Isla Bastimentos in Panama’s Bocas del Toro islands is the intermediate surfer’s haven. © John Seaton Callahan / Getty Images

Bocas del Toro, Panama: barreling waves on brochure-worthy beaches

There are so many overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro these days that it can sometimes feel like Maldives in the Caribbean. But it’s all that takes place on and under the water – boating, scuba diving and surfing – that makes this string of six populated islands, 50 coral cays and over 200 mini-islets so special.

The variety of breaks accessible within a short boat ride of Bocas town is truly impressive. (A boat will really be the only way to get around.) Beginners can go 20 minutes to Wizard Beach to find glassy, 5-foot swells with hardly a line up. Experts can go 15 minutes to Bluff Beach for sucky tubes with the power to snap boards. The long Isla Bastimentos, meanwhile, is the intermediate surfer’s haven.

The downside of surfing in Bocas del Toro is the relatively short season. December to early April is the sweet spot, when consistent northerly offshore winds and SW swells combine. The rest of the year, this is a coconut-sipping, snorkel-blowing paradise with water as unrippled as a Panamanian hojaldre flatbread.

Getting to Bocas del Toro: Air Panama has direct flights from Panama City (Albrook Airport) into Bocas del Toro. There are also bus-boat connections from Panama City.