If you go to Bocas del Toro, chances are that you will start in Bocas Town on the main island of Colón. Isla Colón is a great island for a few days, but it is also the most touristic island of the Bocas archipelago. Therefore, take the boat to neighboring island Isla Bastimentos and head into a totally different world. This island consists largely of unspoiled nature, a number of beautiful beaches and a handful of people.
The island of Bastimentos is easily accessible from Bocas Town by water taxi ($ 3 per person). Bastimentos has around 2000 inhabitants characterized by their own language (Creeols / Guari Guari). The language is a mix of English, Spanish and Ngöbe-Buglé. Fortunately, they also speak excellent English and Spanish. It is striking that the locals here have a darker skin color than on Colón and they are verbally present. Bastimentos is best known for one of the most famous beaches of Bocas del Toro: Red Frog Beach. This beach can only be reached by boat.
Old Bank (also known as Bastimentos Town)
There are some great accommodations around Red Frog Beach, but to experience real life on Bastimentos you have to be in Old Bank. This is the only village on the island and there is a cozy atmosphere. There are a few accommodations and restaurants to be found but don’t expect crowds here like in Bocas Town. You really mix with the locals. The residents do their daily things without worrying about the (few) tourists. By the way, don’t be surprised if you wake up in the morning from rock-hard salsa music, because no matter how primitive many houses look; they are all equipped with a huge boombox that makes happy music echo throughout the day.
The village of Old Bank itself has no beach, but it does have a number of jetties where you can chill. From the harbor you can walk to Wizard Beach on the other side of the island in about 30 minutes. You can also choose to go with a water taxi from Old Bank to Red Frog Beach. If you have a little more time, it is also nice to take a water taxi to the surrounding islands, such as the paradise of Isla Caranero.
Water taxi prices from Old Bank (Bastimentos port):
– Red Frog beach: $ 5 per person each way
– Caranero: $ 3 per person each way
– Bocas Town (Colon): $ 3 per person each way
If you stay in Old Bank, you can walk to Wizard Beach. This is a nice walk of approximately 30 minutes to the other side of the island. From the harbor you first follow the path along the coast to the right, until you come across signs where you must turn left. There you start a climb that can be done with some condition. Do bring enough water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. After about half an hour of climbing and descending through the green nature, you will arrive at surf beach Wizard Beach. The sea is quite rough, ideal for surfing but due to the high waves a little less suitable for swimming. Keep in mind that there are no restaurants or bars, so bring your own food and drinks. The beach is guarded by the police and closes in the afternoon between 4 and 5 pm. No entrance fee is requested.
Tip: you can also walk to Wizard Beach via the eco-farm ‘Up in the Hill’. There you can get a tour and have a coffee break. It’s a longer / more challenging walk if you walk through the eco-farm but you can just follow the signs from the village.
Red frog beach
One of the most famous beaches of the Bocas del Toro archipelago is Red Frog Beach. This island gets its name, how else could it be, the red frogs that you can find there. The beach can be reached by water taxi from the surrounding islands. On arrival you pay $ 5 per person to be allowed to enter the nature reserve. Immediately after the entrance we saw two sloths sitting in the tree and then we walked via the caiman pool (which we unfortunately did not spot) to the beautiful beach. Just the walk was wonderful and already worthwile! Red Frog Beach is a vast beach where it is a bit busier than for example at Wizard Beach, but where you still have enough space. There are a few beach bars at Red Frog where you can get some food / drink, and if you really want to do well you can stay at the paradisiacal Palmar Beach Lodge.
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Food / drinks on Bastimentos
You don’t have any luxury restaurants on Bastimentos. There are a number of nice options where you can eat well, such as the Sea Monkey and if you have more to spend, Firefly is a must; an attractive spot on the water. We personally enjoyed eating with the locals and we have good experiences at restaurant Guari-Guari (at Hostal Bastimentos) and at Alvin & Kecha. At Green Hostal you can sit on the jetty and enjoy the ‘happy hour’ at the end of the afternoon. Of course you can also choose to get your own drink at the supermarket and sit on a public jetty.
Sleeping on Bastimentos
Although we had only booked three nights in advance, we ended up staying at Bastimentos for a week. We slept through AirBNB in a lovely apartment (Casa Apolo), close to the harbor and in the middle of the locals. Do you want more luxury? Then take a look at the Eclypse de Mar Acqua Lodge water bungalows. Are you really coming for the beach? Then you can also choose to sleep at Red Frog Beach, for example in the beautiful Palmar Beach Lodge or Selina Red Frog Frog. Keep in mind that you can only reach Red Frog Beach by boat and there is little more to do there.
– There are no ATMs on the island so make sure you bring enough cash
– The water taxis work with fixed prices, it makes no sense to negotiate about this
– There are several small supermarkets in Old Bank. Note: prices vary; the closer to the port, the more expensive
– Interested in cockfighting? This tradition takes place on Saturday evening at the Blue Cafe in Old Bank. Although we do not like to watch animal fights, it was special to see how this plays out among the villagers
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