I have a thing for islands. There is something about the isolation that preserves a sort of microcosm, in a way the mainland cannot. The Bocas del Toro archipelago sounded like the ideal place to taste Panamanian island life. The flavour is a melange of Caribbean, native and Panamanian with a good dose of adventurous backpacker mixed in. Much of the action as you might imagine centres around the water taxi stations where wobbly colourful boats zip in and out, and between the scattered islands at surprising speeds.
We spent the first 3 nights on Bastimentos Island which is predominantly a nature reserve with a sprinkling of settlements, a failed luxury resort project, and two native villages. In the jungle, near the famous Red Frog Beach we found ourselves at the Palmar Eco Tent Lodge. While the concept of an off-the-grid, solar-powered, catchment-water-supplied lodge is really amazing, in reality it’s an ambitious undertaking in a damp and remote environment. I’m a life-long camper, used to fending for myself, but the facilities left much to be desired (save a bustling party atmosphere). My hunch is actually that tents are much better suited to a temperate climate, but I welcome an educated opinion on this. So we checked into (and dried off at) El Limbo, on Colon island, for the remainder of our stay in Bocas.
Beyond that, the area was a dream. Here are some sparkling highlights:
• Red Frog Beach and the surrounding area are beautiful and in the spots we were in, largely unspoiled. If you keep your eyes open you can spot caymans, sloths and the eponymous tiny, red frogs throughout the bush.
• A short walk down the beach from the Tent Lodge is Punta Lava, a cute resto serving fresh fish and cocktails (also a great spot to get elusive wifi). Sadly we didn’t make it to Up in the Hill cafe & organic farm, but it comes highly recommended.
• Further still is the legendary Polo Beach, a separate post on this to come!
• The Give & Surf organization is based here and has been developing educational programs in the indigenous Ngöbe community. They accept volunteers and donations. I brought over a hefty load of school supplies via the Pack for a Purpose program.
To be continued…