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

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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.

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