3 Days in Bocas del Toro with Kids

Author: Dan Brewer

Two of our favorite family vacations of all time were to Costa Rica with kids and a family trip to Colombia. As Panama is sandwiched in-between these two countries, we knew we had to take a family vacation to Panama. Visiting Panama City was a must, but we also wanted some quality time on a Caribbean beach too, so we planned a visit to Bocas del Toro with kids.

We chose Bocas del Toro for our family vacation as it offers a mix of natural beauty and exciting family-friendly activities. During our family trip to Bocas del Toro, we visited many beautiful beaches, went on a jungle hike and even learned to surf!

We loved the relaxed vibe of this island archipelago in Panama. It’s still an undiscovered gem, but with such natural beauty and amazing family-friendly activities, we’re sure many more families will follow suit with their own trip to Bocas del Toro with kids.

The kids from the Family Can Travel blog, walk along the beach during a family holiday to Bocas del Toro, Panama.
A family walk on the beach in Bocas del Toro.

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A 3 Day Itinerary for a Family Trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama

We actually spent started our family trip to Bocas del Toro with a 2-night stay at an overwater resort over the Caribbean Sea. You can read all about it in our review of the Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge with kids.

a bright yellow walkway leads to the affordable overwater bungalows at the Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge in Panama.
Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge Resort

This three-day itinerary for Bocas del Toro with kids is based on our family adventures on Isla Colon, the main island. Here’s what we did with three amazing days in Bocas del Toro with kids:

Day 1 in Bocas del Toro with Kids

On our first full day in Bocas del Toro with kids, we decided to have some fun exploring the area. We walked from our hotel to a nearby water taxi stand and took a bumpy, but fast water taxi ride to Old Bank on Bastimentos Island.

Old Bank Town – Bastimentos Island

After the water taxi arrived at Bastimentos Island, we were immediately impressed with our first few footsteps in the town of Old Bank. The square surrounding the dock is very colorful, with many red and white cowboy hats strung overhead.

We turned right on the main road towards our first destination, and we had a lot of fun walking through the town. There are colorful paintings and murals lining the pathway, kids are running around playing, and one guy was even getting an oceanside haircut!

Celine Brewer, owner of FamilyCanTravel.com, enjoys a family walk on Bastimentos Island, Panama with her kids.
Old Bank is so colorful!

Hike from Old Bank to Wizard Beach

It didn’t take too long to reach the trailhead for the hike from Old Bank to Wizard Beach. This well-maintained, crushed gravel hiking trail is only 1.3 km long as it goes up and down over the spine of the island.

At first the trail leads you through some of the local houses, but eventually gives way to the countryside. Some of the hiking path goes through jungle, while others through some rural settlements.

The kids from the Family Can Travel blog enjoy an easy hike on Bastimentos Island from Old Bank to Wizard Beach.

We saw lots of beautiful birds and colorful butterflies on our hike to Wizard Beach. The trail is lined with lots of the species of tree that sloths live in. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to spot one, but we talked to a girl later who had seen several sloths on the Wizard Beach trail. I hope you have better luck spotting sloths than we did!

Wizard Beach

After a very enjoyable walk across Bastimentos Island, we arrived at Wizard Beach. It’s a beautiful Caribbean beach with soft, golden sand and turquoise water. Palm trees and other native trees line the back of the beach, adding to the tropical feel.

Two kids play in the sand on Wizard Beach on Bastimentos Island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago.

We were saddened to see a warning sign posted at the entrance to the beach. Apparently Wizard Beach has a strong undertow and is not safe for swimming.

We thought it was a beautiful beach, and although the kids were very disappointed not to be able to swim, they quickly changed gears and started playing in the sand. We had fun watching the kids play in the sand, as we watched the large waves crashing ashore.

a 10-year old girl is buried in the golden sand on Bastimentos Island, Panama.
Our daughter having fun in the sand.

Hike from Wizard Beach to Red Frog Beach

We had planned to hike from Wizard Beach to the popular Red Frog Beach, so after a while we packed up our beach gear and headed east. Wizard Beach is a really long beach, so you can enjoy a long family walk on the sand.

Eventually the beach runs out and we entered the jungle on a well-trodden trail. Unlike the nicely manicured trail from Old Bank to Wizard Beach, this is a real jungle trail, so don’t even think about wearing flip flops. Sports sandals are a minimum requirement on the hike to Red Frog Beach.

a 10-year old girl on a family hike between Wizard Beach and Red Frog Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
This is a real hiking trail through the jungle.

This is not a marked hiking trail either, so there is a good amount of guesswork involved in navigating your way to Red Frog Beach. I had the AllTrails hiking app open and there was an unofficial trail on my GPS screen we could follow, but this was only a rough guideline.

Safety Tip

We got off the trail several times and needed to do some problem solving to find our way back. We do not recommend this hike with if you are not skilled in jungle hiking and/or navigating in uncertain conditions.

The trail to Red Frog Beach follows the shoreline for a good portion of the way, affording some truly exceptional views of the Caribbean Sea through the palm trees.

a 10-year old girl pauses by the Caribbean Sea while on a family hike in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
A beautiful oceanside hiking trail.

Our son was really good at spotting lizards, while our daughter was able to spot a leaf cutter ant highway through the jungle. Other fun discoveries on our jungle hike included some hermit crabs, and a massive fig tree with some equally massive mushrooms growing underneath.

two kids show off their discovery of some huge mushrooms on a hike to Red Frog Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Once you reach Red Frog Beach, you’ll be rewarded with yet another stunning Caribbean Bocas del Toro beach. At this far western point of Red Frog Beach, it’s nearly deserted, with the exception of a few people going on long beach walks.

We still had the ongoing concern about dangerous riptides, but we found a spot on Red Frog Beach which we felt was going to be safe. There was a shallow sandbar about 10 feet offshore, with a shallow pool in-between. The sandbar was breaking up the waves, so we felt it would also break up any currents flowing back out.

Two kids play in the Caribbean Sea on Red From Beach on Bastimentos Island, Panama.

We had a great time finally getting to play in the Caribbean Sea off Bastimentos Island. After a hot, humid jungle hike the cool Caribbean water felt amazing.

Water Safety

Please don’t take our assessment of the water safety at Red Frog Beach as a professional opinion or endorsement of this behavior. We are not trained in this and you’ll need to make your own safety decisions for your family.

When we reached the far end of Red Frog Beach, we went into the beachfront restaurant there, called The Point, for a refreshing drink. We then found another sandbar formation, which we took advantage of to go swimming again. Even in our little sandbar area, the currents were surprisingly strong, so we watched our kids very closely.

Kids play in the ocean at Red Frog Beach in the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama.

Late afternoon, we walked from Red Frog Beach back to the south side of the island to a dock where we could catch a water taxi back to Bocas Town. The water taxi dock isn’t well marked, but a kind local helped us find it. We’ll return the favor here – you can find the water taxi dock here.

Read More

Before flying to Bocas del Toro, we started our Panama holiday in Panama City. Discover the adventures we enjoyed during our 5 days in Panama City with kids.

Day 2 of our Family Trip to Bocas del Toro

Family Surfing Lessons

The forecast for our second day in Bocas del Toro with kids was for steady rain. Although no one wants rain on their family beach holiday in Panama, we decided to make the best of it.

What’s the best thing to do on a rainy day in Bocas del Toro? Find an activity where you get wet anyways! The best thing to do in Bocas del Toro on a rainy day is family surfing lessons!

a 10-year old girl practices surfing during some family lessons in Bocas del Toro.
Our kids practice their cool surfing moves.

We asked our hotel to recommend a family-friendly surfing school in Bocas del Toro and she recommended Escola del Mar Surf School on nearby Carenero Island.

We took a quick water taxi directly to the dock at the surf school. Before long, Luis our instructor was teaching us the fundamentals of surfing on his dock.

Family surfing lessons is a fun thing to do in Bocas del Toro with kids.

He began with paddling, the proper surfing posture while upright, and how to transition from lying down to standing. He also spent a good amount of time focusing on safety, which I appreciated as we were all first-time surfers.

When we had graduated from our surfing school dry land training, we hopped into their boat in search of some appropriate waves for beginners. There’s a spot in the open ocean not far from the surf school which has some good-sized waves for beginners (although we thought they looked huge at first!)

an 8-year old boy in a boat on his way to try surfing for the very first time in Panama.
A nervous smile on his way to try surfing for the first time.

Once we all attached our ankle straps, Luis jumped into the water and swam towards the waves. His assistant stayed with us to make sure we all got there safely.

Once at the waves, Luis called us over one at a time. He would then wait for a good wave, then he would launch us at the exact right moment.

None of us had any expectations that we’d become adept surfers with a single three hour lesson. Our daughter went first, and fell off. I went second, and fell off. Celine followed us, and fell off. Surfing is super fun, but hard!

Our daughter was a little scared after her first spill, but to her credit she got right back on her board and tried again. By the end of our family surfing lesson, she was the only one of us who was able to stand up and ride a wave. We were so proud of her, and most importantly she was proud of herself.

Celine Brewer, of the Family Travel blog, watches her kids practice during family surfing lessons in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
The kids had some serious surfing moves!

Celine and I each got a good taste of riding a proper wave, but neither of us were able to properly stand on the surfboard.

Our son was a little intimidated by the deep water and the big-ish waves, so he decided to just watch. That’s ok – we know that he’ll feel comfortable trying surfing one day and we’re sure he’ll love it.

After 3 hours of our family surfing lesson, we were all exhausted. We had an amazing first time surfing. We’d recommend Escola del Mar Surf School for a fun family activity in Bocas del Toro – rain or shine.

Day 3 in Bocas del Toro with Kids

Full Day Bocas del Toro Boat Tour

For our final day in Bocas del Toro with kids, we had saved the best for last – a full day boat tour of around the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Or, at least we thought we had saved the best for last…

The first challenge of the day was that we woke up to pouring rain. It was raining so hard, we figured that the tour company would cancel as it would be quite unpleasant on the water in the wind and rain – they didn’t cancel… they gave us rain ponchos and sent us on our way.

The Family Can Travel team wears rain ponchos ahead of their full day boat tour around Bocas del Toro.
Having fun despite the rain.
Dolphin Bay

Our first stop on the Bocas del Toro boat tour was Dolphin Bay, a natural attraction in Bocas del Toro where you are virtually guaranteed to see wild dolphins.

And sure enough we did – our daughter was the first to spot one just a minute into our visit. But sadly, that was the only wild dolphin we saw in Dolphin Bay that day. Perhaps even the dolphins knew the weather was terrible and just stayed below?

The rain was so bad that our tour guide took us to a nearby floating restaurant, not to eat, but to hide from the rain. We eventually got back on board and took a long, choppy boat ride to Zapatilla Island.

Celine Brewer and her daughter hide from the rain during a day trip around Bocas del Toro, Panama.
All we could do is laugh.
Zapatilla Island

The main attraction in Bastimentos National Marine Park, Zapatilla Island is a true tropical paradise. It’s an uninhabited island, ringed by soft white sand and towering palm trees. Even in the pouring rain we could tell how beautiful it is.

a beautiful tropical beach on Zapatilla Island  in Bastimentos National Marine Park, Panama.

Normally our tour would have spent 2 hours at Zapatilla Island, but due to the rain, it was shortened to an hour. We spent this time enjoying some homemade cake sold by some locals, while walking through the surrounding jungle.

After our visit to Zapatilla Island, we returned to the restaurant for lunch. It was overpriced, but the food was surprisingly good. In fact, it could have been the best calamari we’ve ever had.

Starfish island

Due to the weather, no one in the group wanted to go to Sloth Island or to go snorkeling in Cayo Coral, so we simply stopped at Starfish Island on our way back to Bocas Town.

When we signed up for the tour, we thought it was going to Starfish Beach, one of the top attractions in Bocas del Toro, but nope – we went to Starfish Island. We could see a few small starfishes in the water, but it was pretty lame. At least we saw another dolphin swim by!

We’re certain this would have been a much better experience if we had sunny, calm weather. We booked our tour several days ahead of time when the weather forecast looked sunny and nice. Perhaps, wait until the day before to book your tour just in case the weather takes a sudden turn as it did for us.

Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro with Kids

As the Bocas del Toro archipelago is still a developing tourist destination in Panama, there isn’t as much variety in accommodation as you’d get in a more developed place. We wanted to stay in the main town (Bocas Town) on the main island (Isla Colon) and base our adventures from there.

We found a nice family-friendly hotel on the outskirts of Bocas Town near the ferry dock to Almirante. We decided to stay at the Hotel Palma Royale as it as well-reviewed, looked clean and had an option for a 1-bedroom hotel room.

Our hotel room at the Hotel Palma Royale in Bocas del Toro had a seperate bedroom.

When traveling with kids, do not underestimate the importance of everyone getting a good night’s sleep. When kids share beds, or bedrooms, it can often lead to poor sleeps, and cranky, uncooperative kids the next day.

In our one-bedroom room at the Hotel Palma Royale, our daughter got the second bed in the main living area, while our son was happy to sleep on the couch. This way, everyone got their own sleeping space and led to a good night’s sleep for everyone.

Our kids play Battleship in our family-friendly Bocas del Toro hotel room.
The hotel had board games for the kids.

If the Hotel Palma Royale isn’t right for you, you can see plenty of great options with the Top Picks for Families on Booking.com.

Our hotel room at the Hotel Palma Royale in Bocas del Toro had a seperate bedroom.

Hotel Recommendation

Hotel Palma Royale

The one-bedroom hotel room at the Hotel Palma Royale helped everyone get a good night’s sleep.

When we can’t find a proper family-friendly hotel room,we often turn to vacation rentals. Not only do you get separate bedrooms, but you also get a lot of family-friendly amenities such as a kitchen to prepare meals, or laundry facilities (which let you pack less).

Browse family-friendly vacation rentals on Bocas del Toro.

Where to Eat in Boca del Toro with Kids

Despite the town being a bit under-developed, there are plenty of excellent family dining options in Bocas del Toro. Here are a few of our favorite family-friendly restaurants from our stay on this amazing Caribbean island in Panama.

Buena Vista

We ate lunch at Buena Vista shortly after we arrived in Bocas Town with our kids. Our hotel room wasn’t ready yet, and as it was Sunday, many restaurants were closed. Buena Vista was the first restaurant we passed that looked really nice, so we went in (and we’re glad we did).

A huge tour group was already in the restaurant looking at their menus, so our server did a great job making sure our order got in before the huge groups. Her attentive efforts paid off as we were finishing our meals, just as the group was being served theirs.

We really enjoyed the oceanfront setting of the Buena Vista restaurant – it was fun watching all the boats come and go during our meal.

the FamilyCanTravel.com team sits at an oceanfront table at the Buena Vista restaurant in Bocas Town, Panama.
Oceanfront dining!

The food was excellent too. Our daughter ordered calamari salad, while our son got a tasty taco salad. Celine ordered chicken enchiladas, while I got a fish sandwich.

Note: we also ate here four times for breakfast as our hotel had an arrangement with them. As with our lunch, the breakfast at Buena Vista was also very good. 

an 8-year old boy is excited to eat a stack of pancakes at the family-friendly Buena Vista restaurant in Bocas del Toro.

See Buena Vista on Google Maps.

Rosa Blanca Pizza

We discovered Rosa Blanca Pizza when we were researching family-friendly restaurants in Bocas del Toro – we noticed this pizza restaurant as it had extremely good ratings. Rosa Blanca Pizza is one of the newest restaurants in Bocas Town with a great location in the heart of the tourist area of town.

The restaurant is very nicely decorated with large windows allowing you to watch the beach life go by on the street. It’s not your typical street scene that’s for sure!

Celine Brewer and her kids have some fun waiting for their pizza at the Rosa Blanca Pizza restaurant in Bocas Town.

We really enjoyed the food at Rosa Blanca Pizza. We all got small 10” pizzas and we all left stuffed. Our son got his favorite pizza (Hawaiian) while our daughter also got her favorite (meat lovers). I ordered something a little more local with a chorizo lime pizza, and Celine got a honey chicken beer pizza with crispy onions.

See Rosa Blanca Pizza on Google Maps.

Coco Fastronomy

We went to Coco Fastronomy for dinner after our adventure on Bastimentos Island. We had read lots of good reviews about this seaside restaurant and we though the sandwiches would be a hit with the kids.

We got a nice table on their overwater seating area. Our son ordered a kids combo, while the rest of us ordered bape sandwiches of the regular menu. I had a Jamacian-inspired chicken sandwich, while Celine got a Caribbean fish sandwich and our daughter got a breakfast sandwich.

a jerk chicken sandwich at Coco Fastronomy restaurant in Bocas Town, Panama.

The sandwiches were quite good, but not excellent. We each thought they could have used more flavor. The plantain fries, on the other hand, were excellent!

See Coco Fastronomy on Google Maps.

La Taqueria

Whenever we feel the kids haven’t been eating enough, we look for one of two foods we know they will always eat a lot of – pizza and Mexican. Given we had eaten pizza already on our family trip to Bocas del Toro, we sought out a Mexican place. We found La Taqueria on the main street in town.

Celine and our son each ordered several tacos, while our daughter devoured a large chicken burrito and I got a towering plate of pork nachos.

nachos from the La Taqueria restaurant in Bocas Town, Panama.

As with Coco Fastronomy, the food was good, but wasn’t great. But, it served our purpose as the kids both filled their tummies and went to bed full.

See La Taqueria on Google Maps.

Bocas del Toro with Kids – Final Thoughts

Despite a little rainy weather, we had a really fun time in Bocas del Toro with our kids. We hope you enjoyed reading about our family trip to Bocas del Toro and found some inspiration for your own trip!

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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.

When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).