Bocas Del Toro, the paradisiacal archipelago off Panama’s northern coast, is just a quick half-hour flight from Panama City. We landed on Isla Colon, home to the island’s main stomping ground, Bocas Town. The small, colorful town consists of a jumble of dirt streets lined with mangled buildings housing restaurants, dockside bars, surf shops, hotels, and hostels. On or around the main drag is where the action is come nightfall (check out La Iguana, a hippie-centric waterfront bar playing mostly reggae beats, and El Pecado, a tasty seafood joint with great Sangria). Our hotel, Bahia Del Sol, straddled the best of both Bocas worlds: Its location is close enough to town (a 15-minute walk), giving us easy access to local life, but far enough removed, fronting Zaigon Bay, so that privacy and a tropical lilt reigned supreme.
Our gracious hosts, Jack and Lee, American ex-pats who fell for the people and slower-paced life in Bocas, also live on property and are happy to shoot the breeze, recommend restaurants, and offer up $1 beers from the shared fridge. Accommodations here include six over-the-water cabins built on stilts and four guesthouse rooms; the winner house unit is the upstairs master suite which comes with a private Jacuzzi terrace overlooking the bay. Each of the cheerful cabins features a kitchen, spacious bathroom with standup shower, lofted bedroom with terrace, and a deck off the kitchen, strung with a hammock. The cabins are linked by wooden walkways, and a large deck at the tip of the chain comes with a picnic table and a few wooden loungers (if only they had cushions). We took a few kayaks (free for guests) out for a spin around the bay (there is quite a bit of trash and debris along the bay’s shore, unfortunately, so it’s best to swim a little further out) exploring the shoreline and whiled away the hours in the sun, making good use of our kitchen’s blender to whip up our own tropical libations.
We dug the casual, make-yourself-at-home vibe, gobbled up Jack’s home-made breakfasts while he regaled us with stories of his New York glory days, coddled their adorable dog, accidently broke a hammock (no, they’re not meant for swinging), and sunk right into the laidback Panamanian way of life. We had the run of the place and it was refreshingly quiet aside from the noises echoing everyday Bocas life. The shoreline is chockablock with homes and it’s interesting to survey the goings on all around the bay – fishing boats come in and out, sawing and hammering sounds for a few hours a day at the local mill, children cry and play. It was a fine introduction to Panama’s islands and both the rooms and cabins were extremely well-priced, starting from $70/night and $100/night, respectively.