After living off-the-grid for a while, we’ve made it back to civilisation. Bocas del Toro is the next stop and although we may not have been ‘loco’ by most standards, we managed to stay awake past midnight every night – which constitutes as crazy for us…
Originally, we’d booked a hostel called ‘Selina Hostel’ for this part of our trip. It’s a generic party hostel with chains all over Latin America and it seems to be quite a hit with the gringos. We booked it thinking that it’d be on par with the other amazing places we’ve stayed. However, back in Panama City we were warned by the Villa Vento hostel owners that Selina wasn’t as great as it sounded online… Bedbug infestations, non-local owners, overworked volunteers and illegal cutting of mangroves to build their hostels are just a few of the many things we were told but we just brushed them off thinking that it was just over-hyped hostel competition.
Nevertheless, we heard the same things from the workers at Bambuda Lodge and, at this point, we started to question our decision. Our pal, Dan, mentioned that his friend had a new hostel opening in Bocas del Toro and said that he could sort us out with discounted rooms. None of us could argue with saving money so we cancelled our reservation at Selina and prepared to be some of the first customers at ‘Mamallena Hostel’. Here’s a little taster:
From the second we left Bambuda Lodge and stepped onto the boat taxi it was a completely unexpected first-class experience. Usually, the boat taxis drop you off at the main dock in Bocas but we were dropped directly at Mamallena hostel – an absolute treat when you’re lugging heavy backpacks around! We checked in with Miguel, the owner, who then led us to our room. We were expecting an 8-10 bed dorm considering the price that we were paying but ended up scoring a private room – with aircon and an en-suite… We played it cool in front of Miguel but as soon as he closed the door behind him, we all ran around screaming. It’s the little things – I tell ya!
We’re all really open minded when it comes to accommodation (you can’t not be if you’re a budget traveller) but to have our own space to blast Taylor Swift songs, spread our stuff everywhere, walk around in our underwear and not have to worry about disturbing/being disturbed by others was an absolute luxury. Thank you, fate, for helping us to stumble upon Mamallena!
Once we’d calmed down, we went to check out the town. It’s quite run down and it feels more like Jamaica than Panama. I fell in love straight away – the vibes in Bocas are so laid-back and friendly. Here’s a visual taste of the town:
We ended up wandering/getting lost in the backstreets where the houses and schools were located. We saw 2 tiny kids hail a taxi and one of them hopped in whilst the other one waved goodbye – not sure that would be as well recieved in the UK! We also saw Bocas airport with just one runway and a small building next to it. There were some people playing cricket on the runway and they would just run off when a plane was landing and then resume their game afterwards. Anyone fancy trying this at Heathrow?
As Mamallena was a new hostel, Miguel was throwing an opening party the night that we arrived. We were told that there would be free food (yasss), discounted drinks and a fireworks display – all we had to do was wear white and bring some killer dance moves.
After devouring all the finger food, we strutted onto the dance floor where there were 2 insanely cool DJ’s busting out some classic tunes mixed in with reggae vibes. We were totally in our element – guys would come over and ask us to dance or buy us drinks but we were having none of it. One guy even got upset because he said we weren’t including him in our dance circle (haha)… when 3/3 of us aren’t interested in finding Latin American lovers it’s unlikely that there’ll be any juicy gossip on this blog, apologies!
After a while we noticed a scrawny, white guy with highlighted hair make his way to the DJ decks. He was smoking a cigarette and wearing geometric shapes on his t-shirt and Beats by Dr Dre headphones – we began to fear the worst. The music went from Black Eyed Peas/Bob Marley mash ups to mind-numbing electro music in a matter of seconds. R.I.P fun.
Dan from Bambuda Lodge was there to keep us entertained for a while but, eventually, we decided to call it a night. On the way up to our room, Abbie tripped up the stairs which caused me and Alice to laugh uncontrollably. Little did we know that she’d sliced her skin off her foot and was leaving a trail of blood as she hopped through the hostel. Our room was swiftly transformed into A&E – Dr. Alice was in charge of antiseptic and bandages and I was in charge of wiping what looked like the aftermath of a masaccre from the tiles/walls. Don’t worry, Mrs Hammond – it’s all healed now. Unfortunately, however, we didn’t manage to find a cure for the clumsiness..
The next day we went down to claim our free pancakes for breakfast. I was so excited to tuck in and bit a massive chunk of them before I’d even sat down. My heart sank when I realised I’d drenched them in salt instead of sugar – clearly karma for laughing at Abbie’s toe. There’s nothing more painful than the death of a pancake so I think we’re even now.
We decided to spend the second morning doing laundry and wandering around the shops. Everything was more expensive than anticipated, which was weird because the quality of the clothes and souvenirs were pretty poor. One shop was even completely flooded but open for business as usual – classic.
There were also a ton of shops selling ‘I ❤️ Bocas del Toro’ t-shirts, which seemed to be more popular with the locals than with tourists. Alice said; ‘Imagine wearing an I ❤️ Warrington t-shirt every day, that just wouldn’t be a thing’… safe to say, these Panamanians are proud of their hometown!
Everyone in Bocas is so friendly and willing to stop and talk. We met a guy called Willy who asked us if we wanted to rent bikes. Turned out he was at the Mamallena opening party and said he’d deliver the bikes directly to us the next morning. We popped to the supermarket to buy some food to cook at the hostel before spending the rest of the day lounging around on the dock. It’s hard to find decent things to cook here – there’s not much fruit and veg choice and refrigerated goods are hard to come by but we settled on pasta with sauce for the main meal and I bought peanut butter because I’m required to eat at least one jar a day to function properly.
After dinner we got ready to go to a boat party. Technically, the party was for Bambuda Lodge guests but Dan arranged for the boat to pick us up in Bocas first. We weren’t quite sure what to expect – for all we knew it could have been a pimped out fishing boat but we were pleased to see a catamaran dragon boat.
The music was ridiculously shit so no dancing for us tonight but that didn’t matter – once the boat docked in the middle of the sea we were free to jump, slide and flip off the boat as we pleased. I didn’t take anything with me other than a bikini so there aren’t many pictures to accurately capture how cool this was but, luckily, Alice snapped a few things on her phone:
After sliding off the back of the boat we decided to jump off the top deck. It took me and Abbie ages to build up the courage and we kept backing out. We met some guys from Bath (small world) who grabbed our hands and tried to get us to jump with them. They shouted 3,2,1 but me and Abbie pulled back causing them to pull back too. Little did we know that Alice hadn’t got the memo and had jumped in on her own. Oops.
Feeling bad, we decided to brave it and although it was a lot taller than I would have liked it to be, it was so much fun. The water was warm and there was netting to easily climb back onto the boat and do it all again. After the boat party, we docked at a club called Iguana where we danced the rest of the night away. Obviously, we’d only just been swimming but the club was so humid and rammed with people that ‘wet or sweat?’ became a question that we had to ask outselves. Another incredible night in Bocas. See?! The ‘locas’ in this title is accurate – 2 nights in a row is a big deal for us…
The next day Alice was feeling far too vulnerable to tackle a bike ride and the weather was ridiculously sunny and warm for once so we asked Willy if there were any good beaches to relax on instead. We bargained hard to get return transport to a place called Red Frog Beach.
As we left Bocas island by boat we noticed the sun start to fade into the distance and the rain clouds gradually begin to appear. We’ve been waiting 6 days for sunshine and now that we finally have some we decide to go to a different island?! Terrible life decisions.
It was a bit of a miserable experience to be on the beach in the grey and rainy weather. We wondered if it could get any worse and, of course, it did. An older Panamanian guy came over and decided to tell us about every single country he’d ever visited – making sure to repeat everything twice. Great. To make matters worse, it was only 11am and we didn’t have a lift home until 4pm. With no escape we just decided to have a nap in a beachfront restaurant. 3 hours later, we were approached by one of the staff saying that we’d have to buy something if we wanted to stay. I mean, I know they’re laidback here but something tells me that waiting 3 hours for someone to place an order isn’t exactly good business. Not that we were complaining – we got free, comfortable shelter for a few hours and were awoken in time to catch our ride home. On another positive note, we saw a baby sloth in the tree and a stingray in the water which made the journey (marginally) worth the effort. Plus, some people said it rained a bit in Bocas too so that made us feel like we hadn’t missed out on too much tan-time. And finally, here is a funny video of Alice dancing to Sia:
We weren’t sure what to do on the last night but Alice and Abbie had run out of money and noone wanted to get more out of the cashpoint seeing as we’d be changing currency the next day in Costa Rica. Luckily, I’d budgeted well enough to cover us all for dinner and of course, I chose pizza… 🍕🍕Then we made sure to get an early night ready for a 6am start the next day. Goodbye again, island life 🌴
I’ve found myself listening to more reggae playlists than ever before and I’m 100% feeling the Caribbean spirit! I’ll miss you Bocas – your good vibes are endless!
Now, we’re about to attempt our first border crossing – to Costa Rica we go! Wish us luck, I have my passport at the ready and 10 packets of cookies in my bag. If that’s not the definition of ‘suitably prepared’ then I don’t know what is…
👋 🇵🇦 —-> 📍🇨🇷