There is an established and growing expatriate community spread throughout the islands of Bocas del Toro. A couple of years ago I went to a Fourth of July party in the Darklands (a bay behind San Cristobal) and assumed that I would know most everyone there, I was shocked that I really only knew a small percentage of the Americans at the party. There was a whole community of neighbors from that area and the more eastern islands of Bocas del Toro that I had never run into. What I realized is that Bocas can offer a wide range of retirement situations. The islands and province are big enough to allow private retirees to remain self-sufficient and to themselves, there are areas where Americans and foreign retirees have created almost independent sorts of neighborhoods, and there is the area in Bocas town and nearby for those that want to be more included directly in the town life. All of these lifestyle options are available here.
Bocas del Toro is clearly a place that depends upon boats and now Yachthing Magazine confirms it is one of the 50 best yacthing towns in the world:
A nature lover’s paradise and one of Panama’s most popular tourist spots, Bocas’ 5,000 residents are still way outnumbered by the surrounding wildlife. Enjoy the town’s laid-back vibe and easy access to the region’s nine major islands, 52 keys and roughly 200 tiny islands. There are two marinas for those who want to explore this archipelago’s treasures. And reader Dan Cranney reminded us that “this island archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama is one of the few hurricane-free places in the Caribbean.”
Everything here revolves around the water and the diversity throughout the islands. There are so many places to go and different reefs and islands to explore on daytrips or you can drop anchor anywhere and spend the night.
A new program by the Panamanian government includes travel insurance for all visitors entering the country on tourist visas. The New York Times recently wrote this article and accompanied the story with a picture of a man in a bikini bottom (I’m not sure if he is in need of medical attention or not). Regardless, this is a great idea for tourism in Panama and not something I have heard about being done elsewhere.
The insurance is paid for by a $40 departure tax and the insurance expires 30 days after entry. The coverage allows $7,000 in treatment for accidents or disease, $2,000 for emergency dental, and $20,000 for accidental death. Even accidents during adventure activities (horseback riding, white water rafting, fishing, etc.) are covered, which is a good point to make clear to tourists. Continue reading
One of my favorite activities when I travel is to go horseback riding. I like the horses and everything, but also its one of the best ways to get back into the countryside and get a unique perspective on the landscape and in most cases you meet people on farms or Indian farmers in the jungle. On a horse you can cover more territory and also pick your head up and really take a relaxed look around at where you are, where you’ve taken the time to visit.
When I arrived here there were no horseback riding tours readily available, although there are a significant amount of cow farms and horses being used throughout the nearby islands (now there are a couple of horse tours). We are in the process now of training several new horses for tours in Dolphin Bay for our guests beginning in September. The tour will be through pasture and private nature reserves as well as farms and will probably include some basic work with the calves, which will be a cool experience for whoever wants to participate: moving them from pastures or helping to wrangle them for vaccinations. Dolphin Bay is a beautiful setting and I was able to get a couple of great looking, light-weight Criollo horses for a little over $100 a piece and a local partner there to train and keep the horses on pasture, and guide the tours.
Before coming to Bocas del Toro I spent a year working in San Jose, Costa Rica and was able to travel a lot on the weekends and see the country. My radius was not huge because I only had about 60 total hours for the weekend and the roads are terrible, but luckily the country is tiny. I had a flight a couple of weeks ago to Las Vegas for about $400 and went up by bus from Bocas a few days early to visit Arenal Volcano and stay at the Tabacon Resort and Spa, which I had done about 4 years ago and really enjoyed with my family.
The volcano is usually covered in clouds, but last time I was there we were able to get a great view of the whole cone for the two days we spent and actually saw glowing lava flows at night while we soaked in the thermal pools at Tabacon. The thermal springs area is very impressive, but man the water is really hot and it seems like every time I leave there I have some kind of rash, that could be from any number of activities though and I would still go back.
A few months ago I was contacted by Stephanie Johnnidis, who is a travel-blog writer, about a reservation for two villas for a couple of nights in April for herself and cousin Jon Johnnidis. We talked a little about journalist discounts, but initially it was not something I was very interested in. I get these scam requests every once in awhile from backpackers on surf trips, who I don’t hear from again after I ask for their superiors’ email addresses. As it turns out, Stephanie is a professional and will be including Bocas Villas in a blog reviewing different hotels she visited in Bocas and Panama. And Jon, who owns Axios Productions, a New York City based video production company, has produced content for various adventure travel destinations in the past and offered to create something for Bocas Villas for our online marketing campaign, which is something Blake Urmos and I had planned to do. Continue reading
One of the basic reasons that I came to Bocas del Toro and made the decision to begin development is the proximity to the US. There are short, cheap flights from many major cities throughout the US and Canada, as well as Europe. I just took a direct flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Madrid late last year. Check for flights into either San Jose, Costa Rica or Panama City; Panama City is easier, but there is sometimes a significant price difference.
The local airport has expanded to receive direct international flights sometime in the future. Copa Airlines is talking about this and the plan is to get direct flights to Bocas from Miami, New York, Los Angeles and wherever the hell else will send a flight to a cow pasture.
As a big food lover one of the things I have had a problem with living in Bocas del Toro is the inability to get a variety of different foods and flavors. I can’t get crispy duck in thai curry takeout or pork slouvaki. This is a place though where if you accidentally stick an indigenous twig in the ground you get a fruit tree. Vegetation and high nutrient vegetables grow with no effort. Fruit’s great, but I prefer pork, and chicken and goat, duck. There is nothing easier here then to raise a pig or any other domestic animal with the cheap feed available.
My full-time and reliable employee Garibaldo Brown is an indigenous member of the autonomous Ngobe Bugle tribe in Panama. The common thing for them is for the family to stay on the finca in the autonomous state and for the men to leave to find work. They grow gname, gnampi, daichin, plantains and bananas for all their carbs and starch with very little effort, Brown goes back a couple times a year to take care of the farm. Men out of work and the young children catch small fish daily for protein. Continue reading