Feature: Surfing in Bocas

With beginner-friendly beach swells, ripping reef breaks and some seriously suicidal barrels, Bocas del Toro is emerging as an international surf destination. The following is a rundown of the major surfing spots in the archipelago.

If you don’t have your own board, you can rent from Tropix Surfshop in Bocas town or from various accommodations on the outer islands, including Red Frog Bungalows on Isla Bastimentos.

Isla Colón

Beginner surfers looking for a bit of reef experience should check out Playa Punch, which offers a good mix of lefts and rights. Although it can get heavy when big, Punch generally offers some of the kindest waves around.

Just past Punch en route to Playa Bluff is a popular reef break known as Dumpers. This left break can get up to 3m and should only be ridden by experienced surfers; wiping out on the reef here is dangerous. There is also an inner break known as Inner Dumps, which also breaks left but is more forgiving than its outer mate.

Be careful walking out on the reefs as they are sharp and full of sea urchins – don’t go barefoot. If you wipe out and get cut up, be sure to properly disinfect your wounds. Be aware that seawater in the Caribbean does not help the healing process; the warm water temperature means the ocean is full of live bacteria.

The island’s most infamous surf spot is Playa Bluff, which throws out powerful barreling waves that break in shallow water along the beach and have a reputation for snapping boards (and occasionally bones). The waves close quickly, but the tubes here are truly awesome, especially when the swells are strong.

Isla Bastimentos

If you’re looking for a solid beach break, both Wizard Beach and Red Frog Beach offer fairly constant sets of lefts and rights, perfect for beginners and intermediates. When the swells are in, however, Wizard occasionally throws out some huge barrels, though they tend to close up pretty quickly. Silverbacks is a fierce wave break between Isla Bastimentos and Isla Carenero that can reach peak heights of more than 5m during winter months.

Isla Carenero

Very experienced surfers may want to tackle Silverbacks, an enormous barreling right that breaks over a reef and can reach heights of more than 5m. On a good day, Silverbacks is a world-class break that wouldn’t look out of place on Hawaii’s North Shore. Silverbacks breaks off the coast, so you’re going to need to hire a water taxi (from US$3) to get out there.

Two places suitable for beginners are Old Man's, which has an A-frame that breaks in the middle of a channel, and Black Rock, with a right suitable for beginners that also breaks in the middle of the channel with a sandy reef bottom.