Our final stop in Panama was the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas Del Toro (which translates as “mouths of the bull”), close to the Costa Rican border. It is made up of nine islands and hundreds of cays and islets. The main village, Bocas Town, is equal parts rickety and charming, with tin-roofed clapboard houses converted into colourful shops, guesthouses and restaurants.
However, we decided to stay on one of the outer islands, Isla Solarte. We found a unique hostel (Bambuda Lodge) and were rewarded with this amazing view:
Our home for the next few days was surrounded by jungle and set high above the ocean, enabling amazing views of the nearby islands. It was a lovely place to hang out in the burning heat, not least because of the cooling pool, the slide into the ocean but also the cheap cocktails and delicious food served family style every night. The only minor problem was that everyone was at least ten years younger than us, including the Canadian owners. Nevertheless we had a lovely few days relaxing around the pool and taking various trips out to the surrounding sights.
One day we did a boat trip around the nearby islands. At our first stop we saw a pod of dolphins frolicking through the crystalline waters and at one point jumping around playfully behind our boat. Later we slowed down to see a lazy sloth hanging in a tree amongst the mangroves and whizzed past villages on stilts over the water.
We then visited a deserted island, Cayo Zapatillas. However, at this point it started raining and so we jumped in the sea where it was as warm as a bath. On the way back we docked at a local over the water restaurant where we were served the catch of the day alongside the ubiquitous rice and beans.
On our final day we visited a chocolate plantation on the mainland. We learnt a little about rural Panamanian life and how cacao is turned into chocolate. The guide also explained how chocolate from this region is now being repositioned as a premium product as they cannot compete on price with other continents. We got to taste it at various points in the process and were surprised that it tasted of mango straight out of the pod, then of coffee after roasting, before becoming what we recognise as chocolate once it was crushed into a paste with sugar and milk added.
Next up: Costa Rica.