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WHAT TO DO

A good example of the type of excursion one can find is a very popular day trip that takes place on a 34-foot catamaran that cruises tourists throughout the archipelago through deeply vegetated islands and coral reefs, stopping along the way at different spots to snorkel and scuba dive.

Once they reach their destination, a secluded and deserted white sand beach on the island of Bastimentos, the picnic baskets are unloaded and a typical Caribbean lunch is served with white rice, beans, fish, fruit and juices.

After resting and swimming in the light crystal blue waters, it is time for the jungle hike into the island's nature preserve. Sloths, howler monkeys, toucans, parrots, iguanas and tiny, brightly colored, poison dart frogs are among the island's different animal inhabitants.

The day trip ends with another cruise through the islands with one more stop for snorkeling and then pulls back into Bocas town just before sunset.

Deep-sea fishing is a fairly new addition to the different excursions available in the region, but that does not mean that it isn't world class.

For years locals have been fishing in the province's warm and bounteous waters catching all types of fish and seafood including the local delicacy, “langosta”, or lobster.

For the avid sports fisherman there are sailfish, blue and black marlin, shark, barracuda, red snapper and snook. Half and full day trips are very inexpensive when compared with other sports fishing destinations such as Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. Scuba diving in Bocas del Toro is in some of the best and most diverse waters in all of Central America.

The cost however is about half what you would expect to pay in places like Roatan, Honduras. You can find over two dozen different types of corals, hundreds of species of fish, kelp forests, shipwrecks, caves and reefs all within an hour of Bocas town. With so many different types of diving experiences to be had, it is the perfect place to spend a couple of weeks exploring them all. One popular destination for divers and snorkelers alike, is Hospital Point.

At only five minute by boat from Bocas, this point is easily accessible and a great place to get your feet wet. The water is warm and clear and it is possible to see many different examples of coral such as brain and elk. For those on a budget, a mask, snorkel and fins can be rented in town for as little as $12 for the day.

They can then hire one of the many locals along the wharf to take them over by boat and then pick them up later in the day for no more the three dollars. While the sea and the water are Bocas del Toro's main attraction, the islands themselves offer their own unique and interesting experiences and adventures. The islands are teaming with life of every kind from the top to the bottom of the rain forest canopy.

Troops of howler, white faced and spider monkeys inhabit all of the larger islands of the group. Three and four toed sloths are very common sights as well as numerous different kinds of reptiles, birds, amphibians and sea turtles.

One of the most interesting and unique creatures to be found on the islands is the poison dart frog. These pint-size frogs are no bigger than a mans thumbnail and have a myriad of different color patterns.

Lime greens, day glow oranges, fiery reds, deep purples and bright yellows to name just a few of the different colors. These amazing little creatures get their name from the poison that they excrete from their skin and its use by native Indians to tip their spears and darts in Pre-Colombian times.

They are not really a danger to humans, as the poison has to be injected into the body because it cannot penetrate the skin. A fun and distinct excursion to take on Isla Colon is to rent mountain bikes in Bocas town and cycle into the interior.

There is a dirt road that goes from the town all the way through the heart of the island to its other side. Many areas of this 20-mile long and 8-mile wide island are still primary and secondary rain forests with a number of pastures and small pueblos of thatched roofed huts. It is in one of these villages along the road in the middle of the island where you can find one of Bocas hidden treasures.

Across the street from the town's lone soda (small store) is a plain cement walkway that veers off the road and down the slope of a hill. Nestled to one side, at the bottom of the ravine, near the mouth of a cave and a fresh water spring is a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

The area is shaded by a grove of trees and is quite cool even at midday in the middle of summer. Situated at the entrance to the cave, and placed all around the statue, are dozens of different colored glass candles.

As you enter into the cave, the light from these candles flickers and bounce off the walls in a kaleidoscope of shifting colors. Further into the cave, it is possible to look up and see thousands of small fruit bats sleeping upside down and hanging from the ceiling. There is a quiet serenity to the place that allows visitors to relax and enjoy the beauty of its surroundings.