Along the Atlantic coast of Panama, only a short bus ride away from the Costa Rican border, is a series of islands known as Bocas del Toro. Bocas is a haven for backpackers from all over the world, and one of the best spots on the “Gringo trail” that snakes through Central and South America.
Bocas is an archipelago, and all of the islands have their own feel. The town of Bocas del Toro has many hostels, restaurants, and bars. The only drawback is that there is no beach there, and it is a serious tourist town, and you are often asked if you need drugs, where you are going, if you need a taxi, etc. Even a local I spoke to complained that he had to tell people in the street that he was from here, and that if he wanted any of those things he knew where to get them.
You can find hostels for anywhere from eight to twelve dollars a night. To get to the beaches, you have to take a water taxi from town. They are a few bucks, depending on where you want to go, and riding the boats as they cut through the aquamarine plane between the islands is fun in and of itself. Some of the islands, like Bastimentos, have a much more local and authentic feel than the main island. There are several beaches, some more crowded than others, but none that have that visit to the shore in august level of occupancy. There are plenty of secluded beaches you can hike to the jungle to, and many of them have great surfing. There are also plenty of boat tours, snorkeling, and diving expeditions you can go on. Bike rentals are everywhere on the main island, and you can take a half hour to forty five minute bike rides to some solid beaches there as well.
There’s no end to the things you can do here. Or you can do what many backpackers do, drink all day and party all night at the many cheap bars on the islands. Either way, you’ll have fun.