> Island hopping across Isla Bastimentos, Isla Popa, Isla Solarte, Isla Cristóbal and the Islas Zapatillias in Panama <
It was by sheer luck that we stumbled upon this little archipelago off the coast of Panama. We were traveling to Panama and wanted to spend some time diving and visiting Indians, but the choice of where to go was not obvious or anyhow easy. Panama actually has many offshore island groups on the Caribbean and Atlantic sides, both in East and in West. Due to its proximity to mainland Panama and good transport possibilities (at least compared to some of the other islands), we chose to spend our one week in the Archipélago Bocoas del Toro in the north-western corner of the country, visiting almost all the larger islands in the island group.
What a positive surprise. We found here a truly tropical paradise with bounty islands, good diving, rainforests beaches, indigenous Indian villages, local fishers throwing their nets, and backdrop mountain scenery. On each of the islands, we saw in the backdrop the Talamanca mountain range rising from the ocean, sharply penetrating the waters a few kilometers away at mainland. What a place to laze around and absorb the local atmosphere. Very seductive, primitive and unforgettable. The typical homes are build using only wood, over wood stilts, with floors made with the bark of the jira tree, and the roofs made with the leaves of the guagara, a palm that grows in the swamps.
In the archipelago’s boundaries, there are several communities of the Ngöbe-Buglé indians. These communities are very poor, depending almost exclusively on and survival agriculture. There were not any organized tour into the communities, but we could pretty much just show up and act with care.
For more island hopping adventures in Central America, check our pages on the Corn Islands in Honduras and the Mesoamerican Reef of Belize. Additionally, in LATAM we criss-crossed all countries, and climbing the wild Volcanos of Guatemala. Oh, and the ABC Islands off Venezuela is also quite nearby.
BOCAS DEL TORO ARCHIPELAGO
Visiting the Ngöbe-Buglé Indians in one of Panama's autonomous island provinces
The archipelago is located in the Chiriqui Lagoon in the Caribbean Sea off the northwest cost of Panama and consists of around six larger islands.
Arrival in Bocas Del Toro by boat from Changuinola. The waters around the archipelago is surrounded by dolphins, mangroves and coral reefs. It is easy to travel to the islands as well as from island to island via public boats or chartered fisherman's boats.
These are found many places around the archipelago
This small island is just a 2 minute boat ride from Isla Colón and offers a more authentic Panamanian atmosphere - and, hence, more garbage in the paths around the small village!
We stayed in this town during our whole stay, and arranged day trips to other islands as well as diving from here. Hardcore backpackers can sleep in one of the hammocks for 2-3 USD per night.
The two keys, Cayo Zapatilla Norte and Cayo Zapatilla Sur, have perfect, white-sand beaches that are surrounded by pristine reef. The keys attract visitors who prefer tranquility and if you decide to go there’s not much to do either than snorkel, dive, swim in the clear waters, or simply relax on the beach.
A walk around the southernmost key, Cayo Zapatilla Sur
Isla Bastimentos is part of a larger national park, namely Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, which encompasses a large area of Isla Bastimentos and the Zapatilla Islands. The park is home to a diverse collection of wildlife, including the poisonous red dart frogs
Isla Bastimentos is part of the Comarca of Ngöbe-Buglé, an autonomous province in Panama.
Playa Wizard is one of the best beaches in Bocas del Toro. It’s a real swimming beach placed in a beautiful lagoon with no corals what so ever. There were a few locals here about to build some primitive cabins made of wood, but they were not really in a “carpenter mood” as the lazed under the palms, smoking weed, singing, and waiting for the sun to burn away the skies.
The scenery around the islands is fantastic: Azure-blue waters, views towards small islands, local fishers throwing their nets and the Talamanca mountain range rising from the ocean, sharply penetrating the waters a few kilometers away at mainland.
Arrival at the Zapatilla Keys for lunch after another drive, this time to the underwater caves. The currents were storing, and it’s quite dramatic even to snorkel around the two keys. Shallow waters suddenly give way to deep canyons,