Isla Bastimentos – Panama – Information

Bastimentos - Old Bank - 6

MARCH 2018:



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OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at time of writing was US$1 = P$1 (Panama Balboa). Panama uses US$s and only uses Balboa as coins for small change.

I made my way from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Isla Bastimentos, Panama by Shuttle Bus(es) and Boat(s).Bastimentos - Waterfront Houses

I left Puerto Viejo just before 9am and arrived at my Isla Bastimentos hostel (Bubba’s House) mid afternoon.Bastimentos - Bubbas - Downstairs Shared Deck

I booked a GRANDPAcking Double Room for 4 nights at US$31 / night. The room was very basic.Bastimentos - Bubbas - RoomBastimentos - Bubbas - Bed

The ensuite was ‘tired’.Bastimentos - Bubbas - Ensuite Entry

The door to the ensuite was off its hinges and didn’t close.Bastimentos - Bubbas - Ensuite Shower

The next day, I looked around to find somewhere decent that I could afford longer term …


ABOUT ISLA BASTIMENTOS:

Christopher Columbus landed here in 1502 on his 4th voyage and named the island Bastimentos (which means “provisions”).

Bastimentos is an island in the Bocas del Toro District and archipelage of Bocas del Toro Province, Panama.Isla Bastimentos Map

The island is about 62 square kilometres which makes it one of the largest in Panama. As of 2010, Bastimentos had a population of 1,954.

Bastimentos is only 10 minutes by water taxi from Bocus Town and is considered to be a much more relaxed alternative … but, Bastimentos is becoming an increasingly popular destination for backpackers.Bastimentos - Morning Rains

Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park and the Red Frog Island Resort’s Nature Preserve encompass a large portion of Bastimentos, Zapatilla Cays, as well as the waters and mangroves that surround the island.

The north eastern side of Bastimentos faces the Caribbean Sea. Five beaches are found here along with stretches of cove inlets and coral reefs. These beaches are: Wizard Beach, Red Frog Beach, Turtle Beach, North Beach and Playa Larga.

The south western side of the island has a mangrove coastline with very calm water all year round.


PHOTO GALLERY – OLD BANK TOWN:

It rained all night and all morning until about 10am. Once the rain stopped, I had a look around Old Bank town.

The waterfront pathway is only about 600 meters long. I start at the western end …

The path starts at a rough beach.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 1 Bastimentos - Old Bank - 2 Bastimentos - Old Bank - 4

And heads east into the main township.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 3

You will find the Firefly Hotel at this end of town with its expensive cabins at US$120+  night.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 5

Contuing into town, you pass all of the over-the-water houses. Some of these have been converted into hostels.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 6

The pathway continues east with more of the same.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 7

And turns to dirt-track just after the path that turns inland towards Wizard Beach.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 8

That’s it folks!.


WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in the middle of March 2018 (March is said to be the driest month –  this makes March ‘Peak Season’). I include a couple of Hostels in Bocas Town for comparative reasons …



HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:Bocas Del Toro Booking 1
Bocas Del Toro Booking 2

Bocas Del Toro Booking 2

Bocas Del Toro Booking 3

AGODA.COM:Bocas Del Toro Agoda

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 15% to the displayed price to get the final price. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first.



VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s


TRIPADVISOR:Bocas Del Toro Triadvisor

AIRBnB:Bocas Del Toro AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.



IN SUMMARY:

There are very few GRANDPAcking options to choose from. Most of the accommodation is already online … you will not find any ‘hidden gems’. I decided to see what I could find for a further 10 nights …

The places inland of the waterfront path (such as Hostal Bastimentos, Dreamcatcher, etc) were over-priced and ‘grubby’ and, if I was going to have to settle for ‘grubby’, I would rather be somewhere over the water that (at least) offered a bit more ‘character’.

I wasn’t happy at Bubba’s – and, I thought that they were over-priced too … you were banned from drinking your own drinks on the shared deck area (even though you lived there), the Breakfast was poor (2 small pancakes), there was no water from 10pm to 8am (so, you couldn’t flush the toilet between those times), the shared kitchen was too small (problematic to share and closed after 5pm), and the room was small with no TV … Bastimentos - Bubbas Free BreakfastIt was not worth the US$31 / night that I was paying. The only good thing about Bubba’s is that it has a US$1 beer Happy Hour (between 6pm and 7pm) which attracts a small crowd that you can socialise with.

Over-the-water, there were very few places to choose from … and, they were all as run-down as Bubba’s.Bastimentos - Bubbas Deck Area

Next door to Bubba’s, the Hostal El Jaguar offered me a small Double with fan, shared bathroom, and poor in-room wifi for US$22 / night.

Hostal Bastimentos Caribbean offered me a small Double with Private Bathroom, Cable TV, fan, hot water, and Breakfast for US$27 / night. It had no decent area to socialise in and the attached restaurant (Alvin’s) wasn’t somewhere to ‘hang out’ for several hours each day. 

Many others looked so ‘grubby’ with poorly designed (or no) common areas that I did not even bother to enquire about price.

For the first 3 (out of 4) days that I was on Bastimentos it was overcast, we saw no sun, it rained overnight, and it showered during the day. Day 4 was a sunny day but, by then, I had already decided to head back to Isla Colon (I had already booked accommodation). At least, in Bocas Town, I would have more options when it rained …


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide reasonable free WiFi.

I bought a +Movil SIMcard in Bocas Town. The SIMcard was US$3.55, I topped up with US$15, and I bought a 2GB 1-Month Data Plan for US$14.99. I had a good H+ signal most of the time.


TRANSPORT:

You walk everywhere.

You can only get to remote parts of the island by water taxi. The price depends on your negotiating skills … just remember that it is only US$3 to get to Isla Colon … so, use that as your guideline.


EAT:

Restaurants around town are all quite similar.

If you eat in your Hostel, expect to pay US$5 for a very simple Breakfast and US$10 for a very simple Dinner.

For better value for money you need to go to a local restaurant. The prices are similar but you get something larger and nicer. A Chicken Chow Mein at Alvin’s was US$9:Bastimentos - Alvin - Chicken Chow Mein US$9

During the day, and early into the evening, some of the locals sell US$5 meals at the front of their houses. One night I tried a Fried Chicken Wings (4 pieces) with Fried Plantain for US$5.


IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Lunch Snack with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$10 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


DRINK:

The standard price for a small beer is US$2. You can get one at Bubba’s in Happy Hour for US$1 (6pm-7pm).

You can buy small beers in the local bars (like Casino’s) for US$1 all night.

Otherwise, you are buying your alcohol in a local store.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

Shopping is expensive. I wouldn’t shop here unless I had to. Typical prices are:

  • Loaf of White Bread: US$1.65
  • 2.25L Coke: US$3.95
  • Can of Beer: US$0.85c
  • 1L Box of Cheap Wine: US$3.95

I have not provided a GRANPAcking Budget for Bastimentos. Simply put, GRANDPAckers cannot afford to Holiday here.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are no banks nor ATMs on the island. The nearest one is in Bocas Town on Isla Colon. You won’t find any Bureau De Change.

If you don’t bring enough US$s with you, you will have to take a round trip to Bocas Town (US$3 each way). Whilst you are there, you might as well also stock up with some supplies from the Supermarkets.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

The Bocas del Toro Islands lack some basic infrastructure. A generator plant provides power to the towns of Isla Colon, Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos. The community does have a waste water (sewage) treatment plant, but it is not to ‘western’ quality. The town lacks a water filtration / treatment system. Most sewerage still gets flushed directly into the waters around the towns.Bastimentos - Banana Boat

There is no reason to feel unsafe around Old Bank township. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target. The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America. Don’t leave anything unattended.

However, when you trek inland (say, across to Wizard Beach) you are advised not to take anything of value. There is a history of people getting mugged. There is, now, a permanent police presence at Wizard Beach and they also keep a watch on the trail. As a result, such incidents on the Wizard Beach path are now very rare.

There is a drug scene – mainly marijuana. I am told that you pay US$65 for a 1/4 oz (7 grams at US$9 / gram). You can pay nearly double that if you buy it on the street.

When I was there, mosquitoes were around but they were not a problem.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

Between the months of April to June and August through October the water conditions tend to be the calmest. Although the larger wave season stretches from March to August, the island can still be accessed easily, many surfers come to the area, and there are many sunny days during this period.Bocas Del Toro Climate Chart

Bocas Del Toro Province has a tropical wet climate with no dry nor cold season – as it is constantly moist (with all-year-round rainfall). The temperatures remain consistent during the year.

I targeted March on purpose – it is one of the few months with minimal rainfall.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

There are a couple of SCUBA Dive Shops. SCUBA diving prices are said to be ‘reasonable’.

Snorkeling trips cost about US$25. Spear Fishing trips cost about US$45.

The waters around Old Bank town are polluted … swimming is not advised.

But, mostly, you are here to enjoy the Caribbean ‘hippy vibe’ on your hostel’s boat pier whilst playing board games or reading a book.


WIZARD BEACH:

At the eastern end of Old Bank town you can take a path up over the hill to Wizard Beach. Budget 30 minutes walk each way.Bastimentos - Wizard Beach 3

The small footpath turns to mud track as you leave town. This track gets very muddy. Even in March there were parts that could only be negotiated by taking your shoes off and wading ankle deep in mud ponds.Bastimentos - Wizard Beach 4

The beach itself is very nice …Bastimentos - Wizard Beach 1

… and definitely worth the trip.Bastimentos - Wizard Beach 2


GETTING AWAY:

From Isla Bastimentos, I head to Isla Colon. I will compare the two.

I have booked myself into a small apartment complex with a shared kitchen in Saigon City (about 1 km west of Bocas Town). I will be there for 9 nights before moving into Bocas Town (itself) for a further 7 nights.

After that, I head to mainland Panama.


CONCLUSION:

Bastimentos is a small and pleasant place with a nice ‘hippie vibe’. Most people socialise around the 2 main hostels: Bubba’s House and El Jaguar (which are next door to each others). Other hostels are a lot more quiet. Some are so quiet that they lack atmosphere.

What put me off was the weather. In the rain, there is very little to do and very few options as to where to do it. Alas, in Bocas del Toro Province, it rains most of the time.

Bastimentos DOES NOT make it into my Retirement Reviews.

TTFN


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