08.-10.02.2012: Almirante - Bocas Del Toros - Sixaola

Click on a photo to enlarge it.

We stayed at the fire station in Almirante for the next two nights ($3 per vehicle) where there isn't much space but it is a very secure place to leave our motor homes whilst we go out on a boat to Bocas Del Toros.

This archipelago is located just 20 miles from the border with Costa Rica and consists of six densely forested islands, scores of uninhabited islets and Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, Panama's oldest marine park.

Bocas is Panama's principle tourist attraction and maintains a fair amount of authenticity. Low-key development has maintained the charm of the small-town Caribbean life, whilst the absence of mega-hotels has preserved the idyllic beauty.

Dense jungle, pristine beaches and a coral reef ecosystem are bringing in the tourists. The secret is out and there is no knowing how long development will be held back.

We got a water taxi across to Isla Colon ($7 per person return, 30 minutes) to take a look at the town of Bocas del Toro for a few hours and book a boat trip for the following day. It was extremely hot and humid. This area gets a lot of rain even in the dry season.

Storm in Almirante, boat trip to Bocas Del Toros.

After the road block for 12 days the taxis were also taking fresh food and veg over to the islands. It must have been difficult for everyone to cope for so long. What doesn't help is that the water here is unsafe to drink and you must buy purified water.

The town is very relaxed and laid back - not surprising in this heat! We wandered around and went to at least three different bakery's!! We also found a boat that is a very popular bar, probably because you walk across a wobbly pier to get there so no one can tell how much you've drunk when you walk out!!

We got another water taxi the next day and got onto our boat trip at 9am. The first part of the ride was extremely choppy and we got bounced and banged a lot along the way. We went past a 5 star hotel Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge - $500 a day all inclusive for one of the huts which accommodates 4 people including boat transfer.

Our first stop was at Swan Cay, a bird sanctuary which you are only allowed to view from a boat. The main attraction is the Red-billed Tropic Bird which is a snow white colour with a long tail and an orange beak, as this is one of only two known nesting places - the other is the Galapagos Islands.

We managed to see a number of them but photos and videos were difficult as we were being rocked so much in the boat. We also saw Brown Boobies and a number of other birds that were swooping overhead.

We got out onto Estrella Beach to see all the starfish here. There are lots of them in the shallow waters just off the beach. We were also taken to an area where we could have snorkelled but the water was too choppy and we've been spoiled by Belize and the second largest barrier reef in the world. So we went on to Dolphin Bay.

Day trip to Bocas Del Toros.

We spent 1.5 hours here watching the dolphins - some even jumped out of the water. Our last stop was also the highlight of the trip - Isla Bastimentos and Red Frog Beach.

As soon as we got off the boat we saw a three toed sloth in a tree above us as we were walking to the entrance station ($3 per person). Sloth is also a word for laziness and it is easy to see why these animals are so called. They don't move much and when they do they are very, very slow. Most of the time you don't see them at all so we were lucky.

The most interesting things about sloths are that they are mainly nocturnal and spend only about 10 percent of their time moving at all. Their limbs are adapted for suspending the body rather than supporting it and as a result, they are completely helpless on the ground unless there is something to grasp. Their stomach is constantly filled, its contents making up about 30 percent of the sloth's weight (4kg) and they descend to the ground at approximately six-day intervals to urinate and defecate!! Although most mammals have seven neck vertebrae, three-toed sloths have eight or nine, which permits them to turn their heads through a 270° arc.

A very active sloth.

We walked across to the other side of the island (only 10 minutes) to Red Frog Beach where there are actually red frogs! Tiny and bright red you really have to look closely to see one. We saw one at the base of a tree and then a little girl brought two in a leaf for us to see.

Red frogs on Red Frog Beach.

The beach here is idyllic - palm trees, golden sand and a deep blue sea. There is a short board walk where we saw various spiders and then we wandered around to explore a bit. We found Turtle Beach which isn't as crowded along with flowers we have never seen before and a spider that looked as if it had a yellow crab shell on its back.

The boat trip cost us $170 for four people and was certainly worth seeing Isla Bastimentos.

Back at the fire station we were serenaded by a very large number of parakeets in the nearby trees. They were extremely loud!

Evening concert of the parakeets.

The next day we crossed the border at Sixaola over a very rickety bridge into Costa Rica, had to walk back across this bridge to Panama to get photocopies because there was a power cut on the Costa Rican side, then had to wait because they couldn't print out our vehicle permits until the power came on. There was an argument over fumigation because we hadn't had to pay for it the first time we entered into Costa Rica and a negotiation over the price for fumigating a motor home. Took us three hours!

Adventure - crossing the border in Sixaola.