Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama that includes an island chain off the country's coast and a portion of the nearby mainland with diverse rainforests. The province borders Costa Rica and the Caribbean Sea in the northwestern part of Panama.
Throughout this article, when I refer to Bocas del Toro, I will be referring to the archipelago of 9 islands where most expats live or visit. The mainland of the province of Bocas del Toro is not a prominent tourist attraction or expat location.
Lately, Bocas del Toro has become home to many expats worldwide. Bocas attracts those looking for more adventure, off-grid style living, and a Caribbean feel. Let's talk about the reasons this area is so attractive to expats.
1. An off-radar hidden gem for expats
Bocas del Toro is a gem of a Caribbean destination that is still relatively unknown. That's excellent news for those considering making Bocas del Toro their home, as it means there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the expat community and help shape its future.
The area is known for its white-sand beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and lush rainforest. Visitors can enjoy various activities such as swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and hiking.
The beaches here are simply stunning. Boca del Dragõn is one of the island's most popular beaches. Starfish Beach was so named owing to the numerous sea stars that may be found on its ocean floor.
Bocas Town, located on the largest island, Isle Colón, is the largest settlement and is home to several restaurants, bars, and stores. The town also has a lively nightlife scene.
2. Friendly locals
The people of Bocas del Toro are some of the most friendly and inviting you'll ever meet. They have a way with words that can only come from living on an island your whole life, making them very knowledgeable about their home turf!
3. It's warm all year round
Bocas del Toro has a tropical climate with an average temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius).
The weather, in general, is very unpredictable and Bocas is such that it can be raining in one area and not in the other.
Bocas del Toro has a wet season that runs from May until November and a dry season that lasts from December until April. However, the dry season does mean “no rain”, it means “less rain” than in the wet season.
Here you are in a rainforest. It's hot and humid, and yes, it does mean tons of rain, but it also equates to many days of sun with a little rain and some weeks wetter than others.
It can rain heavily for a few minutes or hours and then you will have sunshine the rest of the day. It's worth bearing in mind that the biggest part of the rainfall is at night and sometimes through the morning, but it usually gets lovely and sunny by lunchtime.
Big storms in January bring heavy rains for a few days in a row. This is when surfing is the best here!
The bottom line is that while you do get a lot of rain here, it very seldom impedes your day-to-day activities.
4. Growing expat community
In recent years, Bocas del Toro has seen a boom in tourism, and many visitors have decided to stay permanently. As a result, the population of Bocas del Toro has become quite diverse, with people from all over the world calling it home.
Bocas attracts a special kind of expat, particularly one who loves nature and the outdoors, so all the expats here think similarly. There is a growing expat community here, but it is still small enough that everyone knows each other. This tight-knit community is one of the things that makes Bocas del Toro such a great place to live.
The type of expat that lives here varies. Younger expats, like entrepreneurs, families, off-grid folks, and nature lovers seem well suited here.
Typically older retired expats do not live in Bocas del Toro due to its lack of private health care and remoteness to the rest of the country.
There are many opportunities for expats to open businesses here, with a large amount of tourism. Expats often own businesses like hotels, B & Bs, scuba diving, and charter boats.
Bocas offers many outdoor activities for families, such as swimming, surfing, fishing, and exploring the jungle. Younger families are also moving to Bocas to enjoy a life surrounded by nature. Your kids will probably be homeschooled as only a few small private schools are on the islands.
Some expats live on boats or in remote jungle locations without running water or electricity, living off solar power. This lifestyle takes a bit more planning and preparation but can be very rewarding. Living off-grid is also becoming popular in Bocas del Toro.
5. Affordable housing and land
One of the main attractions of Bocas is the low cost of living, especially when it comes to housing and land.
In Bocas Town, the capital of the Bocas del Toro Province, you can find plenty of affordable apartments and houses for rent. And if you're looking to buy a home or land, many reasonably priced properties are available, both in town and rural areas.
Housing in Bocas Town is, of course, the most expensive, as you are right in the center of everything in the only full-service town on the islands.
Building lots on Isla Colon, the main island, start at about $80 per square meter, up to $150 or more, closer to the beach or beachfront. On some other islands, you can get lots for 1/2 the price.
There are not a lot of homes listed for sale online in Bocas, but there are still some good deals to be had. Currently, in Bocas Town, there is a three-bedroom, 150 sq/m home for sale, a bit older but nice, for $159.000. When searching for a home in Bocas to purchase or rent, it needs to be a “boots on the ground” type search, as many of the listings are for sale or rent by owner, and you will not find them online.
6. Building your own house in Bocas del Toro
Building in Bocas del Toro will be a bit more expensive than in other Panama areas, as you are on an island and have to get the materials there.
Buiding costs are currently between $7.50 sq/m ($80 sq/ft) to $13.00 sq/m ($140 sq/ft), depending on the quality and finishes.
7. Lots to do
Expats can choose to live in a remote off-grid cabin and not see other expats on a day-to-day basis. Although, most expats do not live like this. They lead very active lifestyles in Bocas del Toro. From many volunteer opportunities to weekly and monthly club meetings to local expat hangout restaurants and bars.
Of course, in this area, many expats move here for nature. They may be surfers or snorkelers, hikers and climbers, and beach lovers. Filling your days with activities you enjoy is the best expat life one could hope for.,
8. Several nice areas to choose from
Bocas Town is on Isla Colon, the largest island. This is the largest town in the Bocas del Toro area and has the most amenities. Anyone could be comfortable living here, with grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, doctors' offices, and churches.
Isla Solarte is a short water taxi ride from Bocas Town. It is very different from Bocas Town, as the island is virtually untouched, with only a few shops and services and a few restaurants. But it is popular with expats, especially those buying land and building.
Isla Bastimentos is one of Panama's largest islands. Isla Bastimentos is a popular destination for expat adventure seekers. Parque Nacional Marino is located on this magnificent island.
9. Amazing nature and scenery
The archipelago is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Panama and various activities and attractions.
One of the main reasons why people love Bocas del Toro is its stunning beaches. From secluded coves to white sand beaches, there is something for everyone. Bocas del Toro is also a great place to go snorkeling and diving, as the waters are teeming with marine life.
In addition to its natural beauty, Bocas del Toro is also home to several cultural attractions. The town of Bocas del Toro is filled with colorful buildings and lively streets.
10. Learning Spanish is beneficial but not crucial
The official language of Bocas del Toro is Spanish, but many residents also speak English.
Many schools in Bocas del Toro offer Spanish classes for all levels, from beginners to advanced. In addition, Bocas del Toro is home to several Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations.
As a result, new residents to Bocas del Toro can immerse themselves in the Spanish language and culture while still communicating with the locals in English.
11. Several national parks and reserves to enjoy
There are several national parks here with the Isla Bastimentos Marine National Park being the largest and most popular.
The park covers nearly two-thirds of the island of Bastimentos and is home to various marine life, including dolphins, turtles, and rays. Visitors to the park can enjoy snorkeling, diving, and hiking.
12. Relatively good travel connections
Bocas del Toto is remote, as it is an island.
It is only accessible by plane from Panama City or by water taxi or ferry from Almirante (Bocas del Toro Mainland)
Several flights daily from Panama City's Allbrook Airport, and just 35 minutes long, so great access for you there.
From Boquete, Chiriqui, there are daily shuttles that can take you to Almirante, where you will board a water taxi to the Isla Colon and Bocas Town, a total 3.5-hour journey. Water taxis between the islands are available for a few dollars each way.
13. Lower cost of living
Bocas del Toro is also a great place to live if you're on a budget. In general, living costs in Bocas del Toro are lower than in other parts of Panama.
Rent is relatively inexpensive, and food and transportation costs are also reasonable. Bocas del Toro is also a great place to find bargains on second-hand goods.
The housing style here is the main reason for the lower cost of living. There are fewer North American builds here unless you are building yourself. So Panamanian-style homes are very popular, and they can be very affordable.
When moving to a place like Bocas del Tory, be prepared to assimilate to the culture, goods, and services the locals are used to, or you will be paying a lot more.
What will cost you a lot more is imported goods here. For example, if you need to use your favorite name brand detergent that you have used for years back home, you may not find it for sale in Bocas del Toro, and if you do, you will pay 2 – 3 times what you are used to.
Most expats living here do that a monthly day trip to David, Chiriqui, to shop at the big box stores like PriceMart (Costco). Buying in bulk is not an option on the island, so you can save a lot of money making the trip. So if you're looking for a place to live where your money will go further, Bocas del Toro is worth considering.
Final thoughts on living in Bocas del Toro
Are you looking for a warm place to move to or retire? Bocas del Toro may be the perfect place for you. The island paradise has everything you need – from stunning beaches and lush rainforests to world-class fishing and vibrant nightlife. Plus, our friendly locals will make you feel right at home.
Imagine waking up every day to a beautiful view of the Caribbean Sea. With the temperate weather, it's easy to enjoy outdoor activities all year round. And with the low cost of living, you can afford to live comfortably in paradise.
Spend a week or two in Bocas del Toro and check it out yourself!