Bocas del Toro Panama Surf Guide

Bocas del Toro Surf Guide: when to surf, where to surf and what to expect

This article was first published by our friend Drew Berger in The Bocas del Toro Blog, where you can find more informative, accurate, insider information about our community. The featured image is courtesy of Tony Z Photos.

Bocas del Toro, Panama, is one of the top up-and-coming surf destinations in the world. Although it has been discovered for a long time now, Bocas has yet to see true mass tourism and development. There are still uncrowded waves to be found and it is much cheaper than many other destinations in the Caribbean. There are also not many other places on this side of the planet where taking a boat to surf is the main form of transportation. In just a few minutes after leaving your dock you can be at one of the many different breaks throughout the archipelago. Bocas has every type of wave you could want and there is something for every skill level. Throw in 80 degree air and water temperatures, a lush tropical landscape, and a super laid back vibe and you have a true surfer’s paradise!

When to Surf in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro, Panama, has two surf seasons. The Primary Surf Season in Bocas begins in December and runs until April. The biggest and most powerful swells come in December and January which are also the two busiest months of the year for tourism. February and March also see consistent swell with sunnier weather and less crowds. April is considered a transition month that sees smaller swells more suited for the beach breaks.

The second surf season in Bocas occurs in June, July, and August. You will notice on the swell consistency map below that July sees just as much swell as December and January. June and August traditionally have smaller waves and are great months to surf the beach breaks with the occasional good reef break swell. One of the great things about surfing in Bocas is the variety of different waves within a short distance. This means that if the swell is small, you have the option of surfing one of the amazing beach breaks. And when the swell gets big, there are plenty of reef breaks to absorb and spread out the crowds! The tide difference in Bocas del Toro is only a few feet at the most and you can surf at any tide and any time of the day.

 

 

Bocas del Toro Panama Surf Spot Guide

Bocas del Toro Panama has a wave for every skill level, age, and physical ability. There are knee high white water waves that break over shallow sandy bottoms all the way up to triple overhead slabs that make headlines around the (surfing) world. We put together a list of all the known spots so you can be best prepared when coming to surf in Bocas

Where to Surf on Isla Colon

Isla Colon is the main island of the archipelago and features some of the most popular and best waves. Bocas Town is the most crowded and developed part of the island and where the epicenter of the tourism boom is located. The outer Northern facing coastline of Isla Colon is lined with reef breaks and punctuated with the world famous Bluff Beach. Check out our detailed list of the Surf Breaks on Isla Colon below!

Wave: Bluff Beach
Type of Wave: Beach Break
Skill Level: Advanced
Crowds: Low – Medium
Getting There: Taxi or Bus from Bocas Town (20 Min) or Water Taxi (15-20 Min)

a surfer in bluff beach

Bluff Beach on the outer reaches of Isla Colon is one of the premiere beach breaks of the world. It is known for being super powerful, breaking almost right on the beach, and producing a seemingly endless amount of square and makeable barrels. The takeoff is fast and steep and if you time it right you will drop into a cave you will never forget. Those that miss the takeoff will be picking the sand out of their scalp for weeks!

Wave: Paunch
Type of Wave: Right and Left Reef Break
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Crowds: Medium – High
Getting There: Taxi or Bus from Bocas Town (10-15 Min) or Water Taxi (5-7 Min)

bocas del toro surf paunch

Via Red Frog Bungalows, a popular surf resort on Red Frog Beach, Bastimentos Island

Paunch Reef on Isla Colon is a world-class reef break that is most known for the left handed barrel it produces when the swell is big. This spot also has long open walls both to the right and left and can be a great spot for intermediate surfers when it is small. Development in this area is happening at a rapid pace and the amount of surfers in the water can be a problem during High Season and peak swells.

Wave: Tiger Tails
Type of Wave: Right and Left Reef Break
Skill Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Crowds: Medium
Getting There: Taxi or Bus from Bocas Town (10 Min) or Water Taxi (5 Min)

Tiger Tails on Isla Colon is a right and left hand reef break that sits in front of the Paki Point Restaurant. Tiger Tails is best on small to medium size swells but will close out during the biggest swells. The wave is fast and can produce a nice little tube and open sections for turns.  Surfers have to be careful of a rock formation that protrudes out of the water towards the inside of the wave.

Where to Surf on Isla Carenero

Isla Carenero is another wave rich island in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago that is most famous for the left hand point break called Carenero Point. Isla Carenero is situated just one minute away from Isla Colon by water taxi. The side of the island closest to Bocas Town has a fairly large concentration of locals, expats, restaurants and tourist accommodations. The waves are located on the Northeast facing side of the island.

Courtesy of the TripAdvistor review of Tierra Verde, a popular surf lodge on Carenero Island.

 

Wave: Carenero Point
Type of Wave: Left Hand Point Break
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Crowds: Medium – High
Getting There: Water Taxi from Bocas Town (3-5 Min) or walking from Isla Carenero

Carenero Point is a left hand point break that is the second most popular wave in Bocas. There are two or three distinct take-off sections including an inside and outside. This helps to spread around the crowds during High Season although it will still get very crowded during peak season. On the best swells the wave will connect all the way from the point down to the inside delivering one of the longest rides in Bocas.

Wave: Old Mans
Type of Wave: Left Hand Point/ Reef Break
Skill Level: Beginner – Advanced
Crowds: Low – Medium
Getting There: Water Taxi from Bocas Town (3-5 Minutes) or walking from Isla Carenero

Old Mans is like a mini version of Carenero Point and is the next wave down the island, adjacent to Black Rock. It is a popular spot for surf lessons and a good place for kids to practice and learn surfing. When Carenero Point is pumping this spot can produce a perfectly shaped, chest-high left that won’t have anyone surfing it.

Wave: Black Rock
Type of Wave: A Frame Reef Break
Skill Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Crowds: Medium – High
Getting There: 3-5 Minutes from Bocas Town

Black Rock is situated a few hundred meters off of Isla Carenero. The wave breaks over a deep reef and produces both lefts and rights. The best part about Black Rock is that you do not need to know how to duck dive to surf here due to the channels on either side of the wave. Black Rock is the spot in Bocas for beginners and surf lessons and can get crowded during high season.

Wave: Bibi’s Break
Type of Wave: Sand Bottom A Frame
Skill Level: Beginner
Crowds: Low
Getting There: Water Taxi from Bocas Town (2 Min)

two young ladies surfing Bibis break - bocas del toro surf

Photo courtesy of Escuela del Mar

Bibi’s Break is a great wave for young kids and absolute beginners to learn how to surf. It is a knee high white water wave that breaks over a shallow, sandy bottom. The wave is located right next to the famous Bibi’s on the Beach restaurant. The best part about this break is that Dad can stand in the water and push his kids into the waves while Mom sips on a margarita at Bibi’s Overwater Bar just a few meters away.

Where to Surf on Isla Bastimentos

Isla Bastimentos is home to the Afro-Caribbean town of Old Bank and also some of the best waves in Bocas. Bastimentos is best known for the now world famous big wave spot at Silverbacks. Other good waves on Bastimentos include Wizard Beach and Long Beach and staying in the town of Old Bank gives you the luxury of easy water taxi access and also being able to walk to Wizard Beach.

Wave: Silverbacks
Type of Wave: Right Slab
Skill Level: Professional
Crowds: 0 – Low
Getting There: Water Taxi from Bocas Town (10-15 Min)

Luke Davis taking Silverbacks during the epic swell of of January 2020 (Photo courtesy of Red Frog Bungalows)

Silverbacks is Bocas del Toro’s notorious big wave spot on Isla Bastimentos. The wave is a right slabbing barrel that can get up to 20 feet or more on the face. It breaks several hundred meters off of the island and strong currents rip through the area which makes the take off spot shifty and unpredictable. The wave breaks over a fairly shallow reef that is full of holes and cracks you can get stuffed into. Only the most capable surfers should attempt to surf here!

Wave: Wizard Beach
Type of Wave: Beach Break
Skill Level: Beginner – Advanced
Crowds: 0 – Low
Getting There: Hike from Old Bank Town (30-45 Min) or Boat from Bocas Town (20 Min)

wizard beach bastimentos island bocas del toro surf

Wizard Beach is one of the hidden gems of Bocas del Toro and it sits right under everyone’s nose. Wizard is no secret by any means but it remains one of the least visited and most beautiful areas in the entire Archipelago. The wave can be fickle and depends a lot on the sandbars and tides but when it is good it can be the best wave in Bocas. Generally you want to hit it in the morning when there is a slight offshore wind, incoming tide, and around 3-5 feet. Smaller can also be fun but on a bigger swell it becomes disorganized and can close out. Wizard can be a great place to learn when it is small and is frequented by many surf schools.

Wave: Red Frog Beach
Type of Wave: Beach Break
Skill Level: Beginner – Advanced
Crowds: Low
Getting There: Taxi to Palmar Dock (10 Min) + Walk from the Palmar Dock (10 Min) or Water Taxi from Bocas Town (25 Min)

Red Frog Beach is the most popular beach in Bocas del Toro and maybe even in Panama. It is a beautiful strip of coastline that is home to several tourist accommodations, restaurants, and occasionally a wave or two. Red Frog is a great beach to go to to enjoy the beach, play beach volleyball and enjoy some good food and cold beer. The surf is generally not so great and will close out with any size over waist high. If you are trying to have a relaxing day with some bodysurfing and fish tacos mixed in then this is the spot.

Wave: Long Beach
Type of Wave: Beach Break
Skill Level: Beginner – Advanced
Crowds: 0 – Low
Getting There: Water Taxi from Bocas Town (30 Min)

Long Beach is on the far end of Isla Bastimentos and falls within the Bastimentos National Marine Park. The beach is a sea turtle nesting ground and is another area where 0 development can be found on the beach, aside from the national park guards that live in the corner. The wave here can be epic, with big hollow tubes and super clear waters. It catches more swell due to the direction it faces and is generally bigger and more powerful than Red Frog and Wizard. The 3-5 foot range is ideal for here and be ready for some bombs if it is any bigger, especially at 9 seconds.

Wave: Kusapin
Type of Wave: Beach Break
Skill Level: Beginner – Advanced
Crowds: 0 – Low
Getting There: Boat Ride from Bocas Town (1.5 Hours)

bocas del toro surf in kusapin

Photo courtesy of Visit Bocas del Toro, the official tourism website of Bocas del Toro.

Kusapin is an area on mainland Panama inside of the Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca which is a semi-autonomous indigenous territory. It is about 1.5 hours away from Bocas Town but the mission is worth the experience. The wave here can be epic and the all around experience of getting to see the Comarca will make it an unforgettable trip. The best thing about Kusapin is the feeling you get of being transported back in time, to a land that is (mostly) untouched by modern hands. The fact that there can be incredible surf here is a bonus. If you make your way out here be sure to show respect, spend some money in the community if you can, and leave a good impression.

The Bocas del Toro Blog was created by Drew and Tamara to provide honest, insider information to help you have the ultimate Bocas del Toro experience. They are also the owner-operators of Sol Bungalows (pictured above). Members of The Bocas Breeze editorial team have stayed there and can personally highly recommend this experience!

Here are some more Bocas del Toro busineses that are friends and advertisers of The Bocas Breeze that we also recommend:

Hotels, Hostels, Lodges, Bed & Breakfasts, Resorts and Apartments in Bocas del Toro

Restaurants, Delivery Services, Bars and Clubs in Bocas del Toro

Tours, Recreation and Wellness in Bocas del Toro

Professional Services and Specialty Stores in Bocas del Toro

 

 

The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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