Bocas del Toro
To continue my tirade on why Panama is On Notice, I move to the second reason why this country should be way lower on your bucket list, near where you’ve prioritized spending $1000 on a Happy Meal. The second reason is Boca del Toros.
One blogger wrote “..step off the boat you will instantly see what everyone has been raving about.” Well, let’s see.
Bocas del Toro is an archipelago on the northern side of Panama near Costa Rica. Consisting of hundreds of islands, Bocas Town is the main destination city. I was gearing up for snorkeling, starfish, and a great beach town vibe. Beach towns invoke images of seafood BBQs, music on the streets, shops selling stuff tourists want but don’t need, and the mandatory margarita bar that advertises drink specials starting at 8am.
Bocas del Toro has the last item.
After a 25 minute boat ride from the mainland, you arrive to the small town of Bocas and are greeted by touts yelling at you from the first moment regarding possible accommodation or tours. I have seen my fare share of touts. These guys are the worst. Think of the salesperson that keeps calling you repeatedly despite your efforts to get put on the “no call list.” And now speed the interactions up and make them in person. It’s annoying.
The hospitality level is nil. Many front offices of the hotels have bars over the windows like an old fashion betting booth. I showed up without a reservation, thinking that in low season it wouldn’t be a problem finding a reasonable space. I was wrong, you see I hadn’t yet learned my lesson regarding Panama. The hotel staff always appeared like they have just had the roughest day of their lives and that you are the last person that they want to see. I went to three hotels until I found an extremely overpriced room. In low season, you will pay $100 for a room overlooking the water in a building that is falling apart. Your water view will undoubtably be over a bar, and the room will smell. The photo below is from my balcony. Gotta love a view of corrugated metal.
But, there is still the water. Water sports rule the area. However, the water in low season isn’t really worth snorkeling in because of the frequent rain and storms. They kick up a ton of silt so your visibility is on par with snorkeling in a manmade lake. That makes high season your best bet for traveling here. For that plan on doubling your expenses. You can hire one of the many guides to ferry you between islands, but the main infrastructure is in Bocas Town. So you will begin and end your day there. Oh yeah, did I mention the best part? Bocas del Toro smells like pee. Yup, pee. Just let that sink in for a moment. First world country + Pee + expensive.
Now, a traveler, including myself, can put up with quite a bit. It is all relative. I will put up with a city that smells like pee with sub par snorkeling if the price is right. But the price is wrong, Bob. Food, liquor, and lodging in Panama are equal to or more expensive than they are in the United States. No one wants to travel to a place that is poor value for the money. To circle back to the blogger’s quote from the top of the post, I do not understand what everyone is raving about unless they are all raving mad.
Panama is still On Notice.