09 November 2023 Bocas del Toro

In search of dolphins and snorkels

Link to more images at @Kapikoy100

In tropical climes there are certain times of day

When all the citizens retire

To tear their clothes off and perspire.

It’s one of those rules that the greatest fools obey,

Because the sun is much too sultry

And one must avoid its ultra-violet ray.

The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,

Because they’re obviously definitely nuts!

Noel Coward: Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Mad dogs and Irishmen…

Up at 7 am naturally, not because the alarm sounded but because I was awake. The Yellow House property has a coffee making machine and enough coffee to make 2 pots, even though I am here for 3-days. Anyway, enough coffee for a pot this morning to enjoy a cup or two in bed before ablutions and heading off on today’s snorkelling adventure.

First stop was at the Bank of Panama ATM in the centre of Bocas Town which, for me at least, has a withdrawal limit of US$250 incurring a withdrawal fee of US$5.50. This is a small ‘win’ as when I tried a similar withdrawal using an ATM at Panama PTY airport the withdrawal fee was US$6.75 which I declined and cancelled the transaction. But I do need some cash now for the next few days so I have to swallow the charges. 

Top Tip: List of banks in Central American countries that do not charge withdrawal fees.

I had booked my snorkelling tour through a young man named Mauro for US$35. I met and paid Mauro at TAXI25 – a sort of public transit hub for water taxis – at around 9:20 am. I was early as the trip doesn’t start until 10:00 am, so I had the opportunity to have breakfast at the Café del Mar (no, not the Cartagena Café del Mar from last week but the Café del Mar in Bocas… if that makes sense). For US$10 it was a disappointing affair but at least I had a modicum of sustenance. I went back to the quayside at TAXI25 to await the start of today’s floating event.

At 10:10 am, the small, but self-evidently, fast tour boat was filled to capacity with 15 excited souls seeking novelty and stimulation through all, or some, new sights, new sounds, new smells, new tastes, and new experiences. 

We headed off at a rate of knots and having chosen to sit on the last bench at the back of the boat, I was rewarded with my second shower of the day… and this one was lasting a lot longer than the first. I didn’t mind. The spray was actually quite refreshing and cooling. I did notice that some of the spray tickled and some of it stung. 

The first stop of the day was Dolphin Bay, where we spent perhaps 10-minutes watching dolphins play in the wake of other tour boats. I would have been happy to stay longer but seemingly we were on a schedule. After another good long salt-water shower we arrived at a ‘floating restaurant’ where we were told to order and pay for our lunch as we would be returning here after snorkelling. I wasn’t hungry and knew that I would be cooking pasta later so I didn’t bother to order anything.

The boat then moved on to Zapatilla Island just after 11 am where we disembarked and were told we were staying here for 2-hours. This is a beautiful, virtually uninhabited island where turtles come to lay their eggs… there is nothing else here. But I enjoyed the soft sand and warm sea, making sure to wear a long-sleeve tee-shirt and hat while swimming as it was literally midday… I didn’t want to be a mad dog.

Around 1 pm the boat took us to a snorkelling spot near the ‘floating restaurant’ that we had visited earlier. Snorkels and masks were dispensed and we entered the water. What a disaster! There was hardly any corel here and people were swimming into each other. My mask didn’t fit well allowing a lot of water to enter and my snorkel’s mouthpiece was too small to ‘grasp’ as it were. Also, I felt, real or imagined, that the tide was pulling me away from the boat. I love snorkelling, under the right conditions it can be a very meditative experience, just drifting and being with my breath, but I am not a strong swimmer; so it was time for me to return to the boat. No one stayed in the water long and everyone was back on board after 15-minutes, which in itself says a lot.

We returned to the ‘floating restaurant’, I don’t know what else to call it. It was built on stilts over shallow water and, geographically, I have no idea where it was or what it was called. While other boaters had their pre-ordered meals, I got myself a can of coke for $2 and sat watching the shallow waters; I saw more fish doing this than I did while snorkelling.  

Eventually, we were rounded up and off again, this time speeding to Starfish Beach, or at least what was said to be Starfish Beach. The boat got to a Mangrove outcrop and slowed the engine to a crawl so that we could just make out a few, mainly red, starfish just below the surface. And that was it! We sped back to Bocas Town where we arrived about 4 pm. Putting aside my ‘expectations’ of the day, I would do this trip again or a similar one again but I would bring a picnic/packed lunch and drinks for the beach and my own snorkelling gear. In the scheme of things it was almost value for money.

Back at the Yellow House apartment, I enjoyed cooking a pasta supper to use up all the ingredients I had purchased yesterday… and there was still some ice-cream in the freezer!

Good night.

Budget costs:

  • Cash withdrawal free € 5
  • Breakfast € 9.50
  • Snorkeling Tour € 33
  • Coke at ‘floating’ bar € 2
  • Yellow House Duplex booked through Booking.com € 47 per night self catering.

Link to more images at @Kapikoy100

Links for reference and further reading: 

In Search of… something