Last Updated on January 4, 2023
To be completely honest, Panama was never at the top of my travel list when I considered tropical vacation destinations. When people think of the Caribbean, Mexico and the Bahamas typically come to mind. Panama should too, especially for viewing wildlife in Panama and farming chocolate at the Green Acres Chocolate Farm Bocas del Toro.
Nestled along the Caribbean coast and often referred to as the Caribbean’s Galapagos Islands, there are lovely Panamanian islands located about 30 miles south of Costa Rica. The province is an archipelago that prevents the open waters of the Caribbean Sea from merging with the tranquil waters of Almirante Bay and Chiriqui Lagoon.
More than a hundred islands rise from the Caribbean Sea off Panama, yet only a handful are inhabited. Surfers, ecotourists, and nature enthusiasts from all over the world visit the region’s stunning beaches and lush jungles to experience nature up close and personal, experiencing wildlife viewing in Panama.
Since the cost of living is far lower than in the U.S., and real estate can be purchased at a discount, I decided to have a look at the area as expats often do.
After spending five weeks in Panama, here are the activities I most highly recommend.
Green Acres Chocolate Farm Panama
Farming chocolate at Green Acres Chocolate Farm Panama can be experienced by visiotrs. This wonderful cacao farm is found about 10 miles from Bocas Town on 30 acres of paradise.
The chocolate farm Boas del Toro, accessible only by boat, provides the ideal environment for learning about Panama’s flora and fauna. Visitors frequently encounter howler monkeys, toucans, sloths, and poison dart frogs. A variety of birds, butterflies and other tropical insects thrive in their lovely botanical gardens.
It was fascinating to discover how cacao is grown in a sustainable way and then dried, roasted, and transformed into 100% organic chocolate.
Our chocolate farming tour began with a short history of the land and farm. As we walked through the rainforest on a well-worn, easily navigable path, our guide took time to point out trees and plants native to the area and explain how they were used by the area’s Indigenous population previously and today.
We saw the large plantation of cacao trees and opened a pod right off the tree. Of course the chocolate farming tour ends with delightful samples.
Exploring for Native Wildlife
How exciting that were able to see so much of the local wildlife living in and around Bocas del Toro. There is a lot to be found here!
Sloths rely on their ability to blend in with their surroundings by hiding in the canopy for up to a week at a time, emerging from the trees only to ‘find a restroom.’
After questioning locals at Red Frog Beach, we were finally able to spot a sloth there. They are surprisingly excellent swimmers, so it’s possible you’ll also see them among the mangroves.
Howler monkeys primarily inhabit Isla Colon. Deep in the jungle of a wildlife viewing in Panama tour we heard them and decided to investigate. It’s a sight and sound you won’t soon forget/
Oh, Those Island Caimans
On the island of Bastimentos, there is a pond with three-foot-long caimans hiding among the jungle vegetation. Caimans resemble miniature crocodiles and typically inhabit wetlands. They usually hide when they notice people.
We were shocked to see a brave dog chasing one around some brackish water before the caiman disappeared below the surface.
Colorful Poison Dart Frogs
I was ecstatic when I first saw a tiny red frog jumping around the tree trunks on Isla Solarte. You may be tempted to touch them, but shouldn’t, because they are extremely poisonous as they assimilate plant poisons carried by their prey.
Under dried leaves in a marshy area on one of the outer islands, we discovered blueberry poison frogs and green and black poison darts. They are fascinating creatures!
Dolphins in Dolphin Bay
Dolphins can be found on the eastern coast of Cristobal, about six miles from Colon Island. Due to its seclusion, the lagoon is a haven for dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are frequently spotted frolicking in boat wakes here as evening approaches. We witnessed calves learning to swim and interacting with others in the water during an excursion.
You can take a dolphin tour during the day, but we recommend selecting your own guide and going at your own pace rather than crowding into a small boat with a bunch of strangers. We observed them in groups of two to five all throughout the archipelago.
Finding the Woolly Opossum
You won’t find many omnivores like the Woolly Opossum. These tropical marsupials about the size of a small domestic cat, go out at night to search for food, such as fruit, insects, and nectar. One opossum often frequents a restaurant on the island in search of bananas set out for them. They’re so adorable you’ll want to give in to the urge to cuddle with them, and though they won’t likely bite, they may hiss and growl.
Taking the Flying Pirates’ ATVs on Isla Colon
Guests can experience Isla Colon’s lush rainforest by renting your own Flying Pirates’ ATVs. With a pirate map as our guide, we passed Pablo Escobar’s fort and hideaway coves where the cocaine kingpin did his dirty work.
Howler monkeys growled and barked from up to three miles away protesting the roaring ATV motors as we took to bumpy trails. With our own rentals, we had all day to see the island and ride the palm-lined beaches. Be prepared to get wet which is all part of the fun – and make sure to get back before dark!
Bocas Del Toro Beaches
There are several Bocas del Toro beaches where you can swim, surf, and snorkel. Catch wild waves off Carenera, Bluff, and Paunch Beach depending on the season. Waves here can reach as high as 12-feet.
Zapatillos is more remote and in the archipelago’s outer reaches, but the leeward site is ideal for relaxing and snorkeling. It consists of two uninhabited islands that look like postcards, perfect Instagram photos, with azure waters surrounded by palm trees swaying in the breeze.
Red Frog and Polo beaches located on Bastimentos Island are an absolutely breathtaking sight with their multi-colored waters.
Sampling Island Food
Bocas del Toro is well-known for its diverse culinary offerings – from freshly caught seafood to authentic Italian cuisine prepared by Italian expats.
Restaurant Tom, El Ultimo Refugio, Oasis B&B and the View, Aqua Lounge Bar & Hostel, Bibi’s, and Floating Bar are some of our favorite places, each with a unique atmosphere.
Some of these spots great for people watching are located near the main Isla Colon or just a short boat taxi ride away. Others are found in more secluded areas with views of the Caribbean Sea. If you visit, get your tastebuds ready and explore the islands’ fun foodie restaurants.
Book your stay at Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro Panamabeachnature
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