I can give you a general overview of the history of Bocas Del Toro. In the beginning, all the workers who lived here worked on the banana plantation for Chiquita Banana, which was United Fruit back then. A hospital for malaria patients was built in Bocas, where people with malaria on the Panama Canal or anywhere in the country were shipped to keep them away from the other people, in order to prevent the spreading of the disease.
In 1991, there was a major earthquake, which made an island sink. The locals who worked at the banana plantation built an isthmus, which is a narrow strip of land, in order to travel from Bocas to the other island, east of Colon. The isthmus they built was about 50 feet wide. It is very narrow so you can see across it and walk across. Cars go across it, too, since it is part of the main road. Not a lot of people know that that was hand built back in the day.
The banana company left because there was a disease or a pest that came and all the bananas caught it. They moved all the plantations to the mainland. You will still see the Chiquita banana boat in the harbor going to Almirante (a city in Bocas Del Toro). After these main events in history like the construction of the Panama Canal, the malaria outbreak and the banana pestilence, Bocas Del Toro became a very small local town and started picking up. Around mid-70's they built a small airport and backpackers and surfers started coming here. Then, in the 90’s, when Costa Rica became too expensive, people started to go to Panama after they saw that it was very much like Costa Rica. The only difference was that Panama had better infrastructure and better Pensionado programs. Then, Bocas started becoming popular in the late 90's with the expats. It became less of a backpacker or surfer destination although they still come here. Bocas even became an upscale retirement destination because there is one big development with currently 41 houses called Red Frog Resort and the houses there start at US $300,000 or $400,000 and go up to over $1,000,000. Each house has a pool and faces the ocean. There are high-end homes as well as $100,000 casitas.
I would say that today Bocas Del Toro is at the bottom of an upturn in tourism because Bocas is becoming a discovered destination. Now, you can read The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and you will see ads about Bocas Del Toro and we never used to see that. Like in a bell curve, Bocas is somewhat discovered and is in the second wave. The beginning of the wave was in 1998 and now we are part way up that bell curve on the second wave. We will reach the top in the next 15 or 20 years, which is the next wave.