Capital: Bocas del Toro/ Country: Panamá/ Districts: 4/ Historic Events: 1843 (national territory) 1903 (province)/ Area: 4.643,9 Km2/ Population (2018) total; 170.320 residents Density; 27,02 residents/Km2/ Coordinates: 9°20′26″N 82°14′26″O

Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama, and its’ capital is the same-named city of Bocas del Toro. It has an area of 4.5843,9 km², a population of 170,320 residents (2018) y its limits: to the north the Caribbean sea, to the south the province of Chiriqui, to the east and southeast with the Ngabe-Bugle region, to the west and northeast with the province of Limon in Costa Rica, and to the southwest with the province of Puntarenas in Costa Rica. The province includes the island of Escudo de Veraguas that is found in the Mosquitos gulf, separated from the rest by the península Valiente.

Possible origins of the name

It often happens that many names in the Republic of Panama have an unknown history and, unfortunately, their true origin has been lost in time. In spite of that, among the locals there are several stories that deserve to be known. There are those who vehemently affirm that the last “cacique” (an indigenous tribe of the region) who had a strong character and was a tireless fighter, was known as “Boka Toro”. Others are sure that during his fourth and final trip the Admiral Cristóbal Colón, who spent most of his time bedridden due to poor vision and possible rheumatic fever, sailed with his two Caravels towards a wide circular water inlet, the bay of “Carabaro”, named after the natives, today renamed in his honor as Bahia Almirante (Admiral Bay).

Fourth trip of Cristobal Colon in the Caribbean Sea

On October 6, 1502, as he was sailing with his crew from the Caribbean Sea to  Carenero Island to make repairs to the hull on one of his ships due to heavy storms unleashed along the coast and stocking up of provisions on the neighboring island of Bastimentos, Columbus spotted a rock, which looked like a “bull lying with its mouth open”. This could explain some names of the Caribbean islands Bastimentos and Carenero, whose names mean “supplies” and “careening”, respectively. A variant of the above indicates that, when entering the sea to the mainland, the immense waves which pound the cliffs on Bastimentos Island (which are of volcanic origin) resemble the sound of a bull bellowing with great force.


Archipelago of Bocas del Toro 

The Europeans first arrived in this territory on October 6, 1502, during the fourth voyage of Admiral Columbus to America. During colonial times the territory was part of the government of Veraguas: in 1537 it was part of the Royal Veragua and in 1540 it was within the Province of New Cartago and Costa Rica, whose territories extended to the east of Honduras. Attempts were made to found settlements, but these did not last more than a few months. In 1540 the town of Badajoz was founded on the banks of the Sixaola River, but it was destroyed. In 1560, in Bahia Almirante (Admiral’s Bay) the town of Castillo de Austria was founded, but it was abandoned the following year due to its inhospitable location. In 1577, the City of Artieda of the New Kingdom of Navarre was founded on the banks of the Cricamola River, which was under the jurisdiction of the new province of Costa Rica-it was abandoned the following year for the same reasons. In 1605 a settlement was founded on the south bank of Sixaola by the conqueror Diego de Sojo y Peñaranda, and had some prosperity becoming capital of the new province of Duy and Mexicans in 1610, which stretched from the Sixaola until the island Escudo de Veraguas, but in that same year an indigenous rebellion headed by the Cabécar (an indigenous group) that ended in a massacre, forced the abandonment of the city and the dissolution of Duy and Mexicans. During the nineteenth century, the area of ​​Bocas del Toro was immersed in a border dispute between Costa Rica and Colombia, due to interpretations of the Royal Certificate of 1803, which transferred the jurisdiction of the Mosquito Coast to Escudo de Veraguas, the viceroyalty of New Spain to the Viceroyalty of New Granada. With the independence of the Isthmus of Panama (and its subsequent accession to Gran Colombia) and the emergence of the Federal Republic of Central America, the dispute over Bocas del Toro became more evident.

In 1836, fearing the growing English influence in the Caribbean, Central America proclaimed authority on the island of Bocas de Toro and appointed Juan Galindo for the establishment of the district of Morazán. However, the Republic of New Granada sent two ships and one detachment to expel the Central American forces, on December 18, without any military action. Costa Rica protested the action, considering it a “usurpation” but fearing New Granada military power it abstained from taking action until the Separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903, and it remained a frontier claim. On May 26, 1837, New Granada named Bocas del Toro as a canton of the province of Veragua and in 1843 it was renamed as national territory, with tax benefits and special sociopolitical attributions. In 1850 the territory was abolished and was annexed to the province of Chiriqui. In 1855, the Bocas del Toro archipelago, the Chiriqui lagoon and some villages on the mainland were grouped in the Bocas del Toro region until 1894, when it was converted into a district of the province of Colón. A few days after the separation of Panama from Colombia, on November 16, 1903, Bocas del Toro was promoted to a province of the new Republic of Panama.

During the Coto War, Costa Rican forces briefly recovered the province, reaching the city of Almirante where on March 6 the last details were prepared to take the capital of the province, located on one end of the Colón Island and which still remained under Panamanian control. News arrived that the fight had ended with the imposition of the White ruling of 1914- for this reason the Costa Rican soldiers concentrated in Almirante were transferred to the neighboring province of Limón, ending the Costa Rican occupation of Bocas del Toro. In 1991, a 7.6 MW earthquake hit Bocas del Toro and neighboring Costa Rica, causing 79 deaths, 1061 injuries and numerous structural damages. By Law No. 10 of March 7, 1997, more than half of its territory was assigned to the Ngäbe-Buglé aboriginal group, as printed in Official Gazette # 23,242 published on March 11, 1997


Political-Administrative Division

The province of Bocas del Toro is divided into four districts and 30 regions. On June 8, 2015 the new district of Almirante, segregated from the district of Changuinola, was created.

Protected Areas

Among the main objectives of ANAM (Autoridad Nacional de Ambiente or National Authority on the Environment) are to define, elaborate and implement policies and norms of management and conservation of protected areas, wildlife, biodiversity, natural and cultural heritage and environmental services. These actions will serve to  guarantee the rational use of natural resources and sustainable development, comply with international commitments through the protection, integration, conservation and use of biodiversity within the framework of the priorities of economic and social environmental development that are at the core of the institution. For this reason, ANAM includes the following in its list; Marine National Park, Municipal Water Reserve, Municipal Reserve, Protected Forest, Wetlands of international importance, International Parks,


Certainly geography and culture have influenced the production relations in the province of Bocas del Toro:

* Agricultural land: Changuinola, Almirante, Guabito and Chiriqui Grande with mostly indigenous population and whose main crop is the banana that has a large economic contribution to the isthmus in terms of exports, mainly to the United States and Europe;

* Tourist services in the archipelago: Bastimentos and Bocas Island also called Isla Colón, with a Latino – Afro-Antillean population, whose economy is based on tourism, service and fishing

Culture and Traditions


The main folkloric dances are those of Afro-Antillean and indigenous origin. The bocatoreños have many distinctive dances which they dance in pairs, and usually occur when they celebrate a birthday or special holiday. The most outstanding dances are the Antillean squads, the Calidonia dance, the Palo de Mayo (The Stick of May). They also dance soca and calypso rhythms. When dancing calidonia, polka and antillean, salon dresses are used. In calypso, congas and Palo de Mayo rhythms they wear Afro-Antillean garments.


In addition to the famous group The Beachers (formed by the pianist and arranger Lloyd Gallimore), there are also prominent musicians Luis Russell (pianist, composer, conductor) and, of course, the ‘monarch of the calypso’ Lord Cobra (composer, singer, ukulele performer).

Written Word

Originally from this Panamanian province are writers José María Sánchez Borbón (storyteller), Tristán Solarte (novelist, poet, storyteller), Consuelo Tomás (poet and storyteller), Eyra Harbar (poet) and Magali Almengor Araúz (short story writer) winner of the Children’s Literature Contest “Medio Pollito” 2004, in the young and adult category, for his work “Thamy the caterpillar”; organized by the INAC.