Just a short 30 minute ferry ride from Panama City, a trip to Taboga feels like a little slice of tropical island paradise. As you approach by boat, the first thing that catches your attention are the brightly coloured dwellings dotted on the hill-side, then the sandy palm-tree lined beaches. So far, so heavenly!
Our visit to Taboga Island also coincided with the annual Virgen del Carmen festival, held on 16 July every year (all over Panama and other Catholic countries too).
Also known as the ‘Island of Flowers’, here is our travel guide to Taboga Island:
How to get to Taboga Island from Panama City
Independently by ferry
It is easy to reach Taboga Island from Panama City by boat – the Taboga Island Express ferries depart from the harbour in Amador Causeway every day (four times a day on weekdays, with an extra service on Saturdays and Sunday). We recommend visiting on a weekday when the island is a bit quieter and to book your tickets in advance online as the ferries can sell out especially at weekends. A roundtrip ticket costs $20 USD and you can book online here.
The ferry times (as of July 2019) are as follows:
Panama City to Taboga Island: 8am, 9.30am, 11am, 3pm (extra 4.30pm sailing on a weekend),
Taboga Island to Panama City: 8.45am, 10.15am, 2.30pm, 4pm (extra 5pm sailing on a weekend).
The best way to reach the harbour to get the Taboga Express is by car (there is plenty of parking) or by taking an Uber taxi. Alternatively take the Metro to Albrook Mall and then board a bus that goes to ‘Amador Causeway’.
On an organised tour
Alternatively you can book a day tour which usually includes hotel pickup/drop off, transport, lunch, walking tours etc. Check out Viator for a selection of Taboga Island tours.
How to get around Taboga Island
There are no proper roads or public transport on Taboga Island meaning the only way for visitors to get around is by foot. We saw a lot of locals get around the island by using a golf buggy but we couldn’t see anywhere to rent these for the day.
Boats also circle the island, to get to and from the many coves, although all the bars and restaurants are based around the main ferry port so you should be OK to just walk.
The two main beaches welcome you at the ferry port (Playa Honda beach to the left, Playa Restinga to the right). The waters are warm and quite calm, and when we arrived at 8.30am, people were already swimming. Deck chairs and parasols can be hired from the various beach vendors.
The two main beaches are a little different – the beach at Playa Honda has better facilities and the sand is more golden. Playa Restinga has amazing views of Panama City’s skyscrapers across the bay, but the beach is a little more rough and ready (lots of shells and stones). We preferred Playa Honda, so we could relax at some of the beach bars and occasionally grab ice cold beers for $1 or snack on meat skewers from the beach vendors.
Taboga Village Walk
If you want to go for a wander through the local village, head to the left along the waterfront as you depart the ferry terminal and head up the steps. You’ll walk through several villages (including Taboga’s new town here), and past local shops – there are also lots of chickens running around across the main paths (“Why did the chicken cross the road?….)
We also saw many mini ‘shrines’ and ended our walk when we got the Taboga cemetery overlooking the sea. We spoke to a few villagers who recommended to walk to the top of the hill to the big cross for awesome coastal views, but it was so hot the day we visited that we decided not to hike up. Another friend also told us they’d seen lots of snakes on the hillside tracks on a previous visit so you have been warned.
St Peter’s Church / Church of San Pedro, Taboga
Claimed to be the second oldest church in the western hemisphere (founded around 1524 by the Spanish Conquistadors), it was the 16 July ‘Virgen del Carmen’ annual celebration on the day we visited so the Church of San Pedro was the focal point of activities on the day, with the festivities preceded by a two hour mass.
The church was full and bedecked with flowers, with the ‘Virgen del Carmen’ figure at the front by the altar which was set to be carried through the streets by the villagers to the beach later that day.
Taboga Bars and Restaurants
There are ample bars, restaurants and eateries on Taboga Island by the main pier, with something to suit all tastes. There are lots are sit down affairs but many are simple huts right on the beach selling ice-cold $1 beers or local / quick snacks like ceviche or roasted chicken.
We arrived early (around 8.30am) and found Mundi’s Restaurant, where we had a deck overlooking the beach all to ourselves. The views were incredible, service was good and a hot breakfast (e.g. pancakes and scrambled eggs) with a fresh passion fruit juice cost around $10 each including service and tip.
We also had lunch at Restaurante Playa Honda, as it had a nice outdoor deck directly overlooking the beach and had ample shade from the afternoon sun. Beers were $2 a pop and most hot main dishes were around $8 to $14 (e.g. garlic prawns and fries were $13).
We also visited Ricardo’s Bar near St Peter’s Church to cool off from the sun as well. Beers were $1 each and this felt more like a locals bar as we were the only tourists in sight.
Popular all across Panama City, Taboga has also joined the big sign party, with a massive colourful sign by the beach huts, just as you arrive off the ferry.
As the backdrop to the Taboga sign is the glorious Playa Honda and lush verdant mountains, surely this has to be the most serene sign setting in the whole of Panama?
Virgen del Carmen Festival (16 July)
Purely by chance, our trip to Taboga island coincided with the annual catholic Virgen del Carmen festival on the 16 July 2019. Venerated worldwide for centuries, Taboga’s take on the festival is particularly unique and renowned in Panama, as the celebrations take place on and around the main Playa Honda beach. An aquatic procession awaits, with many ships and boats decked out in colourful decorations – the figure of Virgen del Carmen is taken around the island by boat, accompanied by a band (in another boat) and other well-wishers in other vessels.
The beach also takes on a party atmosphere during the Virgen del Carmen proceedings, with fireworks being regularly let off and a DJ setting up shop right on the beach.
Taboga Island Facilities
There are several toilet blocks and changing facilities / showers available near to both of the main beaches – all charge an entry fee (generally 50c to $1USD for use of the bathroom, and around $2 for using the showers). The facilities nearest to the big colourful ‘Taboga’ sign offer an all day access pass to their toilet / shower / changing rooms for $2 (they give you a wristband).
We generally had beers in beachside bars so we used their own toilets (free in all the bars we went to if you are a paying customer).
Taboga Island Accommodation
If you want to stay on Taboga longer than just a day, then there are quite a few accommodation options on the island, here are some examples:
Hotel Vereda Tropical – the rooms in this hotel are cheap and have balconies overlooking the ocean at Playa Honda beach.
Taboga Palace Spa Hotel – has a sun terrace and an infinity pool, with some rooms having views of the ocean at Playa Honda beach.
Villa Caprichosa – is a luxuriously decorated boutique style hotel and offers spacious suites, villas and studios, plus a swimming pool.
Other Panama City blog posts
- 5 Easy Walks Around Panama City
- Panama City budget travel guide
- Top things to do in Casco Viejo in Panama City
- Panama City travel guide – things to do for first time visitors
- Panama City Pride Parade 2019, Central America
- Exploring Ancon Hill and Mi Pueblito in Panama City
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