A short and easy shuttle across the border at Sixola took me across to Panama! We had to walk across the bridge from one country to another! The ‘new bridge’ was next to a rather old and scary looking bridge which apparently was in use until about 10 years ago and you were walking along it, trying not to fall through the gaps as the guides were telling you about all the crocodiles. At that moment I was pretty glad I wasn’t travelling 10 years ago
Arriving in Almirante, the tiny town on the mainland, we were all shoved into a boat that looked already full with locals and were on our way. I sat next to a gentleman who was eating chicken soup whilst riding the waves – he didn’t spill a drop, it was impressive. From only 10 minutes on the boat it was beautiful already. Clear seas, jungle meeting the sea and small houses on wooden stilts on the shoreline. I knew already that I was going to love Bocas!
When I arrived in Bocas town, lots of boat men were shouting different hostel names and island names. I just sat down, waited for the calm and eventually a guy asked me where I wanted to go. I said, Bambuda hostel on Solarte island 🌴 to which he said, ‘sure I take you Madam for $5’ – not sure how much I like being called Madam but I’m happy with the price. A lot of people I met got scammed and charged $20!!
I arrived at Bambuda Lodge and it is most definitely the best hostel I’ve stayed in. It’s more like a hotel with beautiful views, an interesting history and a refreshing pool.
I camped out here for a couple of days which was lovely. There isn’t anything on the island so you have to eat at Bambuda. It’s a bit more expensive than you probably want to spend but you get to all eat together at dinner, which if you are a solo traveller is nice and the food is soooo good!
One night, after a fair bit of rum, we went in search of the glowing plankton in the sea. Diving off the pier, I thought this is just locals telling us lies to get drunk tourists in the sea but no, the cynic in me was wrong. About 50ms out, away from the lights was glowing plankton! It was very cool – and I’ve never been snorkelling after that much rum so it was kind of magical! Needless to say, the next day was a right off!!
After Bambuda, hostels would never feel the same but I’d spent quite a bit of money so I had to pick a more low key hostel in Bocas town. There was a festival going on so my dorm was full of Panamanians who had come from all over the country to party! They invited me out with them to the festival which I polite-fully declined. Now I wish I’d gone, but somehow my instincts just told me it wasn’t a good idea. Anyways, the next day I was doing a tour island hoping all day so didn’t think I’d last that long if I was hungover.
Having been beautiful weather for the last 3 weeks, I woke up to leave for my tour at 9 to pouring rain! And when I say pouring – it was torrential! The lady at reception assured me it would go ahead and that it didn’t matter if it was raining. I was sceptical to say the least, but I went, I got drenched and it was totally worth it!
First stop, dolphin bay with actual dolphins. Most whale watching or dolphin tours you are lucky if you see one. We saw loads, enjoying jumping and showing off in the wake of our boat. Even in the pouring rain, it was pretty spectacular. Everyone on my tour was Panamanian except a girl from the US so we stuck together, using our broken Spanish.
Next stop, starfish island! We didn’t step foot on the island as it’s entirely made up of mangroves but if you get close enough you can see the entire seabed is covered in bright yellow star fish. Pretty spectacular!
After the starfish we went snorkelling, I was the first in stupidly without finding out how the hell I get back in the boat. Luckily they had a small ladder.phew! I had visions of me being dragged into the boat. Which as Lex will tell you, has been known to happen! The guide said as I dived in to enjoy the coral reef and remarkable fish. If I’m honest, sadly most of the coral was dead and the fish not that exciting but maybe I’ve been spoilt. I then started to think and question whether I should be on this tour. More tourists, equals more boats, equals more fuel used, more rubbish, and less sustainability which in turn is destroying coral reefs, ecosystems around the world. I suddenly felt guilty for being on this trip and contributing.
After an amazing fresh Pescado lunch, our last stop was the beach.
We were swimming in the crystal blue seas when a military police boat pulled up. I asked the guide if it was normal to which he responded sure, they are just checking up on us. They were pretty intimidating! They anchored and about 25 of them jumped into the water and ran onto the beach. All with massive rifles, head scarfs wrapped around their faces ( it was so hot) and full camouflage uniform. Luckily, after being momentarily freaked out they just sat under the shade until we left and hour later!
The next day, I left Bocas with a group of us headed to Panama City on the night bus. Back into the boat for half an hour to the mainland and then 11 hours on a bus. If you get buses in central and South America the air con is extreme!! It’s freeezing. Bring layers! I swear everybody sleeps on night buses, except me.
Arriving in Panama City at 4am was a bit of a shock to the system after being in a slice of Caribbean heaven. Although having said that, I grew to quite like the city! I ended up being there for 4 days, as I was going to do a San Blas islands trip but as I’m doing the Galapagos I have be a bit sensible with other things – otherwise I’ll be home by Christmas.
The next instalment will be Panama City ( I’ve run out of space for this one!)