Isla Carenero is in the Caribbean West of Panama, in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. It's just across a narrow channel from Bocas Town. The island is known for its relaxed cabana restaurants, sandy beaches, and surfing spots.
A small island and the closest to Bocas Town, Carenero includes beaches, jungles, and a village of its own, all in the small package. Walk the loop trail around the island to see the variety. The southern tip is a village where locals live in wooden shacks on stilts, while the farther north you go along the west side, the fancier the houses (and tourist accomodations) get. There beaches here, but you'll find more natural beauty on the east side of the island, where beautiful beaches and palm trees stretch along most of the shore, with a smattering of beach bars to serve tourists. This is also where most of the surfing happens.
Take a water taxi from Bocas Town for $1-2 per person each way, depending on where you're getting off (March 2020).
The island is pretty small - you can walk all the way around it in about two hours, or take a water taxi from place to place. There are no cars on the island, and many of the paths would be pretty rough going on a bicycle.
There is a "beach path" that loops around almost the whole island - the northern tip of the island isn't accessible to the public, but the trail cuts across the jungle here to allow you to complete the loop. There's also a cross-island trail in the south that cuts across from Bibi's the the fancy housing and accommodations on the west side.
- Beaches Just walk up the east side of the island and pick a favorite spot. The beaches get more beautiful and less crowded the farther north you go.
- Wildlife Carenero is a decent place for birdwatching - we saw several Red-lored Parrots on the east side both times that we visited in the late afternoon - and it is possible to spot a sloth too if you're lucky. More dedicated naturalists can also enjoy observing smaller critters such as a fiddler crabs (more on the west side) and leaf-cutter ants (on the cross-island trail near the northern tip)
- Bocas "Skyline" If you want to take in the whole Bocas Town waterfront in one view, this is the place to do it from.
- Surfing There are several surf breaks at Carenero, including for beginners. Inquire locally or do some research for more information.
- Hiking It's no strenuous trek, but the trail around the island includes some nice views of beautiful beaches, jungle, and mangroves.
- Snorkeling Carenero isn't a major snorkeling destination, but it is possible to snorkel from some of the beaches, or from the ladder at Bibi's, if you bring your own equipement. Head for the offshore rocks to see a variety of fish (watch out for rough surf and fire coral). Starfish can also be found in among the seagrass beds.
- Sunset viewing Carenero is a better place to watch the sunset than Bocas Town, since the sun sets behind the town.
There's a local grocery store in the village near the southern tip of the island. Walk a few minutes clockwise around the coast from Aqua Lounge to find it. There are few, if any, other shops on Carenero, except maybe some snack bars near the beach.
There are several beach bars/restaurants along the east shore of the island.
- Bibi's at the Beach Restaurant and bar on a wooden deck over the water on the east side of the island. Burgers and other entrees from about $9, happy hour cocktails $3 (March 2020). A water taxi here from Bocas Town should cost no more than $2/person, or walk here from Aqua Lounge to save a dollar.
See also the "Eat" section above.
- Aqua Lounge Wooden-deck bar and hostel overhanging the water directly across from Bocas Town, at the southern tip of Carenero Island. This is the cheapest place to take a water taxi to from Bocas ($1/person, 2 minutes).
- Cosmic Crab On the west side
- Lost Boys Blues Bar On the west side
In addition to Aqua Lounge, there appear to be several more upscale accommodations, perhaps of the Bed & Breakfast or rustic resort variety, along the western shore of the island.
- Aqua Lounge. A great hostel & bar built on the water, a short water taxi ride ($1/person, 2 minutes) away from Bocas Town on Carenero Island. Fantastic set up and friendly staff. $10 per night.
Bibi's has fee wifi for customers, as presumably does Aqua Lounge. You will likely have cell signal here too, but quality may vary.