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Taboga Island is a colourful slice of paradise, the kind of place where rows of towering palm trees sway over golden sandy beaches and drinks are served up in huge coconuts. Children meander down the boardwalk without a care in the world, their friends shrieking with delight as they frolic in the waves nearby.
The pastel facades of homes and brightly-painted storefronts are framed by rolling hills swathed in thick green foliage, and vibrant pink bougainvilleas drip out of wooden window boxes–a nod to its nickname as the ‘Island of Flowers’. While this idyllic spot sounds like it would be a world away from it all, Taboga is just 20 kilometres offshore from the country’s bustling capital, making a visit here one of the best day trips from Panama City.
Home to only about 2,000 people (a number that swells with weekend tourists), Taboga is a tropical island in every sense of the word. There are seafront boutique hotels, beach bars, only one road and virtually no traffic, which makes it the perfect escape. From hiking to spectacular viewpoints to relaxing on the best beaches, here’s how to spend a perfect day on Isla Taboga, Panama.
Getting to Taboga Island
The day starts at the ferry terminal on the Amador Causeway in Panama City, where boats cross back and forth to the island all day long. Most people visiting Taboga arrive this way, unless you’re lucky enough to sail there on a catamaran tour, have chartered a private boat or are on an adventure cruise through Central America.
The Taboga Express fast ferry trip on a modern catamaran only takes about 30 minutes, and the price of a return trip is $20-$24 per person. Another option is hopping on the Calypso ferries: also departing from Amador, the trip takes 45 minutes and costs $14 round trip. It’s worth considering the $65 day pass offered by Barefoot Panama, which includes round trip transfers, chairs and umbrellas on the beach, snorkel gear, lunch and a one hour walking tour. Click here to book
At the Taboga ferry terminal, passengers are greeted with a huge Taboga sign, and colourful market stalls and blissful beaches are just a few steps away.
Hiking on Taboga
Start your day in Taboga by tackling one of the island’s best hikes, to get a lay of the land and marvel at the incredible, sweeping views of the Gulf of Panama spread out below. There are a few to choose from, including Cerro de la Cruz which is marked by a large stone cross at the 300-metre-high summit, and has a gorgeous vantage point of the colourful town and cerulean waters.
To get there, head south down the main street along the coastline and keep an eye out for a footpath on the left once you hit the dusty road, which should take about 10-15 minutes. At a good pace it only takes about half an hour to get all the way up, but as there’s very little canopy coverage be sure to bring a hat, plenty of water and sunblock.
The trail to Cerro Vigia is found a bit further along the same dusty pathway, and leads to the remains of a WWII bunker with rooftop cannons which were built by the Americans to protect the Panama Canal in the event of a Japanese invasion. As the highest point on the island at 1,200 feet, the hike up is more strenuous (about an hour and a half each way) and heads through a forest out to an observation area.
On a clear day, visitors can see as far as Panama City and the Bridge of the Americas, and spot sea birds in the protected Taboga Island Wildlife Refuge.
Wander through Taboga’s colourful town
On the way back towards the ferry terminal, you’ll get a chance to explore the quaint, Spanish-settled town which once served as a favourite rest stop for the notorious pirate Captain Morgan. Sweet-smelling blossoms spill onto the streets, chickens freely cluck about and laundry is hung out to dry between homes painted seemingly every colour of the rainbow.
With bragging rights as the second-oldest church in the western hemisphere, visitors are drawn to St. Peter’s Church (Iglesia de San Pedro) which is conveniently located in the centre of town. Founded in 1550, its exterior is a whitewashed facade while the interior walls feature ancient carvings, scriptures and even pirate’s ashes.
Most of the action is found back at the harbour where a handful of restaurants and hotels line the waterfront, making it the perfect place to grab lunch before hitting the beach.
Relax on the Taboga Island beaches
Beat the midday heat by spending the rest of the afternoon lounging on one of the island’s many beaches, such as Playa Restinga which is conveniently located along the pier, and links to picturesque Isla El Morro via a sandbar during low tide.
Other options include Playa Honda, Playa Diablo on the north shore, and Playa de la Isla Taboga which is the most lively thanks to its water activities, beach chairs, souvenir stalls and food shacks. On a weekday the vibe is usually laid back with mellow music and traditionally-dressed locals going about their normal business–a scene that transforms on the weekend when the island is flooded with day-trippers ready to let loose.
You won’t find the pristine, white sand beaches here that other Panamanian spots like the San Blas Islands and Granito De Oro are famous for, but there’s no denying the convenience and value of visiting Taboga, which is the closest beach spot to Panama City. For those looking for some fun in the sun and an easy city break, Taboga Island fits the bill.
Where to stay in Taboga
- Taboga Palace SPA Hotel: This serene spot along the waterfront is as close as it gets to a five-star getaway, thanks to elegant rooms with private balconies and modern bathrooms. This British-run resort features a pool, bar area and easy beach access, making it one of the top Taboga Island hotels. Click here to book
- B&B Cerrito Tropical Lodge: The funky hammocks, lush gardens and ocean views make this Taboga hotel a great spot to unwind, and the beach is just a short walk away. Guests rave about the on-site restaurant, and birders love this spot since the lodge backs onto a forest which makes for great wildlife viewing. Click here to book
Activities on Taboga Island
Hiking, scuba diving and snorkeling are a few of the active things to do on Taboga, with gear rentals available at the Taboga Tour Center near the ferry terminal. There are great fishing spots around the nearby islands of Oteque and Taboguilla, and the Cerrito lodge can arrange tours with local fishermen.
Another way to get out on the water is to book a catamaran cruise, like this one that includes a full day trip out to the island with an open bar and lunch, a half-day private cruise and fishing tour along the Pacific coast, or this excursion where guests also get to enjoy a walking tour and an offroad ride up to one of the viewpoints.
Finally, there are ample wildlife watching opportunities, including:
- Sea Turtles- Two different species lay their eggs on the island from August through October, and can sometimes be spotted during a snorkeling or diving trip.
- Birding- Taboga and its neighbour Uraba are home to one of the world’s largest colonies of brown pelicans, with about 100-thousand birds calling the islands home. The height of their nesting season happens in May, and there are a variety of seabirds in the area throughout the year.
- Whale Watching- Migrating humpback whales can often be seen offshore from July through October, and there are dolphins all year round.
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