Boca Chica, Panama
Budget for 7 Days
Vacation in Boca Chica for $66 a day
1. Where is Boca Chica?
Boca Chica is located an hour south of David, the second largest city in Panama. It is close to the Costa Rica border and a 7 hour drive from Panama City on the 4-lane Panamerican Highway.
Flights to Boca Chica
We flew from Calgary to Panama City for $350 return booking cheap flights. The key to getting cheap flights is booking early and being flexible on your departure dates.
2. Is Boca Chica worth visiting?
If you like a secluded tropical locale with lots of wildlife and a laid back lifestyle with gentle local people then Boca Chica is a great place to visit and explore.
Boca Chica is an unpopulated area of about 300 people in northern Panama. There are a number of islands in a National Marine Park located just off the main land. We went there to see a more authentic and low keyed island area of Panama instead of the popular, crowded and expensive Bocas del Toro. The area economy relies on fishing, agriculture, ranching and tourism.Life here revolves around water activities.The town is small with a few motels, restaurants and fishing charters. The road ends at the concrete dock. Check out my photo journal of Boca Chica.
We arrived on a Sunday and the pier was busy with weekend people boarding the many water taxis to one of beautiful beaches on the outlying islands. We ended up on the cement dock amongst peoples and cars. It was a bit chaotic. We quickly inquired about a water taxi over to Villa Azul. Luckily the first man I talked to was expecting us.
Another local man indicated to me to follow him in our rental car. He navigated me around a deep ditch and a few cars to a tight parking spot in front of his house. I paid him $20 for the week and headed off to meet the rest of my party.
At the dock we hired a water taxi that cost $5 each to take us, our luggage and a weeks worth of supplies the five minutes across the water. It took longer to load our belongings than it took to motor over to Villa Azul. When we reached the pier we were greeted by our host and we hauled our belongings up a cement pathway up the small hill to the villa.
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Accommodations in Boca Chica
Accommodations in Boca Chica range from rustic to luxury. There are over 100 Airbnbs and 27 hotels to choose from. The accommodations are not right in Boca Chica and are found in the surrounding area. Do not expect to drive into the small village of Boca Chica and find all kinds of accommodations and amenities.
Our home for the week was this beautiful glass and concrete two bedroom villa located on Boca Brava. It overlooked the straight between Boca Brava and Boca Chica and is one of three villas grouped together that share a pool. We booked it through Airbnb for $1340 for 7 nights. Our cost was $670 per couple for the week.
The Villa was a fantastic place to spend the week. We loved the open living area and the glass walls that brought us close to the jungle. We cooked local recipes with local food. We were able to buy any kind of fresh seafood from any of the water taxi drivers. The evenings were beautifully warm and bug free as we sat on the balcony surround by fairy lights and looking at the the lights of Boca Chica and the moon on several nights. A half dozen parrots would fly in front of us every evening just before dark. They would land on one of the fruit trees just off the balcony and feed before they flew off. On different nights we could hear music from the dock, the community bandstand and one of the resorts. It really was magical.
While we were on Boca Brava we timed the day by the tide. When the tide was low, our dock did not have water so we could not get a water taxi easily. We had to go to the other long dock and still had to walk through the ocean mud to the water taxi. So, we timed our exploring outings around the tide.
The expat owners are from Switzerland and Italy. They have built numerous buildings on the island including houses, lodges, horse stables, water plants, and villas. When I commented on it to the Swiss fella he said, “I need to keep busy otherwise I would just sit around and drink beer all day.” The first structure they built is now the Hotel Boca Brava Paradise where we had lunch one day.
There are six indigenous families living on the island. The families all work at various jobs for the couple. As a bonus for working for them, the expat owners have built each of them a basic house at various places on the island. They also pay for the children’s schooling to the end of grade 12 and their transportation to school. In fact, if the kids do not go to school, the parents can not work for them. The transportation from Boca Brava is not free nor are their supplies .
The kids take a water taxi over to Boca Chica and then hop on a free bus to go to school. School is free in Panama and compulsory up to age 15 although there is an enrolment problem. Enrolment for grades 1-6 is 425,000, grades 7-9 is 134,000 and grades 10-12 is 75,000. Families have to pay for grades 10-12 as well as post secondary.
The Howler Monkeys
Every morning around 9 am we would hear the Howler monkeys just a stone throw away from our balcony. Their unbelievable loud yells are amplified by a special bone they have in their throats. The first time we heard it we were completely taken back. We were swimming in the pool in the afternoon of our first day when all of a sudden this unbelievable howling started. It got louder and louder. We could not see them and had no idea how big they were.
I went running after the sound with my iPhone recording the sound. From the volume of sound we thought they must be human size. Luckily that was not the case. The biggest ones weigh about 50 lbs and are about 3 feet tall. The sound moved on away from us and I did not see them that day.
Howler monkeys do not bother humans. They never leave the canopy of the trees and live their entire lives in the tree tops. Make sure you never stand under them as they will urinate on you from 30 feet away. We would watch them in each morning in fascination as they fed on a particular tree. They loved those leaves. They would use their prehensile tail to let them drop from the top of the tree through the air and grab a lower branch with it.
3. What is there to do in Boca Chica?
Isla Boca Brava
Beautiful Isla Boca Brava has several accommodators from luxury to rustic. You catch a water taxi at the pier of Boca Chica. The cost is $5 per person each way. You can arrange for the driver to pick you up at a certain time. The actual pickup spot will depend on the tide at that time. There are two sandy beaches and there are two small hotel lodges where you can eat and drink.
There is an abundance of wildlife and you will see a variety of birds including parrots and there are two tribes of Howler monkeys that will keep you entertained with their deep and loud howling. They do not howl all the time and live up in the trees.
Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui
The largest island in the marine park. It has white sand beachs and there is a beachside rustic Bar and Grill that has lounge chairs that you can use if you buy food or beverages from them.
There are a number of secluded sandy beaches and the snorkelling was great.
Los Cangilones de Gualaca
Located just outside the town of Gualaca on the way to Boquete is this natural swimming hole. Cangilones is the Spanish name for bucket. It describes the rock formation that has been carved out of the River Estí.
It is a perfect spot on a hot day to jump into the pool and drift down the river. The rocks surrounding the river are nice and warm to lay on when exiting the river.
Boquete is an 90 minute drive from Boca Chica. It is located up in the mountains and has a year round spring like temperature that attracts expats, hikers and backpackers.
There are a number of coffee plantations located around Boquete. They grow the Geisha coffee bean that is delicious and expensive. It is a real treat to have an expresso right at the plantation.
There are many boutique lodges throughout the area along with great restaurants.
We have always had great luck with Tours by Locals, but this time hit the JACKPOT. Chichi and Anya were the best guides ever. Great communication prior to the tour and everything worked out perfectly in connecting. Excellent English (Chichi’s English is flawless). Amazing overview of Boquete highlights and some customization of the tour to meet our needs. They are just so well-informed it’s unbelievable. Could not have asked for a better experience. THANK YOU !
Boca Chica Eats and Restaurants
There are about a dozen places to eat in and around Boca Chica. The restaurants range from family run restaurants to high-end dining. The food is good and the prices are reasonable and down right cheap in some places.
We only ate in restaurants for lunch when we were touring around the area or when we were looking for something to do. Let’s go out for lunch!
We ate all of our breakfasts and dinners in the villa. We brought all our food for the week. We stopped in Santiago along the way and stocked up on food, water, wine and spirits for the week.
I was in 7th heaven with the selection of fresh seafood in Boca Chica from the fisherman. Several nights we cooked up lobsters and prawns.
One night we grilled up two large tomahawk steaks that we had bought in Santiago. I then used the bones to make an awesome beef and onion broth from scratch simmering it slowly for 5 hours. That night, the French Onion soup was followed by fresh lobster poached in Beurre Monté. It was a delicious dinner made even better with chilled French Chardonnay that I found in Santiago.
I just love cooking regional dishes with fresh local ingredients. It really ties you to the locale and allows you to appreciate the local culture.
Hotel Boca Brava Paradise
A lovely low keyed hotel restaurant. The view from the deck of the dining room takes your breath away and instantly grounds you. It is hard to concentrate on the food the view is so spectacular.
Located on the west side of Boca Brava it is in an isolated area. The restaurant is primarily for guests staying at the hotel but we walked for 40 minutes through the jungle from the other side of the island for an late morning outing.
The owner was very happy to see us and chatted about the hotel and how they ended up there.
The menu is not extensive and you have to take what they have as they do not have daily delivery of ingredients. When they run out it may be a few days before they can restock. But, there was no shortage of beer and wine. They were both served cold and priced reasonably. I had fresh fish with a salad and a cold glass of white wine for $15. It was delicious.
Bocas del Mar
Located on the mainland just a few minutes south of our Villa is Bocas del Mar. It is a beautiful resort with pools, landscaped gardens, and tennis. The restaurant is open to the public. One day we took a water taxi over for lunch.
The menu has a nice selection. Entrees run $12-20. Beer at $2.50 and wine at $4.95 is inexpensive but cocktails can be pricey with some costing $9. This restaurant has resort prices but the open dining, attentive staff and beautiful grounds justify the price.
La Costa Restaurante
Located just above the cement dock, this family restaurant has very inexpensive meals.
The daily special for $4.50 includes rice, vegetable, salad and either chicken, pork or fish. I chose the fish.
They make delicious Margaritas for $4.50.
The staff was friendly and our drinks and food was brought promptly.
4. Is It Safe In Boca Chica?
Boca Chica has only 300 residents. We felt very safe the week we were there. The people are reserved but friendly. Most speak only Spanish so make sure you have your translator app if you ‘no habla espagnole’. The local people rely on fishing and tourism and cater to visitors. There are no police or hospital facilities here. The closest medical aid is an hour away by car.
Panama in general is much safer than Costa Rica for tourists. Costa Rica has had a sharp rise in violent crime against tourists. We talked to a number of expats that had moved to Panama from Costa Rica because of the violent crime.
Watch out for stinging jellyfish. We encountered them on a couple of days when we were swimming and snorkelling. We did not encounter any mosquitos or other biting insects while we were there. Thankfully we did not see any snakes or large spiders in our month in Panama.
5. When Is The Best Time To Go To Boca Chic?
The best time to go to Boca Chica is between late November to mid April. This is the driest time of the year. The land is always the most lush if you are there right after the rainy season. We were there for a week in February and it was hot and sunny every day. The jungle and hillsides were still green. Later in the dry season the grasses go dormant and the hillsides turn brown. The ocean while we were there was calm for boating and swimming. When storms blow in the ocean can get quite rough and not the best time for boating.