It’s pretty hard to argue over the beauty of Caribbean beaches, with their crystal clear waters, bright blue skies, and soft white sand.
Which Caribbean beach is the best, though, is a question that can prompt some serious debate. With hundreds of islands and thousands of beaches to choose from, choosing a favorite Caribbean beach is no easy task.
In this neck of the woods, two amazing beach areas that are often pitted as rivals are Panama’s Bocas del Toro and Costa Rica’s Puerto Viejo. Located in different countries but only about 70 miles apart, these two beach communities both offer plenty of what we love about Caribbean beaches. However, there are some key differences.
Read on for all you need to know about what makes each of these gems special and which one we think comes out on top.
Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is a province in the northwest corner of Panama. The area includes plenty of coastal and mountain terrain, as well as dozens of islands. This makes Bocas one of the most ecologically diverse and naturally beautiful regions of Panama.
When it comes to comparing beaches between Bocas del Toro and Puerto Viejo, most would agree that the Bocas beaches are more strikingly beautiful.
As much of Bocas del Toro is made up of islands, it’s easy to find a completely secluded beach with views of nothing but sky, sea, and lush tropical landscapes.
Bocas also offers some of the best snorkeling in the area. With clear waters that make it easy to spot tropical fish, starfish, and even sea turtles. Water taxis are plentiful and for a nominal fee, you can hop between islands to soak in the unique identities of dozens of different beaches.
Apart from the stunning beaches and tropical scenery, there are tons of reasons why people from all over the globe choose to buy a second home or even relocate full-time to Bocas del Toro.
For one, as with the rest of Panama, the local currency in Bocas del Toro is the dollar. This is especially convenient for those from the United States, but the dollar is often a familiar currency to those from elsewhere as well.
Since there is a fairly established expat community in Bocas del Toro, English is also readily used and understood, making the transition to a new country easier.
Additionally, if you’re considering relocating to a Caribbean beach town, prices for real estate in Bocas del Toro is hard to beat. And they are certainly cheaper than in Puerto Viejo. As an example, investors can purchase a brand new luxury condo at Red Frog Beach.
Red Frog beach is one of the most sought after destinations in Bocas del Toro, with luxury condo’s starting at less than $200,000. For those looking to buy in the Caribbean, you can’t do much better than that.
Finally, residents of Bocas del Toro enjoy how is relatively easy this beach community is to access. It’s easy to fly directly into Bocas del Toro Isla Colón International Airport. From there it’s just a quick ride to the heart of Bocas Town.
Bocas Town is the central hub of the region. There you will find plenty of dining and shopping options as well as easy access to the other islands in Bocas del Toro via a water taxi. You can easily wake up in Panama City in the morning and be eating ceviche on the beach in Bocas for lunch.
A two-hour drive (and a sometimes time-consuming border crossing) up the road from Bocas del Toro will land you in the Costa Rican beach town of Puerto Viejo with its own set of stunning Caribbean beaches.
Many consider Bocas del toro’s beaches to be prettier than those of Puerto. However, there’s no denying that this tropical destination has an allure of its own.
Apart from the main beach that runs straight up to the heart of the town, there are several other beaches south of Puerto Viejo that are easy to access as well. As such, residents can easily choose a new beach for every day of the week, or find a favorite and make it their regular choice. All without having to hop on a water taxi.
Many also feel that Puerto Viejo has a less-Americanized and more rustic feel than Bocas del Toro. The currency here is the Costa Rican colon as opposed to the dollar. And while you’ll certainly hear English in Puerto Viejo, it is less prevalent than in Bocas.
Depending on your level of Spanish and preference for either a more convenient or less Americanized atmosphere, you might prefer this aspect of Puerto Viejo.
When it comes to the cost of living, there are some areas where Puerto Viejo is cheaper than Bocas del Toro. As mentioned above, real estate tends to be a bit pricier in Puerto Viejo. Food and household goods, on the other hand, are often cheaper in Puerto Viejo.
Because Bocas del Toro is comprised mostly of islands, everything you can buy on those islands tends to come with a higher price tag since it has to be transported.
There are plenty of fresh fruit and produce vendors scattered around Puerto Viejo where you can buy some of the juiciest tropical fruit imaginable for a fraction of what it would cost back home.
A final consideration that sets Puerto Viejo apart from Bocas has to do with ease of accessibility. Most residents and visitors arrive in Puerto Viejo by flying to the nation’s capital, San Jose, followed by a 6-hour drive (longer if by bus) to get to Puerto Viejo.
This long commute means that even though life in Puerto Viejo is beautiful, it can be a bit of a hassle to get to and from this idyllic beach town.
At the end of the day, which of these two beach communities you prefer has everything to do with your personal preferences and lifestyle. For those looking to relocate to a Caribbean beach community, we can’t help but feel that Bocas del Toro is a better choice.
Not only is real estate more affordable in Bocas, but the ease of accessibility makes it a piece of cake to get to and from this tropical oasis.
Once you see Boca’s stunning beaches, though, you may decide you never want to leave.