We’d arrived in Central America and our first stop was Panama City. They use the US dollar as currency and the reality of this hit us straight away. Thanks to Brexit the pound was at an all time low against the dollar so it made things even worse. We knew we couldn’t stay for long.
After a couple of days, not entirely enamoured with Panama City, the rudeness of Panamanians and on a post-Colombia comedown, we decided that we would head straight to Mexico. Flights out of Panama were extortionate so we booked a flight out of Costa Rica and worked our way up overland.
First though, we wanted to check out Bocas Del Toro, a group of islands off Panama’s North Caribbean coast. Promises of white sand beaches and laid-back Caribbean island life drew us in. We opted for the overnight bus out of Panama City to a town called Almirante then a water taxi to Bocas.
We bought bus tickets the day before at the city’s Albrook terminal and showed up half an hour before. There are barriers to get out of the waiting room to board the bus that people were scanning cards on. We didn’t have one so we slipped past, only to be screamed at by a lady that we had to have a card. After explaining in Spanish that we had bought our bus tickets and no one had told us about any other card she called security. He just looked at us, shrugged and left. One point to us.
The bus arrived in Almirante around 4:30am and dropped us at the “bus station” at the side of the road. The first water taxi wasn’t until 6am and we had no idea where the dock was. There were taxi pickup trucks waiting and all the locals were piling into them. “Bocas?” the drivers said to us and the 3 other confused, sleepy gringos. So we all piled onto the back of a truck and it whizzed off through town as I reminded myself of things not to do in Central America – get onto the back of a pick up truck that’s waiting on the side of the road at 4am.
Five minutes later and we all arrived safely at the empty dock to wait for the first boat.
Bocas Del Toro is a series of islands, the main one being Isla Colon with the most accommodation and food options. Unfortunately for us it was even more expensive than Panama City. It also rained torrentially pretty much all day, every day! So we couldn’t visit those pristine beaches and we couldn’t really afford to eat out, but luckily we had a lovely little apartment where we cooked our own food and drank the only thing that is cheap in Panama – Abuelo Rum!
The few times we did manage to get out we wandered through the town and it felt like it had seen better days. Maybe it was just the wrong season, but it was like people had given up on the place, a whole town of faded glory. Some places that we thought had closed down were actually still open.
We never got to explore any of the other islands and after a few days we gave up and headed across to Costa Rica. We got drenched walking across the bridge at the border, one last downpour to see us off.