This half day tour takes you up close to some of the Caribbean Sea’s most dramatic wildlife
History of Bocas del Toro
The story of Bocas del Toro is a classic, filled with pirates and buccaneers; slave ships and indigenous tribes; plagues and natural disasters... and a LOT of bananas.
When Columbus arrived in 1502, he found a land that had been inhabitied for centuries by five indigenous groups. Over the following centuries, they fiercely resisted colonization, and the wild archipelago became a haven for buccaneers who used wood from the dense forests to repair their ships, and feasted on the region's abundant sea turtles.
During the 1800s, Bocas del Toro´s cosmopolitan culture began to take root. British and American settlers brought African slaves; West Indians and native Caribbean fishermen settled here, and the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé tribes picked up pidgin English in order to trade with their new neighbors. By the end of the century, small banana plantations were sprouting across the province and Bocas began to bloom.
In 1899 the United Fruit Company was established and changed the face of Bocas. The company built canals, bridges, and a railroad to transport this "green gold" across the province. Thriving with movie theaters, horse tracks, and social clubs, the port town of Bocas del Toro became the company´s headquarters.
However, over the next two decades, the plantations were battered in biblical style: Floods, a plague of grasshoppers, an earthquake and “Panama disease” destroyed plants and wiped out the banana industry. Finally, a fire reduced the new town to ashes. The people fought back, but the province´s success vanished as swiftly as it had arrived. Despite opportunities for new crops, Bocas del Toro´s moment of glory was over.
Yet Bocas del Toro's colorful past has left a legacy in the present through the wobbly colonial Caribbean architecture scattered around Bocas town, the banana plantations stretching into the distance on the mainland, and in the language of Wari Wari, which splices Spanish, English and French with native languages.