Day 104- 113: Bocas del Toro, Panama
Ok, so we loved Panama. Like seriously wanted to stay here forever, which is kind of funny in a not-really-funny-kind-of-way because our shipping partners (the people that we were going to share a container with to get our vehicles to Colombia) ran into some mechanical issues so we missed our boat to Colombia and are frantically running around trying to figure out how to leave the country. We love you Panama, but we want out.
But Panama is like: “Nope, you need to stay here longer”. Which is great but we have a hot date with South America that we really want to keep.
There are two reasons why our stay was fantastic, the first being that Chris’ parents (and the kids’ grandparents) came down to visit us. I adore my in-laws and I love that our kids are cherished by two sets of devoted grandparents. Plus they raised four children so nothing flusters them for a millisecond.
The other fantastic thing about our stay in Panama was that my mother-in-law Cherie found and booked us all a week at this lodge: Tranquilo Bay Eco Resort. It’s located in the Bocas del Toro region on the Caribbean Sea. To get there you drive to a town on the mainland called Almirante and then take a boat to Bocas Town, a small community on the main island. From there it’s another 25 minutes by boat to Tranquilo Bay, which is located on a neighboring island.
You guys: it was amazing. Cute little cabins tucked into the jungle, three meals a day, boat excursions to nearby islands, and full-time naturalists on staff. Pretty much my version of paradise. Ben asked if we could live there permanently. Need a place to stay in Bocas? Head for Tranquilo Bay ASAP.
But getting to Bocas ended up being an adventure. We crossed the border from Costa Rica into Panama in a torrential rain storm. We thought nothing of it as we’ve seen lots of storms on the trip thus far. Unfortunately it was the beginning of Hurricane Nate (still officially listed as a tropical depression) and while we made it out to Bocas Town intact (and soggy), Bob and Cherie’s flight from Costa Rica was delayed. We were bummed.
Bocas Town doesn’t have a lot going for it; it’s a strip of backpacker hostels, clubs (think wannabe Spring Break in Tijuana) and overpriced restaurants. Also, when we visited the only ATM in town was down for 3 days which was enough to plunge both residents and tourists alike into a mild panic. Once you get out into the remote islands, however, it’s a quiet tropical paradise.
Bob and Cherie’s flight arrived the next day; cue the excited squeals of two very, very happy grandchildren. We had a nice dinner out and then caught our boat out to the resort just as the rain clouds dissipated and the sun arrived.
One of my favorite parts of the resort is that it’s owned by two families and their children happily welcomed my own kiddos, including them at ‘kid’s dinner’ and movie night. For two parents that haven’t had much time away from their offspring, it was lovely to have adult dinners that were free of child-based drama.
Ben loves it when we meet other kids; it’s hard for this guy to only have a sibling as a constant companion. He misses his buddies.
We took a lot of photos so I’m going to break it into several posts; but first we have to get ourselves to Colombia. We have flights out later this week; keep your fingers crossed that we’ll be able to get the truck safely on its way before then.
Recommendations – Bocas Town
Local food: you pick a meat and it comes with rice/noodle and vegetables. Probably one of the cheaper options in the tourist zone.
They serve exactly two items: delicious, fall-off-the-bone roast chicken and french fries. Pick your portion: 1/4, 1/2, or whole chicken. They don’t do drinks; you can buy them from the grocery shop next door and bring them into the restaurant.
Om Indian Food
Delicious food on the waterfront, American prices. This was our splurge for our stay in Bocas.
Hotel Bocas del Toro
A nice hotel in the middle of town on the water. Got pretty loud on Friday night due to the nearby bars and clubs. AC, no breakfast. Checking Booking.com for rates as they were significantly cheaper than the hotel’s published rates.
Hotel Gran Bahia
We liked this hotel because it was quiet yet also near the main tourist area. Our room was small and the tv didn’t work but the AC was cold and they had a nice included breakfast. Significantly cheaper than Hotel Bocas del Toro.
Tranquilo Bay Eco Resort
Highly, Highly recommended!! We would have loved to have stayed longer. The two families that own and run the place are lovely. The food was good (and plentiful), the naturalists were excellent, and the activities were fabulous. Our advice: skip the second beach by the resorts on Bastimento and spend all your time at Zapatillas – the beach and snorkeling are both better.