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Dolphins, Reefs, and Fine Dining in Bocas del Toro

Coast of Riches: A Journey Through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama Day 7: Leaving Boquete and traveling up to Bocas by bus and ferry. Taking a tour around Bocas del Toro and trying some island fine-dining.

Day’s Itinerary

Boquete

Up with the sun, we got ready for the day and headed out. Finca Lerida’s main restaurant served a scrumptious breakfast accompanied by excellent coffee, of course. We checked out and got into the waiting cab that we called earlier. The driver too us to the center of Boquete and was chatting about how many foreigners had settled into the small town, including Chinese and Japanese. Born and raised in Boquete, he seemed to know each family that moved there.

Breakfast with world class coffee... yes please!
Breakfast with world class coffee… yes please!
Ok... one last awesome hummingbird shot!
Ok… one last awesome hummingbird shot!
On the bus we saw some ladies in traditional dress.
On the bus we saw some ladies in traditional dress.

We were just on time for our hour bus-ride to David. It was a straightforward ride, besides a monk who got ill and vomited while the bus was pulled over. The monk was very pale and a police officer escorted him into a cab after we arrived at David.

David

We had a quick transfer onto minibus headed for the city of Almirante which is where the ferries to Bocas depart from.

Bus to Almirante

A large part of our day was taking the four hour bus-ride through the mountains towards the Atlantic coast. The journey was very scenic as we went through the mountains into La Amistad National Park, and passed villages of the indigenous people. We made one 15 minute stop for food and beer at an Asian-run truck stop before continuing on.

Beautiful scenery on every turn.
Beautiful scenery on every turn.
Huts on stilts in a village.
Huts on stilts in a village.
Rolling hills and mountains.
Rolling hills and mountains.
I didnt know they named a town after me!
I didnt know they named a town after me!

Almirante

The bus stop was really random and seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There were cabs waiting to take people to the ferries, but we decided to walk after reading from our guidebook that it was just a few minutes away.

Oh how wrong that lonely planet book was. It was closer to a 15 minute walk.

We walked through the rain into the very rundown town with garbage strewn on all sides of the road. The locals were different from the Pacific side, with a strong Caribbean vibe. After asking directions several times, we found the turn off for the ferries.

A kid on a bike rode up to us to show us the way and sell his ferry company. It was the one we were planning on taking anyway, so it worked out.

Caribbean vibes in the architecture!
Caribbean vibes in the architecture!
"Going bananas"...
“Going bananas”… Get it?

We bought our tickets ($4) to Bocas and waiting for the ferry. The small motor boat was packed and every seat was filled for the 30 minute ride. I sat next to a police officer who didn’t seem to happy that I kept taking pictures by leaning over him.

Bright orange emergency life vests are NOT optional!
Bright orange emergency life vests are NOT optional!
Homes near Almirante's ferry dock.
Homes near Almirante’s ferry dock.

Our ferry went out of the inlet and into the open sea, passing small boats, the Chiquita banana factory and even a large coast guard stationed right near us. The islands popped up on the horizon as we made our way forward.

Chiquita freighter... thats a lot of bananas.
Chiquita freighter… thats a lot of bananas.
US Coast Guard as seen from our room window.
US Coast Guard as seen from our room window.

Bocas del Toro

We were relieved to have arrived with some sunlight remaining so we could still do some sightseeing before heading off early tomorrow morning. We made our way to the hotel which was a short walk from the docking point.

The Palma Royale immediately stood out as a newer and nicer hotel compared to the simple rustic look of the neighboring places to stay. We checked in and found a nice large comfortable room to welcome us to the island.

Bocas town seen from The Palma Royale.
Bocas town seen from The Palma Royale.

It was at this point that I had a bit of an emergency and realized I had misplaced my GoPro camera. Several frantic calls to car agencies and hotels yielded no results as expected. But we didn’t have much time to spend on spilt milk as it was already 4:30 p.m.

Our hotel introduced us to a fast-talking salesman with a grin from ear to ear, who booked a boat tour for us. He wasn’t reliable in the least, changing pricing on us several times, but in the end got us a boat to take us out on a short tour before the sunset. We had about two hours.

The boat tour around the Bocas islands consisted of Dolphin Bay, Coral Cay, and Hospital Point all in around 2 hours for $60. Our driver named Raila was quiet but friendly and knew what he was doing. Our ride in the small wooden motorboat started with filling up on gas across the channel at a shack that supplied fuel.

Then at Dolphin Bay, we were promised dolphins, but there were none to be found. After searching for 20 minutes, we finally spotted a pair just swimming around. This is a dolphin breeding ground so they supposedly have a lot.

Those dots are dolphins... and those are mangroves in the distance.
Those dots are dolphins… and those are mangroves in the distance.
Locals going for a ride.
Locals going for a ride.
Lil' hut just chillin.
Lil’ hut just chillin.

Next stop was Coral Cay. The drive through the mangroves reminded me of the mangroves in Brunei. The water was extremely warm, like a bath. So warm that I may have been sweating, but I couldn’t tell. 😐

The reef was very shallow and not in the best shape. A lot of broken pieces which I’m sure is due to the tourist traffic through this area. Due to our strange timing, our boat was the only one out, so we had the reef all to ourselves.

Interesting starfish covered the reef floor.
Interesting starfish covered the reef floor.
Sea anemone flower...
Sea anemone flower…
Playing some underwater sea-cucumber football.
Playing some underwater sea-cucumber football.
Our driver loved to nap while we snorkeled!
Our driver loved to nap while we snorkeled!

We didn’t stay too long as we had one more stop and dusk was approaching fast. Hospital Point was more interesting for the houses on the waterfront than the actual reef. We tied up to a buoy in the cove and checked out the deep drop that led to the channel. Besides seeing a ray and thousands of tiny fish, the underwater scenery was limited, especially as the sun was disappearing.

Island palms and the caribbean sea.
Island palms and the caribbean sea.
Snorkeling at dusk...
Snorkeling at dusk…

We didn’t really want to cross the channel in complete darkness so we woke up our driver who was fast asleep on the warm engine.

Back on Bocas, we went back to the hotel to shower and change then go to dinner. We chose the very special Gauri-Gauri which was a bit out of town. We had to call ahead to see if they would have us without a reservation. The one question was “is there anything you won’t eat?” When we answered “no”, he welcomed us to come for dinner.

We called a cab, which took a long time and watched the night scene consisting of travelers and backpackers going out for dinner and a man pulling a huge model plane on a leash, occasionally running so the plane would “lift off”. Our taxi made a stop for us at an ATM before driving through the dimly lit streets to the restaurant.

Not knowing what to expect, we were a bit surprised to find that the restaurant which hails itself as a fine-dining location was a tiny covered terrace with a small hut for a kitchen. At the bar/reception, we were greeted by the foreign owner/cook who seated us at one of the five tables. There were two other groups at the restaurant. The concept is that you get a 6 course meal at $23pp (not including drinks and tax). You can chose whether or not you want to know what the meal is or just be surprised as each course came out. We chose the latter.

Oh Guari Guari... what do you have in store for us?
Oh Guari Guari… what do you have in store for us?

The dinner consisted of a salad, cheese and spinach enchilada, eggs hollandaise, teriyaki sesame chicken, a succulent tuna steak for the main and caramel vanilla ice cream over roasted pineapple for dessert. I also had a Panama beer to complement the meal.

Overall, the experience of a passionate chef serving freshly made surprises was more interesting than the actual food. Not to say that the food wasn’t delicious!

After dinner we shared a taxi to the center with the remaining two diners. Our cabbie played the most ridiculous music videos for the ride. They were so funny that I didn’t want to leave the taxi just so we could watch them on the small screen.

We contemplated hitting up some of the bars, but the scene was pretty tame and we had an early morning the next day. We took a walk along the main street and browsed some of the shops before turning in for the day.

Flying to Panama City tomorrow morning!

David De Clercq

About David De Clercq

Founder and writer at World-Adventurer.com, David is on a mission to travel to every country in the world and has less than 10 countries left! He loves new adventures, unique cultures, historic landmarks, and luxurious hotels. Follow along as David shares a journey of a lifetime!