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After a busy first day in Panama City, Dan and I left the capital and headed North for a few days of sun and sand. We were headed to Bocas del Toro--a popular backpackers haunt well known for its laid-back vibe, its turquoise waters and its pretty white-sand beaches lining mangrove-covered islands.
Bocas del Toro is one of Panama's premier tourist attractions and undoubtedly the country's backpacking mecca. It offers everything travelers might want in terms of accommodation, food, entertainment and sightseeing. Little shops line the streets of Bocas Town, touting tourists excursions ranging from snorkeling to zip lining and from boating to wildlife viewing.
Most boat excursions had already left the docks by the time Dan and I arrived in town on our overnight bus from Panama City. So, instead of tacking on to an organized tour, we decided to take a local bus to Starfish Beach on the other side of the island. Starfish Beach is known for its long strip of sand and the bright orange starfish that dot its turquoise waters.
Our visit coincided with a yearly boatracing festival that brought hundreds of Panamanians to the islands. Due to the influx of weekend party-goers in Bocas, it took Dan and I a while to find a patch of beach away from the hoards of people. The beach was crowded with young couples lounging in the sand. Music blared from boom boxes on the shore and families splashed around in the waters.
Our second day in Bocas del Toro was the highlight of our venture into Panama's North. We tagged onto a boat trip that offered the possibility of snorkeling, dolphin spotting, beach lounging and perhaps even sloth viewing.
Our boat trip started in Dolphin Bay, where we saw numerous pods of bottle-nose dolphins darting around. The bay has a semi-permanent population of dolphins that are drawn to its waters due to an abundance of small fish and squid. We watched the playful dolphins for about twenty minutes, before continuing on to Crawl Cay for lunch and a swim among colorful fish and coral.
Much of the coral around Crawl Cay was dying, perhaps largely due to an influx of tourists keen on touching the undersea environment or breaking pieces off as souvenirs. Nonetheless, we enjoyed following schools of colorful fish and getting a closeup view of the coral that had survived contact with the curious feet and hands of travelers.
|Our Lunch Spot at Crawl Cay|
After eating lunch, snorkeling and sleeping for a bit on the hammocks at Crawl Cay, we got back in the boat for the crown jewel of our excursion--a trip to Cayo Zapatilla.
The Cayos Zapatillas are twin islands that are often referred to as the pearls of Bocas Bay. We went to the greater of the two islands for a few hours of beach time and relished the tranquility of our picture-perfect surroundings. Gone were the hoards of tourists with their boom boxes and beers. Gone were the boats dropping people off and picking them up. It was just us and the sand and the sea and the beautiful blue sky.
Cayo Zapatilla is where Panama's Survivor series was filmed. To us, the island felt wild and untouched, yet its waters were welcoming and warm. Visiting Cayo Zapatilla was the first time--among many in Panama--that Dan and I would feel as though we were stranded in paradise.
|Beautiful Beach at Cayo Zapatillo|
Before leaving on an overnight bus back to Panama City the following day, Dan and I managed to first swim at an expansive stretch of sand called Red Frog Beach. The beach is named after the tiny poison dart frogs that inhabit the jungles of the island's interior. Yet, like the sloths in Soberenia, Dan and I had failed to spot any of the little red frogs.
|Red Frog Beach, Bocas|
It was a bit reluctantly that Dan and I packed our bags, left our lovely hostel in Bocas Town and headed South for part two of our Panamanian vacation.
But it was best that we left when we did. Because we left Bocas in the nick of time--just as the clouds started to thicken and cast the skies in an ominous shield of grey. And as the boat taking us back to the mainland pulled away from the dock, the rain started to drizzle. Then it began to pour.
We counted ourselves lucky for the three beautiful days of sunshine we experienced, crossing our fingers that the rain was just a fluke and that the luck we had experienced in Bocas would continue throughout the rest of our stay.