When I first pictured myself in Bocas del Toro, Panama, I had absolutely no concept of what life outside the SFS center would look like. I knew we lived close to town but didn’t know how often we would be able spend time there. Little did I know how awesome it would be. The town of Bocas del Toro is about a five-minute taxi ride away (depending on who’s driving the taxi) and is easily walkable once you get there. It is a smattering of colorful buildings of different shapes, and has lots of places to stay, eat, and join in on fun activities. We are able to go to town anytime we want to during free time, and most weekends you will find a lot of the SFS students exploring new shops or places to eat.

So far, I’ve been able to do a lot downtown. On one of our first days at the center, the staff brought everyone into town for a quick tour. Before we even started walking around, Professor Carolyn made sure that we stopped at Mono Loco surf shop to get paletas or popsicles. Personally, I would recommend the maracuya flavor. It’s heaven in popsicle form. Also, surprisingly enough you can rent boards and take lessons from the surf shop as well. I took a surf lesson here with a group of four other students and absolutely loved it. I would not consider myself a graceful or balanced person but trying to learn surfing in a famous surf town is a must. After a long day of surfing, nothing tastes better than the sushi from Raw. It’s an awesome little restaurant upstairs with an ocean view and the sushi is off… the…charts. If you’re in the mood for somewhere a little more chill, there are two cafés next door to each other, Amerento and Café del Mar, which can be great places to grab a quick bite or even do homework. These are the few places I’ve eaten downtown so far, however my new goal is to try to eat at more locally owned places.

At night, Bocas comes to life. With live bands, dancing, and an opportunity to get to know locals and tourists alike, we always have a fun time. Toro Loco has a live band that we all enjoy going to watch and is close to popular places like Summer and Selina. Last weekend, we got to experience Carnaval in downtown Bocas. They set up big stages for dancers and musicians, and vendors lined the streets selling food and beautiful handicrafts. All of the students went out to experience this event, and even managed to make it into the drumline marching down the street.

Downtown Bocas is beyond what I expected it to be, and I truly do love it. I am excited to continue exploring it and to keep checking things off my bucket list. I hope to visit some quaint thrift shops, buy jewelry from a local street vendor, and take a boat taxi to nearby islands in the next couple months. Downtown is beyond anything I imagined, and as long as you are safe and smart you will have such a fun time. However, I do have one final and very important tip: do not eat the street meat. Just don’t do it.

→ Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies in Panama