The area of the Bocas del Toro islands is recognized among surfers as the surfing epicenter of the Southwest Caribbean. Strong winds from the Northeast (between 25 and 35 knots), and cold fronts that descend from the Gulf of Mexico, combined with conditions of favorable winds from the region, often produce incredible waves that make the surfer think that they have really arrived somewhere special. The known waves barely add up to half a dozen; however, there are many more to explore in Bocas del Toro; this paradise in the Caribbean offers a variety of waves. This surfers paradise is located on the northwest coast of the Caribbean of Panama, with beautiful landscapes, incredible beaches, and the best surf in Panama. It is known for its medium size conditions, and perfect tropical climate. The winds blow from the mountains and are ideal for creating many breaks.
Access: There are many unexplored places that are difficult to access, or that require specific conditions. Tide: works at high tide. Surf: southern currents, with waves of all sizes but usually the surf stays big, up to double overhead. Background: beach breaks and reef breaks. Feet: 4 to 8. Season: From December to April, and from July to August.
In this impressive place you can board a boat directly from your private terrace or any lodging in the area and then jump from the boat directly “your wave”. Many of the breaks unload on coral but there is one in particular, a beach wave, which is thick, fast, strong and forms a beautiful tube – The Bluff and is an excellent wave, perhaps the best of the archipelago. This wave lasts from one half to four meters but you need a calm sea so that the water doesn’t become hellish. The movement of water is very intense and it is not a place for novices. This wave is located on Isla Colon (about 15 minutes by road from the area of “Bocas Town”) where you can also surf the peaks of Dumpers and Paunch. On the small island of Carenero breaks a delicious left wave, long and with some pipe sections. It has a reputation for being an easy and loose wave, but it is not true – some challenge can be consistently found here.
A little further to the west, on the island of Bastimentos where the television program “Survivor” was filmed, another of the surfer jewels of Bocas del Toro appears: Silverback, the big wave in the area. A coral base with the precise shape to make break – a triangular mass of water that sends its lip forward creating very wide tubes. The place holds up to five meters and, like all the islands except Columbus, is only accessible by sea. Wizard Beach, located in Bastimentos, offers an excellent opportunity for surfers as well as an extensive and spectacular virgin beach.
Where to Surf
There are 3 main islands that offer reef breaks, point breaks and some beach breaks. The main island of Isla Colon has big waves.
Paunch is a fun reef break with 3 different spikes, with right and left. Access: This break can be accessed by land or by sea. The best way to get there would be by boat because the reef is covered with pufferfish, but if you do not mind that, you can access by land.
Playa Bluff is all you need. Bluff is a strong and fast tubular wave that breaks in shallow water about 10 meters from the beach. It’s a very good wave, but only for the experts.
Isla Carenero is home to the famous point break, it’s a small island located between Isla Bastimentos and Isla Colón. Carenero has a left outer reef, and is a very good wave for experienced surfers. The wave has a strong fall and sometimes a tube on a living reef. The interior of Carenero has another very fast left, with some impressive sections to make turns. This part of the wave is also on a shallow living reef, so avoid going too far in with your board.
Black Rock is a fun wave for expert surfers or people who want to learn to surf. It is one of the favorite places of surf schools in Bocas del Toro to take beginners or someone who only surfs a couple of times a year. Although it breaks over the reef, it is very deep and offers a channel on both sides to facilitate access to the peak, and a place to rest for a while.
Wizard Beach at Isla Bastimentos offers fun beach breaks with awesome waves in a jungle setting. These waves are fun when the surf is smaller.
Red Frog Beach is lower down on Bastimentos Island, and has a fun beach break when conditions are good. If the other places look dangerous, Red Frog can offer some tranquility and fun for the surfer.
Furthest north from Bocas del Toro is the long stretch of beach known as Bluff. Hollow & powerful waves break super close to the shore, plenty of which close out. Pick the right ones for a quick barrel at this spot that is ideally suited to bodyboards.
A 10-15min drive from town is the quality reefbreak of Paunch. The lefts start with a tubular section, before wrapping into a more workable wall. A fun wave when small, it gets real sucky with a bigger swell. There is also the option of a few rights off the peak when everybody focuses on the lefts but they are merely a shadow of the quality lefts. Sharp reef at Paunch and Dumpers makes reef boots a necessity.
The boat option is best used to navigate around the slim island of Careñeros to check the surf at its northern tip. This left pointbreak peels down the east coast of the island for a ride that can top 200m (600ft). It’s usually a mellow wave, but it holds size and can have some long tubing sections. The more adventurous (and budget conscious) can paddle to Careñeros from Bocas then walk around the island.
Bastimientos is home to 2 radically different breaks. Silverbacks is Bocas’ big wave spot and it’s the only right reefbreak in the zone. The ride is short, but the drops are long as the wave ledges up into a large barrel. Boards over 7′ are recommended to surf this spot. It needs a good size swell to start breaking and will hold over 20 ft (6m).
On the other hand, First Beach, sometimes referred to as Wizard Beach, is a basic beachbreak with patches of reef whose main attribute is to pick up more swell than any other spot. Accessed via boat to the south side of the island, getting here also involves a good 20min walk across fields – longer when the trail gets muddy. It’s definitely not the best surf around but becomes the only option if it’s flat everywhere else – the beauty of the beach makes up for the poor quality of the surf.