January 16, 2015

Boca Brava, Panamá

Filed under: food,travel — Frederick Noble @ 6:30 pm Share RSS

Rather than trek to the northwest for the picturesque but overdeveloped Boca del Toro, we headed south, stopping briefly at the mall in David to buy a hat. Other than the Spanish language signage, the mall was pretty much exactly like malls in the US. Panamá has just about anything you could ask for, though you may pay as much as you do in the States. Continuing south, we got off the highway onto a road, only recently paved, that wound through rolling hills. It was odd to us to see cows in a jungle-like setting, but they, and the locals, didn’t seem to mind that we stopped to gawk.

Panamanian cows

cows' eye view

We parked the SUV in Boca Chica, a small fishing village on the Pacific, to take a ferry to Boca Brava, a small island just across the inlet.

Boca Brava

We checked into a hotel on the tip of the island, stopping to gawk at the view for a moment.

Boca Brava

Boca BravaWe wandered out to their amazing multi-tiered bar/restaurant overlooking the water, as well as the occasional troupe of howler monkeys making their way through the treetops.

funky monkey

funky monkey

The bar delivered tasty rum drinks and cold beer and the menu wasn’t as expensive as it could’ve been, given the fact that you either ate there or brought your own food. Perfect.

We threw our suits on and set out in search of the beach. The island has a trail running along the ridge, providing cool breezes and impressive views.

Boca Brava


Much of the island is taken up with private residences and fishing clubs and is inaccessible, but there are a few small, often deserted beaches of brown sand, shaded by palm trees and sheltered by rocks. There were a few people at the first beach we found, so we trekked on to the next, finding it empty.

Boca Brava

The water was as warm in a bath in the shallows, but was refreshingly cool a bit further out. The occasional fishing boat cruised past, along with a few boats hauling tourists out to more remote islands for snorkeling trips and prettier beaches. With our limited time and fishbelly-white skins, however, we opted to stay in the shade, watching the snails lick the rocks clean as the tide crept in.

Boca BasuraOne thing that bothers me about Central America is the litter. Trash is everywhere and the beaches are no exception. This beach had several dozen orange halves that looked recently squeezed, either left behind after a beachfront party or washed ashore from elsewhere.  When you pass by any house or village, the ditches are lined with trash. Occasionally, someone will pile it up and set it alight so you get whiffs of burning plastic at random. In other places, it just piles up into mountains. (Perhaps the jungle  grows over them and Panamá is not as hilly as we’d thought?) I’ve seen the same issue in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas – paradise trashed.

Back at the hotel/restaurant/bar, we had a fine meal of fresh fish as the sun set. We met a German couple who were following almost the same route we had adopted – mountains, the quieter Pacific beaches, then on to the city for New Year’s. They had opted for shuttles and public transit, saving them some money. We would end up going places that would’ve been impossible to get to without a lot of buses, cabs and hassle, but I mention it to point out Panamá can be done on the cheap. The hotel we were at still had a room of hostel-like bunks for something like $12/night.

Boca Brava

After breakfast (fresh fruit crepes, if I recall correctly), we hit the trail again, trekking as far as we could get without having to hack through jungle on private property, then back to the beach we’d skipped the day before. Again, we had the place to ourselves for ours before someone else showed up, this time arriving by boat.

Boca Brava

Boca Brava

monkeyAs we left, the monkeys crossed our path, coming so close that I could’ve snatched one of them with a short jump.


After another fine meal, a huge lobster this time, for under $20, we climbed up into the crow’s nest atop the roof and watched the sun set (Note: you may want to zoom in on the image.) We met one of the managers of the hotel, an ex-pat from Boston, and eavesdropped as he talked with the owners of a resort across the inlet. They had a few complaints about the Panamanian airline but were otherwise happy. Retirement communities for US ex-pats are springing up all over Panamá. The couple who owned the resort across the inlet hadn’t done any research before purchasing the place, but it was serving as their retirement plan. They pointed out another resort being built, and we saw signs for more, so it wouldn’t surprise me if within three years the place is wall-to-wall fancy hotels that I can’t afford (and have no interest in.)

We got a small plate of fried shrimp from the kitchen just before they closed up for the night so that the staff could get the ferry home. The bar remained open to serve us and the table of Germans playing card games. Eventually, we called it a night, stepping carefully over the crabs on the sidewalk on the way back to our room.

In the morning, the hotel called the ferry to fetch us. If I could do the trip again, I’d spend an extra day on the island and bring heavy duty waterproof sunscreen so we could do one of the island-hopping, snorkel trips, but there’s only so much time and money. Dammit, lotto, why you gotta be so hard to win?

Next episode, a stopover in a small town en route back to the city, with shopping and other sights along the way. Stay tuned.

Say What?

1 Comment

  1. I really like that photo of what appears to be some variation of a woodpecker.. ..kind of like a strange pileated… overall a nice read, informative.

    Comment by laird Haynes — January 16, 2015 @ 10:46 pm

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