Nothing says tropical paradise like Bocas del Toro. Between its crystalline waters and white sand beaches, Bocas offers the quintessential island lifestyle with many major surfing areas, hiking trails, and diving points scattered across the archipelago. But looking past the tropical glitz, it’s the relaxed atmosphere and welcoming community that make this Caribbean neighborhood so highly desired.
If you’re thinking of relocating to Panama, you can’t go wrong with Bocas del Toro! We’ll talk about some of the biggest perks enjoyed by both locals and expats, and why it’s one of the best places to put down roots in.
Living in Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Neighboring Costa Rica and only a short flight away from the United States, Bocas del Toro offers a getaway that is never too far from where you came. Plenty of foreign tourists, from entrepreneurs and retirees to digital nomads, favor it for its accessible location.
Frequently regarded as the essence of Caribbean Panama, Bocas del Toro’s landscape is as diverse as its culture. Exactly 9 islands, nearly 50 keys, and numerous islets make up the archipelago. From waterfalls and jungles to coral reefs and rainforests, the islands offer no shortage of natural wonders for locals and guests to get lost in.
Real estate in Bocas del Toro is just as varied, featuring impressive cliff condos, luxury beach fronts, and secluded villas.
A brief history of Bocas del Toro
- A few thousand years before Christopher Columbus set foot on Bocas del Toro, indigenous tribes had already inhabited the land. These were the Teribe, Bokota, and Guaymi tribes; the Ngöbe and Buglé were considered part of the Guaymi.
- On his way to the Pacific In the 16th century, Christopher Columbus decided to set up docks and ship repair quarters on Bocas del Toro. A group of pirates used the islands as their own quarters for repairing and careening their boats later on.
- Bocas del Toro was largely built on the backs of its workforce, which was, during the 19th century, made up of migrated Caribbeans and the slaves of foreign aristocrats. This era saw waves of enslaved workers constructing railroads and toiling away in farmlands, but it also saw their emancipation.
- Beginning in the late 1890’s, Bocas del Toro became a banana empire. The failed railroad construction gave way to a more lucrative feat – exporting bananas – which would define the country’s economy and culture for years to come. The United Fruit Company became the major banana producer with its base in Bocas Town.
- Today, Bocas del Toro is a flourishing tourist destination. Once a remote spot to which only backpackers ventured, the archipelago now sees a variety of modern amenities, luxury developments, and over 100,000 tourists yearly.
11 Reasons why you should move to Bocas Del Toro, Panama
The abundant natural beauty
It’s the perfect vacation home
The dollarized economy
The affordable real estate market
Option for developer financing
One of the best retiree programs in the world
One of Panama’s main assets is its geography; few countries are fortunate enough to be seated between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Because it’s in the northwestern part of Panama, moving to Bocas del Toro means unencumbered access to the Caribbean’s turquoise waters. Here, one can go sailing, surfing, and snorkeling at leisure.
Panama also has laws in place to protect its environment, ensuring its beauty remains preserved even with ongoing development.
If you’re looking for a place to spend the summer, you’d be remiss not to put Bocas del Toro at the top of your list. Many vacation villas are available year-round, and the province’s lower cost of living compared to other Panamanian cities means Bocas is a great place for both short-term and long-term stays.
Purchasing a second home here can be lucrative, too. At Red Frog Beach Real Estate, we give homeowners the option to put their property in a rental pool and lease it to tourists as a temporary vacation stay with resort-like amenities. In the process, you’ll have the potential to earn additional income when you’re not using your second home.
Panama’s recent economic boom has not only established it as a veritable commercial hub, but also made it increasingly attractive to foreign investors and entrepreneurs.
Being the first fully dollarized economy in the region has also made it easier for U.S. citizens to conduct business in the area. Visitors no longer have to convert their existing cash to the local currency, and plenty of U.S. credit cards waive foreign transaction fees in Panama.
Generally, real estate in Panama is more reasonably priced compared to many cities in the U.S. But if you’re adamant about cutting down on expenses, consider buying a home in Bocas del Toro. Properties here are some of the most budget-friendly in the country, which is why it has drawn a deluge of foreigners over the years. To give you an idea of what the market looks like, a fully-furnished 2-bedroom suite costs about $325, 000, while a 2,800-sq.-ft. estate can be yours for $875,000.
As a foreign buyer, you have three primary options for financing a home in Panama: seller financing, developer financing, and local bank mortgage (traditional financing).
Developer financing is one of the more advantageous options. It’s often considered a bridge to traditional financing as it allows buyers to strengthen their credit history, something banks consider in loan applications. Red Frog Beach Real Estate offers developer financing on selected units in the area to make the process more convenient for potential buyers.
Panama’s world-renowned Pensionado Program is one of the many reasons why the country has a thriving community of expats. Men over 62 years old and women over 57 are qualified to apply for the Pensionado Visa as long as they can show proof of a monthly income of at least $1,000.
The benefits include:
- No important tax for household goods
- 1% reduction on home mortgages for residential homes
- 25% discount on utility bills
- 20% discount on doctor fees
- 15% discount on hospital bills
- 10% discount on medicines
- 50% discount on movie theater entrance fees, cultural, sports, and entertainment events
Proximity to the US
If you’ve got family living in the United States, be it a child or parent, you’ll be able to visit them when needed. There are many flights connecting Panama to different parts of the U.S., with travel times ranging from two to five hours or more. There’s an airport in Isla Colón, where you can take a flight to Panama City and onward to your U.S. or international destination.
For many foreigners, this is a chance to live in a different country without being absent in the lives of their loved ones overseas.
The lack of a language barrier
Panama is a Spanish-speaking country but conversing with locals is rarely a problem as a portion of the population, including expats, speak and understand English.
The water activities
Whether you’re itching to take a boat out to sea or go paddleboarding around Isla Solarte, Bocas del Toro offers plenty of opportunities for water recreation.
Recently, it has emerged as one of the best and most affordable diving spots for divers of all skill levels. Exploring the waters of Bocas is never boring, as the seas here teem with marine life and a few other surprises, such as , unique tropical species, underwater caverns, and shipwrecks.
There are a number of PADI-certified diving schools here if this is a hobby you’d like to develop. These include Panama Diving School and Bocas Dive Center, which offer courses on free diving, scuba diving, and more. The rates here are considerably low, so if you wish to get certified, doing it at Bocas is the most economic choice.
The diverse food scene
Part of what makes Bocas del Toro— and Panama — so special is the food. To give you a taste of what awaits in Bocas del Toro, here are a few of our favorite cafes and restaurants:
- Bibi’s on the Beach– Home of the best ceviche in Carenero, prepared Peruvian-style with fresh-caught local seafood. This is an iconic overwater resto and the reigning Happy Hour venue— their passion fruit margaritas and piña coladas are sure to become your favorite cocktails.
- Ultimo Refugio– Good food doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and this tropical diner at the heart of Bocas Town proves just that. Snack on their delectable lineup of seafood, burgers, and starters while enjoying front-row views of the ocean.
- The Blue Coconut – For when you want to take the traditional route, this quintessential Bocas restaurant serves classic Caribbean food and ice-cold beer on a floating bar. You can find The Blue Coconut at Solarte, which is only a few minutes from Bocas Town by boat.
- Om Cafe– Experience Indian cuisine the traditional way at this “old-fashioned” restaurant, where everything from masalas to yogurt is made from scratch. Whether you’re into spicy food or have a milder palate, Om Cafe has something on the menu for you.
Bocas del Toro is known for its roaring nightlife. Whether you’re in pursuit of a day drink or a colorful rave, there’s plenty of options to choose from: the bar at Selina Hotel boasts top-notch specialty cocktails and live entertainment, while Skully’s House is perfect for a laid-back happy hour by the water. For live music and art, check out Lost Boys Blues Bar inside the PirateArts Experience Resort.
A more novel experience, though, would be the Filthy Friday Island Party Crawl, which includes dives, swims, and plenty of tequila shots together with a three-island crawl.
Getting to Bocas Del Toro
The most straightforward way to travel to Bocas del Toro is via plane. Plenty of airlines in the U.S. have direct flights to Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City. From there, you have two options:
- Transfer to Albrook International Airport (PAC) and catch a flight to Bocas del Toro.
- Board a 10-hour bus from Panama City then take a 30-minute water taxi to Bocas del Toro.
Where to buy homes in Bocas del Toro
Home of Bocas Town, Isla Colón is the most highly-coveted address in the archipelago. It’s also the most populated.
Real estate in Bocas del Toro is pricey, but living in the capital has its own perks. These include access to the island’s major features, as well as plenty of beachfront homes, schools, markets, ATMs, and a concentrated expat community.
Attractions on Isla Colón Island
- Bluff Beach
- Starfish Beach / Playa Estrella
Bluff Beach is a 20-minute ride from Bocas Town and is a mecca for surfers. Head here if you want to spend your day catching waves, lounging on the golden sand, admiring the jungle backdrop, or filling your stomach with fresh seafood.
Beloved by tourists and locals alike, Starfish Beach is another noteworthy spot in Isla Colón. If you don’t mind a crowd – and would much rather swim than surf anyway – hop over to Boca del Drago at the northwestern node of the island.
Playa Estrella offers just about everything that makes a classic, fun-filled holiday, including fresh seafood and charming souvenir stalls. As a local, you’ll gain access to some of the most tranquil waters in the island. Make use of these ideal conditions and swim out to sea, or rent snorkeling gear and discover the ocean’s depths.
To get here, you can choose to board a bus from Bocas Town that goes all the way to Starfish Beach (the ride takes about 30 minutes), or contract a boat to take you directly to the neighborhood of Boca del Drago.
Isla Carenero is a tiny islet less than a square kilometer in size, but it’s just as exciting as its larger neighbors. Brimming with impressive jungle views and a beautiful local community, Carenero has lured expats left and right. The local surf scene is unparalleled as ideal surf spots like The Point and Black Rock are located here.
The southern end of the isle is where you can find Carenero Beach and the famous surf break, Carenero Point, one of the most consistent left-hand surf breaks in the region.
Hikes, rainforests, beaches, and cacao farms make up Isla Bastimentos, one of the largest islands in Panama located a few miles east of Bocas Town.
It’s also home to the historic village of Old Bank, a traditional Afro-Caribbean town with vibrant Colonial-style homes. It’s also home to the famous red frogs and zipline canopy tour at Red Frog Beach Resort.
- Red Frog Beach
- Wizard Beach
- Polo Beach
Largely unspoiled but home to a fiery tourist scene, Red Frog Beach is perfect if you’re after a traditional vacation with friends or family. Those up for a thrill should consider going zip lining, engaging in water sports, or availing of day passes to Red Frog’s Beach Club. If you’d rather stay indoors, spas, lounges, and bars are offered, too.
The muddy 30-minute trek across the island’s interior rainforest is worth the trouble once you emerge from the jungle and arrive at the pristine sands of Wizard Beach.
It’s one of the few remaining beaches in the Bocas del Toro archipelago with almost no development. It’s also as remote as you can get in a hotspot like Bocas; there’s not much to do here except unwind and admire the immaculate view, which means it’s the perfect place to catch your breath after an active day.
An untouched slice of paradise, tourists fall in love with Polo Beach for its turquoise waters, unique wildlife, and unassuming lifestyle. But perhaps the most unforgettable part of the area is Polo himself, an Old Bank local who is said to have set up his now-iconic makeshift quarters on the beach over 60 years ago. If you’re lucky, he’ll treat you to a home-cooked meal of lobster, fish, or rice-and-beans.
If partying until dawn isn’t your style, consider relocating to Isla Solarte, which lies to the west of Bastimentos and southeast of Colón.
Neighborhoods in Solarte are more hushed and serene, which means you won’t be disturbed by loud music late into the night. The south and east ends have a large number of foreigners-turned-residents, so assimilating into the local community as a newcomer is a cinch.
One of the most popular neighborhoods is Solarte Uno, which is located towards the north tip of the island. It’s home to Hospital Point, a historic landmark that is now a popular snorkeling spot.
Discover your dream home in Panama at Red Frog Beach
Whether you’re looking for a second house or thinking of moving here full-time, we at Red Frog Beach can show you a suitable home in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
To date, Red Frog Beach Island Resort is the only Green Globe-certified resort in Panama. Our award-winning resort has accumulated a number of distinctions, including the 2022 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award and the APA’s Best Leisure Development in Panama Award.