Many people dream of living an affordable and relaxed Caribbean lifestyle.
Living in the Caribbean means a life of virtually limitless outdoor activities. Whether it’s sailing, sunbathing, fishing, snorkeling, or hiking, or biking, there’s an abundance of choices, thanks to the archipelago’s climate.
The archipelago of Bocas consists of 9 main islands, 52 cays, and thousands of islets. The look and vibe of Bocas del Toro is completely different than the rest of Panama. It feels like you are in a different, Caribbean country.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
This province in Panama includes an archipelago of many islands and part of the mainland. The capital is Bocas town, located on Colon Island (Isla Colon).
Bocas del Toro has an airport with one-hour flights to Panama City. Or, it’s a 9 hour drive to Panama City.
The province offers a fun and active lifestyle. The area is abundant with nature, and residents can enjoy seaside and jungle activities.
Certain amenities in Bocas del Toro, like shopping, aren’t as good as the bigger Panamanian cities. But many people shop online or occasionally travel to cities like David to buy things they can’t find in Bocas. You can even get Amazon orders delivered to Bocas del Toro.
The affordable cost of living in Bocas del Toro is another attraction for foreigners who want to retire in Panama.
Population in Bocas del Toro
Bocas town is estimated to have less than 15,000 residents. But the estimated population of the province is around 180,000.
The islands have a diverse population of different ethnicities and age groups. The expat community is vibrant and includes foreigners from many countries, including digital nomads and those retiring in Panama.
Though Spanish is the official language in Panama, you’ll find that many speak English in Bocas del Toro, especially in the main island, Isla Colon.
Climate in Bocas del Toro
The temperatures stay between 72-90F, and there’s a lovely ocean breeze. But you’re in the Caribbean. So, expect to feel warm.
Because Panama is in the tropics, expect humidity levels to be high.
It rains year-round in Bocas del Toro. July gets the highest average rainfall of over 9 inches. Of course, it does not rain every day. If it does rain, it’s usually in the late evening.
Cost of living in Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is affordable, especially if your income is in USD or another strong currency.
(Source: Info from our clients)
Rental prices can vary between different locations and seasons. Here are some examples:
1-bedroom, 1-bath furnished apartment with ocean view (including utilities) – about $500 a month
2-bedroom, 1-bath furnished house with ocean view in Isla Colon – from $700-$1,500 a month or more depending on the size of the property
Average monthly rates (for a couple):
• Water – $10
• Electricity – $100 (varies based on AC usage)
• Gas – $6
• Mobile plan – $25-40
• Internet – $35-75
Total cost of living – about $1,500-$2,000 a month for a couple.
The cost of living can change based on your needs and lifestyle choices.
You’ll likely pay around $10-$20 per person for dinner at a mid-range restaurant.
There are various local and international restaurants in Bocas del Toro, including Asian food. If you like Indian food, check out Om Café.
The seafood in Bocas del Toro is an absolute must-try. If you visit Boca del Drago, try some seafood at Yarisnori restaurant. My favorite is the coconut shrimp at Bibi’s.
There’s also good nightlife here. Visit the Floating Bar, a short water taxi from Bocas town, for a unique experience. The Blue Coconut is a popular restaurant too.
Monthly grocery costs for two – around $400 (if you don’t buy imported items).
Bocas town has several supermarkets and stores. Some stores even have foreign products. You’ll also find plenty of fresh produce and seafood.
Super Gourmet Market, on Isla Colon, is a favorite for organic products and fresh bakery items. They have a restaurant too.
As discussed, you can shop online or make bulk-shopping trips to David (about 4 hours by ferry and road) for items you can’t find here.
There are frequent water taxis between Bocas town and Almirante on the mainland and between the islands. You can also transport cars between Bocas town and the mainland on the car ferry.
• Ferry from Bocas town to Almirante: around $5-10 each way
• Local taxi fare in Colon Island: Less than $1 for a ride in town
• Local bus from Bocas town to Boca del Drago: Around $3 each way
A car is handy if you’re living on Colon Island. But many expats will tell you that cars break down fast due to salt damage.
Cycling is also a popular way to get around Colon Island. You can rent bicycles at affordable rates here.
Healthcare in Bocas del Toro
There are decent healthcare facilities in Isla Colon, especially with the new 24/7 public hospital Hospital Guillermo Sánchez Borbón.
If you live on another island, you must get to Bocas town for medical treatment. You’ll likely have to go to David or Panama City for any advanced healthcare needs.
Lifestyle and Culture in Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is an ideal place to live and retire in Panama if you love the ocean and a relaxed yet fun and active lifestyle.
You won’t have to worry about Spanish skills here because most locals speak English. But I always recommend learning some Spanish, which can go a long way when interacting with Panamanians.
Both the Panamanians and expats are welcoming and friendly. You’ll find expat entrepreneurs, young families, those living an off-grid lifestyle, and many others. You can choose the lifestyle that works for you.
Let’s look at some leisure activities:
Bocas del Toro has stunning beaches. Some popular beaches on Colon Island are Bluff beach, Boca del Drago beach, and Starfish beach, where you can see colorful starfish. The region is abundant with marine life, making it an ideal place to snorkel and dive. It’s also a great place to fish.
If you’re a surfing enthusiast, you’ll have the time of your life here. To learn all about living a surf lifestyle, watch the video of Lara and Ceasar who moved to Bocas del Toro from New Zealand.
The region also offers jungle activities, hiking, and opportunities to enjoy nature and wildlife.
Bocas del Toro is safe. But petty crime happens. So, be careful and aware, like in any place.
Plan your move to Bocas del Toro, Panama
While the Caribbean dream sounds attractive and works well for many expats, it’s also not for everyone. I recommend visiting different regions in Panama before deciding where to live.
Here’s how we can help you realize your dream of living in Panama (and Bocas del Toro):
• Get our Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
It has heaps of information to help you move to Panama and settle in without making newbie mistakes. You can also use it to organize your own tour to Panama ahead of moving.
• Book a Private Relocation Tour to Bocas del Toro.
You can fully customize these tours to include what you want to do. We can show you rentals and amenities, including healthcare facilities, introduce you to local service providers, and more. Your relocation guide will help you understand all the positives and negatives of living in Bocas del Toro.
We also offer 6-day/7-night all-inclusive Panama Relocation Tours in mainland Panama. These are all-inclusive tours organized to give you insights into living in different areas.
Want to know more about living in Bocas del Toro?
Here’re more interesting expat video interviews:
Bocas Del Toro – Panama Changed Their Life! (from housebound in cold Canada to a tropical dream)
Bocas del Toro Panama – What’s It Really Like? (6 expats share their experience)
Bocas del Toro for Non-Retirees (Bocas is great for people of all ages)