Isla Bastimentos (“Bastimentos Island”) is one of nine islands that make up the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago. As one of the largest of the islands, it is known for Old Bank Town, Bastimentos National Marine Park, Red Frog Beach, and the postcard perfect Cayo Zapatilla islands.
We chose to make Isla Bastimentos our base while exploring Bocas Del Toro; This island is much quieter than Bocas Town, less developed, not touristy, with an abundance of lush vegetation. It’s, however, close enough to Bocas town for a late night out at the bars and restaurants. Bocas Town is only an 8-10 minute $3 water taxi ride. They are very accessible at night but the fare is higher at $4-5.
So what’s Isla Bastimentos like? If you want to be in the middle of a party spot, Isla Bastimentos is not it. That’s Bocas Town. If you are looking for a chill easy going vibe, lush vegetation, exotic animal sightings, proximity to some of Bocas Del Toro’s beautiful, untouched beaches, while immersed in the daily lives of the locals of Old Bank, you might just love Isla Bastimentos like we did.
Here’s a little peek into life in Old Town, Isla Bastimentos
Getting to Isla Bastimentos
The main airport is in Bocas Town, and a 50 minute flight from Panama City. Once you arrive at the airport, you can either walk into town (5-10 minutes) or catch a taxi to the main street for $2 per person. There are a couple water ports along the street to catch a water taxi to Isla Bastimentos. Tell the water taxi driver to drop you off at the Old Bank port in Bastimentos. There are several other ports but Old Bank is the main one.
Here’s a typical water taxi around the islands. A one way fare from Bocas Town to Isla Bastimentos is $3 day time and $4-5 at night time. The ride is 8-10 minutes.
Lovely view approaching Isla Bastimentos island from the water taxi. Beautiful colorful houses built over water/stilts with the jungle paradise backdrop are the norm in Old Bank.
This is Old Bank water port, the main port in Old Bank Bastimentos. Turn left or right at the top of the stairs to start exploring this amazing island.
Here is a view from the top of those port stairs facing the ocean. There’s usually always a couple water taxis waiting and they like to fill up with passengers before they leave. The wait at the most is usually a few minutes.
These water taxis will be your only mode of transportation getting from island to island. The drivers are required to provide life jackets for the ride or else there is a $25 fine per passenger. The rules are quite lax at night and they typically will not provide the jackets so you will have to ask for it.
First night riding the water taxi back to Isla Bastimentos was scary yet exciting. Yep, i think we screamed pretty much most of the way: Pitch black, boat bouncing up and down on the water, not much lights on the taxi, and wind whipping in our faces. It was quite an experience. It did get much better once we knew what to expect!
Once you get onto Isla Bastimentos from the port, the area is called Old Bank. There are no roads on the island, just this side walk that runs from one end to other.
Most houses in Old Bank are made of brightly colored wood, somewhat rundown but very rustic and full of character.
Old Town residents are descendants of Jamaican migrant workers who worked the banana plantains in the early 1900s. They speak a creole like language called Guari Guari. It sounded a bit like the Jamaican Patois. I’m Nigerian and one of the languages I speak is Pidgin English, which is also an English creole. I found Guari Guari surprisingly easy to follow along!
Life in Bastimentos is pretty chill and very laid back. There are a few restaurants, two convenience/supplies stores, a school, a police station, a church, a couple bars, several hostels, and a few other lodging properties.
One of my favorite “people” shots from the island were these two little girlfriends on their way home from school, parting ways after chatting up a storm the whole way 🙂
Isla Bastimentos is so lush. Beautiful palm trees, tropical plants and flowers are in abundance through the island. This was one of my favorite parts of the island. I recommend taking a hike through the island up the hills, you will be rewarded with some amazing views of the island and the Caribbean Sea.
Off a little path from Old Bank, is a neighborhood known as Oceanside. Here you will find a stunning rocky beach. Come here to enjoy a unique beach and the most beautiful sunsets (I was never up early enough for the sunrises). We were lucky to find a place on this side of island and were steps away from the beach. Our days were filled with the lullaby of ocean waves, exotic birds, and gorgeous sunsets.
This is Old Bank, Isla Bastimentos in a nut shell! Stay tuned for my next blog post on my favorite things to do in Isla Bastimentos.
Thank you for coming along on my adventures. Enjoy!