Written by Yoann
Calypso ferry Taboga Panama
After being a few days in Panama, right next to the ocean, with hotel room view on the Pacific, it was finally time to go to a beach.
I did choose my hotel, the Radisson Panama Canal, partially because despite its remote location from the center, it is right next to the pier of the Balboa yacht club, which offers ferry to some island, such as the Taboga express.
After having asked the day before the reception how it works, I woke up and went on time to the place where I was supposed to buy tickets.
First surprise, following the signs, and arriving to a closed office, some local workers that were waiting nearby to start their day told me that the place is closed, and it moved to Flamenco island, which is in artificial island at the end of Coastway Panama, the road constructed with rock extracted from Panama canal extraction.
No problem, it is around 7:45 am, and, according to online schedule, the Calypso tabogaexpress departs at 8:30 am.
As it is about 13km walk, which I’ve already done on Thursday the week before during my Biomuseo designed by Frank Gehry visit and walk from Amador Causeway to Panama Bay, and it takes 2 hours, I decide to order an Uber, which cost me 2.67$US.
I arrive more than on time for the Taboga ferry, and understand when arriving that there are two of them.
Looking on internet, I saw only the fast one, the Taboga express fast ferry, which takes 30minutes and run several times per day, for $20 round trip, and departs from Flamenco island behind the duty free.
But my Uber driver, thanks to him, dropped me to Punta Culebra, which has another ferry that takes one hour to get the island, for half the price, $10 round trip, which is a great deal!
As I’m not in a rush, and actually ready pretty bad reviews of day trips to Taboga, mainly saying that it is boring and a full day there is too much, I’m pretty happy to save a few bucks.
After buying my ticket, I get a coffee at the shop nearby, along with a bottle of water, as I noticed that I forgot to grab one from my hotel room. The combination of them costs me $2, and I drink my coffee while taking a few pictures of the surroundings, having about 30 min more to wait before the departure.
About 30 other people are also waiting for the ferry, mostly big groups, 5 or 6 people it seems, and most of them are carrying huge coolers with them, which they stuff with ice and drinks bought at this small shop.
Well it does make sense, as prices are usually higher on islands, if there is even anything available.
Departure time for our ferry, called Calypso Princess, which of course starts with a ticket check.
But, on top of that, two soldiers from the Panamanian army are checking our identification documents, passports for foreigners like myself, and identity card for local residents.
Not a big deal, but it does seems a bit strange for a local boat going to a local island… are they afraid that we cross the Pacific to escape they (nearly tax free) country?
I find a nice seat on the top deck of the boat, at the back, with what will be a great view on Panama City skyline.
The trip with Taboga island ferry is pretty nice, with a great view on the skyline all along, as the island is not really far.
Getting a bit away from the Panama canal entrance, we start passing between all the cargo boats that are waiting their turn to cross the canal, a very unique and beautiful experience.
There is so many of them! The more we pass, the more it seems like we can see around.
Arriving at Taboga island, we can see how pristine the water seems, compared to Panama city, which basically doesn’t have any nice sand beach.
It does look beautiful, and the island actually seems much larger in reality than what it seems on Google Maps.
Docking at the pier, we all get out, and a few persons are handing over fliers for restaurants in the city. However, nothing as pressing as it can be on some other beach resorts, and the people are pretty nice.
I inquire some locals about getting snorkeling gear, and they direct me to the main beach, past Taboga palace spa hotel where everybody is anyway heading.
On the way, I ask again some other workers about snorkeling possibilities, and get the same answers, get to the main beach – which I do.
Arriving at the beach, all the other tourists are getting comfortable, renting umbrellas for $5 and deck chairs for $5 as well.
Still cannot see anything snorkeling around, I keep walking on the path, which is going around the island.
Getting a little bit upper on the island, the view starts to be even more beautiful, and I stop to take a few pictures in the middle of some small village, or most likely simply tourists houses, probably not an independent village.
Isla Taboga Panama
After the village, I end up in a kind of jungle, and the path disappears in the vegetation.
I start to wonder if I should get back or continue to find the snorkeling gear?
As I hear strong noise of leaves moving, and can’t see what’s hidden behind, I decide to go back, there is most likely nothing further.
Getting back to the beach, all other people that arrive with me had already taken seats under some umbrellas, and the seller now has time for me.
I ask him about the snorkeling, and he takes me to the place, which I passed, but couldn’t notice, as it was close. The seller helps me to find the worker of this booth.
He tells me that I can rent snorkeling gear for $5 for the whole day, or can get a snorkeling tour in the corals for $25, which I agree on.
He tells me he is not himself doing the tour, will go to see if it is available, and come to find me on the beach when he’ll have the answer.
Well… I never heard from him again =)
Taboga island Panama
However, on the way back to the beach, I start getting thirsty, and stop at a booth, where I get a local beer for $1.5. The foreign beers sell for $2.5, and cocktails for $5.
It is a little more than on the mainland, but actually not crazy expensive.
I take my beer to the beach, rent an umbrella, and lay down my towel.
Swimming in the Pacific ocean, the water is beautiful, very transparent, and the temperature is just perfect.
Not cold, not warm, it must be very close to outdoor temperature which is about 30°C.
Having some nice swims, it is soon time to get another beer!
Some groups around are playing music on what must be Bluetooth speakers, and there is a great ambiance on the beach, everyone being friendly and seeming happy.
Isla de Taboga
A group of girls was seating next to me. At some point, they start dancing, and one of them asks me to join, which I do.
The 7 girls tell me they are from Colombia, from different cities: Pereira, Cartagena, and Baranquilla.
They also work in the same Greek restaurant, which I promise to visit the next day, and Monday is there only day off of the week.
Friendly and funny, we end up talking the whole day, playing beach football, enjoying the warm water, having drinks, and sharing lunch.
They arrived with a cooler stuffed with Smirnoff ICE maracuja (passion fruit), and they offer me drinks after I run out of beers.
Very nice of them, they are all so sweet. We speak mostly in Spanish, not sure if they understand me much, but I’m very pleased to have an opportunity to practice my language skills in nice company.
At around 2 pm, they decide they are hungry. I’m not especially, but I get convinced to join them to order food at a nearby restaurant.
After comparing two restaurants, we choose Ocean view restaurant, and I order a corvina, this local fish from Pacific side of Latin America, accompanied with patacon (also called tostones, fried plantain slices), a small salad, and some fishy sauce.
For $15, it is a good deal. The restaurant has an amazing view on the bay, and asks us to wait 15 minutes to get our order, in total 8 meals.
When getting them, we walk back to our deck chairs, and eat on the beach.
I cannot eat without sauce, being a huge fan of tomato sauce, and this fish sauce is not much at my taste. However it is pretty good, and this improvised lunch with new friends and amazing view feels great.
After that, we realize we have only one hour left before the ferry back home. Some of us, including myself, decide to go for a last swim, while the others already start drying under the very nice sun.
Time to get back to the ferry!
Isla Taboga ferry
We are some of the last ones to board the ferry, just before departure. The trip back to mainland aboard the Calypso has some small turbulences, but nothing big, and seems to pass quicker…
Back on CauseWay Panama on the artificial island, we go to wait with the ladies for a bus back to the city.
One of the girls cross the street to buy shaved ice for everybody, which is extremely nice of her, me included, to my surprise.
People are so nice in Panama! Locals as much as foreign residents.
While waiting we meet a guy that was also waiting for the bus, and is also from Colombia, from Baranquilla, the same city as some girls in the group.
The bus stop has no indication at all: no schedule, no route, literally nothing, so we can only wait and see.
Some people also waiting for the bus are getting impatient and take a taxi instead of waiting for the next bus.
After what seems to be an interminable wait, close to one hour, a bus finally arrives.
We enter, and one of the girls offers me her card to get in the bus. The bus has inside a turnstile, and can only be entered with a card… which means that I couldn’t get in without the girls help.
After getting a seat, I ask them to whom I owe $.25, and they tell me not to worry about it.
Meanwhile, the night had fallen on the city, along with a storm on Panama City, that we could feel free far, we can’t see much from the inside of the bus.
Close to my stop, the ladies ask the bus to stop for me, and I can get back to my hotel, tired but happy after an awesome beach day with great meetings of generous people.
Will do my best to visit them and offer them a drink next time!
Budget for a day on Isla Taboga Panama
– Uber from hotel to the pier $2.67 (2.33€),
– Bottle of water and coffee $2.5 (2.2€),
– Taboga ferry tickets prices $10 (8.7€),
– One beer on Taboga island $1.5 (1.3€),
– Take away lunch $15 (13€),
– Bus back home $.25 (21.8€),
Total for the day of about 60$US, or roughly 50€.