Backwaters: Bocas Del Toro

Jimmy Wilson Bocas Del Toro

The temperature of this wintertime Bocas barrel is 83˚. Just imagine the air inside it. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

Backwaters is a new series by SUP magazine that highlights less-known and less-populated paddling destinations.

Backwaters: Bocas Del Toro

There's no denying—for many, SUP is a fair weather sport. If you're not a sponsored athlete, a diehard enthusiast or a resident of Southern California, the dead of winter likely equates to dust on your board and feet itching for a fix in less frigid environs. For those looking to ditch the dry suit and escape to more hospitable horizons—horizons with azure tropical water, wintertime temps in the 80s, empty waves, secluded beaches and remote island hopping galore—Bocas Del Toro, Panama, is an ideal option that won't break the bank.

The Mouth of the Bull (that's English for "Bocas del Toro") is a Caribbean archipelago located in the northernmost, westernmost nook of Panama with nine major islands and only 125,000-odd residents, most of whom reside on the main island. By surfers, the area's been dubbed "Mini-Indo" for its thorough collection of perfect, uncrowded waves, all within an inexpensive water taxi ride of one another (it just so happens that late-winter is the best season for swell in Bocas). By tourists, Bocas is praised for a uniquely divided blend of nightlife and paradisiacal seclusion, separated by only the moments’ ambitions (plus a few islands' distance, if you so choose). For standup paddlers, Bocas is a relatively untapped playground, plush with tropical scenery and riddled with flat water and surf options for every ability level.

A paddle around the province finds visitors among the mangroves, surrounded by sloths and howler monkeys, atop 83-degree, crystal clear, emerald water or isolated on one of the many white sand beaches the area is known for. From the main island, you can charter a water taxi to any location in the archipelago for around five bucks round trip and they'll even wait for you while you paddle or surf. Quality boards and gear can be rented from the outfitters at Red Frog Bungalows, which also offers SUP tours and lessons guided by experienced locals.

Exploration is almost endless and seclusion is found easily throughout the islands, but there's also a bustling traveler's town on the main island that offers cheap accommodations, seafood cuisine and the company of all walks of life. Backpacker hostels can be found for $15/night, and an indulgent night out at Aqua Lounge—the area's premier nightclub—shouldn't put you back more than a night at the movies in the US.

The most direct route from any US airport involves a pit stop in San José, Costa Rica. While flying straight from San José to Bocas is the easiest route, the convenience can be expensive. If you have time to spare, but not money, bus rides provide a cheap alternative with the added experience of touring the Costa Rican countryside. Check the Panamanian travel requirements to make sure you’re covered, then catch a bus from San José to Puerto Viejo—a quaint and cultured town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Fom there, a ferry will carry you straight to Bocas in less than three hours and for under a hundred bucks.

For more info about visiting Bocas Del Toro, click here, and set up your well-earned, all-inclusive wintertime paddling fix at Red Frog Bungalows.

Bocas Jimmy Wilson

Sunset in Bocas del Toro. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

Backwaters is a new series by SUP magazine that highlights less-known and less-populated paddling destinations.

More Backwaters here.