In this destination guide, we will make a day trip from Panama City to Isla Taboga, also known as ‘The Island of Flowers’.
Panama City day trip
One of the most popular day trips you can make from Panama City is a boat trip to Taboga Island (Isla Taboga in Spanish).
Taboga is an easy DIY day trip. Although there are a few tour outlets offering tours to the island, it is absolutely straightforward to book the ferry tickets yourself and wander around the relatively small island on your own.
This was thus exactly what I did. A couple of days before I flew to Panama, I booked my boat ticket for the Taboga Express fast ferry online, paying 20 USD for a round trip.
Heading to the port
After a quick dip in my hotel swimming pool and a light breakfast, I took an Uber to the harbour at the tip of the Amador Causeway. The harbour is actually more of a marina with endless rows of luxury yachts and a couple of shops catering towards the crowds of yachties such as a fancy liquor store.
There is also a small terminal building (called Marina Flamenco), in which a couple of souvenir shops and offices can be found. The Taboga Express check-in desk is however located outside this building – and is actually no more than a table on the waterside.
Even when you bought your ticket online you still need to check-in here and pick up your real paper ticket here. The process was smooth and within seconds I had my ticket in hand.
The Taboga fast ferry
The fast ferry to Taboga Island is relatively small boat (capacity 125) with free-for-all seating. Cold drinks can be bought on board – and even though it was the morning departure, many of the amicable mostly Canadian tourists on board seemed to be in the mood for an early beer, creating a fun vibe on the deck.
Given that the crossing is very short (it takes just 30 minutes to reach Taboga), I recommend sitting outside as there are some great from the open deck of the huge ships heading for the Panama Canal.
Isla Taboga arrival
The best part of the boat journey is the moment when Taboga Island finally comes in sight. The first thing you are likely to notice is just how green the island is and how cute the main town looks from afar.
I’ve arrived at countless of picturesque islands across the world by ferry, but to this date I still fondly remember the views upon arrival of Taboga, which seemed like a little paradise island coming from the urban chaos of Panama City. What a fabulous sight!
On arrival, most people seemed to head directly from the pier to one of the beaches on the island. Although Taboga Island is a popular beach destination for both tourists and Panama City locals, there is however also a lot to see in and around the main town. Before hitting the beach myself, I thus decided to start first with a small tour of Taboga town.
Taboga is a car-free island which adds to the charms and quiet atmosphere of the place. Apart from the odd golf cart zooming by, the streets are mostly empty. Coming from the traffic chaos of Panama City, you will instantly calm down and get into a zen-like spirit when setting foot on the island.
Most of the town is centred around the promenade along the coast, which makes for a fine walk. If you head inland, you will soon reach the edge of town and some densely forested hills.
The main sight of Taboga Island is its 16th Century church, said to be the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately, the church doors were shut so I couldn’t look inside.
Apart from a small monument dedicated to the island’s most famous inhabitants (the French painter Paul Gauguin who lived here for a while) there aren’t many actual sights to see on Taboga.
You are however missing the point if you come to Taboga for the sights – as the big draw of the island are its picturesque location, its quietness and the relaxed vibe.
I just loved taking in the views while wandering around the mostly deserted town. Only occasionally you would come across one of the friendly locals on the town streets.
Island of Flowers
The nickname of Isla Taboga is the ‘Island of Flowers’ – and it’s not exactly hard to see why. There is an abundance of both wildflowers, palm trees and an abundance of other flowers, plants and trees.
The purple and yellow flowers, as well as the green jungle canopy, really add to the special feel of the island.
Isla Taboga beaches
There are a couple of beaches on the island – with the main beaches being located within the town limits.
The most popular beach seemed to be the one just to the north of Taboga town. Depending on the tide, you can walk across a narrow sand bank to Morro Island just off the shore of Isla Taboga proper. There are several wooden shacks here selling food, drinks or renting out kayaks and snorkelling and surfing gear.
Personally, I however preferred the town beach itself as the sand was finer and the backdrop far prettier. Both beaches do have some beach bars and restaurants with fine sea views.
As I was getting thirsty from the tour around the island, I walked up to Vereda Tropical Hotel Restaurant & Bar – which looked like a great spot to sit down for a drink overlooking the area.
The charming hilltop villa did indeed have a fantastic outdoor seating area from where you could watch over the Taboga town and the ocean with all its freighters.
Service was a wee bit slow, but who cares about that when you are on a quiet island?! Of course, being on a tropical island I just had to order a cocktail.
The Pina Colada – properly served with a little paper umbrella in the glass – was certainly well worth the long wait and hit the spot. I was now really starting to enjoy my Taboga island time!
After a cocktail or two I wandered back to the beach for a little swim and a bit of sunbathing while reading a book. As I could smell some fish being grilled, I was slowly getting hungry so went up to find a place to eat.
There are plenty of takeaway shacks on Taboga Island selling freshly grilled fish or ceviche. From these basic beach bars, you can also get a cold can of beer for a dollar.
I however stopped at a basic seaside restaurant for a proper sit-down meal of ceviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juice), which was of excellent quality.
As I still had some appetite left after the ceviche and I didn’t fancy the rest on the menu, I headed back to Vereda to try their fish and rice in a tropical fruit sauce, which was absolutely delicious as well.
Heading back to Panama City
After the excellent meal, I lingered for a while more at one of the beaches. Before I knew it, it was already late in the afternoon and time to head back to the pier to catch the last boat back to Panama City.
The views on the way back were again great – especially when the impressive Panama City skyline came in view. It made for a perfect end of the day trip to Taboga.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get hold of an Uber on arrival due to it being rush hour and the Amador Causeway being quite out of the way. I therefore had to negotiate hard with a normal taxi driver in his rundown vehicle for a decent fare for the ride back to my hotel.
Traffic was so excruciatingly slow that I decided to change my destination halfway through the ride, as I told the driver to drop me off at the Cinco de Mayo metro station. Taking the metro back probably saved me a good half hour as it looked like the traffic on the streets had come to a complete standstill.
I absolutely loved my Isla Taboga day trip and can highly recommend it to everyone. It’s a simple do-it-yourself day trip and you can easily arrange everything in advance or on location in Panama City.
Taboga Island makes for an excellent change of scenery from the crowded and chaotic streets of Panama City. With decent beaches, a cute town, gorgeous wildflowers and some great places to eat or drink, Isla Taboga is the perfect place to unwind for a day.
If I ever find myself back in Panama I would love to come back to Taboga and would probably even stay for a few nights as I just loved the laid-back island vibe.
If you are inclined to stay the night, there are a couple of appealing hotels on the island. Besides the Vereda Tropical Hotel mentioned earlier, I also came across the cute-looking Villa Caprichosa as another accommodation option, which seems to be an amazing place.
Isla Taboga is an absolute stunner and in my opinion an unmissable day trip if you find yourself in Panama City.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘A Piece of Panama With a Bit of Bogota and a Slice of San Jose‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Air France Economy Class Bucharest to Paris (Airbus A320)
2. Review: Air France Business Lounge Paris CDG Airport Terminal 2E – Hall K
3. Review: Air France Economy Class Paris to Bogota (Boeing 787)
4. Review: Hotel Morrison 114, Bogota, Colombia
5. A Short One-Day Stopover in Bogota, Colombia
6. Review: Copa Club Bogota Airport, Colombia
7. Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class Panama to Bogota (Embraer RJ-190)
8. Review: Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro
9. How to Visit the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal
10. Into the Casco Viejo – Exploring Panama City’s Old Town Centre
11. Isla Taboga: A Day Trip to the Island of Flowers (current chapter)
12. A Panama Day Trip to the Portobelo Forts and Tropical Isla Mamay
13. Review: Copa Club Panama Tocumen International Airport
14. Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class Panama to San Jose (Boeing 737-800)
15. A day in the Costa Rican capital of San José
16. Review: Santamaria VIP Lounge San José Airport
17. Review: KLM economy class San José to Amsterdam (Boeing 787)
18. Review: KLM Crown Lounge (Non-Schengen) Amsterdam Airport
19. Review: KLM economy class Amsterdam-Bucharest (Boeing 737-800)