Visiting Taboga Island is a great way to escape busy Panama City for the day. Here’s what to expect.
Known to locals as “the Island of Flowers,” Taboga Island (or Isla Taboga in Spanish) sits just 20 kilometers across the Gulf of Panama from Panama City. It’s an easy way to go to the beach while you are staying in the capitol, as most other beaches are over an hour away by car. There’s a good guide to beach options on Trip Advisor here.
Taboga Island offers two beaches with facilities, souvenirs, food, activities, and umbrellas and chairs, each within very easy walking distance from the ferry dock. You don’t need to bring anything besides swim gear, towels, and money.
A couple of tourist operations have made taking a day trip to Taboga a very easy affair. We booked round trip ferry tickets with Taboga Express Fast Ferry via their website the day before. Our departure was for 11am with a return at 4pm. The dock is at the marina on the Amador Causeway. From our hotel downtown, the cab ride was about $8 USD. We got there about 20 minutes prior to check in. There is a covered waiting area. Although the website says you need your passport to board the ferry, ours were never checked.
The ride lasts only about 30 minutes. There is plenty of seating in both shade and sun, and you are free to bring luggage if you plan to stay overnight at one of the guest houses or hotels. You are given a wristband to wear–you’ll need this for your return journey.
Some folks seemed to own businesses on the island and were bringing supplies like beer and ice. One woman even had her dog with her. On board the ferry crew sells drinks (beer, soda, juice, water) and bags of chips. There is a clean bathroom with a pump toilet.
Like almost everything along the water in Panama City, there are incredible views of the skyline.
You’ll also get a chance to get close to some of the many boats waiting in the gulf to be allowed entry into the Panama Canal.
After a short cruise, Taboga Island comes into view.
There is good signage upon arrival to let you know where to go. You traverse a long ferry dock and can either go left, toward the main road leading to hotels, restaurants, and homes, or you can head straight and veer right, which is where the bigger beach is. We went right.
There are changing rooms, showers, and bathrooms right at the dock that you can use for a small fee. If you keep walking toward the beach, you’ll see a larger building with more bathrooms and changing rooms that are a little more rustic. In both instances the shower is outdoors.
The bigger of the public beaches is a very casual scene. There are shacks selling ceviche, soda, beer, water, tshirts, and other beachy items. There are a few spots selling hot food. A couple of police officers are posted in the area. A small crew of young men is in charge of setting up umbrellas and chairs. For about $15 USD, you can have 2 chairs and an umbrella. You’ll need the umbrella–this beach is in full sun.
We ordered fish + chips from one of the shacks on the beach to eat on our beach chairs, and it was very tasty. This was my favorite part of visiting Taboga Island.
One thing I noticed about the gulf of Panama as we were crossing to Taboga Island was that the water was very still.
I thought of this later, when we were on the beach. The various boats (some of them motorized) seemed rather close to the swimming area, which always grosses me out. I also saw litter in the water (plastic bags, wrappers, etc).
When I went in the water, there were TONS of little fish in there, and the water didn’t feel quite as fresh as I’d been hoping for. When I emerged and went back to my chair, I noticed I really smelled like marine life! After that I went and took a shower and did not go back into the ocean again.
Because we’d eaten already and swimming no longer seemed like a great idea, I spent the rest of the time there walking around and exploring. I had a good papaya smoothie from one of the restaurants to the left of the ferry dock. My husband sat in a cafe and read a book.
One thing I wish I’d noticed earlier was that the beach to the left of the ferry dock seemed a little more well taken care of than the main public beach. I wished that we had set up camp there instead, though I am not sure if the fishy smell of the water would have been different there. It just seemed cleaner to that side, with only rowboats nearby and more upscale food options (though I enjoyed my lunch very much, it might have been nice to be able to wash my hands before eating it).
Either way, we were only on Taboga Island for about 4.5 hours, which felt like a good amount. At 3:45pm, we lined up for our ferry. Another, slower ferry was departing at the same time and there was a lot of activity on the dock.
The ferry departed late — more like 4:20pm than 4:00. Lots of folks had a nice afternoon beer for the ride back.
The views coming back into Panama City were of course as stunning as ever.
If you are game for a day of exploring a nearby, low-key island, I’d recommend visiting Taboga Island while in Panama City. But I’d temper your hopes about a pristine beach day–this island is more rustic than I’d been expecting. You might consider just going for the boat ride, having lunch and a walk around the island to see all the flowers, and then coming back earlier in the afternoon.
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