Do you dream of living on a tropical island paradise, far from either the hustle and bustle of big cities or the Disney influenced tourist hordes? Perhaps an archipelago of islands you can easily visit by boat, and just enough amenities and fellow expats to make life comfortable? Then look no further than the province of Bocas Del Toro!
Bocas Town is on the southern tip of Colon Island in the Bocas Del Toro archipelago, which is on the Caribbean side of Panama near the border with Costa Rica. Much of the archipelago and adjoining mainland is national park or undeveloped land, so to live in the area is to be surrounded predominantly by pristine jungle in its natural state. Bocas Town itself hosts a population of a mere 7,366 with the province holding about 125,000 people but has an airport with regular flights to major regional cities, a hospital, and all the other necessities of life. Talk about living the dream!
Cost of Living
You can rent a two-bedroom apartment for as little as $450 a month in Bocas Town. Internet will be $20-$55 a month, groceries typically $400-450. Altogether the cost of living is estimated to be between $1095 and $2,200 a month. If you must go to the hospital it’s only $2 for a check-up, and $22 for an x-ray!
The major city of David is only a short flight away if you need anything from the big city or just crave a visit to a bigger city. You can even have a local bring you back shopping from David for about 5% of the shopping bill.
Things to Do
Watersports in Bocas del Toro
The island and its surroundings offer endless options for snorkeling, scuba diving, paddleboarding, boating, fishing, and all other coastal recreations. Many digital nomads and retirees spend their free time volunteering with the numerous community organizations, either doing conservation work with the local natural environment or charitable causes for locals.
You can enjoy watersports either in the vicinity of Isla Colon itself or easily travel to the other islands of the archipelago via water taxi ($3) or perhaps your own boat. Because the islands form a protected bay, you don’t have to be a salty deep-sea boater to feel comfortable out on the water in your own boat.
Islands and Beaches
Isla Zapatillas is an uninhabited island with pristine beaches you can reach by your own boat or arrange transport with a local. It is part of the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. Due being completely undeveloped you can truly feel like you have an unsullied tropical paradise to yourself.
Boca del Drago is a beach at the far end of Isla Colon which you can easily reach within half an hour by bus, watertaxi, or even ride your own bike there. Enjoy the crystal-clear waters in this secluded-yet-easy-to-get-to-beach
Starfish Beach is just a fifteen-minute walk from Boca del Drago. Despite there being no vehicle access here you’ll still find vendors selling pina coladas or delicious shrimp dishes! Enjoy the best of both worlds, a remote walk-in-beach and food service! And as the name suggests, there’ll be plenty of beautiful starfish to admire in the clear water.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – this US-funded research institute, as the name suggests, is based locally doing conservation research on the local flora and fauna. As a tourist one can go on a one-hour tour to learn about local flora and fauna and what the institute is doing, but of more interest to you as a future resident of Boca Town, they have volunteer opportunities (https://www.si.edu/Volunteer)! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has always secretly dreamed of being involved in tropical conservation efforts despite taking different career path in life.
Almirante – the nearest other town in the area is Almirante, population 12,731, on the mainland. It is about half an hour by water taxi from Boca Town. Here you can go on various hikes in the surrounding forests or take a bus to Costa Rica or other destinations within Panama.
In conclusion, in Bocas del Toro you can live like you’re permanently on an island vacation, but with a community of fellow expats and digital nomads instead of insipid tourist masses. You can have all the amenities you need in life and easy transport access to other destinations in Panama or the region. Sounds like “living the dream” to me!