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Top 10 Things to Do in the Amazing Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama (including Boca Chica and Boca Brava)

On the Pacific Coast of Panama, between Costa Rica and the Azuero Penninsula, the Gulf of Chiriqui is a natural paradise of coral reefs, mangrove forests, and abundant marine life. Under extensive protection from conservation groups, this part of Panama is mostly untouched and most tourist activity is eco-friendly and small scale.

The Gulf of Chiriquí National Marine Park is the perfect destination for sport fishing, surfing, and diving and includes several islands. We loved spending several days in the area, exploring Las Lajas, Boca Brava, and Boca Chica as well as some of the islands. In this article, we will share our experience in this quieter part of Panama including what to do, where we stayed and some tips to help you enjoy your visit. We will also share a few travel mistakes we made and how to avoid them.

See our complete 10 day Itinerary in Panama.

Quick Overview of 10 Things to do in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama

The best things to do in Chiriqui and the local areas includes spending time near, in, or on the water. The marine environment is the true treasure of this wonderful place. You can see more details about the different activities below, including where to stay and how to get to the Gulf of Chiriqui.

Amazing Things to do in the Gulf of Chiriqui

  1. Visit the Islands of the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park including Isla Parida
  2. Kayak or Paddleboard in the Mangroves
  3. Explore the Trails and Beaches of Boca Brava
  4. Go Snorkeling or Diving
  5. Surf
  6. Go Whale Watching
  7. Visit the Beaches
  8. Go Deep Sea Fishing
  9. Visit Coiba Island
  10. Stay in Luxury at Isla Secas
Gulf of Chiriqui

What to Know About Visiting the Gulf of Chiriqui, Boca Chica, and Boca Brava, Panama

The Gulf of Chiriqui is large and at the same time, slightly difficult to visit. There are a few areas along the coast with towns that have hotels and some limited restaurants. If you plan to get out to one of the island destinations, Boca Chica is a great place to base your adventures. From here, you can get boat rides out to many of the islands.

If you want to visit Coiba Island, Santa Catalina is the closest point. We also spent a night at Las Lajas and enjoyed the long stretch of beach in this part of the Gulf.

Tops Things to Know About Visiting the Gulf of Chiriqui

Here is a list of things to Know About visiting the Gulf of Chiriqui:

  • The towns along the coast here are quiet. Check opening and closing hours – many restaurants close early or aren’t open on certain days
  • If you are planning to visit Boca Brava, note that the water taxi service stops running at dark
  • There is no ATM in several of the towns, so make sure to get cash before you come (we got stuck without cash for dinner). Even though the local currency is Balboa, almost everywhere excepts and uses the US dollar.
  • Spanish is spoken in Panama and many people do speak English, although we found fewer people who spoke English in this part of Panama
  • Like most of Panama, this area is generally safe as long as you follow standard travel safety advice
Boca Chica, Gulf of Chiriqui
Boca Chica, Gulf of Chiriqui

How to Get to the Gulf of Chiriqui and Boca Chica

Since the Gulf of Chiriqui is large, the easiest way to get around is by car, although there are also bus routes that give you access to the area and you can look up the routes from David. If you are basing your adventure in the Boca Chica area, you can drive straight into town and there are multiple places to park.

The closest airport to Boca Chica is in David (about a 1-hour drive) and there are several flights a day to David from Panama City and other nearby airports. Here are some common driving times to Boca Chica:

  • Boquete to Boca Chica: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • David to Boca Chica: 1 hour
  • Panama City to Boca Chica: 6 hours
  • Bocas Del Toro to Boca Chica: 5 hours and 30 minute

Once you are in Boca Chica, the easiest way to get around is by boat to the different islands. Boca Chica is small, so walking around or taking a boat is all that’s needed. At the dock in Boca Chica, you will find water taxis and tour companies. We stayed on Boca Brava during part of our visit to the Gulf of Chiriqui and had no trouble parking our car for a few days and relying on water taxis to get around.

Best Time to Visit the Gulf of Chiriqui

The weather along this part of the coast is HOT – all year long. The temperatures are often in the 90s with nighttime temperatures in the 80s. Coming from the hills of Boquete, the heat felt almost oppressive. The dry season is December-May, but if you want to see whales or sea turtles, you may want to consider a visit during the wet season.

Pro Travel Tip: Most of the restaurants in the area are connected to hotels, and have limited hours.  There are also few ATMs (there is no ATM in Boca Chica) and everywhere takes cash - not credit cards.  We almost went without dinner one night due to limited cash!

Best Things to do in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Boca Chica, and Boca Brava

Visit the Islands of the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park including Isla Parida

Visiting the Islands around Isla Parida in the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park was one of the highlights of our time in Panama. We arranged a private tour for the day on one of the smaller boats from Boca Chica directly. After picking us up, the boat headed straight for the islands. It happened to be a National Holiday on the day we visited so there were a lot of locals spending the day on the island. Our guide asked where we wanted to visit and he dropped us off on one of the beaches for a few hours and we had the island and snorkeling area completely to ourselves. At lunch, he picked us back up and took us to Isla Parida where there was a beach with lots of people and a food stand to get lunch and drinks.

The snorkeling was excellent and it was fun seeing the islands full of locals instead of just tourists for a change. The cost for the boat ride was about $100. You can also book this in advance as a tour like the one here.

Kayak or Paddleboard in the Mangroves

The water right off the coast of Boca Chica and the backside of Boca Brava are mostly mangrove forests. Many of the local hotels and rentals include kayaks or paddleboards. Keep an eye out for the many birds that live in this area.

walking on Boca Brava the in Gulf of Chiriqui
Walking on Boca Brava in the Gulf of Chiriqui

Explore the Trails and Beaches of Boca Brava

Just a stone’s throw from Boca Chica, Boca Brava is a fun destination for the day (you can also spend the night at a few rentals on the island). Most of Boca Brava is very walkable, although if you want to go from one side to the other, a boat is the easiest way to travel. There are plenty of beaches to visit as well as forests full of monkeys and other wildlife.

Go Snorkeling or Diving

The Gulf of Chiriqui is a diving and snorkeling paradise. The best places to snorkel are out on the islands so you will need to book a tour to get there. Note that some of the parks require that you have a permit or fee. You can find more information on the best snorkeling sites online or by talking to locals.


While the town of Boca Chica doesn’t offer a great spot to surf, there are several great locations along the coast here perfect for catching waves. A few of the top spots include:

Panama Surf Island – located just offshore on a private island.

Santa Catalina – this is a popular place to surf and you can find lots of places to stay in this area

Las Lajas – we spent a night in Las Lajas and were impressed by the length of the beach and the consistency of the waves. You can also find a small, but fun growing community of hotels right on the beach at Las Lajas.

Go Whale Watching

Check out this local whale watching tour from July-October to get out in the Gulf and see whales. This tour actually leaves from Boquete, and includes visits to some of the islands as well as whale watching. Note that it is only offered during the year when whales are local in the Gulf of Chiriqui.

Visit the Beaches

I’ve already mentioned some of the beaches, but there are excellent beaches throughout the Gulf of Chiriqui with gorgeous water. You won’t find the same colors as on the Caribbean side of Panama, but these beaches offer solitude. Our favorite beaches in the area are:

  • Boca Brava
  • Las Lajas
  • Isla Paridita
  • Isla San Jose
  • Isla Bolanos
Gulf of Chiriqui National Park

Go Deep Sea Fishing

One of the main attractions in Boca Chica is sport fishing. You can find sport fishing boats offering tours right from town or some of the local hotels. You can find many local fishing operations on Trip Advisor.

Visit Coiba Island

Coiba Island is a world-class diving destination and a World Heritage Site in the Gulf of Chiriqui. You can also surf here or take a nature walk. This is truly an amazing destination for seeing underwater animals such as manta rays, whale sharks, hammerheads, and more. The best way to access Coibra Island is from Santa Catalina via a 90-minute boat ride. You can also book a day trip with either diving or snorkeling.

Visit Isla Secas

Another excellent island destination in the Gulf of Chiriqui is Isla Secas. If you are up for a bit of luxury, you can visit Isla Secas. There is snorkeling and beaches in a truly gorgeous setting.

Where to Stay in the Gulf of Chiriqui

You won’t find large resorts along the Gulf of Chiriqui. Most of the hotels and places to stay are small-scale lodging and you can find a series of new eco-resorts. There are a few please to stay out on the islands as well, but most of the lodging options are in Boca Chica, Boca Brava, Las Lajas, and Santa Catalina. Many of the hotels are also some of the best restaurants in the area.

Las Lajas Beach Resort

Best Hotels in Boca Chica

Bocas Del Mar – this small and lovely hotel has 2 pools and restaurant.

Boca Chica Bay Eco Lodge – this beautiful property has a pool and a wonderful included breakfast

Best Lodging on Boca Brava

Villa Azul – This is where we stayed for 2 nights during our visit to the Gulf of Chiriqui. We had our own house with a shared pool and beautiful views. We loved this house and wish we had more time!

Sitting at the Pool on Boca Brava

Best Hotels in Las Lajas

Las Lajas Beach Resort – We spent the day at this fun resort and enjoyed dinner at the restaurant. We loved the grounds here and the beach.

Where to stay in Santa Catalina

Pavilion Hotel – we did not stay here but heard great things about it!

Our Trip to the Gulf of Chiriqui

We visited the Gulf of Chiriqui on our 10-day Panama Itinerary. After 5 days in Boquete, we drove our rental car to Las Lajas where we spent the afternoon and one night. We mostly spent this time at the pool and walking the beautiful and long beach. The kids enjoyed the waves at Las Lajas.

The next afternoon we headed for Boca Chica. Our biggest mistake was not getting enough cash out of an ATM BEFORE we made the drive to Boca Chica. Once at Boca Chica, we took the boat over to Boca Brava and Casa Azul. We spent 2 nights in Boca Brava. Since we were short on cash, Dave took a water taxi and visited several hotels and one finally agreed to take a card payment in exchange for some cash. We were able to buy some basics for dinner and breakfast and pay for our boat ride for the next day.

We spent the afternoon and evening of the first day exploring the beaches of Boca Brava.

The next morning, we arranged for a boat trip out to Isla Parida for the day. This was a full-day adventure and we loved everything from the boat ride to the snorkeling and the quiet beaches. At the end of the day, we decided to go out to dinner (this was a mistake). We went early, but by the time we finished, it was dark, and the water taxis had stopped running and we ended up walking across Boca Brava in the dark, using google earth to navigate on our phones. It wasn’t one of our best travel moments (there were tears) but none of us will ever forget walking in the dark across the island and being yelled at by howler monkeys!

The next morning we relaxed before catching the boat back to Boca Chica and heading to the airport of David to fly to Panama City.

See more about Traveling in Panama.

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