Boca Chica: The Gateway to Panama’s National Marine Park

Boca Chica is a slow-paced fishing village of only 300 inhabitants, right on the Pacific Ocean. Here you won’t find any grocery stores, gas stations, or services—but that’s the beauty of it. Boca Chica is where you come to experience nature and the beauty of Panama.

Boca Chica is an easy one-hour trip from David. You can hop on a bus in David or you can opt to drive yourself. Just head east on the Pan-American highway and take a right when you see the sign to Horconcitos. Pass through the small town and follow the signs until you reach Boca Chica.

So without any of the regular amenities, what can you do here? Well for one thing, it’s a great place for outdoor activities—scuba diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, hiking, day trips to deserted islands, or even just relaxing by the sea.

It is not widely known as a tourist destination, but those who do venture down here are well rewarded. Boca Chica is the gateway to the Gulf of Chiriquí National Marine Park. Founded in 1994, the park covers 25 islands and 19 coral reefs. It was established to protect the reefs and islands and covers over 36 acres of ocean.

Because there are so many islands in this small region, the waters are protected from strong ocean currents, making this area rich in marine life. This is a wonderful place to snorkel and scuba dive. Here you will see turtles, manta rays, dolphins, reef sharks, and many varieties of tropical fish. From August through November you can also see humpback whales as they make their yearly migration to these protected waters to give birth.

The islands are mostly uninhabited by humans, but are richly abundant in wildlife, with howler monkeys, sea birds, crabs, anteaters, porcupines, and numerous types of lizards all making a home here. A handful of the islands have stunning white-sand beaches framed with tall swaying coconut trees, looking like something out of a movie.

Boca Brava is the largest and closest island to the mainland, and is the only island in the gulf where you can find a hotel for the night. Getting there by water taxi is only a five-minute trip. If you want to do a day trip to enjoy the island, do some hiking, and investigate a remote beach, take the water taxi over to Hotel Boca Brava at the eastern tip of the island. Here you will climb the 87 steps to get to the resort, but the views at the top are amazing. The hiking trail starts here and covers over 10 miles of the island where you can walk at a leisurely pace, taking in all the sights and sounds. If you want to spend the night here, there are three other places you can stay on the island. The Cala Mia Resort and Las Palenque Resort are two top-rated options. If you want a more simple and rustic experience you can find a great deal at the Howlers Bay Hotel, close to the Hotel Boca Brava.

If you want to stay on the mainland, there are two cozy resorts in Boca Chica that overlook the estuary and islands in the distance—Bocas del Mar and Sea Gull Cove Resort. All the hotels in this area can fix you up for day trips for sport fishing, island hopping, snorkel, scuba, and engaging with the wildlife.

If you are only planning a day trip, you will need to hire one of the local boats for the day or have pre-booked a tour. You won’t find tour offices anywhere in Boca Chica, so plan your tour before you arrive.

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