There are no real beaches in Bocas town, and the waterfront is too busy to make wading in the water here much fun. True beaches start north of the isthmus, on the main part of Isla Colón. The best beaches start about a 15-minute drive from town up the east coast. The surf is usually too rough to land boats anywhere along this part of the island. You can bike to the beaches, but the rocky dirt road gets a bit rough in places and is not an easy ride in the sun.
The nicest beach is Playa Bluff, about a 25-minute drive from town. It’s absolutely gorgeous and often deserted during the week. This is also an important nesting site for endangered sea turtles.
The surf can get rough here and is usually too dangerous for swimming, or even for wading above one’s knees, though it’s a good spot for surfers. Around September–October, however, the winds die down and the water turns to glass; you can even snorkel during this calm spell. At least, that’s what they tell me—I’ve never been in Bocas at that time, though I have seen the pictures and it’s like a different world during that season.
The difficulty in getting to Playa Bluff, and the big waves that pound the beach, mean it’s usually possible to have a stretch of beach pretty much to yourself.
Getting to Playa Bluff
Those unfamiliar with Ilsa Colón’s topography get scandalized at what taxis sometimes ask to make the run up to Playa Bluff. They’re not trying to rip you off: Part of the “road” here is really just a path along the beach and through estuaries. The road was better in 2010 than I’ve seen it in 12 years of visiting, but all it takes is one big storm to wash away big chunks. Sometimes only four-wheel-drive vehicles can make it out there, and even they often have a punishing ride.
Expect to pay about US$8–10 per carload, one way, to get to the beginning of the nice beaches, near La Coralina (an inn with an attractive public restaurant/bar on a ridge). The cost to get to the end of Playa Bluff is US$15–20. Prices go up or down depending on the state of the road. Taxis don’t cruise this area looking for rides, but if you have a drink or a meal at La Coralina or Tesoro Escondido (another good option), the staff should be able to call a taxi for you when you’re ready to leave.
The road ends just past Playa Bluff, after which the only way farther up the coast is by foot. About an hour hike away is La Piscina (the swimming pool), a protected lagoon on the north side of the island. If you go without a guide, ask for directions at Playa Bluff Lodge, on Playa Bluff.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition