The Panamanian island of Bocas del Toro isn’t the friendliest of places for a budget traveller, but keeping travel costs down is still do-able.
When we were travelling in Puerto Viejo we decided to hop across to Bocas del Toro for a week. As expected our travels in Bocas del Toro stretched our budget way more than Nicaragua and a little more than Costa Rica. These expenses are just for Bocas del Toro, not for Panama as a whole. We’re travelling in mainland Panama for a month over Christmas and New Year, so it will be interesting to see how the two compare.
Keep Searching for Good Accommodation
It took us literally hours to find good accommodation and a good price in Bocas del Toro. We trawled through a lot of grubby backpacker hostels, some guesthouses with sky high prices and a place above a supermarket where the most unfriendly woman on the island wouldn’t let us have a room without air-con. After a weed-seller on a bike made it his personal mission to get us a place to stay (earning himself a $2 tip from the hotel for the trouble), we finally ended up at Las Brisas. This shabby guesthouse at the end of the strip is up for sale and rooms without windows go for $20. The deck has a glorious view and the wifi was good. We were so relieved we waited it out rather than settling for something else!
Cook Your Own Food
We ate in two meals most days. In general we found the food on the island to be pretty expensive, which is no doubt because everything has to come across by boat. We ended up eating a lot of porridge and bananas, which isn’t the best way to enjoy local food but it does keep expenses down and mean we could eat pretty much anywhere we wanted for that one meal a day. The average meal set us back around $7 each, though prices can range much higher in the restaurants along the main strip. The best deal we got was a pipa from some kids at the roadside with a jar full of pennies.
Activities & Tours
We made a rookie mistake of signing up to a boat tour when we were staying in Bocas. The guy offered us a good price and we took it. Of course when we were on the boat it was all “need another $5, forgot to say this and that.” That tour set us back $20, though we know that some people on the boat paid $35 each! We heard you can definitely get a much better price by heading up to the dock and asking a local with a boat to take you to whatever island it is you want to see. A boat ride to the next island across is only a $2 return. We would also recommend renting a bike, a good budget option at only $5 for the day.
Travelling in Bocas del Toro isn’t cheap but there are cheaper alternatives to be found. If you don’t mind eating in and organise your own day-trips by boat then you can definitely keep travel costs down.
Do you have any advice on travelling on a budget in Panama? We’d love to hear from you.