The most budget way to arrive in Bocas del Toro is on a bus. If you’re traveling from Panama City, grab the express bus from the Albrook International Bus Station. They usually leave at night and arrive early morning to the coastal mainland town of Almirante. Make sure to pack sweaters and wear pants. The buses are famous for being notoriously cold. The trip is about 12 hours, and makes two stops for bathroom breaks and buying snacks or water. Once you arrive in Almirante, take a water shuttle to Bocas Town on Isla Colon. If you’re coming over from the Chiriqui mountain town of Boquete, try out the super affordable shuttle services and a faster, more comfortable way to arrive. They also usually include the boat trip to Bocas Town in the fee.
In Bocas Town, there are hostels with shared and private rooms available, offering places to cook and mingle with other backpackers. Check out some of the outside areas of Bocas Town for budget accommodations providing private rooms with over-the-sea views. Places like Saigon Bay or even Big Creek offer private rooms with shared kitchen areas and usually even include bikes or kayaks with your stay. Grab a bike and go check out Bluff Beach or Boca del Drago. There are buses on Isla Colon offering trips to Bluff Beach and Boca del Drago as well. While the buses do take a bit longer to reach the beaches than a private taxi, it’s a budget option that allows you to chill and enjoy the views. Bocas Town has excellent places to eat without breaking the bank. Try some local spots offering Bocatorenian cuisine such as rice and beans, fish escabeche (a mustard onion sauce) with salad, and fried plantains. Try some of the local sweets. The local empanada called platintá is made out of sweet platanos and is super delicious. Grab as many as you can – they make the perfect snack when visiting the beaches.
Isla Solarte and Isla Carenero also have some budget accommodations such as hostels and bed and breakfasts. If you decide to stay on Isla Solarte, ask about bird watching and hiking tours. The island is teeming with wildlife and already has paths created to explore and watch everything in the trees. We recommend you always visit any hiking trails with a guide. Isla Carenero is a great place to stay if you want to surf. Stay at one of the hostels or small accommodations perched over the sea. Or consider a place in the back of the Carenero’s island trail and walk to the surf. If you surf, go with someone who knows how to get into it. The reef is sharp, but with a bit of local know-how, you can learn the tricks. So you can get in and paddle right up to the surf spot without spending too much on transportation to the surf.
Bocas del Toro is part of the backpacker’s trail of Central America, and with the right advice, you can enjoy a lot of what Bocas del Toro has to offer, even if it’s a quick week and on a budget.