Isla Carenero is just a banana’s throw across the water from Bocas town. Because it’s so close to the busy waterfront and is pretty built up itself, it’s not a popular tourist destination. It’s more like a suburb of Bocas town. But it’s home to a couple of appealing places to stay.
The side of the island facing Isla Colón is rather densely populated, with lots of basic houses squeezed next to each other on the waterfront. The side that faces Bastimentos is more deserted; there’s little there except for a couple of small hotels and a bit of beach. The north side of the island has pounding surf, but the coastline is rather rugged and more mud and farmland than beach.
Actually, the whole island is ringed by just a narrow band of sandy beach. Visitors have to travel to one of the other islands for big, spectacular beaches. The island is notorious for especially voracious chitras (sand flies).
It’s possible to walk around the entire perimeter ofIsla Carenero, but be prepared for a bit of an adventure rather than a leisurely walk. It can take up to two hours to walk the whole way around, and there are sections that require scrambling up muddy hills, dropping several feet, slipping through barbed-wire fences, avoiding pounding surf, and negotiating slippery, jagged rocks.
Isla Carenero is popular with surfers for a long, barreling reef break off the north side of the island that’s considered one of the best waves in Bocas. Called simply Carenero, it’s just a five-minute boat ride from Bocas town and thus can get crowded. The reef is shallow; wear booties.
That’s about all there is in the way of activities on the island other than splashing and paddling around.
However, the island does now have the best gift shop on the islands. Treasures of the Turquoise Crab (tel. 757-9157, www.careeningcay.com) at the Careening Cay Resort is an air-conditioned store selling good quality local and imported jewelry and souvenirs. These include tagua carvings, Emberá-Wounaan masks, and so on. The chaquiras (Ngöbe-Buglé necklaces) here are among the best I’ve seen in Panama, with the most elaborate going for about US$50. The owner is a professional jeweler, so there are original creations as well.
Getting to Isla Carenero
There are few services of any kind on Isla Carenero, but it’s less than five minutes by boat from Bocas town. Water taxis run frequently between Carenero and the two town piers. To get to Bastimentos from Carenero, it’s easier to take a boat back to Bocas town and get a Bastimentos-bound boat from there.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition