Sign Up for Our Monthly Explorer Newsletter
My fear of heights is not extreme, though it’s strong enough that I hesitated before taking my first-ever parasailing excursion.
But when you’re visiting a place like Bocas del Toro, a province in Panama, you’ve got to face your fears to appreciate the region’s natural beauty. That being said, it was time to stop being a wimp and step into a harness.
I had good reason to take to the skies over Bocas del Toro. This picturesque archipelago, located on Panama’s Caribbean coast near the Costa Rican border, is a nature lover’s paradise. Its tiny capital, Bocas Town, exudes an infectiously laid-back vibe, while its calm waters and abundant flora and fauna beckon visitors to wander (and take lots of photos while doing so).
There are many ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Bocas del Toro. EcoCircuitos, a Panama City-based tour operator, is among the companies that offer multiday excursions as well as customized tours that focus on various adventurous activities. The one I’m most proud of mastering, of course, is parasailing, which is why it tops our list of five memorable ways to spend time outside in Bocas del Toro.
ParasailingI had imagined that being pulled through the air in a harness while tethered to a roaring speedboat might not be a peaceful experience. But I was wrong. Once in the air, it was delightfully calming, with a gentle breeze lapping at my face and an endless panorama of natural splendor spreading out below me. Floating through the sky provides a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the entire archipelago, which includes nine large islands and countless smaller ones. Parasailing boats usually leave from Bocas Town.
SnorkelingThe calm, clear Caribbean waters that bathe Bocas del Toro’s islands provide ideal conditions for underwater exploration. On a day trip, we took a small boat to Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, which is Panama’s oldest such park. There are multiple places to stop and submerge, with schools of colorful fish and coral reefs among the many sights beneath the waves.
Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)Boats are a part of everyday life in Bocas del Toro, since they play an important role in fishing, tourism and public transportation for locals who need to get from one island to another. As a visitor, one of my favorite things about Bocas was the ability to simply grab a kayak and go. You don’t even need a tour for this. We used kayaks to embark on leisurely paddles, and even for a self-guided excursion to a neighboring island for a tasty seafood lunch. In addition, EcoCircuitos offers SUP tours that make good use of the placid Caribbean waters.
ZipliningTravelers who prefer a fast-paced nature experience should head to Red Frog Beach Island Resort & Spa, located on Bastimentos Island, about 20 minutes by boat from Bocas Town. Here, the canopy zipline has seven individual lines that reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. If you’re lucky, you might see birds and monkeys in the trees as you whiz by. I’m not a fan of velocity, so I enjoyed hiking this lush and unspoiled island more than rushing above it.
Hiking and BirdingTime not spent on or under the water in Bocas del Toro is well spent on foot. Both EcoCircuitos and Red Frog offer hiking and birdwatching tours that provide an introduction to the region’s fauna. Cave tours, meanwhile, take visitors underground to view limestone formations set dramatically amid the rainforest.
One of my favorite hiking experiences was on one of the Zapatilla islands, which are actually a pair of tiny keys that lie within Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. With the Caribbean Sea stretching out on one side and the many islands of Bocas del Toro on the other, it’s an idyllic place to wander and feel at one with nature.
The DetailsEcoCircuitos www.ecocircuitos.com
Red Frog Beach Island Resort & Spawww.redfrogbeach.com