If you’ve lived in Panama City or any other large metropolis for long, you surely know of the periodic need for an escape. Don’t get us wrong, we LOVE living in the capital. However, at the end of a long week of traffic, crowds, and hustle and bustle, we’re occasionally craving a break from the city.
Luckily for capital dwellers who feel the same way, an escape doesn’t need to involve extensive travel plans. In fact, you don’t even have to book a hotel. The perfect day trip escape from Panama City is just a 30-minute boat ride away…
Welcome to Taboga Island!
Directly south off the coast of Panama City you’ll find this charming island inviting you to kick back and relax. Taboga Island (Isla Tabogo, in Spanish) was historically a popular rest stop for pirate crews. Today, nearly 2,000 Panamanians (and a handful of foreigners) call Taboga home. But you don’t need to live at Tabogo Island to enjoy its charm. Read on to find everything you need to know about how to enjoy the perfect day trip to this beachy retreat.
What to Do on Taboga Island
There’s plenty to do on Taboga Island to fill a day away from the city. The most popular draw to this tropical escape is the beach. Playa Restinga is the main beach on the island and the perfect place to kick back and relax. The wide stretch of sand jutting out from the main island allows for a beach with water on both sides. You’ll find calm water that’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Or, roll out your towel and spend the day soaking up the Panamanian sunshine.
If you’re looking for a bit more activity on your day off, there are also a number of aquatic ventures you can take part in. Snorkeling is an especially popular option for those looking to spend a bit of time in nature. You can rent snorkel gear for just $5 through the Taboga Tour Center. Without any fancy equipment or training, you can be swimming with marine life in a matter of minutes.
If you decide that you’re looking for a more immersive underwater experience, consider trying your hand at scuba diving. Scuba Taboga offers a number of different packages for those looking to take a deep dive off of Taboga’s coast. Whether you’re a certified diver or first-timer, Scuba Taboga can get you set up with everything you need to take in Taboga’s underwater beauty.
If diving isn’t your thing, there are plenty of aquatic activities you can enjoy above the water as well. Taboga Tour Center offers whale watching tours. Humpback whales typically visit the coast of Panama from July to October every year. For $65 per person, you can sign up for a 2-hour tour where professional guides will take you out on the water for a chance to witness these majestic creatures for yourself. Or, you can rent kayaks through Scuba Taboga and enjoy an upper body workout out on the water.
Finally, if you want a break from the beach, Taboga Islands has historic and cultural offerings as well. The island features a small town that’s perfect for a casual stroll. In the center of town, you’ll find Iglesia de San Pedro. This quaint church is the second oldest church in the Americas. You can also book a guided tour of the island. Your guide will share with you the history of Taboga, including its involvement as an important hub for pirate activities.
Where to eat on Taboga Island
Just because you’re not on the mainland doesn’t mean you can’t find great food on your visit. Taboga Island is home to a dozen or so eateries.
Likely the most popular of these is Calaloo Beach, Fish Bar and Grill. This has been a longtime favorite of those who know Taboga well. As the name suggests, this restaurant specializes in local seafood. The fish and chips are perhaps the most popular item. Fresh fish is deliciously battered, fried up, and served hot and crispy. The sauteed shrimp, fresh ceviches, and fried plantains are all worth ordering as well. And whether you’re thirsty for a cappuccino or a piña colada, there are plenty of drink offerings to whet your whistle. This is a great place to enjoy a delicious meal or cocktail with great views of the beach and ocean.
Another Taboga Island fave for a great meal is Restaurante Playa Honda. Like Calaloo, Restaurante Playa Honda serves up local fare with a view. The house favorite is the whole fried fish that has to be one of the most satisfying meals to eat as you look out over the beach. All of their seafood offerings are fresh and delicious. They also have great options for the seafood-averse including a decent hamburger. Regardless of what you order, wash it all down with a cold beer or housemade mojito, and you’ll be in paradise.
How to get to the Island
Apart from all there is to do on Taboga Island, what really makes this the perfect day trip from Panama City is the island’s accessibility. Given how easy it is to get here, you’ll be wanting to come every week.
Most beach destinations in Panama involve at least an hour and a half drive from the capital. While public transportation exists for those who don’t have a car, bus travel can take as much as twice as long. Taboga Island, on the other hand, is less than an hour away and doesn’t require a car to get there.
Most visitors arrive on the Taboga Express ferry. The ferry leaves from Amador Causeway and takes about 30 minutes to get to Taboga Island. If you search for “Taboga Express” in any rideshare app, it will take you directly to the departure location. A round trip ticket on the ferry will set you back $20. You can buy tickets ahead of time at tabogaexpress.com, or at the ticket kiosk.
For those looking to splurge and start the fun before they arrive at the island, there’s also the option to take a catamaran to Taboga with Panama Sailing Tours. The catamaran tickets cost $89 round trip. The ticket price includes snacks, lunch, and an open bar.
The next time you’re craving a break from the city but don’t have time for a full-blown vacation, consider taking a day trip to Taboga Island. It’s the perfect place to get a little history, some great food, and spend a fun and relaxing afternoon. And best of all, spending a day at Taboga requires minimal planning, so you can go whenever the urge hits. That said, if you go on the weekend, expect to be sharing the beach with lots of capital dwellers looking for an escape. For a special getaway, take a day off and visit Taboga midweek when you’re likely to have the island mostly to yourself.
So if you’ve never been to Taboga Island, pencil it in for an upcoming day off. You’ll love this mini-escape from the city and all it has to offer. And if you’re already a Taboga Island veteran, leave a comment with your favorite tips below.