Panama Hostel Review: Bocas Bound Lodge

Close to Isla Colon, home of Bocas del Toro, Panama, the Bocas Bound Hostel lies as an “escape from Bocas,” according to PR headman Peter Johnson. Compared to the acclaimed party town, it certainly is a vacation of sorts. Jazz music plays softly at the open-air “Bocas Lounge,” where backpackers and lodgers are free to hang out, drink, fraternize, and check their email and Facebook pages via the free Wi-Fi connection.

The lounge has decent food (the typical Latin American plate is quite filling) but be prepared to dish out a little cash for your meal; it’s not a place to dine on a budget. Certainly there is cheaper food and lodging across the bay at the main town, but nothing even remotely compares to the sense of relaxation and solitude that Bocas Bound provides; the hostel sits just 5 minutes from several of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the entire archipelago.

Dorm rooms are priced at $13 in a shared room with 9 other beds, or you can opt for the more extravagant $75 suites which will only fit up to 6 occupants and come with an in-room mini fridge.

The lounge and the unfettered beach access are easily the main drawing points of Bocas Bound Hostel – the rooms are slightly overpriced and the dim lighting is actually a bit gloomy, a sense that you don’t expect after the energetic Bocas Town or the tropical serenity of the trip over. In my mind it was a little anticlimactic.

Isla Bastimentos, where Bocas Bound is, is separate from the main island, meaning you will have to take a short ride on a water taxi to get there. All along the waterfront of Bocas del Toro are jetties and companies offering “tours,” which is really just a sign-friendly way of saying that they will take you anywhere you want to go for a small price. Sometimes it’s just a guy with a boat.

To get to Bocas Bound, you only need to tell them either “Bocas Bound” or “Red Frog,” which is the name of the main beach on Bastimentos. In a group the price is usually $5 per person, but show up solo and they’re most likely going to state $10. If you want to save a few extra bucks just wait until few other people show up to go to the same place.

Once at the Bastimentos dock, visitors can walk up the short trail and a man at the kiosk will direct you to Bocas Bound. Check in is done by Peter or Eric at the lounge’s front desk. During happy hour (5:30-7:30) national beer is $1.

Five minutes down a private trail at the back of the hostel grounds puts you right on Red Frog Beach, but go up the gravel road behind the restaurant on the right and you’ll be on Turtle Beach. Characterized by the picturesque twisted trees that lay fallen across the sand, Turtle Beach is secluded and uncrowded; you might see 5 other swimmers, tops.

At the end of turtle there’s a little footpath that cuts across a small finger of land and comes out on Polo Beach, calm, protected, and ideal for snorkeling. There are boundless miniature reefs in these waters where dozens of species of colorful tropic fish make their home. This Sure-Start correspondent even found an an underwater cave at the far end of the beach for the more adventurous explorers.

poison dart frogWalking a bit further brings you to Playa Larga, part of a protected reserve and home to unspoiled coves, gorgeous island scenery, fingernail-sized red poison dart frogs, iridescent black/green basilisk lizards, and an abundance of tropical flora.

While a wild night life can be experienced in Bocas del Toro, a taste of the island life is found at Bocas Bound. As Peter Johnson put it, you “vacation at Bocas Bound, and commute to the party.”

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