Don't rent a scooter! Watch your back!
There's a guy in town next to a juice van who has 2 scooters (one blue, one black, parked on the street) and rents them out for $25 for 2 hours. We made the unfortunate mistake of hiring one. It worked for the first 20 minutes then cut out when we were far from anything on a remote part of the island. We spent the next half an hour trying to start it, then an hour trying to push it back to town in the heat. Eventually we gave up and paid for a taxi back to the rental guy. He told us he'd pick up the scooter & we should return the next day to sort it out. When we returned he told us that the scooter started fine and it was out fault. We asked to see it running. He tried to start it & it wouldn't start. He insisted that was a separate problem. No matter what we said, he refused to refund our money or give us the other scooter for the 2 hours we paid for. Great experience.
A lot gets stolen on Bocas. A girl staying with us had her handbag stolen after sitting it down for a second. We had our phone stolen. There are a lot of ladies nights with free drinks. The locals seem to take advantage of these to get at people when their guard is down. Walking through a crowded bar alone (sober mind you) I had 3 separate people grab at me in inappropriate places. My boyfriend was approached by 3 huge men (he's 6ft2 himself) he'd never seen before who claimed that he owed them money and insisted he go outside with them to sort it out. They kept hassling him till he stood up to them and they realized he wasn't going to make it easy. They eventually gave up.
All in all, Bocas isn't even that nice and the locals are constantly trying to take tourists down. There are much nicer places in the world to spend your time!
If you have to go, lock everything in your room. Only take essentials out with you. Keep your wits about you when out. If locals try to make friends be suspicious, chances are it's not cause they like you, they want what's in your pockets. Hate to say this one cause I like my independence but girls, stick with guys to avoid being hassled. A girl should be able to walk to the bathrooms on her own in a crowded bar but that wasn't the case for me. Best advice... avoid Bocas Del Toro
- Jungle and Rain Forest
- Budget Travel
Tap water is not safe in Bocas. Use bottle water. In most other places in Panama I drank tap water and had no problem. But here I didn't make any experiments...
Also they say surfing can be dangerous as there are riptides.
At some beaches there are sand flies locally called 'chitras'. They are almost invisible but very bad...Use your repellent!
Bocas Beaches - Red Frog
Most island tours from Bocas del Toro will take people to Red Frog Beach as a place to go swimming. It's an incredibly beautiful beach formed by a white sand cove, complete with a thatched hut bar with seats swinging from palm trees. Beware that this beach can have deadly riptides. It can seem tranquil, but it has holes about 10-20 meters out that can cause tremendous currents of outflowing water. I have seen several people get into trouble and one drowning in two visits. Locals have said that it is an on-going problem and that the local government is supposed to post warnings, but has not done so. None of the boat operators seem to warn people they are bringing about the danger. It's a great place to spend a day laying at the beach, but be guarded about going in the water here.
evil tours that kill
There are a variety of tours offered from Bocas, and the majority of them are all similar. Your itinerary might include some stops at a few islands such as Bastimentos and also a cove to watch some dolphins swim. Let me just warn you now that I did go on the tour and later found out from someone who's been living on the island for a while that one of the tour boats killed a dolphin a week prior to my visit. It had been cut up in the boat's propellors because the operators like to encircle the dolphins, inching closer and closer to them, in order to get them to jump out of the water and please the crowds. Although I had no clue wheter this story was legitimate, it didn't seem unbelievable as when I had been on the boat I had noticed the operators doing this exact same thing.
Had I known this beforehand, I would have protested and not gone on this tour. I don't want to see the locals exploiting these animals just for profit. Instead, I would have hired a private boat and chosen my own itinerary, purposely diverting the dolphin cove.
We went on a snorkelling expedition that was supposed to end in a half hour snorkelling stop at Punta Hospital which is in sheltered waters. Since there was a storm the night before, visibility in the waters there was limited and we were taken to Cayo Jardin instead in open waters. Even though I ASKED before going in if there were sharks in the water and was assured no, we had unfortunately floated quite a ways from the boat when a 2 metre (6 foot) shark appeared in the water. What more when we were screaming and kicking our way to the boat, the captain did nothing and just smiled at us. He told us the sharks weren't harmful but if you don't like the idea, perhaps best to stay in (or close to) the boat when in open waters like this.
Bad bike rentals
Best to go with a bike rental place in an actually shop (we just rented some bikes off the street, whoops!).
Check the chain- if they are not well oiled then you could have a problem. Even ask to take a spin around the block to see if there are any weird sounds. My girlfriend's bike had its chain fly off and had to hail a taxi to take her back into town with the bike. Not fun and could be very annoying if you are very far away from town and taxis. Can also be dangerous if a car is on the road when your bike is mal functioning!
This tip should be obvious to most, but may still be useful to some, including us of very fair skin. Panama, being located close to the equator, experiences much stronger UV rays than in the U.S. or Europe. If you do not take precautions against the sun and you burn easily, you will be sorry, as I was. I am very careful about taking precautions against sunburn because I get burned very easiliy. Nevertheless, even though I put copious amounts of sunblock on my body, I missed a spot on my back that resulted in a 2nd degree burn after only 45 min. of snorkeling.
Lesson? Don't be bashful and ask someone to apply sunblock for you. It helps if you have a partner to help put sunscreen on. Even for those who are looking for sun should be prepared for advance timetables of coloring from the sun from the U.S. - even Florida.
Who do I pay the water taxi fare to?
I know it sounds dum, but I still wanted to pass this tip along. When travelling on a water taxi, make sure you know who you're paying the money too. We were scammed out of $2 by this guy who started collecting money pretending to be the boat operator. It turned out he wasn't the captain. My bad I know, should have known better, but it was late at night. I'm lucky it only cost me $2 so it wasn't that bad. I did got his hat out of it :).
As I said, it was partially my fault since I didn't paid the captain directly. If I had paid the captain there should have been any problems. Careful guys, never prepay for a boat trip in this region and if you do, make sure you are paying the captain!!!