A Day In Changuinola

I was starting to get a bit tired of “island life” on Bocas so I decided it would be good for me to take a day trip to the mainland to see some normal civilisation and go to some clothes shops etc (we only have a few tiny clothes shops on the island). The most obvious choice is Changuinola because it’s the most accessible town from Bocas. I went with Aude, a Swiss girl from the hostel who I communicate in French with, which is good because then I practice both my languages, not just Spanish.

To get to Changuinola you take a water taxi to the port of Almirante. Normally with water taxis you just turn up and tell them where you want to go, but to Almirante because the journey is longer etc, they use a bigger boat and it goes every half an hour so you have to wait for the next one, not just go as soon as you get to the boat house. The price can range from $4 – $6 each way I think, but if you go from Bocas Marine Tours (which we did), it’s always $5. You pay at the reception desk then wait til a man shouts “Almirante” then get on the big boat.

We were the only tourists on the boat, and it took about half an hour. The view was really green for most of the way:


When we arrived at Almirante we passed a lot of locals’ houses:


I’d been told by someone who works in the hostel that once in Almirante, you turn left from where the boat drops you, til you reach the main road, then turn right and you’ll come to the little bus station with buses to Changuinola. We found it after a few minutes and the bus was already there and quite full (if it was empty we would have had to wait for it to fill up). It was air conditioned (thank God) and again we were the only white people there, which was quite nice because in Bocas there are tourists everywhere.

The journey was a bit scary because when I looked out of the window I saw that, at some points, we were like half a metre away from the edge of a mountain (or maybe not a mountain but something really steep), and the driver was going really quickly and we had no seatbelts. It took about half an hour and cost $1.45.

When we arrived in Changuinola I was happy to see that there were lots of clothes shops (not branded ones, but I knew that would be the case and that doesn’t matter to me) and loads of restaurants/takeaways including a MacDonalds!!! It was so strange to see that, after being so isolated from normal life for a month. Here you can see some of the shops etc:


The first thing we had to do was find a bank with an ATM that’s not Banco Nacional de Panama because there’s a problem right now with the Banco Nacional ATMs. On my island, the only ATM is run by Banco Nacional but for the past week or so, when people with non-Panama cards try and use it, it’s been debiting their accounts without giving them any cash. We kept asking people where a different bank was and the walk was ridiculous. It was really hot and we ended up completely out of the centre of Changuinola after walking along by a main road for ages, and then after all that the bank was shut!!! It didn’t occur to us that there might be ATMs in shops etc (I guess I’ve got used to living in an undeveloped society), but a woman took us to one in a supermarket by the bank, which worked fine.

The supermarket was AIR CONDITIONED and had LABELLED AISLES and ACTUAL CHECKOUTS. On Isla Colon there’s none of this. I honestly didn’t want to go back to the island. I think maybe island life isn’t for me after all. Anyway we trekked back to the centre and stopped at a Chinese restaurant on our way. It was immediately obvious that prices were lower there than in Bocas. We both got vegetable chow mein and it was the biggest pile of noodles I’ve ever seen in my life, for $4.15. I also ordered garlic bread because I saw it on the menu and hadn’t had it since leaving England, but to my surprise it was literally toast with butter/oil and chopped up garlic on top! It was nice, just not what I’m used to! Again, we were the only white people there. There was loads of graffiti in the toilets including a lot of prostitutes’ phone numbers:


After that we went shopping and I got 2 tops and a pair of shorts for $19 total, so not bad. I thought this bus was pretty cool. I have no idea where it was going but we walked past it and decided to take a picture:


The bus station to go back was much bigger/busier than the one in Almirante. As you can see the buses are all minibuses:Image

On the way back we had a bit of a problem because we were supposed to give our passport numbers before getting on the boat but it was fine, in the end we just wrote our nationalities. If you’re going to the mainland you should bring a photocopy of your passport.

I really enjoyed being away from tourists for a day, and you can buy basically anything you need in Changuinola so I’ll probably go back once a month or something.

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