Posted by: oldsalt1942 | August 22, 2014

Rethinking the Cruising Grounds

This post was actually written before the one about pangas and narrowboats.

My original plan, when retiring to Panama, was to build a shanty boat and spend the rest of my days in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well it didn’t happen as my regular readers know. But for four years the idea has lain semi-dormant in the back of my mind. But why Bocas, specifically. Well, in all of Panama there are really only three places that seem to be written about as cruising areas.

On the Pacific side there’s the Perlas Islands. These islands are generally stopped at by people either about to or have recently made a transit of the Canal.

Las perlas

You might recognize Contadora where the Shah of Iran spent time after being deposed.



But these islands are places for cruising boats to hang out at for a while, not for shanty boats. They lie 40 and more miles offshore.

On the Caribbean side there’s the San Blas Islands, known here in Panama as Guna Yala. It is a semi-autonomous region administered by the Kuna Indians and to visit them you have to get permission from the Chiefs and pay to visit and your stay is limited in length. It’s not a place where you’re welcome to stay forever.

guna yala

san blas


The Kuna are the second smallest group of people in the world after the pygmies in Africa, and the women’s distinctive “molas” make them iconic figures of Panama. A mola originally meant bird plumage, is the Kuna Indian word for clothing, specifically blouse, and the word mola has come to mean the elaborate embroidered panels that make up the front and back of a Kuna woman’s traditional blouse.

Their reverse-applique molas are famous all over the world. And the women actually dress like this. ALL THE TIME! It’s not a tourist affectation, it’s their cultural heritage. The men, on the other hand, wear western clothes. You will see the women in their native clothing in Panama City all the time. It’s kind of a culture shock for those of us who come from the States and other “first world” countries when we see them for the first time. I will NEVER forget on one of my first trips to Panama I went to the ENORMOUS Albrook Mall. It was a little before Christmas time. Ahead of me, in all the glitter and glitz of the mall was a tiny Guna woman walking along. In one hand she had a half dozen plastic bags probably filled with cheap plastic crap that was made in China. In the other hand she had a cell phone pressed to her ear. Talk about weird!

But it’s the Bocas del Toro achepeligo most cruisers gravitate to.



Miles and miles of sheltered water cruising with dozens of islands to tuck up to and anchor behind if you’re looking for some peace and quiet. The achepeligo is up to 35 miles wide and nearly 20 miles deep from the entrance at Bocas del Drago to the mainland. When Columbus stumbled into the area in 1502 he thought he was at the entrance to his elusive strait. Nope, sorry, Chris.

There’s world-class surfing here:



Places to chill out and recharge:


The main hot spot is Bocas Town on Isla Colon. You go there if you want get supplies or to live it up a bit:

BocasTown copy



It was my original goal to build a shantyboat and retire here in the Bocas area and just poke around forever. Last July I took a trip over there (third visit) to look at a sailboat that was for sale.  Took a look at it and in a nanosecond knew that getting it in shape was more work than I wanted to get involved in.

Taking the water taxi back to the mainland (there are no roads OUT TO Isla Colon)  I realized I didn’t want to live in Bocas. It’s simply too far away from things I feel are essential to a good life. Medical treatment there is iffy at best. No real hospital and if you need treatment it’s a 45 minute boat ride to Almirante and then a four-hour bus ride up over the mountains to get to David (dah VEED). As I was riding along on the water taxi I asked myself if I really wanted to have to do this and the answer was, “No, I don’t.”

So, where does that leave me? Closer to home there’s Pedregal with it’s marina, Customs and Immigration offices and other Maritime offices.




Pedregal is a 35¢ bus ride from downtown David. It’s not a very pretty place, and there is quite a bit of crime here, mostly drug related but it’s certainly not as tranquil as Boquerón. Back in 2009 (has it been that long ago?) when I was doing my exploratory visits to the country I went down to the marina to look around, and dismissed the place out of hand. (Please excuse the misspelling of the town’s name)

So with Bocas off the list I went back to Google Earth and took another peek at Pedregal and saw this:

ped and boca


Miles and miles of sheltered water in the delta and then to the east comes Boca Chica and Boca Brava.



And there are lots of boats here which was a surprise to me…

Lots of big game fishing goes on offshore from Boca Chica with world records being pulled out of the water. And there are plenty of islands to relax around.

If anything does come of the boating bug this is probably where I’ll end up. Close to David.

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