Thursday, August 9, 2012

Three Picture Perfect Beaches In Bocas Del Toro, Panama - 8-9-2012

Wizard Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama

I spent seven days in Bocas Del Toro, interrupted only by a three day trip to Puerto Viejo. It rained heavily, day and night, three of my first four days in Bocas. The three days of my return trip, though, were beautiful and were perfect for lazy beach hopping and swimming in crystal clear water.

Playa Estrella

Playa Estrella, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Playa Estrella is a gorgeous white sand beach on Isla Colon with gentle waves, no swells and no riptides to speak of. Named for the numerous starfish that sit in its shallow bottom, and conveniently lined with wooden tables protected from the rain by canvas shelters this beach was custom made for an easy afternoon of swimming and snorkeling. I came here on a rainy day with six friends from Hostel Heike during my first trip through Bocas and it remains my favorite beach in the archipelago. The beach runs up against a thick, verdant jungle loud with cicadas and birds. Playa Estrella's beauty was apparent even under dark, rainy skies. My friends and I spent a good hour floating, snorkeling and swimming in the warm, clear water. Don't expect to be alone, though. Playa Estrella has a bar serving stiff drinks and is popular with tourists.

Getting to Playa Estrella is easy, but time consuming. Pick up the minibus across the street from Hostel Heike in Bocas Town at 7am, 10am, noon, 3pm, or 5pm. The one hour ride will cost about $1.00 and will wind across the island until you reach the northwest side and the small settlement of Bocas Del Drago. From here, walk along the beach for about 25 minutes, following the signs asking that you not touch the starfish. Alternatively, pay a water taxi $1.00 for a 10 minute ride to Playa Estrella. I recommend you walk because the entire way is a picturesque beach and jungle walk around or over leaning palm trees and through low waves. Pick up the return bus back in Bocas Del Drago at 8am, 11am, 1pm, 4pm and 6pm. You can also bike to the beach from Bocas Town, but expect that to take about 90 minutes each way.

Wizard Beach

Wizard Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Also known as Playa Primera, Wizard Beach is on the far side of Isla Bastimentos from Isla Colon. The day I went with friends, we saw only about ten other people on the miles long beach. Expect Wizard to be similarly deserted when you go. Wizard Beach features gorgeous white-yellow sand and a thick green jungle that comes almost right up to the clear, warm water. Numerous tide pools provide plenty of chances to see small fish, or to soak in relatively still water. Exercise caution when swimming outside of these tide pools, though because the currents at Wizard Beach are strong and can be turbulent. Wizard Beach is a great beach to visit to just get away from everything, or to explore a beach side jungle. My friends and I spent two hours here talking, reading, swimming, and quietly enjoying the sound of crashing waves. Even on a trip replete with relaxation, Wizard Beach left me feeling particularly peaceful.

Wizard Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
You can get to Wizard Beach a few ways. Your day long snorkel tour might stop here, but probably not. Alternatively, you could start at Red Frog Beach and hike through the jungle. That's not advisable, though, because of the laughably deep mud and poorly marked trail connecting the two beaches. A separate path also leads from Wizard Beach to the small settlement of Old Bank. When dry, this path takes about half an hour. Budget at least twice what after a rain because the path turns to muck when wet. I recommend doing what my two friends from Mondo Taitu and I did -- hire a water taxi to take you out here and agree upon a time to be picked up. Expect to pay at least $10 per person round trip for this. We paid $10 per person and our water taxi guy still made us hike 45 minutes through knee deep mud to get picked up at Red Frog Beach instead of Wizard Beach. If you pay more than $10 per person, make sure you get picked up at Wizard Beach.

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Red Frog Beach is on Isla Bastimentos and is next to Wizard Beach. What Red Frog beach lacks in gentle waves or peaceful isolation, it more than makes up for with amenities and the chance to see a rare species of frog. The beach gets its name from the strawberry poison-dart frog, a rare frog you'll want to keep your eyes out for because of its beauty. There is a small resort, Red Frog Lodge, in the area and a bar at the end of the beach. This makes Red Frog beach a good place to be around other people, grab a drink or by some some food. I recommend the hamburger and fries from the beach bar.

Red Frog Beach is a beach in transition. Large scale resort development here has been rumored for years and could indeed happen. The area near the beach bar is a typical beach, with volleyball nets and sun chairs. The opposite end of the beach is more wild though. Like Wizard Beach, small tide pools dot the yellow-white beach, and leaning palm trees provide obstacles to climb over. Unlike Wizard Beach, jungle gives way to some grassland halfway down the beach. The water is warm, of course, but do watch out for strong currents and riptides when swimming.

Red Frog Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Red Frog Beach is easily accessible by water taxi; many of the day long snorkel tours stop here as well. A water taxi from Bocas Town should cost about $10 each way. The water taxi will drop you at a dock not far from Red Frog Beach. Catch the free shuttle that runs between the dock and the beach bar.

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