February 16, 2022 5 min read
In need of some warm weather and waves, the Katin team recently ventured south to Panama, and brought back everything you need for your own ultimate guide to Bocas Del Toro.
Positioned on the Caribbean Coast, the region is best known for its beaches, rainforests and nightlife.
After spending 8-days hunting waves (sadly the swell didn’t arrive), we thought we’d share some tips and tricks for those considering planning a surf trip to the area.
At the time of our trip, the only feasible option was flying from LA to Panama City (PTY) with Copa Airlines. If you can afford that extra legroom, you may want to opt for it, as it was quite the squeeze. You might also want to download the airline app before take off, or download some movies on your phone, as they don’t have screens in coach. Boardbags are $150USD each way, so have your credit card ready.
After arriving in Panama you’ll need to make your way to Paitilla Airport (PAC), which is about 30-45 minutes away. We opted for a shuttle as we had all our surfboards, but if you're rolling solo you could always try your luck with a taxi and strapping your boards to the roof, just don’t forget to pack tie downs.
Depending on your itinerary you may have a decent wait for your flight once you’re at Paitilla Airport. As for choosing an airline for this leg, this was an easy choice, as it’s either Air Panama or Air Panama. If you’re in need of food and coffee while you wait, the only food option conveniently has great coffee and some delicious savory pastries. As Air Panama planes are on the small side (approximately 60 passenger planes), they don’t have much room for luggage (especially in the overhead compartments - they made us check in our carry on which is $20USD an item), so you’re limited to 7ft boardbags, although some of us were a few inches over and they didn’t pull out the measuring tape. Boardbags are $20USD each, and they enforce 2 surfboards per bag. From memory every additional board is $20USD a piece.
Once you arrive in Bocas, if your accommodation hasn’t arranged transport for you, you should be able to get a taxi, and most of the island's taxis are pickups so you’ll be able to put your boards in the bed of the truck.
When it comes to getting around on land you have a few options. You can opt for a quad bike or an e-bike with a company called Flying Pirates, hailing a taxi or finding a local driver with a shuttle style bus. Depending on what you’re up for and what your budget is, taxis are a pretty affordable option and are always driving around the island. As for getting to waves on other islands your only option is a boat. There’s a few docks in town and you’re looking at around $2-3USD per person to get you to most waves on Carenero Island. Getting to the further islands the price will increase.
Have boat, will travel. Photo by @sean.drews
For the most part the food is pretty great at most places. Due to the abundance of fresh fish in the area, we tended to order that for most of our meals. The following are three of our favorite places we dined.
The team sampling the local cuisine. Photos by @edinm
Amaranto (breakfast) - great coffee and breakfast. It’s a tiny cafe that can accommodate up to 14 people maximum at a time. We didn’t have anything on the menu we wouldn’t recommend, and did we mention the coffee?!
Big Fish/Leaf Eaters (lunch) - casual dining with a view, their food and smoothies are awesome and can accommodate several dietary options.
Coquitos (dinner) - we literally ate here the last 3 nights, partly because it was so close and convenient to our accommodation on Carenero Island, but also because the cocktails and food were great. The pizza and calzones were a highlight for sure.
Options are relatively abundant when it comes to accommodation, it really just depends on your group size, desire and budget. You can stay in the north of the region by Bluff Beach (more about this further down), although you are a little isolated from town where most restaurants and the boat docks are, which you may want to be closer to should you want to get to other waves in the region fast.
South of Bluff (towards town), Paunch has multiple accommodation options that are all walking distance to Pauch the wave and a shorter drive into town.
Beebs and Matthew prepping for their next surf in the shade of our accommodation. Photo by @edinm
As for town, there’s multiple affordable options to choose from and you’d be amongst the party scene and a boat ride or taxi from the waves.
The neighboring island Carenero is at most a 5 minute boat ride from town and this is where we chose to stay. We opted for a house via VRBO as it made the most sense for our group, but like everywhere else there’s other options and some unique place you can stay on the water.
Should you wish to be more isolated from town, but with the best surf guide in the region, you could opt to stay with Scott at Red Frog Bungalows on Bastimentos Island. They will have you on the best waves available and having top of the line boats perfect for getting around and fishing should there be no swell around.
Unfortunately we didn’t score the waves we came for, but that’s not to say the region doesn’t produce world class waves. We were told by several people that it had been the worst start to the season in years and there hadn't been one proper day of waves yet. Nevertheless we kept our eyes on the forecast (we recommend surf-forecasts.com over Surfline or Magic Seaweed, as it’s more accurate in the region) and found the odd day of chest high waves.
Bluff Beach is the biggest swell magnet in Bocas, so this is where we found ourselves most days. Known for its punchy shorebreak waves, we’d recommend steering clear of surfing there unless you’re of an advanced ability.
Further south is Paunch, which when it is on, does its best impression of Greenbush in the Mentawais. Towards the end of the trip this was the only surfable option, as it was protected by the wind but unfortunately it’s one of the most popular and accessible waves in Bocas, which means the crowds were in full force.
Walking distance from our accommodation on Careneros, and in desperation with the lack of swell, we had a couple of sessions at Black Rock (best known in the region as a learners wave) and one afternoon at Carenero Point. As we didn’t see a wave over 3ft, we can’t vouch for how good it can get, but the island backdrop is easy on the eyes and we could definitely see potential.
Whilst we would have loved to have been able to provide you with more information on the surf in the region, we hope the information we shared above will come in handy should you ever be planning a surf trip to Bocas Del Toro!