Bocas del Toro

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Panama  ,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bocas del Toro
Everyone who lives  in Bocas seems to love to complain to tourists about how tourism has ruined Bocas.  And they are probably right, but it is not really nearly as bad as all that. Bocas is a string of islands in a large bay.  Everything is extremely green, and some 40 rivers empty into the bay, rendering the diving very dependent on how much rain there has been.  It certainly lives on tourism, and there is some resentment about the gringo influence both through tourism and through expats, at least to judge by comments in the local press some of it by expats), but it is a beautiful place for all that, although we didn't get to too much of it.

You reach Bocas from the border crossing with Costa Rica by a boat ride of an hour or so, initially through water weed choked wetlands full of egrets, the beautiful jacanas and other birds, which then becomes a narrow tree-lined river, and finally a very calm ocean.

At least while we were there the ocean was extremely flat and the bay is dotted with mangroves, some of which seem to grow even where no island has managed to get its head above water.  The water is not very clear in the bay itself, but in shallow  areas around  the  islands it is beautifully clear, with fish life such  as squid and starfish easily visible from the pier.  One night we were in an upstairs restaurant but could still make out a starfish on the sea bottom about 2m down and 20m away.

I went diving on our first day here, which I enjoyed but which was not particularly spectacular.  The dive  operator was not especially well organised so that it took a long time to get out and they had  a group of 9 people swimming  around in visibility that was less than 10m.  That is pretty tough on the guide, but they got everyone back safely. 

The only thing I saw that struck me as really new was some kind of worm, about 6 inches long very flat, grey, that flashed white when you threatened it.  I asked afterwards what it was and was told that it was a sea cucumber which seems very unlikely. It looked much more like a scale worm or fire worm.  The other animals  of note where the very colourful white and black  and red brittlestars that hide inside the purple sponges, and the white and blue cleaner shrimp.

The first dive followed a reef, and the second started at a sunken  barge and then followed the reef.

Despite the fuss everyone makes about how cheap the diving is in Utila, the operators here charge exactly the same price and the gear is much better quality.  I think that the diving was less interesting though.

The day trip
Day two was a day trip.

We started by going to see the bottle nosed dolphins in  bahia delfin. This seems to be a pretty permanent residence for dolphins, who just mooch about being dolphins.  Our captain however would drive in  circle, setting up a standing wave which sometimes they would come and play in, so we had a nice  view of dolphins surfing and jumping, including some sideways jumps.  Anyone who suggests that dolphins have any motivation for this kind  of thing other than  pure fun (and there are some)is clearly nuts.  It is not exactly an unobtrusive approach to tourism, but I doubt that it does any harm.

Then we went to Coral Cay for snorkelling. This is a shallow patch of water with a lot of yellow soft coral, but not of the spectacular variety found in Fiji.   I'm  not entirely convinced that it wasn't a kind of plant rather than coral.  This was a fairly pretty spot but without much variety and the most interesting bit was some large weed covered  crabs out foraging, and a large school of what may have been juvenile parrot fish out feeding - I could hear the crackle of their crunching when I got close, a little like distant static.

We then went to Playa Rana Rojo or red frog beach, an island on which red frogs can be found.  We were met by three little kids who had caught some of them and kept them  trapped inside some big leaved plant. They were cute little fellows (the frogs, not the kids), small, red with black spots.  It's also a pretty beach, white sand, lots of surf, and water that suddenly gets very deep when the waves come through, and stays deep so that you go from waist deep water to too deep water without having to move, and a big current as the waves are sucked back out to see.  

We finished with some snorkelling at hospital point, which the local press says has been ruined by people dropping anchors.  Perhaps so, but there is still quite a lot of coral around, once you get out of the sheltered bay, or into deeper water, and there were a lot of fish.  I found a large group of beautiful blue tangs, another grouping of juvenile parrot fish out feeding(I would guess that there were 100 or more fish in the school), a trumpet fish, more large crabs on the move, and others.  This was actually the best fish watching site I visited, including the dives.
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