Your vacation is around the corner and you want to make sure it is one that builds lifelong memories for all the right reasons. Here are our tips for making sure you are going to have a family vacation that is as perfect as possible.
1. Don’t stay on the main island.
Isla Colon, or Bocas Town, is the main island of Bocas del Toro and holds the lion’s share of hotels and restaurants. Many assume it’s the most convenient location, but for families that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bocas Town can get quite rowdy at night, with bars and nightclubs blasting music til the late AM. The island has few beaches to speak of, and not much to do for children.
Other islands are close by, more beautiful, and more kid-friendly. Isla Bastimentos– the island on which we’re located– is famous for it’s perfect beaches and lush rainforests, both of which offer a score of activities. (Check out our virtual resort map!) At Red Frog Beach, you’ll have extra amenities like restaurants, private pools, cave and island tours, jungle zipline, a spa and yoga center, and a world class marina.
2. Find kid-friendly accommodations
Not all hotels in Bocas del Toro allow children, choosing instead to cater to the young party crowd or older couples. Even if a hotel doesn’t blatantly disallow kids, it might not have the type of atmosphere or people you want your kids around.
Find a hotel that prides itself on being kid-friendly, as we do at Red Frog Beach. Not only will your child be safer and you more relaxed, there will likely be other kids for yours to play with (and parents for you to meet!)
3. Get a house, not a hotel room.
Squishing the whole family into a hotel room leads to bickering, tears, and frustration. It doesn’t allow for the space a family needs, nor does it offer a true ‘home’ experience.
Accommodations like the Villas at Red Frog Beach give the family more space, privacy, and flexibility. They also enable you to keep up with the habits that keep you and the family grounded. Family dinners. A bedtime story. Yoga on the balcony. Movie night on the couch.
You can get up to a 6-bedroom Villa at Red Frog Beach Resort– all of which are perfectly located and impeccably designed. Each villa includes a private pool, fully equipped kitchen, daily housekeeping, reliable WIFI, breakfast on the beach, and airport transfer both ways.
4. Run on “Panama time”
With so many wonderful things to do in Bocas del Toro, it’s tempting to squeeze too many things into one day. Doing so is a sure-fire way to burn out quickly. Better to give yourself ample time for each activity and actually enjoy it. Going too fast can also be dangerous, given Panama’s thrist-inducing tropical climate.
You’ll also be running on “Panama time” – a phrase we use to describe how life in general moves more slowly in Panama. Even if you and the kids do manage to master a busy schedule, chances are someone or something else won’t. Neither Panama nor your kids are likely to speed up, so you may as well opt for a smooth ride.
5. Look for family rates and packages.
Hotels, tour groups, and even restaurants can offer special rates and incentives for families. At Red Frog Beach, for example, we offer a family package that will place you in one of our luxurious villas– complete with private pool, furnished kitchens, and daily housekeeping.
The package also includes daily breakfast on the beach, a zipline canopy tour, family fishing trips, Bar-B-Q events, dual airport transfer, and a private jungle cart in which to explore the island.
Ask about family packages and discounts wherever you go. Many Bocas businesses are owner-operated, giving them the ability to negotiate. It can’t hurt to ask– and you may find yourself saving a lot in the long run.
6. Choose your beaches wisely.
Some beaches in Bocas del Toro are more kid-friendly than others. The same ocean currents that gift Bocas with its excellent surf scene can also make for dangerous swimming, depending on the beach. Bocas also has some of the best coral reef in the region, which is great for snorkeling but not for delicate feetsies.
While Isla Bastimentos has its surf spots, Red Frog Beach also has many shallow, sandy-bottom areas perfect for the kiddos. Another nice beach for kids is Starfish Beach, on the main island of Isla Colon. The water is clear and shallow, and, as the name might imply, glittered with beautiful cartoon-colored Starfish.
7. Take a family class at Habla Ya Spanish School.
“School” might not be the first word in your vacation vocabulary, but with the right mindset it can be fun and rewarding. It’s the perfect opportunity to show kids that learning is fun– something one chooses to do, even on vacation (and even Mom and Dad!)
These aren’t your stuffy Spanish classes from high school, either. Bocas del Toro is home to the highly respected language school Habla Ya– and classes aren’t just effective, they’re downright fun. Using a full-immersion technique, they combine classroom time with real-life adventures, like walking tours, souvenir shopping, and eating at local restaurants.
8. Widen your kids’ cultural perspective (and your own).
Strolling the colorful streets of Bocas del Toro, you’ll see families with a very different way of life. Rickety houses, bare-bum babies, handmade clothes and simple toys. There’s even an indigenous village, where people live similarly to their ancestors.
Rather than shy away from reality, let your kids observe how families in other cultures live. This is more than a lesson in gratitude. The locals here may never own an iPad, but they have things we often lack: close family ties, time spent outside, and a keen sense of joy and appreciation.
Encourage your kids to observe and interact with the locals here, and do the same yourself. They may start to understand there’s more to life than having the next big thing. One parent told us their most memorable part of the trip wasn’t sailing or snorkeling, but watching their son kick a ball around with the local kids.
9. Encourage them to try something new.
Many “firsts” are had in Bocas del Toro, whether first time on a surfboard, zip-lining through the jungle, or slapping on a scuba mask. It can be daunting to try such adventurous things, but encourage your kids to experiment. You never know, they may unlock a passion like hiking or sailing that sticks with them the rest of their lives.
In fact, we’ve had kids fall *so* in love with a new island hobby, their parents ended up investing in Red Frog Beach Real Estate.
10. Foster appreciation and interest in the environment.
Bocas del Toro is more than a picturesque paradise. It’s a unique ecosystem with incredible biodiversity and one of the best coral reefs in the world. It’s the perfect opportunity to instill your kid with a greater awareness and appreciation of the environment.
Take a guided tour, and encourage your kids to actively listen to the guide’s commentary. Show interest in your surroundings, point out neat things like animals, flowers, and birds. Give your kids a healthy sense of awe in the world around them; it’s one of the best gifts you can give them.