Bocas del Toro Boat Life

Beach Club at Red Frog marina

We’re in our second month in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Time is flying! We’re keeping busy, seeing the sights, and spending time with fellow cruisers. Here’s an overview of Bocas del Toro boat life.

About Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro (or Bocas, familiarly) is a province on the Caribbean side of Panama. Part of it is located on the mainland, but the important part is the chain of islands. Bocas del Toro means Mouth of the Bull, and the island chain has 3 big islands and many smaller islets and atolls.

Bocas del Toro on a map
Map of Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro is a popular tourist destination, and the site of many banana plantations. It has an airport, with several daily flights from Panama City, and multiple water ferries and taxis from the mainland.

There are three big islands in Bocas del Toro, where most of the activity happens and the majority of people live and work.

Bocas del Toro map mural
Bocas del Toro map mural
Isla Colon

Isla Colon is the main island, with the airport and main town, called Bocas Town. That’s where the stores are and lots of hotels and resorts. It’s the “big island” where we go to provision at the supermarkets.

Isla Carenero

Right across from Isla Colon, Carenero has a small marina, and many resorts, beaches, and restaurants.

Marina on Isla Carenero
Marina on Isla Carenero
Isla Bastimentos

Isla Bastimentos is a big island of about 62 square kilometers, a large section of which is a marine park. The bulk of the population of the island is in the western side, closest to Carenero and Colon. As of 2010, Bastimentos’ population was just under 2000 people. We’ve walked around the colorful street in the main town, called Old Town or Basti Town.

Street in Bastimentos Town
Street in Bastimentos Town

Getting Here

We sailed to Bocas del Toro from Shelter Bay at the end of November. It was a terrible trip and both Domino and I got seasick. We had to motor into wind and current, and the trip took longer and was more miserable than we expected.

I prefer to forget about the seasickness until the next passage. We’re in Bocas del Toro and enjoying it immensely. Bocas del Toro boat life is good! It’s very different from the remote beauty of the San Blas Islands, and a lot more cruisers are closer together here. There’s a lot of things to do for entertainment and people to share in the fun.

Bocas del Toro Boat Life: Anchorages

Bocas del Toro has multiple anchorages to choose from, some more remote than others.

We’ve anchored further away from the 3 main islands for alone time. None of them are completely isolated from civilization. These tiny islands all have villages or small communities of homes. Everyone we’ve encountered is open and friendly to us.

Starfish Beach Anchorage

Our favorite anchorage so far is Starfish Beach. The water is clear and swimmable, and there are as many starfish in the shallows as there are bars on the beach.

starfish in the water
One of the starfish at Starfish beach

It’s also close enough to town that we can get back in a couple of hours. The trip there usually takes longer because it’s upwind.

boat life in Bocas del Toro Starfish Beach
The anchorage at Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro
Red Frog Anchorage

Our most visited anchorage, before we gave up on the batteries, was Red Frog anchorage. Located midway along Bastimentos Island, past the town, it’s a roomy bay protected by mangrove islets and a big reef.

Red Frog Anchorage
We paddle around Red Frog Anchorage

The Red Frog anchorage is roomy, quiet, and relatively close to the action, with beach access for a small fee at the Red Frog resort. Unfortunately, the water in this anchorage is full of jellyfish. Not a fan of jellies, everyone, even with a wetsuit on. Especially if they’re bigger than my head.

Medusa Jellyfish seen from our dinghy in Red Frog anchorage, Bocas del Toro Panama

Cruisers who’ve been here for years say the jellyfish weren’t always here, but they have been since November at least!

Bocas Town Anchorage

The busiest anchorage with a lot of boats, Bocas Town south anchorage is closest to town for shopping, restaurants, and the New Years’ Eve fireworks. We’re not big fans because of the fast water taxis that fly through day or night, but nothing’s perfect.

We spent our first weeks here at anchor, but with the heavy rains, our solar wasn’t giving us enough power to get through each day. Having to run our generator every day is unpleasant so Brian decided to invest in lithium batteries. He made this decision in early December, and we’re still waiting for the batteries. The global supply logjam paired with shipping issues and holidays is holding up the delivery.

Bocas del Toro boat life fireworks Bocas town
New Year’s Eve fireworks in Bocas town from a boat

Marina Life

We moved into a marina in early December when we were going to take a trip inland and wanted somewhere safe to leave Sava. We also need new batteries and plugged into shore power at the dock.

Red Frog Marina Bocas del Toro boat life
Red Frog Marina

Marina life at Red Frog Marina is pretty good. We have access to the beach club with pool, a laundry room with full-service, great wifi, and on-shore showers. We spend a lot of time at the beach club.

Beach club pool
The pool at The Red Frog Marina beach club

Another asset of the marina is the shopping shuttle. It leaves from the marina dock each weekday at 10am, and comes back from Bocas Town at 1pm.

Arriving to a dock in Bocas Town for shopping

On the shuttle, it takes about 10 minutes for a trip that would take us an hour on Sava, so we take it at least once a week to stock up at the big stores. The marina has a mini market to keep us provisioned in a pinch.

water shuttle life boat life in Bocas del Toro
A full shuttle from Bocas Town to Red Frog

At the marina, which is also a resort, we can explore the grounds and spot wild animals living in the jungle.

Hiking and Looking for Wildlife

We are in the land of sloths and monkeys, and other wild animals, so, of course, we are always looking for them. Bastimentos is an amazing place to spot local wildlife. On our walk to the beach and/or beach club are several trees we’ve dubbed “Sloth trees” and you can guess why!

Sloth Bocas del Toro Panama
Sloths are pretty easy to spot on Red Frog resort

We also spot the famous red frog, which is tiny but poisonous if you eat it, monkeys, and birds and butterflies. Much better than jellyfish!

red frog Panama
The poisonous red frog

Capuchin monkeys live on the island too, and they are usually too quick for us to photograph, but it’s a good day when we spot them.

Cruiser Events

Bocas del Toro boat life is extremely popular! We haven’t been somewhere with such a large and active cruiser community since Grenada. The great thing about a big community is there’s good support and fun activities.

VHF Cruisers Net

Every morning at 7:45, we can tune into the cruisers net on VHF. We often miss it though as we like to sleep just a little later than that. But when we do tune in, we learn about some of the cruiser events in the area, the weather, and who’s new to the area.

Weekly Cruiser Barbecue at Bocas Marina

Every Friday night, the Bocas Marina cantina hosts a cruisers’ barbecue with an expanded menu and live music. We go when we’re in the anchorage, and the food, music, and company are always good.

Band playing Bocas Marina
Family band performing at Cruisers night at Bocas Marina
Pot Lucks

Christmas brought a few cruiser pot lucks to Bocas del Toro. The Panama Posse organized one, with free rum, at the Bocas Marina. Friends organized a pot luck appetizer party on their boat, which lasted longer than expected, because we were having so much fun!

dinghies tied up Bocas del Toro Boat Life
Dinghies tied up for an appetizer potluck/Xmas party

On Christmas Eve, we stayed up late at the Cruisers’ potluck at Starfish Beach, with at least 9 boats participating. This potluck included a bonfire barbecue, and a fire show, and a chance to meet even more boaters.

beach pot luck
Setting up for the Christmas Eve beach pot luck
Beach Bocce

Some of our friends have bocce sets, and organize weekly matches on the beach near Red Frog. It’s a fun afternoon activity on the beach, ending for happy hour.

Bocce on the beach Bocas del Toro Boat life
Bocce on the beach on Isla Bastimentos

Sometimes the bocce match gets 4 pairs, others 12! And once, a rabbit visited the field.

Rabbit on the beach
A rabbit on the beach bocce field

Beach Days

The beaches in Bastimentos are very nice, with soft sand and big waves. In addition to the beach where we play bocce, we frequent the beach club, and once hiked to Wizard Beach closer to Bastimentos town.

Hiking trail to Wizard Beach
Hiking trail to Wizard Beach

The water here is rough with undercurrents, so I usually don’t venture too far out before getting pummeled, but on a hot day, it’s refreshing!

ocean view Bastimentos Bocas del Toro
Rough water on Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro

Paddle Boarding

In time for Christmas, we got a new paddle board! Our old one blew holes around the seals, so we ordered a new one, and we’ve been using it. Since we’re in a marina, we dinghy out to the Red Frog Anchorage, and take turns paddling and avoiding jellyfish.

SUP behind dinghy
We dinghy the paddleboard out of the marina to SUP

We try to go out in the mornings before the wind picks up, and sometimes we can spy pods of dolphins playing in the anchorage.

Paddelboarding is easy when it’s this calm!

Staying Safe

Covid 19 cases started to spike in Bocas del Toro around the holidays. We, fortunately, got the booster shot at the hospital here last month, but we are still isolating and wearing masks in public. There’s not much else we can do, but we feel safe at the marina.

We’ll be here for a few more weeks at least. We think the lithium battery order is in customs, so once it arrives, the work begins. After that, we’re going through the Panama Canal, so we may as well enjoy Bocas del Toro boat life while we can. It’s pretty good, don’t you think?

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

11 thoughts on “Bocas del Toro Boat Life”

  1. I must admit I love the idea of travelling around by boat. And a long stay around Bocas del Toro sounds ideal! I love there are spots to just drop your anchor and stay for a bit. And that there are get togethers for other cruisers!

  2. Beautiful!
    I am looking for a possibility to sail as crew/coskipper or … around the Islas del Toro for one or better two weeks in January or February 2023. German, speak E, F, Sp …, am experienced ocean sailor, circumnavigation …, preferable on a Catamaran … want fun, nature, relax, enjoy people, boat and around …
    Is there anybody to give me a hint or adress or contact to someone who has a free cabin in his boat …, I sm ready to contribute financially …

    1. Hi Uli, Your best bet is to join some FB cruising groups in Panama and Bocas del Toro. Or go online to the Find a crew or crewseekers sites. Last, visit the marinas in the area and put up a note on the bulletin boards there. Best of luck!

  3. Hello Mel! I am a travel agent in Canada. I have clients going to Bocas del Toro in a few days – to Azul Paradise. I was searching for some photos and came across your blog. Am I allowed to use any of your photos in the itinerary I give my clients? None with people in them. I love your pics of Starfish Beach and would like to include them in the itinerary. Please advise.

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