Our first marina once we rounded the corner of Honduras and headed south was in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. The Bocas Marina website (click for the marina website) sums it up well: “In Bocas del Toro, Republic of Panamá, well below the hurricane belt at Latitude 09° 20′ 10″ North by Longitude 082° 14′ 50” West… set in a well protected, secluded bay, lies Bocas Yacht Club and Marina. This world class, state of the art facility is proving itself to be the perfect ‘Safe Haven in Paradise’.”
Deciding we wanted to cruise Panama meant leaving our safe haven in the Rio Dulce and finding another commuter cruiser marina in which to leave Winterlude. We researched Bocas, Colon and Cartagena as possibilities. But ultimately our daughter Aly decided which marina we’d leave Winterlude in when she decided to get married May 12! Bocas was the closest and offered most of the amenities we wanted — the only thing missing was the pool, which was a big missing amenity since we like working all day and looking forward to a cool off in the pool in the late afternoon, but no pool was no pool.
Our insurance company was concerned that Bocas is apparently the lightning capital of the world and they would have preferred we left the boat in Cartagena. As it turned out, we had no trouble with lightning in Bocas – but we were impacted by a close lightning strike in the Rio Dulce, so I guess you take your chances!
It was really really really nice being totally outside the hurricane zone for the first time! Even the Rio Dulce, while hurricane safe being 25 miles upriver, was still vulnerable. We didn’t even watch the hurricane communiques the years we were in Panama. Now that we’re back in Florida, I appreciate more how special that time was!!!
Arriving at the Bocas sea buoy from San Andreas before dawn, we circled with our buddy boat, sv Bruadair, until dawn arrived and we could see to navigate the channel. Entrance proved to be deep, straightforward and easy. Since we were there way too early and the marina wasn’t open, we dropped our anchor off the jetty that separates the marina from open water. After a quick nap (well, we laid down and pretended to “sleep” but as usual, we were way to excited about arriving in a new place to really sleep!), we called the marina on the VHF & made arrangements to arrive (we already had a reservation, obviously).
The marina itself features first class concrete floating docks as well as good electricity and water (when there IS water – Bocas can have water shortages). The management was very helpful and once again, as at Catamaran Marina in the Rio, it was nice having the marina manager as our caretaker. There were some differences … one is the water temperature. With such warm tropical water, stuff grows on the bottom at an alarming rate. Stories about commuter cruisers returning to find their prop a ball of barnacles convinced us to have our diver bag the prop to keep that from happening to us! Bagging the prop is a common precaution in Bocas.
The marina has a delicious and lively outdoor bar and restaurant gathering spot for cruisers as well as a good laundry lady on site and restrooms and showers with good water pressure, if not always hot water. But mostly I didn’t want hot water anyway, so it was OK – a lukewarm shower in the hot tropics is better anyway!
The marina is away from the main Bocas Town, necessitating either a quick dinghy trip or a water taxi to get provisions and at the time we were there, fuel. The marina advertises that they now have fuel available, so that would be a welcome addition. Bocas Town was a very nice little tourist town to explore with a couple of really good restaurants – our favorite was Lemon Grass on the 2nd floor overlooking the harbor.
The Bocas Del Toro area is an archipelago waiting to be discovered. Most cruisers, including us, skip through it relatively quickly on their way to the Rio Chagres and San Blas Islands. But if you devote a bit of time to Bocas, you’ll find deserted anchorages, coral reefs and solitary beaches. Tiny colorful frogs (watch out for the poison variety!), toucans, noisy green parrots and other jungle creatures abound. Mangrove mazes are fun to explored by kayak or dinghy – just don’t get lost! Indigenous villages enjoy visitors and offer a glimpse into life as it was before the Panama Canal was built.
The Bocas area probably merits more cruising time than we gave it, but we did take a few excursions – one to a chocolate farm, a couple to indigenous villages and a snorkeling trip — all of which were delightful. We learned a lot and discovered that even though the water isn’t the gorgeous hues of blue and green that we’d become accustomed to in the Bay Islands, Providencia and especially San Andreas, it was clear and the snorkeling was different and good! Lots more starfish than we had ever seen and so many different varieties!
If you visit, be sure to stock up on bug spray. In the marina office, they sell a tiny bar of what looks like soap for a different type of bug repellant – it works – stock up on several bars, we didn’t find them many other places. One of the only negatives about Bocas Marina is the noseeums – but they’re usually the worst at sunrise and sunset, so just be inside for the worst and the rest of the time, they’re bearable. Actually after we got used to them, we could sit at the wonderful outside bar for happy hour without much noticing the pests. We acquired a couple of gecko’s aboard especially to help eat the bugs. They stayed with us for several years, living somewhere in the exterior of the boat — we found them one time living in the chain used on the Oh Sh*t anchor on the stern — having baby geckos and keeping the bug population in check in many locations, not just Bocas! Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them lately so I fear we’ve lost our pet geckos! 🙁
If you’ve visited Bocas Marina more recently than us (2007), I understand there have been more improvements in an already nice marina, please let us know your experience by leaving a comment below! THANKS! Jan