The Bocas Effect: 

“A Sudden feeling of euphoria secondary to the independent removal of societies noose by an individual.  Symptoms include: relaxation, laughter, smiling… at everyone, fun, befriending of random strangers, deep breathing, potential for superhuman powers, the absence of time, the absence of any feelings of guilt, a general disregard for authority that is not in line with common sense followed by the making of ones own rules.” 

-Kimberley Casey, 2012

Most commonly known to occur on the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama (although recent sightings have been reported in various costal locations around Central America…yes, it’s spreading).                                                                                                                                             

I struggle to describe Bocas del Toro. This is the second time I’ve been, and it doesn’t get any easier… to describe or to leave. You see, Bocas needs to be experienced to be understood. In it’s simplest form Bocas del Toro could be described as a surf town, a party town, a chilled out town… a bunch of islands just off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

You see in Bocas you can do whatever you like, and no one cares. There is a party every night, a beach every day, and a bikini and shorts is both beach attire and night attire. People often arrive in Bocas on their own, and it’s absolutely fine because they make friends in Bocas… lots of new friends. Then they will generally stay longer than expected and will have a really damn good time.  When you ask them the specifics it seems like they’ve just been partying for a few days… but Bocas is more than this, much more. It’s just that certain experiences cannot be conveyed in words…

Maybe you haven’t been to Bocas yet. Maybe you’ve started your Central America adventure in the north and you’re heading south. Maybe you meet a traveller heading in the opposite direction who has been to Bocas, and maybe you ask them “Ah yes Bocas, I’ve heard of this place, is it worth going??” To which the traveler will often become silent… they may stare off into the distance… then, with a slow nodding of the head, they will break into a large smile and mutter the simple words “Bocas…. Yes, yes you must go to Bocas…” leaving you wanting for further information.

So what becomes of you when you do go to Bocas?? Well, that’s variable. Maybe you drink excessive amounts of rum. Maybe you party until 4am, sleep until midday, nurse a hangover on the beach, and do it all over again that night and feel no guilt whatsoever that you haven’t been a ‘good tourist’.  Maybe you’re one of the many who swim in their underwear at Aqua Lounge purely because it’s a bar surrounded by water and you can. Maybe you’re one of the guys who chooses to skinny dip at this same place only to take a boat back to town naked after your shorts are stolen. Maybe you forget the key to your hostel and have to climb over barbed wire and across a roof to get in. Maybe you get arrested for indecent behavior which you really don’t agree is indecent behavior but get handcuffed to a prison cell for the night anyway. Maybe you  jump on a small boat with a local guy who drops you out at incredible surf breaks, and wait in the ocean for him to come back for you. Maybe you try every white sand beach you can find. Maybe you learn to make Piña Coladas in the hostel kitchen. Maybe you teach people to make Piña Coladas in the hostel kitchen. Maybe you arrive alone and within minutes of stepping out onto the balcony make a bunch of new friends, all of whom love your guitar skills. Maybe you try the infamous Bocas Balls and become addicted. Maybe you place all your trust in a man named Ron and decide from that moment on that you will obey his every word. Maybe you plan to leave, but three days later you still find yourself there. Maybe Bocas helps you to forget…  Maybe Bocas helps you to remember…

Maybe… Maybe… Maybe…

So, what became of us in Bocas del Toro? Well I can’t tell you that. As I said, Bocas must be experienced. All I can really say is that ‘The Bocas Effect’ was experienced by all. We spent more time there than expected, we met really good people and had a really good time that will always be remembered with a far off distant look, a smile, and a “Yes… Yes you must go to Bocas…”

For me, Bocas represents a little bit if freedom in a world where societies noose seems to be tightening by the day. It’s a reminder that you make your own rules, and that its ok to stop, slow down, and just c-h-i-l-l t-h-e f-u-c-k o-u-t.  So to Alex, Sally, Ryan, Dave, Ira, Johannes, Manuella, Lena, Bryce and Anthony… Thanks for the memories. Just like the Mystic Chocolate Bocas Balls, You’ll all be sorely missed…

Kimberley Casey

Founder of Time as a Traveller, where Independent Travellers share their extraordinary experiences. Kim is an Independent Traveller since 1997, and has travelled to 60+ countries. Writer. Photographer. Lover of Freedom. Specialist in off the beaten track, adventure, long-term budget travel and everything Latin America. Good at roughing it, long haul trips, and sleeping on all modes of transport. Read her story at

Related Posts