Bocas Del Toro on the Atlantic side of Panama is a contradiction in terms of tourism. bocas 3

While living in Costa Rica, a friend and I visited Bocas Town. We first went to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and took the bus from there to Sixaola on the frontier with Guabito, Panama. Cost to ride the bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to this border crossing was about $16 and accomplished in two legs. The border crossing is where things started going wrong.  Upon entering the Panama side of the river we were required to go across to the bus terminal and buy a return ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica for $12 before we could be passed through customs. Upon return, the Costa Rica customs wouldn’t accept that ticket and made us buy another ticket from their ticket sellers. All these people seem to be related to each other somehow and it’s a big scam.

We finally greased the right set of wheels and boarded a van to Alimirante where we stopped briefly before being hauled over the mountains to the water taxi to Bocas Town. The water taxi was a few more bucks and a 40 minute ride to Bocas town where we had rented a really nice, rustic, 2 bedroom w/bath and kitchen, second floor with a balcony facing the water. Problem? Couldn’t see the water for the trees across the sidewalk  and the shoreline was three feet width of garbage floating in the water which one would have to wade to wet your feet.  To reach our rental we had to pass an adjacent sawmill operating in a local backyard and a hand laundry service operating virtually on the sidewalk. The neighbor across the way had a son who played baseball so every night they had a televised tournament cranked up loud enough to be heard in Cuba and blew an airhorn whenever their favorite team did anything which pleased them. The garbage stench was barely bearable from the balcony so….most of the time we stayed indoors while at the rooms.

Now Bocas Town is a pretty setting and the water in the area is great for snorkeling and diving but it’s very sad to be sitting at a dockside restaurant and look down into that gorgeous water and see tires and bottles and junk. It’s sad also to walk the streets of a town which could be so much and see trash scattered or piled or lying around.

Bocas 2

Floating garbage dump in paradise.

We took a cruise out to some outlying reefs where there was a restaurant on pilings serving fresh lobster and fish for lunch. The ride was great. Our guide was friendly and informative. The food was ….not bad. LOL. I’m picky about my grub. The water was awesome and we had a nice time.

One of the negatives about Bocas Town is the terrible service given to Americans.

Bocas 1

We aren’t liked by the Panamanians due to their opinion that the United States overstepped their bounds when they went into Panama City and snatched Manuel Norriega. It’s especially true among the younger Panamanians.

We visited Red Frog Beach while we were there and the surfing conditions were excellent. The beach is very pretty and the young folks were having a lot of fun. Being something akin to crusted sea urchins, my buddy and I were tolerated but not absorbed into the atmoshere. The bar tenders were barely civil and predominently Rasti types who concentrated mostly on serving the young bikini clad surfer chicks. The food was between  almost inedible and poisonous. The kitchen help shrugged their shoulders over the comment. We had a lovely time. LOL.

Bocas Town is pretty and has some nice amenities but poor service, coupled with attitude and garbage can ruin even the best vacation.bocas toro panama

I’ve experienced Panama several times but never been made more acutely aware of the differences in culture between myself and my host. I’ve heard others really brag on their experiences here in the past. Maybe what happened to my sidekick and me was due to being over 30 or too polite or spending too much cash or wearing clean underwear. We did run into some expats who have businesses there and they were nice and kind and friendly and funny and apologetic.

All in all, I’m glad I got to see Bocas Town for myself but would never return for another 4 days of abuse unless it was paid for by someone else.