The Rubbish of Bocas Del Toro, Panama

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The Rubbish of Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Zapatilla Beach in the Bocas Del Toro archipeligo is the reason you go to Bocas Del Toro

This is what people see when they talk of Bocas Del Toro. This is Zapatilla Beach – an incredible protected sand cay in the Bocas Archipelago. I agree its STUNNING!

What they don’t tell you though, is that this pic below is the reality of Bocas town.

The rubbish in Bocas Del Toro, Panama

I talked to maybe six to ten people before I arrived here that had visted Bocas Del Toro. Not one of them mentioned the state of Bocas town. I get why, I do – the archipelago is the reason you come to Bocas. Its amazing, however the weather in Bocas isn’t conducive to endless days out on the water or at the beach. It rains a lot – and I mean A LOT! I’ve been here a month and we’ve had 4 sunny days. I keep asking if this is the rainy season but everyone says its like this all the time so I’m assuming that to be true.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bitching out Bocas town, I’ve really loved my month here, however seeing as this is the jump off point to the pristine waters that everyone comes for I can’t understand how the community hasn’t embraced a frigging giant clean up.

They face a lot of challenges I understand that, however it doesn’t cost a lot to keep things clean. I’m not even talking tidy – I’m talking clean. This is the house across the road from my apartment. The people are lovely and Senor’s chicken is something I will dream about to the end of my days, however they burn their trash every day. Every single day. Everything. On that pile you see in the front yard. Plastic, polystyrene, tins, cans – everything. And what doesn’t burn adds to the pile.

The Rubbish Problem In Bocas Del Toro

There is no rubbish pickup in Bocas town, but there are ferry’s that come every single day (more than once) from the mainland.

Why can’t the government offer an affordable option for the community here?

How can they not understand that by not supplying the simplest of things like a rubbish service, eventually this draw card will become polluted and gross and the tourist dollar will move on. Its Panama I hear you say, but like everywhere else in the world, Panama has just as much social responsibility as Australia in protecting the environment that provides a decent chunk of their income.

You come to Bocas knowing that the beaches on Ilsa Coron (Bocas main island) aren’t great, however what you don’t know is that until you walk for an hour out of town, they are disgusting. They are black sand beaches which put a lot of people off (but I love), however the main beach in Bocas Town is polluted with rubbish and sewerage, it smells – BAD and I wouldn’t any more put my head in the water there than I would drink from a bowl of milk that had been left in the sun for 3 days.

I joined a volunteer group here (a group of travelling doctors) that I met the very first day, and last week we spent 4 hours at one end of the main beach picking up rubbish and bagging it up. The difference was astounding. In 4 hours 7 of us pretty much cleaned out completely around 500 meters of beach. I mean completely. You couldn’t have found a cigarette but on that beach when we were done. They had liaised with a local company to come and get the bags of rubbish we did the next day and Tony the guy who organised us all called while we were there and checked that they were coming. All good. We pack up the pile of garbage bags right next to an area for the truck and wander back into town for beers.

I walked to Paki Point today and that pile of rubbish is still there. You know why its still there? Because the pickup people knew that all the docs were leaving the next day. So they just didn’t bother. I don’t know what the answer is – however I know where they could start.

Where Could They Start?

  • A collection depot at the ferry stop.
  • Government funded reduced costs for the locals to collect and deliver their rubbish to the dock.
  • Education that we, as travelers, won’t come to a place in which the people trash the very same environment we are coming to see.
  • Recycling depot would be awesome but they have to start somewhere, so this is at the bottom for no other reason than just getting the rubbish off the streets and footpaths is a higher consideration.

Other Places Taking The Lead

Tortuguero in Costa Rica is a tiny island, much smaller than Bocas however they get massive tourist numbers every year for the same reason people come to Bocas. Tortuguero’s similarity to Bocas is comparable. Tortuguero can mostly only be accessed by boat (unless you are pretty wealthy for the small plane flights), the main town isn’t the reason you go, the surrounding rivers and jungles are, and without tourism, like Bocas it would die. Completely.

Tortuguero has a recycling plant that employs 4 full time people, the barge comes once a week to collect the rubbish and the town is really cute. Not any cuter than Bocas but its CLEAN so you don’t have to look past the rubbish to see the cute timber houses, or the kids playing hopscotch in the street. You see that straight off, it creates a better feeling and you are glad you are spending your money in an area in which the locals treat the surroundings with the same respect that you do.

Its what we do when we don’t have to do anything that defines us, but without education these poor people just don’t know its affecting their community. I’ve loved Bocas, the people are amazing, the surroundings are incredible, but I’m sad every single day because the locals don’t seem to respect their own homes.

1 thought on “The Rubbish of Bocas Del Toro, Panama”

  1. ow, the trash situation in Bocas Del Toro, Panama is truly alarming and requires immediate action to preserve the beauty of this stunning place for future generations!


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