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Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

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Nashville, TN
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Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Just returned a few days ago and thought I'd report back on my solo trip to Bocas. I stayed at the Hotel Palma Royale which was GREAT. Service was exceptional. My junior suite was $85/night.

FRIDAY: Arrived 7:30am flight from PC. $1 taxi to hotel (They tried for $2). Hotel had a room available for early check-in so they let me go ahead and get to my room that early which was nice. Changed into swimsuit and headed down the street to catch the 9am collectivo to Boca del Drago / Starfish Beach. Front desk had told me they left every hour on the hour but it was actually every 2 hours, so I didn't leave until 10am. (It was at this time that I met a guy named Luis Archibald who owned 5 tour boats and I signed up for a $25 tour to Zapatillas / snorkeling / dolphin tour the next day). Several stops for locals along the way and after 50 minutes, arrived at Drago. I just started walking along the picturesque shoreline until I reached Starfish Beach 15 minutes later. Beautiful first time viewing of starfish. Don't touch them or try to take them home as they will die! Stayed here til 4pm. Along the beach, there are little local huts where they cook food and have coolers with water and drinks. They even have a little blender out there to make Pina Coladas (with fresh pineapple). For $8 all-inclusive, I was able to rent a chair and have unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. They will also cut coconuts right off the tree to make a coconut water for you -- again included in the price. Very peaceful beach. Browner sand here than in Red Frog and Zapatillas. They also have chairs that float in the water that you can rent too...that was not included in the $8. I think it was an extra $4 maybe? Lunch was either $12 freshly caught snapper, $10 salmon or chicken. Huge meal!!!!! Plaintains and rice were yummy, too. Music plays in the background. Nice beach. That night, I did happy hour at my hotel until about 9 and then retired early, although I had intentions to go out. Never happened.

SATURDAY: Luis came to my hotel to get me for the tour at 9:45am. I was told 9 would be on it, but in the end, there were about 18 people on it and kinda crowded. Aside from beautiful Zapatillas, I wasn't too crazy about this tour. First stop was to see the dolphins and while we did see a few, it was from afar. I also just felt bad that we were disrupting their environment and had heard not too long ago, a baby dolphin was killed by a motor :( I was ready to leave that dolphin area. Next stop - a little waterside restaurant where we ordered our high priced food before snorkeling in Crawl's Cay, which was right out in front of the restaurant kinda but on out some.... after ordering the food, they took us out and I decided I would not go snorkeling after all. Maybe I am spoiled with snorkeling but this wasn't impressive at all so I actually stayed in the boat and read. A girl on the tour with me said she DID end up seeing fish but it wasn't too impressive compared to other snorkeling she'd done. After about an hour out there, back to restaurant where we killed way too much time. Not happy about that. Also, the restaurant didn't get my order right. I ate it so I wouldn't hold anyone up on getting to Zapatillas, but in the end, they charged me for the highest menu item ($19) and were very firm on this. Wasn't a happy camper on that either. FINALLY, after killing too much time, they let us go to Zapatillas, which was BEAUTIFUL. If you can, I would just try to get a tour to Zapatillas and skip all the other stuff. Zapatillas was completely divine. I met a guy that was there the day after I was there and he actually saw them rescue a sea turtle that was missing an arm. Wish I'd seen that. Anyways, we got 3 hours on Zapatillas and I could have stayed longer. I am a beach person though! ON the way back, my boat RAN OUT OF GAS!!!!! No lie. We were stuck out there another 45 mins in the ocean. Ugh.

SATURDAY NIGHT: ate at Bibi's on the Water on Isla Careneros. Took a $1 water taxi there. GREAT place and I've written a review of it on TA recently so check that out if you want more detail. After that, headed to Aqua Lounge on the same island (water taxi again). Young hostel type crowd but worth visiting on Saturday night. Lots of tourists. I heard another good place that locals frequent more is Barco Hundido.

SUNDAY: Bought $10 prepaid round trip to Red Frog Beach. Note: don't buy return trips as Luis never came back and got us at 4pm as scheduled. We waited for him for 30 mins before we just found another $5 water taxi. Anyways, RFB was GREAT!!!!!!! Loved this beach! So pretty! Waves are bigger here and I will say that at one point, I kinda got pulled in to an undertow. I remembered what I'd read as far as recovering from one and was able to but yes, it did feel like an eternity trying to get out of it. Not a good feeling. It happened kinda quickly too. All of a sudden the bigger waves were spaced about 10 seconds apart where before they had been coming about every 30 seconds. Anyways, I was fine as I did not panic....but just note to self for all of you going there. Nice restaurant at Red Frog where I had yummy fish tacos. Chairs are $5 to rent for the day. Stopped at Pickled Parrot happy hour on the way back (Careneros Island) and it was fun!

SUNDAY NIGHT: dinner at El Pecado -- yummy filet with portobello mushroom sauce. Review already written on TA if you care to get more details.

MONDAY: flight was not until 4:45pm so had the whole day to kill. I decided to go to Careneros Island and just lay out in the area right by the Pickled Parrot and Bibi's on the Water. It was safe to do so. This was the beach right in front of the Bucanner Resort and it was so tranquil. Note: The other side of Careneros Beach is the one that is not safe if traveling alone but I didn't venture that far. I stayed there all day, eating at Pickled Parrot. Try the yummy Firecracker Shrimp with "hot mama" sauce. Whew, no lie as it is HOT! Caught a water taxi back at 2:30pm back to my hotel. I just changed in their cafe bathroom and then caught a $1 taxi back to the airport, which was only about 4 minutes away. Airport is extremely laid back so don't hurry to get there. It is NOT like US airports where you need to get there super early at all.

Hope this helps!! :) bocas was great!! Want to return!

Jacksonville, FL
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1. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Great trip report. I will be out there the first week of July and after reading this I can't concentrate on work. Oh well, only a few more weeks to go. Can you elaborate on the $8 unlimited drinks, i.e. where exactly this is?

Nashville, TN
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2. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Know the feeling! :) I can't stop thinking about it since I returned....my photos are fabulous and I stare at them all the time and try to relive it in my mind. Truly was a wonderful trip. Ok as for the unlimited drinks for $8, it was at Starfish Beach. There are about 3 different hubs / huts on this beach. Pick your spot on the beach and then you will probably be approached by someone from the closest hut. When I walked up, they asked if I wanted to rent a chair (little English here). I said yes and they said $4. Done. A few minutes later, I went up to buy a coconut water and they said $8. I said, "for a coconut water?" He said "no everything....chair, drinks...all day." At this point, I was not sure if it included alcoholic. I honestly was just thinking they meant water and coconut water as far as the drinks go. So when I asked for a Pina Colada later on, he motioned to me that I already paid. Later I got beer too. All included in that $8! I was a happy camper! When you go, they may charge you something else other than $8. If they do, I wouldn't fight with them over it. I got the impression the little guy naming the price (who didn't really speak English) just threw a number out there to see if I would bite. And of course I did. So don't just go expecting a set price is all I am saying. That is the price they gave me. They could tell you $10 or $6 for all I know. :) Still, a deal, right?! Have fun!

colorado
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3. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Thank you so much for this - it really helps. I'm staying in a private house out by Starfish beach by myself in August (old female!) so I can't wait. I had been reading about the tours and how they harass the wildlife and that's one thing I won't put up with. Hopefully I can find someone that would take me places by myself that know the good areas like Zapatilla instead of on an overcrowded tour. I too have the whole day to kill before my flight in the evening and don't know what to do with my extra backpack. Did you just have your backpack or did you ask one of the places if you could store your luggage?

Nashville, TN
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4. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Luis offered to take me out on his private boat for $100 for the day. Don't know if that is a good or bad price though. The group tour is $25 and looking back and knowing what I know now, I might would've shelled out the money to be able to tell him to go wherever I wanted and stay for however long. BUT...I also didn't want him getting romantic on me and there were some slight signs he might do that with some stuff he'd said to me. ha!! He was harmless overall though. :)

As far as my luggage storage, my hotel allowed me to just keep everything at the hotel front desk area. You could probably negotiate with a nicer hotel in town to just let you keep your bags with them and tell them you will compensate them some for it, if so. ???? Or maybe put your bags in storage at a cheap hostel in town, even if you have to pay a $10 shared room fee as if you are staying the night....they could lock up your luggage. maybe just ask around when you get there.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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5. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Your friend Luis is no friend and your deals were not deals. LIke the taxi wranglers at the airport who tell you the price to go three blocks is only $2 when it's really half that, the Panameños have learned that stupid gringos will pay whatever they tell them the rate is. Four years ago, you could hire a water taxi for the day for $20. Now, Luis is telling you he'll give you a bargain rate for $100?? Come on! This is the same guy who told you there would only be 9 people on the boat and he packed it with 18.

The best way to get a "tour" in Bocas is to work with your hotel proprietor. (Of course, that depends on the hotel.) But, the hotel owners who have been around for awhile -- like Cocomo, Angela, Hotelito and Lula's know and have good relationships with certain water taxi drivers. They are the ones who know Bocas and aren't out to rip off the gringo tourists. The water taxis who work with the hotels -- not the "Hey, wanta tour, wanta buy a Rolex?" guys who hang out by the water taxi dock. The ones who work with the hotels know that when they start ripping off the gringos, they will not longer be getting recommendations from the hotels. They are the water taxi drivers who stay busy even when there aren't many gringos in town. They are ones you need to hook up with when you come to Bocas.

Nashville, TN
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6. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

First, Luis is not my "friend". Secondly, I don't appreciate you calling me a "stupid gringo". Thirdly, I did work with my hotel and they confirmed the $25 rate for the Zapatillos tour. I didn't ask them about hiring a taxi for the day, as I was not in the market to do that. But this "stupid gringo" did confirm everything I paid for water taxi rides with my hotel first. That is why I agreed to the $25 price when it was given me. I'd researched it ahead. Panama is now more on people's radar, with Yahoo and other sites citing that it's a "Top Destination for 2012" and the like. I've seen several tout Panama these days. So with that will come prices that weren't there 4-5 years ago and that's just how it works unfortunately. If I pay those people a few extra dollars, I'm ok with it. I was blessed being born in the US and if I give them a little bit of money extra, then so be it. They probably can use it and a few extra dollars to them means a helluva lot more to them than me. Not stressing...

bocas del toro...
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7. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

The rate for a private boat is around $80-$120 depending on where you want to go. Obviously Drago & Starfish beach for the day is cheaper than chartering a boat to the Zapatillas. It is, by far, the preferred way to do a boat trip in Bocas. There are excellent drivers that we recommend to our clients & most hotels do the same.

Nashville, TN
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8. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Thank you for confirming the price for this "stupid gringo" as referenced above by the "Destination Expert." :) Much appreciated.

Isla Bastimentos
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9. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Emis, please excuse the desparaging remarks made by the "Destination Expert" you referenced, he is neither an expert for Bocas nor does he even live here. I have had to correct him on several occasions for posting misinformation that both confuses and offends past and future visitors to our beautiful Islands. The majority of people giving information on Bocas in this Forum are good hearted, helpful people trying to give current, helpful and polite advice and show respect for the local tour guides and others involved in the tourist industry in town.

Atlanta, Georgia...
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for Colon, Isla Grande, Portobelo
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10. Re: Bocas Trip Report: 4 days - May 2012

Emis, I apologize for using the term "stupid gringo" and for any offense I caused you. I did not intend it as a reference to you, but as a term for North American tourists used by some locals, such as the taxi wranglers at the airport and others who attempt to overly inflate prices. I apologize.

John, the only truth in your comments is that I am not an expert for Bocas and I do not live there. About that, I totally agree.