Bocas del Toro, Panama’s “Feria del Mar” – Town history and reasons for celebration!

Blog written by Terry Richmeier and Eliecer Andres Lay

 

Let’s start with a short video to get us in the mood to talk about Bocas del Toro and the magic one feels when one visits the area!

So why are we Interested in telling you about the Islands of Bocas del Toro (mouth of the bull) and why do they celebrate their Annual Fair “Feria del Mar” (fair of the sea)?

Why would beautiful islands of the coast of Panama be called mouth of the bull?

Generally speaking, when people say Bocas del Toro (Mouth of the Bull) they’re referring to the whole Bocas del Toro Archipelago of nine islands. The main town in the archipelago, located on Isla Colon, is called Bocas Town. We researched the history of the naming of the islands. It is not known for sure where the name emerged of this incredible archipelago lost in time. There are several stories, one more interesting than the other! They say that Christopher Columbus descended on one of its beautiful beaches, observed several waterfalls shaped like a “bull neck”. Others argue that Colon spotted a rock on the island of Bastimentos (clearly observable at present), which looks likethe form of a bull lying there. It is also said that the sound of huge waves hitting the rocks of volcanic origin of the island of Bastimentos reminds one of the sound a bull would make.So it is apparent that there is no one origin of the name!All we can say is that the name has a nice ring to it we are glad that they chose it! In our research, we discovered quite a bit of history in regard to the islands.

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Bocas del Toro History

An excerpt adapted from Bocas.com

Guaymi, Teribe and Bokota indians were the primitive inhabitants of Bocas del Toro, when Christopher Columbus, in 1502, navigated with his two ships into the bay called by the indians “Caroboro”, today, Admiral Bay.Isolated from other parts of Panama but open to the rest of the world and the Caribbean, Bocas had an interesting history during the three following centuries.During the colonial period (16th to 19th centuries) the Spanish didn’t really establish population centers in the region; the landwas almost forgotten by their government.The English took advantage of this fact establishing settlements like in Boca del Drago where it was reported, in 1745, that they were growing cattle and chickens.The English presence played a very important role in the life of the Archipelago.In the beginning of the 19th century, English ships from Jamaica, had an active commercial routethrougout the Central America coast, Bocas del Toro included, where they traded goods such as carey (marine turtle shell), live marine turtles, cocoa, mahogany wood and zarzaparilla.In 1826 Bocas del Toro town was founded by Jamaica, San Andres and Providencia immigrants. During the first years after it’s foundation, the town was a camp of traders, some of them coming from as far as the United States.Most of the population consisted of adventurers of different nationalities, attracted by the new commercial opportunities.In 1837 Bocas del Toro district was created, and during the next 50 years Bocas was part of the provinces of Chiriqui, Panama and Colont. In 1880 begins the history of the banana plantation – the creation of Snyder Banana Co in 1890 and United Fruit Co in 1899.In addition to the banana plantations, big land plantations were created to grow sugar cane, cocoa and coconut. During this time the important export business of carey and live turtles continued. Also other businesses surged in the region like the shipment of different merchandises and passengers to Colon and other Caribbean ports, by the Surgeon Brothers Company. After the separation of Panama from Columbia, the region saw the creation of Bocas del Toro Province in 1903. During the following period, 1903 until 1930, Bocas del Toro’s economy flourished mainly due to its agriculture, fishery, commercial and industrial growth, making the province to be the third in importance in Panama. At that time, Bocas was home to the consulates of England, Germany, Costa Rica, United States and France – quite a hotbed of international activity! Bocas del Toro had three journals that were published during this time: The Telegraph, The Citizen and The Central American Express.The years marked by the banana plantation infestion by pests – 1914 to 1934 -were also the beginning of a sagging economy for the islands. In 1981 a road from Gualaca was built to connect the Interamerican Highway to Chiriqui Grande, the only way to reach Bocas Del Toro by land. Coinciding with the construction of the road,Petro terminals Co. started to transport oil from Alaska, using the oleo ductthat still runs along the road. This oil transportation was suspended in 1995, when the company started to build the new containers port, transforming the route Puerto Armuelles-Chiriqui Grande in a transistmic dry Channel. A new road, now connecting Chiriqui Grande with Almirante, completes the union of this province to the rest of the country by land, ending the isolation of the region. Tourism now is a new alternative that has arrived to the islands, and due to the natural richness of the archipelago, looks like it is here to stay!

So why is the fair called Feria del Mar (fair of the sea) and why the celebration?

La Feria del Mar is a festival held every year in September in the town of Bocas del Toro, Colon Island, specifically land located along the area between the beach and the Istmito,on the road leading towards the beach of Boca Del Drago. The celebration of this colorful fair on the waterfront has its beginnings in 1962 – a recognition of customs and way of life of the people of Bocas Del Toro.

Activities, Dates, and Times of the Fair

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Among the attractions presented by the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the location of the fair, include the sale of traditional foods, generally with seafood. You can also purchase refreshments, crafts, jewelry and leather goods. Many different exhibits are displayed and are organized by the various government agencies of Panama. The festival features musical and artistic presentations depicting local folklore and traditional dances of the Province of Bocas del Toro. Another important feature of this fair are the aquatic skills showcased by racing motorboats and rowing boats. In addition to these events, the fishing tournament has also gained popularity in recent years.

Come on down to Boquete for a few days and then take a  3.5 hour road trip over to Bocas del Toro during mid-September! We have heard that the fesitval is a lot of fun for travelers of all ages. Since it is “low season” right now, you may be able to get some great deals on accommodations during September.

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