Last Updated on July 20, 2022
The rhythm of the light waves tapping at the shore made the only music on this otherwise peaceful morning. We soaked up still soft sun rays as we laid half asleep on the gentle, warm sand after arriving unusually early to the idyllic beach at Taboga Island.
The 30 minute, 12-mile ferry ride leaves from the Balboa yacht club in Panama City at 8.30 each morning, filled mostly by locals and construction workers. This left us as the only passengers to head straight to the beach. Had one of the shops or restaurants been open, we may have had coffee in one, but this tiny island in the Gulf of Panama, also known as ‘Island of Flowers’, was still fast asleep.
After half an hour snoozing on an otherwise deserted beach, we opted for an early morning hike, before the sun would become too strong, forcing us into lazy beach mode. There are a few unmarked hiking trails which lead to hilly viewpoints, we were distracted by an area of hundreds of tiny, shiny green frogs frolicking in the forest. By the time we thought to continue, the sun had become too hot for a hike, forcing us back down to the beach.
The stretch of sand suitable for swimmers is actually quite small, so without much left to explore, we planted ourselves right back where we had been sitting before on the sandy isthmus, and faced the other direction. By now, twenty or so others had come down to the beach from their hotels and holiday apartments, so we spent time people watching while wading in the crystal clear Pacific and watching the freighters far in the distance, lining up to cross through the Panama Canal as the solitude of the morning slowly burned off into a blazing hot afternoon.
Crispy from the sun and starving from the sea breeze, we headed into town in search of shade and some grub. Taboga Island, population 1,600, has no cars, a few shops and a smattering of restaurants and hotels around the island. Tourism is the top source of income, with fishing a close second. It would be easy to imagine a feeling of ultimate island solitude, but between the queued-up mega freighters and the Panama City skyline in the distance, it is impossible not to remain very aware of exactly where you are in the world.
After sucking down a few ice cold Balboa beers and a heaping plate of fried rice, we returned to the beach, cooling off in the water until the ferry returned to take us back to the city, eight hours after dropping us off for our perfect Panama City escape.
How to get to Taboga Island
We took the ferry from Balboa yacht club on the Amador Causeway; the return ticket is $20 per person. The ride takes around 30 minutes. Taxis from Panama City to the yacht club are around $5 (the easiest way to get there).
Check here for updated ferry times as they only leave a few times per day. Taboga Express leaves Monday through Friday at 8am, 9.30am, 11am and 3pm. On weekends, there is an additional departure at 4pm.
Taboga Express leaves Taboga Island at 8.45am, 10.15am, 2.30pm and 4pm. On weekends and holidays, there’s an additional departure at 5pm.
If you don’t want to deal with any of the logistics of planning a trip to the island on your own, consider joining one of these organized tours:
What to bring to Taboga Island
Sunscreen, a towel and a good read – that’s all you need when you visit Taboga Island for just the day. There are several cheap restaurants near the ferry dock, a cool beer is $0.75.
Where to stay on Taboga Island
There aren’t many hotels on Taboga Island – less than ten, to be precise, but if you are looking for a couple of days of rest & relaxation away from the city, Taboga Island won’t disappoint. If you are traveling with your family or a larger group, you might also want to check out Airbnb’s on Taboga Island, since they have larger properties, entire apartments for less than US$100 per night, beach houses and villas that can accommodate up to 8 people. There are more Airbnb’s on Taboga Island than hotels.
Tip: I you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, sign up with my referral code and get up to $40 off your first booking.
For hotels, we recommend:
- Villa Caprichosa – this beautiful small boutique hotel modeled off of an Italian mansion has only five suites, a swimming pool, and stunning ocean views. Suites range from US$103 (1-bedroom suite) to US$193 (2-bedroom suite), depending on size and amenities.
- Taboga Palace Spa Hotel – smallhotel with a sun terrace, an infinity pool and an on-site bar. Every room has a balcony and there’s a shared sundeck / lounge with lovely vistas over the ocean. Rooms start at US$121 / US$132 (the latter with seaview).
Sunday 18th of December 2011
beautiful! I have a question though. How was the food in Panama?
Sunday 18th of December 2011
Thanks, Denise! The food was not very spectacular, to be honest - a lot of rice dishes, but all very meaty. If you're not a vegetarian like we are, you can find many variations of rice & chicken, rice & pork etc. In Bocas del Toro, we had a wonderful potato salad (unusual dish for Central America!) but we didn't find that anywhere else.
Tuesday 13th of December 2011
wonderful pictures, Jess. Thank you for recommending such amazing places in Panama and Central America. We hope you can come back anytime soon. :) cheers, @TACARegional team
Wednesday 29th of June 2011
I love your writing style! I felt so relaxed as I was reading your post. This place is just beautiful, and I'd never heard of it before... now it's on my travel to-do list, especially as a cold beer is only 75 cents!
Wednesday 29th of June 2011
Looks so lovely! Have never heard of this place before but it looks like a great little day retreat if you just want to chill out and relax
Monday 4th of July 2011
**blush** thanks Julia! We hadn't really heard of it until we went to Panama, either, but we really loved it. It's easy, close, and cheap. Go if you get the chance!
Saturday 25th of June 2011
Just in time for my trip to Panama! Can you stay overnight cheaply on the island?
Sunday 26th of June 2011
Hi Matt, we've seen several little hotels (no hostels) but I don't know how expensive they are... I think it would be great to stay overnight, enjoying the sunset and seeing Panama City all lit up at night :)