Surfing Bocas Del Toro | The Ultimate Guide (2024)

Picture this… you’ve just surfed for three hours, and you’re watching perfect head-high a-frames spit both ways–unloading just meters from the sand. You’re sipping a coconut and waxing up for another round of tubes. This is just another day in Bocas Del Toro.  But if you’ve looked at a map to scope out surf spots, you’d be excused in thinking Panama’s Caribbean coast would have nothing more than wind-chop. 

However, Bocas offers something significantly more appealing than novelty wind swells ripples. Combine this with a tropical climate, bath water ocean, and thriving backpacker vibe, and you have the recipe for an incredible Central American surf destination. Here’s everything you need to know about surfing in Bocas Del Toro. 

Overview

Table of Contents

Bocas Del Toro Surf Season

The best time of year for surfing Bocas Del Toro is January to March. This is the main season when the most significant storms happen in the Caribbean Sea and send waves to Bocas. The region also experiences a mini swell season, and swell pulses are common in July/August. 

Surf Spots Breakdown

Bocas Del Toro has various surf spots suitable for all abilities. The waves are spread across the main islands, Isla Colon, Bastimentos, and Carenero. 

Carenero 

On the island of the same name, this long left-hand point is a 5-minute boat ride from the main Bocas town. The wave has two parts…. The outside and inside. The top section is generally a “locals-only” spot, so you can only surf the inside. (trust me, I’ve tried to surf it, and it’s fiercely protected). 

A fun but somewhat mushy lefthander, sharp but not a shallow reef, and gets crowded due to its proximity to town! If you’re an advanced surfer, Carenero is only worth checking if the area’s premier breaks are blown out. 

A downside to surfing Carenero is you can’t check it before you surf. And you’ll have to take the boat without knowing what the waves are doing, and yes, you’ll be paying even if it’s flat. On small days, this break can be one of the best beginner surf spots in Panama. 

Tiger Tails 

On Colon, the main island, the coast is dotted with surf setups; Tiger Tails is the first of many; a reef break that cranks on the right swell; you may have seen some photos of heavy slabbing tubes…

The wave is pretty average and looks nothing more than an obscure in-between spot, with a few random surfers having a punt to escape the crowds. 

Paunch 

The most popular and user-friendly wave in the area… Paunch is an A-frame reef with fun lefts and rights; when it’s on, it’s a super fun, high-performance wave with sections for barrels and turns.

On a typical day, the wave is playful, although you’ll need to watch the end of your waves as the insiders finish abruptly onto the dry reef. Oh, and it gets super crowded, so get in early. 

Bluff 

Bocas’ main attraction and the sole reason I visited. Bluff is the famous frame beach break barrels you see in all the clips and photos. With the right-sized swell, favorable winds, and the sand in the right place, Bluff is one of the best waves you’ll ever surf. 

When it’s 3-4ft, expect a-frames barrels breaking only a few feet from the shore. The stuff of dreams, and if you’re an advanced surfer, it’s why you come to surf in Panama. Playful, warm, tropical beach break barrels–the holy grail of surfing. 

Silverbacks 

The infamous slab, tackled only by hard-charging psychos and visiting pros. Breaking off the tip of Batsimentos, the horror slab is a mushroom-shaped reef that stops swells in their tracks and folds them over into an exploding monstrosity of a wave. 

The beast only gets going during the largest swells, rare in the Caribbean. If you want to score Silverbacks, pay attention to the surf forecast swell energy, which locals and frequent visitors told me is super important in determining how well a swell will perform in the area.

Check out this video of the Hawaiin crew scoring solid silverbacks, or watch the wave in action in Mick Fanning’s film, Missing. 

Wizards 

Just around the headland from Silverbacks, and things get a little calmer, Wizards is an average beach break with some of the most transparent, pristine waters you’ll ever ride waves in.

The beach is stunning and an excellent venue for a fun, stress-free surf. Located away from the main town on the island, Old Bank, you can score it to yourself. 

Black Rock

On the inside of Carenero is black rock, a super popular, mellow reef break for loggers and beginners. Warm, friendly, and plenty of water over the reef means predictable waves without the danger of sharp, shallow coral heads—a short boat ride from Bocas town. 

Bocas del Toro Surf Spot Map

Map of surf spots in Bocas del Toro

Where is Bocas del Toro?

Getting to Bocas Del Toro

By Plane

From Panama

From overseas, fly to Panama City, then jump on a connecting flight to Bocas Del Toro Airport, the tiny Bocas town airport minutes away from the best accommodations and surf spots. Flights leave for Bocas daily. 

There are direct flights to Panama City from most major cities in North America or Europe. Copa Airlines is the national airline with Panama City as its hub. 

*Before booking flights in Latin America, be sure to check my guide on surfboard baggage fees, to make sure you’re not paying stupid money for boards! 

From Costa Rica

Another option is flying to Costa Rica and crossing the border overland via a shuttle bus. There are various shuttle bus companies operating in Central America. Fly to San Jose, then book a shuttle to Puerto Viejo. 

From there, get another shuttle across the border and then a taxi boat to Bocas Del Toro. You can even book direct shuttles from San Jose to Bocas Del Toro. 

By Shuttle Bus

Shuttle buses are super common for travellers in Central America. You share a minivan with other travellers, and it’s an affordable and quicker means of getting around (compared to the famous Latin American chicken buses.

I used a company called Caribe Shuttle, which runs direct services from places across the border in Costa Rica. For example, you can go from Puerto Viejo to Bocas or San Jose to Bocas in one trip! 

By Local Bus

The best way to get to Bocas del Toro by bus is via the Panama Albrook Bus Terminal in Panama City. From the airport, you’ll need a taxi (approx $35), and overnight buses leave daily at: 

You can’t book tickets online, so you will need to head to the terminal and purchase a ticket there. When you get to the terminal, you will see a row of kiosks–look for the one titled “Almirante”, as this is the closest mainland town to Bocas. Tickets Cost $28, but sometimes they will charge an extra $10 for surfboards.

From Almirante, take a taxi boat ($6 one way) over to Isla Colon (the main island in Bocas). 

Bluff Beach Barrel

Getting Around

Because of Bocas’ geography, getting around the place is done via short taxi boats or the famous yellow taxis that dominate the roads. Road and water taxis are cheap; for example, the taxi boat between Colon and Careneros costs $1. 

The most expensive taxi ride you’ll take is going from Bocas town to Bluff, which, as a standard, costs $15. If you’re going solo, this gets expensive but split between a couple of mates or fellow travelling surfers; you make it more affordable. Don’t snake or burn the guys you share a taxi with; it’s a fricking long walk back to town!

Where To Stay in Bocas?

Across the main islands, Colon, and Bastimentos, there are abundant accommodation options for all budgets; here are some of the best options for where to stay in Bocas. 

Best Budget Options 

One of the cheapest hostels in Bocas! And while the place certainly isn’t luxury, it does the job if you’re surfing Bocas on a budget. Dorms at Spanish By The Sea start around $10 per night for a dorm room. I stayed here for a few nights on my three-week trip to Bocas and it was cheap, cheerful, and everything you’d expect from a $10 per night hostel. 

Twin Fin Hostel 

Another super cheap hostel, Twin Fin, is considered one of the party hostels in town; while it may be loud, it’s cheap, basic, and located right in town. You’ll need to get a taxi from town to the surf spots. This is one of the cheapest places you can stay in Bocas! 

Mid-Range Options

Skully’s House

The best place to stay in Bocas. Skully’s House is right on the sand, just a 15-minute walk to Paunch, one of the better waves in the area; the place has a restaurant, kitchen, dorm rooms, privates, and lounge/pool area right on the water. There’s even a shallow little left you can surf out the front. 

Selina Bocas 

While Selina is in town, The Selina hostel chain is always a fantastic option for great wifi, a social scene, and a co-working space. Selina Bocas is a party hostel located right on the water, an excellent place to stay if you don’t mind the noise and taking a taxi to the waves. 

Selina hostels are standard across Latin America, and the chain is popular among digital nomads and surfers. Typically Selina has co-working, dorms, and privates, and you can expect good wifi and social life. I’ve stayed at Selina in; Florianopolis, Costa Rica, and Bolivia. 

Luxury Options

Azul Over the Water

A stunning luxury stay in Bocas. Floating bungalows, great food, and the best spot to escape from it all. Book, Azul Over the Water here. If you’re looking for a special stay, this one’s for you. 

La Coralina Island House 

If you want a luxury trip to Bocas and stay just feet away from those oh-so-perfect beachie wedges, you can’t go past La Coralina Island House, a fantastic luxury accommodation feet from the sand. 

Enjoying this post? You might like my complete guide to surfing in South America or other Latin America surf destinations such as everything you need to know about surfing in Costa Rica, the ultimate guide to surfing in Florianopolis or the complete guide to surfing in southern Chile. 

The Bluff (Bocas Surf)
How Not to Surf The Bluff...

1 x Week Cost Breakdown

Total = $240

Non-Surfing Activities In Bocas

If you’re surfed out or need to keep a non-surfing partner occupied, there’s more than just surfing in Bocas Del Toro. There’s a whole heap of other cool stuff to do.

Starfish Beach

Walking to starfish beach is beautiful and leads you to a stunning beach with, yep, you guessed it, lots of starfish. It’s a long walk around the (non-surfing) side of Isla Colon. 

Snorkelling

There are numerous sites for snorkeling, and you’ll find many tour operators offering to take you to the spots in town. You can also take epic speedboat day tours, combine snorkeling, and check out the surroundings. 

Final Words

Bocas is a bucket list destination for any surfer. You can score perfect a-frame beachies in the tropics for an affordable price among a coll backpacker vibe. With waves for all abilities and other exciting things to do, head to Bocas Del Toro for a few weeks in the right season, and you won’t regret it. For more information on surfing in Bocas Del Toro, please comment below. 

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