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Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

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Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

OK, here's the skinny. I'm getting started early planning our next family get away. Over the last ten years or so my wife and I and another couple have made our way from Cozumel, down to Ambergris, and finally Roatan, Honduras. We have been absolutely in love with Roatan and have been back just about every year for the past 4 to 5 years. Alas, the cruise ship crowd has altered the feel of the island and it just doesn't seem to be what it once was.....either that, or maybe it's just time to move on anyway.

After a little preliminary research, Bocas del Toro seems to be exactly what we're looking for. So here are a few questions; keep in mind that my wife and I and the other couple have both recently added children to our lives, so by the time we get on with this trip we will have 1 to 1 &1/2 year olds in tow depending on when we go:

Interests: Scuba, walk and lounge on white sandy beaches looking out at clear blue waters, swimmin' in the sea, snorkeling, spectacular sunsets with a cold drink in hand, good food, good people, local flare, tropical forests and vegetation, nature watching.

1.) Can anyone tell me how Bocas compares to either Roatan or Abergris? Is there a similar feel (we're more West End than West Bay)? Apples to Oranges? How's the diving really (spectacular in Roatan and darn good in Belize as well)?

2.) Accomodations....it would appear that we would want to be in or basically in the general area of Bocas town. We really like the idea of being just out of town (within reasonable walking distance) but far enough away for some peace and quiet. As we are two families with small children (4 adults 2 babies), we're looking more for a house/cabana/cabin/apartment kind of deal rather than hotel rooms. So far I have Panama's Paradise and Buccaneer Resort (on Carenero Island) at the top of my list. I also really like the house rentals at the Loges at Swan's Cay (though this is nowhere close to town). Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Any other areas around Bocas town we should be looking at? Is Swan's Cay (near Drago) just too far? Another place I looked at was the Koko Resort; this looks like it's pretty much right in town....too noisy?

3.) Prices for accomodations and other activities seem really reasonable......how about food and drinks? We had a little shock last spring when we returned to Roatan to find that food prices had really gone up quite a bit from our previous trips. They seemed pretty similar to prices here at home.

4.) Looks like a lot of little Islands here....how easy is a day or so of Island hopping?

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1. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

Can really only comment on one of your questions, the diving won't be as good. You can still do it but don't expect Belize.

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2. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

I figured the diving wouldn't be as good. That's one of the big reasons we just keep going back to Honduras.....the diving is just absolutely amazing. Oh well, with little ones in tow we will probably only get a couple dives in anyway....just wanna get away to the beach.

So my top picks right now for accomodations......Careening Cay Resort and Buccaneers. Panama's Paradise get's some nice reviews.....but no AC is a big draw back....used to be able to handle it, but I'm gettin' old. Koko resort is still on the short list, but I'm thinking it would be nicer to just get out of the town. Lodge's at Swan't Cay are totally out.....just way too far off the beaten path.

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Atlanta, Georgia...
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3. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

Diving in Bocas is different. But, different doesn't necessarily mean worse. While it doesn't have the 100 foot visibility of Belize, Honduras or Cayman, it does have a lot going for it. The variety of corals, reef fish and other critters is amazing. I've never seen so many frogfish or spotted drums.

Depending on when you go, the visibility and dive sites will vary greatly. The best viz -- up to 80 ft. on the outer reefs and wall -- is from late August to late November. The seas are calm enough at that time to make the outer dive sites accessible. This is where you'll see sharks, grouper and the larger fish. The rest of the year you'll be diving the protected inner reefs. The dives will be much shallower -- 20 to a max of 60 feet -- with 20 to 50 ft of visibility. That means much more bottom time and more frequent dives. It's easy to do five in a day.

Honestly, the best advice I can give you is contact Jon and/or Stacy at Bocas Water Sports. www.bocaswatersports.com They have turned it into the most professional, customer focused dive operation that I have seen anywhere in Panama. Jon has years of experience as a master PADI instructor, owner/operator of a dive operation in Florida for many years and as a captain of a Caribbean liveaboard. Jon won't bs you. He'll give you the facts honestly and truthfuly, even if it means he won't get your business. Also, if anyone has answers to your questions about where to stay in Bocas with babies and toddlers, it will be Jon and Stacy.

I would recommend that you look at places in and around Bocas Town. Perhaps Jon and Stacy can point you in the direction of a rental. My wife and i have stayed at Cocomo-by-the-Sea. It's walkable to everywhere, yet away from the noise. It's a small B&B on the water. But, I don't know how well that would work with little ones.

Check out Cappyjon431 on Scubaboard. Also, while you're on Scubaboard, I'd like to suggest that you read the review "Back to Bocas." It's about diving with Bocas Water Sports last January.

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4. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

Nice dive info above. I am a diver and generally, don't like to snorkle, but in Bocas I love to snorkle. It is beautiful. For me it is about the coral and colors.

I also stay at Cocomo, but it is not a place for kids. The owners don't allow kids that young, it isn't safe because it is on the water. I would suggest staying outside of Bocas Town if you have kids.

I find prices to be very good in Panama, but that is compared to Costa Rica. Bocas prices are cheaper then here at home in Atlanta, but not crazy cheap. Beer is about $1 at a bar. You can get a nice meal starting at $10. The water taxis, and taxis are inexpensive compared to most tourist areas. Lodging is also cheaper. Where can one stay ON the water for under $100 a night? Don't think you are going to Thailand or anything. It isn't that cheap, but affordable.

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5. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

NM,

Bocas, as absolutely gorgeous as it is, in no ways compare to Roatan, Ambergris or the great Barrier reef for that matter. There are a couple of nice places, but if you only come here for world class diving you will be disappointed. BUT, what you will here is a diversity of experiences and opportunities you will not find elsewhere. So if you come to experience Bocas for Bocas you should be very happy. As far as sunnny skies, the month you come will greatly affect the weather. We have more rain in December and january, followed by july and August, with sun still, but a fair amount of rain. We just had a fairly dry year, including the rainy season, but I would not expect two in a row. Of course weather here changes every 5 minutes.

You will be able to engage in all of your listed interest, but be aware that the nicest beaches are away from town. On isla colon it is Bluff Beach, and another spectacular one is Red Frog on Bastimentos. They have also added a zip line there, pretty spectacular and fun.

so specifically:

1) no comparison, but we do have some very good diving operators, Bocas Water Sports is the oldest one in Bocas and has impeccable record.

2) you may want to look into renting a house or a condo, such as jardines vista del mar, int he cabana area of Bocas, overlooking the only beach in town (but by no means a "nice" beach) or maybe a house in the big creek area. It is a 10 minute ride from town, maybe half hour walk or so. Having a house to yourselves gives you a lot more flexibility especially with the babies.

Panama's Paradise is in a iffy neighborhood, and Carenero is full and I mean full of sand flies.... I would not take young kids there. If they get eaten alive you will have a miserable experience. Check out the Bocas Breeze, our local newspaper for lots of leads on house rentals. If you find anything appealing, you can come back on the forum and ask specifically about them.

Bocas Del Drago is 14 kilometers away. Most accommodations on Bluff are at least 7 kilometers away. So I would look in the big creek area personally. Away but too far.

Koko resort I would not have recommended until the new owner took over, the same people as Bahia del Sol, and they run a tight ship. I would worry a tad with the young ones though, the biggest attraction of being over the water would also we the biggest worry IMO. It on the very far end of town, and it is quiet except perhaps neighbors radios, and if there is any fiesta at the cabanas, you will have residual noise.

3) We only have one very high end restaurant, otherwise prices are pretty reasonable. Groceries: local stuff cheaper, imported stuff more expensive.

4) the nearby inhabited islands are : Carenero, would only go there as a day trip, $1 person one way. Then Solarte, but there is nothing there except two inns. It does have Hospital Point though, one of the nicest snorkeling places anywhere. Then Bastimentos. You can go to the town of Bastimentos for $3/person one way or Red Frog Marina for $3/person one way. There are also some boat tours that I highly recommend, going to either Dolphin Bay, Red Frog and Cayo Coral, Zapatilla instead of red Frog. You can get to Bocas del Drago from town with a $3/person round trip bus. Isla Popa or Isla Cristobal do not have anything except one and two inns respectively.

You can also hire your own boat and captain and pretty much direct traffic as far as where you might want to go. With the toddlers, a whole day tour might be too much.

Loads to do here and if you look beyond the fact that it wont be Roatan style diving you guys should have a grand time.

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6. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

Thanks everyone......lots of great information. I'm already getting way too excited. We're thinking March or April time frame....originally we were talking about next October, but I don't think I can wait that long.

I really like what I'm seeing in the Careening Cay Resort, seems like a real winner and exactly what we're looking for......but those sand fleas could pose huge problems for 1 year olds.

Will continue to look around a bit....thanks again for all the great information.

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7. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

Don't underestimate the sand fly issue. It is not fun. The only thing that works for me is George's stuff from P. Parrot.

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8. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

mrolfes - Yeah, I hear ya! Last time I was in Roatan I must have come home with 300 + bites. It was weird cuz I hadn't had any issues previously. The owner of the place we were staying said it had something to do with the time of year. I usually use "Cactus Juice" and that seems to work pretty well. Hard part with the little ones is they have no idea what's going on.....only that something bit them and it's irritating.

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9. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

I know it's a longer time to wait, but the best diving in Bocas is going to be between late August and late November. If you can stand the wait, I can assure you the difference in diving experiences is dramatic.

I've been diving Bocas and Portobelo since 2000. But, this September was the first time I dove (albeit in Portobelo) during the calm season. We were able to get to the wall and the deeper, outer reefs. We saw a turtle for first time in Panama. (Have seen lots in Cayman.) Also, very large barracuda, groupers and huge gorgonians. The further out and deeper we went, the clearer the water was, too.

In any case, if you suspend your expectations, you'll have a wonderful time diving in Bocas.

Have you given any thought to seeing some of the other sites in Panama? I'd recommend Boquete, Cerro Punta or El Valle de Anton. They're up in the mountains where it's cooler, and would give you a chance to experience the rain forest and Panama's highlands. Boquete is known for its coffee, restaurants a its community of US and Canadian expats. Cerro Punta for its national parks and the Quetzal Trail. Both are about 45 minutes from David. El Valle is about 90 minutes west of Panama City, and has become a nice tourist destination. My favorite is Cerro Punta ... more off the beaten path.

A question for you about Roatan -- my wife and I are thinking about going there next year. If you know them, what are your thoughts about Anthoney's Key versus Cocoview? When do you think is the best time to go?

Best wishes for a wonderful trip.

Edited: 01 October 2010, 21:17
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10. Re: Looking for a new piece of paradise - Bocas del Toro??

Good info GB but quick correction on drive time from David. We just drove it a couple of days ago and it is (IF you drive pretty close to the speed limits) about 45-55 mins from downtown David to Volcan. From Volcan to Cerro Punta it took another 30 mins., roughly. Weather was good in terms of not much in the way of rain showers. Experienced in the area lets you make a bit better time since we cut down on the "drive sightyseeing" but first timers need to plan a bit longer I think. The times I have driven seem to be in line with last Thursday's drive.

ps - You'd enjoy the marching bands practicing for the upcoming coffee and orchid festivals here in Boquete! They are in full "drum and bugle" mode! : )