Bocas del Toro, Panamá

My first time in Panamá was about 10 years ago. I went with my family to visit the city with the idea of maybe moving there one day. That was the first time I heard about Bocas Del Toro.

Everything people had to say about this Caribbean archipelago made me want to go: surf towns, eco-friendly hotels, hiking, monkeys, dolphins, night life, jungle… I started looking at pictures online and decided that next time I visited Central America I was going to make the trip.

Well, it never happened (until now). My parents moved to Panamá a few years back so I’ve been there over 20 times. Because of convenience I’ve explored other beach towns like Santa Catalina, Taboga, Buenaventura and Playa Blanca. This time was different. I knew I was going to be there for at least 2 weeks so it was the perfect time to make this dream come true.

On a Thursday I told my mom that I had this idea of visiting Bocas and that I was planning on going by myself but, as the sweet woman she is, she decided to join.

I did a quick research and found the most gorgeous Bali style eco-friendly hotel: Island Plantation Bocas. I looked at the available dates and we decided that if we wanted to make it happen we had to leave the next day.

We booked our tickets through Air Panama, packed our bags and didn’t look back! That night we went for dinner and ran into a good friend that I haven’t seen in years. I told him about our trip and he gave me the number of “El Chino” Martin, a friend of his that lives in Bocas and owns a tour company called Ngobe Surf and Tours so he could take us to all the keys and islands (the universe does conspire to help us!)

Ahhhh I was sooooo excited…. Finally, I had the opportunity to visit this Panamanian paradise and with the best company!

The plane ride was short: 50 min. from Panama City to Changuinola where you stop for like 10 min. and then a 7 min. flight to Bocas… Yes, 7 min. that were actually more like 5.

Once got to Isla Colón (the main island) a taxi from the hotel was waiting on us. They told us it was a bumpy ride and shortly I realized why all the taxis were trucks, mostly pick-ups. The 30 min. car ride was gorgeous. We had jungle, beautiful houses and small hotels to the left and crystal clear beaches to the right.

We arrived to Island Plantation and wowwww, it blew our minds away! From the moment we walked in we realized it was about 1,000 times more beautiful than in the pics we saw online! We checked in at the outdoor lobby and to our surprise Fernando, the guy in charge of everything was also from Venezuela (we still stay in touch!).

So let’s go back a bit. When I was planning my trip and thought about visiting Bocas I knew that I wanted to have a very soothing experience while at the beach. I was looking to be in touch with nature, read, rest and just reconnect with the present moment, which can be very hard in the chaos of the city and in our everyday lives.

Now let’s talk about this beautiful paradise. Plantation Island is an eco-friendly hotel owned by an American doctor that lives somewhere in Europe and Herolf, a very sweet Norway man that lives at the hotel. It only has 8 cabins that are beautiful decorated, no air-conditioner or television… Exactly what I was looking for! We had our private terrace and my favorite part was the outdoor bathroom with two sinks and a gorgeous shower. They have mosquito nets surrounding the all the cabins so we slept with the windows open and the fan on and the heat was no big deal… They do have Wi-Fi included though!

They also have a delicious restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner where we had most of our meals (very accommodating for vegetarians and vegans), a beautiful pool, an organic vegetable garden and a breathtaking yoga and meditation platform in the middle of the jungle.

At Island Plantation the environment is a priority so they offer all natural and organic bath products, they ask you to turn off the lights when outside of your cabin and they use the veggies and fruits from the garden in many of the restaurant’s creations. They also take advantage of solar energy generation, rain water catchment, septic sewage processing, and natural ventilation…This place is another proof that luxury, beauty and earth friendly can definitely collide.

Day 1: we arrived to Bocas, had a complimentary happy hour with other hotel guests at the beach, had dinner and went to bed early. I made arrangements with El Chino and we agreed to meet the next day.

Day 2: we had breakfast at the hotel and went to meet El Chino. Well loves, this guy was the highlight of our trip! He is a Gnobe and has one of the most entertaining personalities! He speaks English so if you ever find yourself in Bocas definitely give him a call. He told us that there’re 2 main day trips that people take and, although we originally thought of going out with him only once, we wanted to have the whole experience so we booked him for the next day right away.

For our first trip we decided to go to Bahía de los Delfines where we saw dozens of dolphins swimming and playing around. Then we headed to Cayo Coral where we had lunch and did some snorkeling. El Chino was so much fun in the water… I was following him the whole time so he could show me the underwater life and he even grabbed some sea spiders and urchins for me to touch and experience the real maritime life in Bocas. He was so appreciative and caring about these waters and their sea life!

Last we headed to Cayo Zapatilla where we swam in the crystal clear waters and walked a few miles on a beautiful nature trail. This night we were supposed to go see the turtles nesting but it rained really hard so we had to cancel.

Day 3: early this morning I walked around the hotel’s vegetable garden and went up to their beautiful yoga platform to meditate before breakfast. Then we went back to meet El Chino and take the second most popular trip. This time we ran into some dolphins in the middle of the ocean… How lucky we are! We visited Isla Pájaro (I think this was my favorite out of all the keys and islands) where we did some snorkeling and hanged out, then we went to eat lunch in Playa Estrella were we got to see and touch so many starfish (again, El Chino was teaching us how to handle them) and we finished the day navigating through the Changuinola River.

Day 4: we packed and said good-bye to our new friends Herolf and Fernando. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch! They will be adding a few more cabins to the hotel and also a wine bar so I can’t wait to go visit them again.

This whole experience was so amazing and filling. It reminded me that being in close contact with nature brings so much joy to our lives and that it’s something we should all try to do, even if we live in the middle of a concrete jungle. I’m definitely going to start walking on the beach, running through natural trails or just sitting outside to hear the birds sing at least twice a month.