not planning on getting away from the main town don't bother going! That said, getting out into the protected waters of the archipelago is a real treat. You will experience the beautiful blue Caribbean waters and white sand beaches; wildlife including the famous Red Frogs of Isla Bastimentos and the Porpoises of Dolphin Bay, to name a few and even some of the best surfing in the Caribbean, I am told.

Bocas is one of the only parts of Panama where we encountered a bit of 'street hustle'. We were tempted by one of the local tricks - More than one fisherman, through with his morning catch, approached us and offered his 'private boat' for the day. He promised to take us to the same places as the tour operators for the same or maybe even less money, he was willing to negotiate. It sounded like a bargain especially when he talked about the tour company filling their boat with strangers and how nice it would be to have his boat to ourselves. Fortunately, we had some good advice and just said 'No thank you'. We learned that a private boat often turns out to be a leaky boat with no protection from the sun and it's not uncommon for the captain to pick up "friends who just need a lift" i.e. other unsuspecting tourists. (There are other little tricks like this about Bocas that we learned the hard way. Watch for those tips in my next Bocas letter.) So, we followed another piece of advice and went directly to the well known pro in Bocas, JJ's Tours. Their reputation is well deserved. It truly is the best place in Bocas to go on a snorkelling or island tour. We spent an entire day in and around the islands chasing dolphins and snorkelling with our bilingual guide. We even stopped for a lunch of fresh caught seafood at a restaurant built on pilings in the middle of the mangrove.

There is this great little hotel on the main street but away from the dock where the water taxis come and go. Itís quieter back here. The wood work in this little inn is incredible and they make a pretty good pizza too! The town of Bocas has a Jamaican flavor. The restaurants in town are plentiful. Our favorite one serves to tables right on the dock and we enjoyed fresh caught Pargo Rojo (Red Snapper) which is so big it hangs over each side of the plate and all for under ! The real estate bargains appear to be everywhere here as do the real estate street vendors... "PST, hey mister. Want to buy some land, cheap!" Bocas has a well earned reputation of being the shadiest part of Panama and I donít mean the Palm trees. Itís tough making smart decisions here. The people are so friendly and the waters so lovely. The emotions kick in but beware there is little law enforcement to protect you from the unscrupulous. I was fortunate to have my lovely wife with me. After almost signing on the dotted line I bowed to my wifeís intuition and narrowly escaped a 0,000 Teak & Noni farm (scam). Without proper guidance many a lifeís savings have been lost in these magical waters.

After a couple of days of snorkelling and exploring the wonders of the rain forest we were off in the air again. This time north to the Pacific and into the highlands of Chiriqui and the village of Boquete.

Hasta Luego!

About the Author: Mark has been there and done it! He moved to the warm, stable Republic of Panama. With his wife and two sons he travelled throughout the country and learned how to Safely Invest in Panama Real Estate. Panama City, Bocas del Toro & Boquete - Now you can follow this family journey discovering the best places to eat, stay, live and invest. Learn more about Mark's adventures at

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