Cruising Inside Bocas del Toro Archipelago

By Mary J. Robertson & Karen Bradbeer

The Caribbean current is what makes the formation of Bocas del Toro archipelago so unique. The current runs about two to three knots setting towards the east and the country of Panama itself lies from east to west, unlike what most people think.

The Bocas del Toro Archipelago is inside of the main current that runs along the Panamanian coastline. The fact that almost all of the islands in the archipelago are sheltered by the cup formation of the coastline and protected by the hump of Colon makes these islands more popular with cruising sailors. This archipelago is well protected by large barrier islands with other islands. 

The popularity of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago has risen as the word is broadcast by SSB from cruiser to cruiser with the secret promise that only those who really desire such a paradise are begged to visit. Since the current is strong, the inside islands give protection to the various indigenous Indians that live among the islands. Cruising sailors are starting to find that sharing the inside islands with the Indians are interesting, remote, and unique. The natural rainforest beauty is not only visual, but also offers a variety of calling sounds of the many tropical birds, monkeys, sloths, and bats that live in its trees. What more could a cruiser need than the basics of plentiful rainwater for drinking, easy foraging and fishing, yet an infrastructure to make entering and exiting easy by vessel, launch, bus, or airplane? 

Bocas del Toro is considered a Port of Entry and maintains a Port Captain for clearing from outside countries; no agent is needed. The clearing process is easy; call on VHF 16 to the Port Captain during the office hours of 8:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m., Monday to Friday (overtime fees applicable outside normal hours).  All vessels are welcome for a one year cruising period. The cruising permit for the vessel can be extended every year on an unlimited basis. Immigration is for a period of six months that can be renewed by leaving the country and returning by air for another 6 months.

Bocas del Toro has excellent water taxi service for travel within the province. There are several water taxis that serve Almirante (approx. 20-30 min) for continued bus travel to David, and other points in Panama. The road from Panama City has recently been extended to David and then on out to Chirique Grande and ending at Almirante.

There were two bus services that offered transportation to San Jose, C.R., from Sixaola via Changuinola, MEPE and the Caribenos bus line. Also, from either Sixaola or Changuinola, car taxis can be hired to complete a journey to Almirante where a water taxi can be taken to Bocas del Toro. These bus services are temporarily stopped at present; however, you can still hire a car taxi to take you to the border of Costa Rica, but you MUST MEET their requirements for Covid-19 on entry. 

You can check for the latest Covid-19 requirements as this website is kept up-to-date or you can email for the latest information.

From the Bocas del Toro airport you can reach Costa Rica, Columbia, or Panama City. There is Air Panama . This gives cruisers many different routes to choose from when planning to do land travel. Once you arrive in Panama City, Panama, you can travel onwards to any country of your destination if their borders are open. 

Cruisers now have a new safe haven from hurricanes in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago! What are you waiting for? Start planning a visit! Come to see BOCAS DEL TORO’S BEAUTIFUL BLUE CARIBBEAN PARADISE!