Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Panamanian Paradise

Conde Nast Traveler:

Graham Greene made the first several attempts to visit Bocas town in 1976. Panama, he wrote, had "persistently haunted my imagination" from childhood, his curiosity fired by the glamour of piracy that lay around Panama in the story of how Sir Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed Panama City.

He was intrigued because it was the furthest point west that Christopher Columbus reached off the coast of Panama, and perhaps because the South American Handbook stated "no tourist ever goes there."

These days people do go there. The archipelago, with its ramshackle main town, verdant rain forests and alabaster beaches, was a raw iteration of an earlier Caribbean tucked twenty miles south of the Costa Rican border. The islands lack of infrastructure, with no electrical grid, had protected them from overdevelopment and kept food and lodging prices low.

One lodge is considered "nudist friendly" and there are two small resorts on Bastimentos, a twenty square mile island with stunning beaches. One of the resorts is hidden on a hillside; the other, steps from a beach.

Bocas town is the capitol of the entire Bocas province. The pace is deliciously slow and seductive. You may sit on the deck behind the Hotel Bocas del Toro as water taxis buzz across the turquoise water to nearby Bastimentos and Isla Carenero.

El Ultimo Refugio, a thatched-roof restaurant leaning out over the harbor, serves up coconut shrimp and cold beer. Aqua Lounge Hostel & Bar is known for its water trampoline. The Red Frog Beach resort has 31 villas to rent or buy (with plans for more), a hostel, an 84-berth marina and a zipline.

Dinner at La Loma may feature freshly caught red snapper with lemongrass tamarind broth, served with coconut rice, braised red cabbage. Dessert includes chocolate from the lodge's own cacao farm.

Cayuco, an ecolodge, opens onto a beach and a vista of blue horizon. Casa Cayuco also has Wi-Fi.

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