Calm, clear waters and soft white sands make this scenic strand a local favorite
Panama’s Bocas del Toro province is a favorite with adventure travelers seeking a more natural take on a Caribbean vacation. The wooded islands surrounding Chiriqui Lagoon are dotted with waterfront lodges ranging from backpacker-friendly hostels to eco-luxe resorts. Travel to the area’s more distant island retreats begins at Bocas Town on Isla Colón. From here, water taxis fan out across the lagoon to more remote locations. But as many savvy travelers know, Isla Colón shouldn’t just be considered a jumping off point. This largest of the northern islands is worthy of exploration, and is ringed by a range of spectacular beaches, some washed in surf, others calm as a millpond.
One beach that shouldn’t be missed is Playa Estrella, aka Starfish Beach. Located on the island’s northwestern corner, this scenic white sand beach can be reached by land or sea. From Bocas Town on the island’s southern shore, a roadway cuts through the jungle-clad interior. Adventurous folk can rent bikes and negotiate a few small hills as they cross the island—a trip that will require an hour or more of peddling. An easier option is to hire a taxi or catch the low-cost municipal bus, which runs, between Bocas Town and the small beachfront community at Bocas del Drago. From there, you can hire a water taxi for a ten minute ride to the sheltered bay of Playa Estrella, or you can hoof it along the shoreline, enjoying a pleasant walk of about 25 minutes on a beachside path that may have you wading into the shallows in places, or stepping over a leaning palm tree that stretches seaward.
As you round the final point of land, the bay unfolds before you. Towering palms shade the sand, and a smattering of thatch-roof shelters edge close to the water. Playa Estrella is ideal for swimming or wading, as there are no waves, surge or currents to contend with, and the sea floor is soft sand with no exposed rocks. Wade in and you will likely catch a glimpse of the starfish that give this beach its name. Though they seem to just be lying there, these starfish are actually roaming slowly about the bay, feeding on algae and tiny crustaceans. It’s best to look without touching, but if you can’t resist the urge to bring a starfish up for a photo, make it brief and place the animal back in the water where you found it.
On most days, you won’t have Starfish Beach to yourself, but you’ll also never have to content with crowds, as even on the most popular days, you’ll have plenty of elbow room when you stretch a towel on the sand, or set a chair in the shade of a palm. In recent years, several small beachside restaurants have popped up, offering snacks and libations. If swimming with the starfish isn’t enough, you can rent paddleboards, water bikes and kayaks and send the afternoon enjoying the clear waters.