Stab Magazine | Bucket List: Panama’s Thin-Lipped Barrel-Laden Caribbean City By The Sea

Bucket List: Panama’s Thin-Lipped Barrel-Laden Caribbean City By The Sea

Bocas Del Toro is a charming banana town with seasonally pumping surf!

style // Dec 22, 2017
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Plucked straight out of our daydreams, and in partnership with Corona’s Bucket List offering (more info below), Stab presents the destinations highest on our life to-do list.


While there’s treasure to be chased throughout the Caribbean Islands on the right hurricane blasts, or subtropical lows blowing up in the warm, shallow waters, these winter months there’s nowhere we’ll be keeping more in focus than Bocas Del Toro, Panama’s Caribbean city-by-the-sea, a little island chain littered with eco-lodges, yoga retreats full of lycra-clad co-eds, and miles and miles of spinning, thin-lipped sandbar barrels, and at least a few drop-dead dreamy slabs. With dozens of setups that see consistently punchy, playful runs of swell, you’ll lose track of the days catching a hundred short-period wedges over black sand.

A sixty-minute hop from Panama City, (or an hour and a half from San Jose, Costa Rica), Bocas Del Toro’s a slowly modernizing, former banana town, first seen by Western eyes in 1502, by Ol’ Chris Columbus and his merry band, actually. Hence, a couple of the island’s names: Isla Colón (Columbus Island), Isla Cristóbal (Christopher Island) and Bahía de Almirante (Admiral’s Bay). (Colonialists, am I right? Gotta piss on every palm tree they come across.)

After two centuries of French Huguenots and return visits from Spanish militias and Old World diseases, wealthy slave owners settled Bocas, hoping to establish a community in the fertile region. After abolition, former slaves remained in the area, joined by Jamaicans and Caribbean islanders, who would later comprise the workforce that would see banana farming explode in the area, drawing the famous United Fruit Company, aka Chiquita to the region. Today, Chiquita grows and exports 750,000 tons of bananas annually, and employs the most diverse workforce in the country.

Yeah, that’s Bocas: the charming little banana town with (seasonally) pumping surf.

Today, you’re as likely to run into semi-famous LA designers, as you are the typical surf drifters forever bumming around Central America.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Caribbean’s tricky, but she ain’t rocket science. Amateur meteorology, maybe, but here’s the simple formula:

Bocas has two main seasons, with horse latitude flat spells in between, and you can only pick so many bananas. December through April, you can pretty much set your watch on, the winter months ripe for harvest, as evidenced by the consistent flow of traveling surfers dotting the countless lineups along the island chains these days. With ridiculously low specials from time to time out of MIA and elsewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, it can get damned crowded, but nothing like similar quality beach breaks in Nicaragua or Costa Rica, and honestly, they’re just better waves. Keep an eye on wind patterns off the Central Caribbean islands, as well as Atlantic storms as they slide into the Caribbean Sea. Winter months often see favorable weather patterns set in for weeks on end, good winds, save for the frequent thunderstorm or two blowing in and keeping things interesting.

During the late summer and early fall, given the right storm path, hurricane swells can go XXL around Bocas, but those swells are much less frequent than the winter’s robust offering.

And we haven’t even touched on the slabs. Surely by now, you’ve seen some of last year’s antics at Silverbacks, the wedging, mutant right. If I’m going, I’m bringing my local hero, Cory Lopez, and a few Central American homies for street cred—Carlos Munoz has spent plenty of time down there. So has Leon Glatzer. I’m calling up Nathan Florence, Koa Rothman and the boys, who took a crack at Silverbacks last year going absolutely mental. Same with Balaram Stack, who pretty much nailed his entire Psychic Migrations clip on a Bocas bender.

As for boards, I’m loading up on performance shortboards, at least a couple 7-foot-plus gorilla hunters for good measure, and maybe something fishy just for kicks. 

Where to stay: 

While Bocas is known for classic Caribbean guest house rentals, which abound and are worth the fairly inconsequential price difference from, say, the more grimy surf camps around.

But pretty much every surfer we know just stays at Red Frog Bungalows. The crew there have good boats for inter-islands strikes, which are just absolutely crucial. The accommodations are simple and comfortable, the house restaurant Nachyo Mommas is more than acceptable, and frankly, it’s a breeze. They’re also touted as the only camp interested in jumping in the ring with Silverbacks.

But if we’re talking #CoronaBucketList here, we’re renting one of the many adult treehouse rentals throughout the lush jungles. In the last couple decades, tons of radical treetop abodes have popped up all over the Bocas islands, lovely little jungle pods to weather out the frequent, often brief storms rolling through. Because other than that, you’ll be surfing, or checking out cocoa farms (as in, like, chocolate, of course), or finding geisha coffee plantations, etc.

Oh, and I’m stretching out the layover in Panama City. You’d be a fool to miss a night or two at the American Trade, the remarkable Central American Ace Hotel spinoff, and a few evenings peeping in on Panama’s, um, darker side.

What’s on your Bucket List? You know, those once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experiences you’ve always wanted to put a big fat marker through and say, ‘Yep, I’ve done it.’ Whether it’s remote travel to the corners of the globe, surfing that idyllic lineup, or meeting a personal hero in the flesh, Corona wants you to let the world hear your dreams, to celebrate these experiences. We’re hearing whispers that Corona’s helping these #coronabucketlist desires come to fruition, so go right ahead and share your own.

Read more, here.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Tahiti Preview: The End Of The Road For 72% Of The CT

And hello there, blob of swell.

Aug 12, 2022


While Everyone Flocked To Tahiti, Kelly Stayed in Jbay

...And proceeded to rip the hell out of it on a "borrowed" 5-finned Tomo.

Aug 11, 2022


Can A GQ Cover Boy Take Out Teahupo’o?

Kauli Vaast is your incredibly handsome Tahiti trials winner.

Aug 11, 2022

Watch: Ramble On With Caity Simmers 

An action-rich tour behind the scenes of her triumphant first voyage to Oz.

Aug 11, 2022

PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua

Cameras and drones are being seized on arrival, Stab spoke with two recent visitors.

Aug 11, 2022

Inside The Alternative Surfboard Marketing Machine 

Two of the biz's best — Matt Parker and Blake Peters — spill many beans.

Aug 10, 2022

The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo

Two Brazilian sporting icons killed brazenly by off-duty police officers.

Aug 9, 2022

The Pick-Up, Vans US Open: In The Belly Of The Beast

Finger flips, shaping with Zion Wright, slurpees, Hawaiian takeovers, and the king of Surfline rewinds.

Aug 8, 2022

Albee Layer Discusses His Not-So-Budding Acting Career And The Upcoming Film “Sweet Adventure”

"Matt and Nora were tripping a little harder than I was just because they weren't…

Aug 8, 2022

Zeke Lau & Bettylou Sakura Johnson Win The Vans US Open Of Surfing 

Hawaii dominates HB.

Aug 8, 2022

How A Former CT Surfer Gets “Absolute Beginners” Barreled In A Matter Of Months

Luke Stedman elaborates on his Blackball surf programs.

Aug 7, 2022


Sweeter Than Stolen Honey 

A versatile Haydenshapes x Dylan Graves HP (and soft board) tested in weird waves.

Aug 7, 2022

15-Year-Old Ladybird Erin Brooks Makes Final In All-Men’s Tuberiding Event

And Clay Marzo takes the dub.

Aug 6, 2022

Are We Looking At Reef Sculpting The Wrong Way? 

The pros, cons, possibilities, and mechanisms of changing reefs to suit our surfing desires.

Aug 6, 2022

The Gudang Trio Discusses Brotherhood And How To Make It To The Mountain Top Together  

Positive sibling vibrations we should all aspire to.

Aug 6, 2022


Everyone’s Local Zone Has A Mythical Wave

Kai Lenny, Imaikalani DeVault, Eli Hanneman and friends get to surf theirs.

Aug 5, 2022

The Pick-Up, Vans US Open: Harry Bryant Vs. The Wedge

A lot of swell, stolen identities, surf masochists, mutilated noses, The Wedge, skull-crushing pylons, and…

Aug 5, 2022

When Gabby And Kolohe Pull Out, The Hog Pulls In

Tahiti wildcards named.

Aug 5, 2022