Bocas del Toro Independently vs Tour

To tour or not to tour? That was our question when we arrived in the beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro, of the coast of Panama. As most readers will know, I am a firm believer in independent travel. However, I was unsure whether exploring Bocas del Toro independently would be better than taking the tours on offer…


As soon as we arrived on the island of Isla Colon, we were inundated by offers for a tour. At just $25 for a boat trip around the islands, the tours were tempting. They include spotting dolphins, seeing sea stars, and snorkelling along a reef.


However, after much debate, we decided to first try seeing Bocas del Toro independently.


palm trees on beach- bocas del toro independently



Bocas del Toro Independently, Day One:

Cycling to Boca del Drago


Like most people who visit the islands, we stayed in the small Bocas del Toro town. On our first day here, we rented bikes (just $5 for the day), and took off to see the island. The route was punishing. The road rose up and down constantly, and my knackered bike was having none of it. Add in searing heat and we quickly became miserable.


All was forgiven once we reached Boca del Drago beach. We cycled along a flat road alongside the sea, before gladly casting our bikes aside and relaxing in the impossibly warm waters. There was no hope of us cycling all the way back, and so we caught the bus ($2.50 per passenger, plus an extra $2.50 per bike).


feet in water at beach- Bocas del Toro independently

Not a bad life


Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the cycle route as the best way to explore Bocas del Toro independently. Not only is it incredibly tough, it isn’t all that rewarding, as most of your time is spent away from the beaches and cycling through the centre of the island. Though one highlight was seeing a sloth, who was just lazing around at the side of the road.


Sloth in Bocas del Toro



Bocas del Toro Independently, Day Two:

Isla Carenero


The next day, we were determined to see more beaches. We had heard from others at our hostel that the tour was unmissable, but we were still determined to explore Bocas del Toro independently.


We caught a water taxi ($1) to the island of Isla Carenero. After just a short walk, we reached the beach. It was stunning. A postcard image of calm seas, palm trees, and powder sand.


We spent the afternoon laughing around on the beach, having some beers at the famous Bibis on the Beach, and eating a tasty meal at the vegetarian restaurant next door.


Palm Trees on beach- Bocas del Toro independently



Once the sun started to set, we headed to Aqua Lounge, a super fun bar and hostel. The highlight is an outdoor play area, complete with a trampoline and swings that launch you straight into the water.


All in all, I can’t say for certain if the tour would have been worth it. We never did see dolphins, after all! But what I can say is that you can have an amazing time exploring Bocas del Toro independently, especially on Isla Carenero, and all for just a $1 water taxi.


yellow house on beach- Bocas del Toro independently


Looking for more things to do in Panama? Why not try Soberania, the easiest rainforest trip in the world, or escape the heat and head to the cool mountain town of Boquete.


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