As Panama becomes a more popular travel destination for both European and American travelers, the making of your Panamanian itinerary can almost be overwhelming. Of course, the amount of time that you have available for your Panamanian exploration can change the agenda of the places you can go.
Aero Perlas flies into
Panama, nestled in between Costa Rica and Columbia at the southernmost point of Central America, has endless options and ideas filled with sea, sand, city, jungle, and of course the Panama Canal.
Wherever your itinerary may take you, traveling into the exquisite Panama City is certainly a must. This is where my companion Ben and I began our travels through this exquisite country. After a night at a little bed and breakfast, called La Estancia, we were on our way to the small, but efficient domestic airport, Albrook. We boarded an Aero Perlas flight to venture off to Bocas del Toro.
Bocas del Toro is literally translated as “Mouths of the bull” and was discovered by Christopher Columbus himself in 1502 on one of his final New World voyages. He was enthralled with the beauty of the island chain and named not only the region, but also the islands and the main bay, Bahia de Almirante (Admiral’s Bay). The area has gone through a vast history from Pirates using the area as a resting point, to the Spanish taking over the indigenous settlers.
The American Snyder Brothers started banana farming this area in the late 1800s. By the turn of the century, the larger United Fruit Company took over the brothers and farmed much of this part of the country. Banana farming is still in effect; well-known Chiquita Bananas still come from this part of the world.
Bocas Town on the archipelago Isla Colon.
It was during the quick flight to Bocas del Toro that the plane made a scheduled stop in a small town called Changuinola just North of Bocas. It was here that we were able to see banana farms in bloom. We flew over millions of banana plants before a quick landing to drop off and pick up Changuinolan passengers. We were back up in the air for approximately 15 minutes more only to land at the Bocas del Toro airport on the outskirts of Bocas Town, which is on the main island of the archipelago, Isla Colon. There are several flights a day from Albrook to Bocas Town and none of these flights apparently disrupt the kids that were playing a game of soccer at a small field at the end of the single runway.
We were hot and humid as we deplaned; our resort hostess, Jinelle, greeted us inside the one level, yet efficient terminal building that was under construction. Jinelle’s wonderful smile and friendly nature was the gateway to Bocas and she set the tone for the trip. Jinelle took us to a small market to purchase some essential provisions for our Red Frog villa on a nearby island, Isla Bastimentos.
Of course we purchased the essentials — rum, Coca Cola, and limes, then we boarded a water taxi for the 15 minute journey across the Canal de Bocas del Toro to Isla Bastimentos. The water, the sky, and the land were stunning. I could feel the Caribbean vibe. I was excited as we quickly rounded a bend of mangroves and arrived at the dock for Red Frog Beach Rainforest Resort and Marina.
Red Frog Beach.
Red Frog Beach Rainforest Resort and Marina is named after Red Frog Beach, on the Caribbean side, and opposite of the resort. The Red Poison Dart Frog is a denizen on the island of Bastimentos and the namesake of the pristine stretch of beach. Although I didn’t see one of these special creatures, I am certain that I must have heard them chirping in the jungle.
Playa? Beach? or Punta?
Red Frog Beach and much of Isla Bastimentos lie within Bastimentos Marine National Park and is one of few natural areas protected in this part of the world. Bastimentos is a lovely jungle island lined with beautiful beaches, such as Wizard Beach (a great place to surf), Red Frog Beach, and Turtle Beach. There is also Bastimentos town which is easily reached from Red Frog Beach Resort via water taxi.
At the edge of the dock, we saw monkeys lounging somberly in the trees. We picked up our golf cart which conveniently had the keys in it and was ready to go.
Accompanied by our pleasant island host, Jermaine, we were led on a golf cart caravan tour around the Red Frog Resort grounds. We were shown the main restaurant, Kayukos, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served. Kayukos serves up a wide selection from everything from simple nachos, or the catch of the day, or Latin American favorites such as arroz con pollo (chicken, beans, and rice). Kayukos also serves as the hub of the resort. This is also where you can find yourself a cold Panama Beer, book activities, or converse with other Bocas-bound travelers.
Kayukos for food and beers.
In fact, Red Frog Resort also has a hostel on site directly across the paved road from Kayukos called Bocas Bound. Here eco-sustainability such as recycling materials is promoted. At Bocas Bound, travelers can stay from anywhere between $8 and $60 a night, depending on the accommodations.
Red Frog Beach Resort.
Our golf cart tour continued, winding around through one jungle shrouded dirt road after another. We were shown the striking and expansive Red Frog Beach, Turtle Beach, the Spa Villa and the other various villas that line the Red Frog Beach Resort property. We met Steve and Mary Bolton, who are one set of the partners and co-owners of the property. They were on their way back to their villa after an afternoon dip and swim in the ocean. What a great way to end a “work” day. Mary is also responsible for the Guest and Villa services and was a great source of information on our trip. Lastly, we followed Jermaine to interior of the island to arrive at a hill top at Villa 13. This was our Panamanian home for the next four nights. We parked the cart in the perfect golf cart port and Jermaine led us inside.
The front double doors swung open to the immaculate villa; Jermaine gave us a knowledgeable and resourceful tour of the inner workings of the villa. What hadn’t Red Frog thought of? There was a cell phone for use to make calls on the island in case we needed assistance with the villa or perhaps to call a water taxi in advance. There were bath towels and beach towels available. Large windows and sliding glass doors allowed that outside feeling to stream in, which is always a nice touch on a true tropical island.
Stylin’ in the jungle.
The kitchen was well supplied with all of the culinary necessities to make a seven course meal. The kitchen appliances were also modern. We actually prepared many of our daily meals in the comfort of our villa. This is a convenient and healthy way to travel.
Small air conditioning units wereavailable for each room to assist with keeping us cool inside while the blazing tropical heat was beating down outside. The sand tone tile was also a nice touch. Mary also had left us a bottle of juice and the famous Panamanian rum, Abuelo. What a perfect way to start the day at the villa. Fresh ice from the stainless steel refrigerator and freezer was placed into two glasses. Next, a pleasant mixture of Abuelo, Coca Cola and a squeeze of fresh lime and we were all set. Salud and cheers to our first cocktail in Panama!
That night, after preparing a self-catered light dinner with the rations we picked up at the market, we moved ourselves out to the large deck to enjoy the sounds of the Isla Bastimentos jungle. Self-catering at our villa.
Deck views of the canopy.
Oversized lounge chairs with fluffy pads were the perfect place to take in the view. Looking towards the northern shore of the island in between our villa and the Caribbean Sea was jungle; pure loud, pure green jungle. As the sun set and the stars came out to light up the night sky, a tropical storm off the coast flashed a small flicker of light and then again another, just like the lightning bugs, in the bush. The magic juxraposed between lightening shattering the night sky and the lightening bugs buzzing in the jungle.
Villas come with two bedrooms.
Once the storm had past and the rain forest sounds turned into a gentle hum, we retreated downstairs to get some rest. Villa number 13 offers two bedrooms and 2 ½ baths. Another deck, with sliding glass doors separates the bedrooms. The master bedroom is clearly bigger with an attached bathroom. Appropriate to an island lifestyle, the bedding and décor had color scheme consisting of sand tones and sea greens. Villa 13 was very comfortable and relaxing.
Red Frog Resort is an enclave of many different wonderfully constructed villas that are either privately owned, fractionally owned (Private Residence Club), or available to purchase. This concept can be a successful investment and option for those seeking either part time or full time residency somewhere as gorgeous and serene as Isla Bastimentos. These villas are also available for rental. Each of the villas also has its own private dipping pool. These are by far some of the nicest villas available on Bocas del Toro and a great way to enjoy both luxury and nature.
Make Red Frog Resort an investment.
Happy Hour at BiBi’s.
The next morning, we were up bright and early and ready to explore the island by golf cart after a light breakfast consisting of a pineapple smoothie and coffee at Kayukos. We headed to Red Frog beach where a morning dip in the Caribbean was more than appropriate.
The Punta Lava Bar and Grill at Red Frog Beach and is a great place to grab a cheeseburger or an afternoon cocktail. The ocean was clear and tepid, and it was only 8:00 a.m.
The activities on and around Isla Bastimentos are endless.
Red Frog Resort has a zip line canopy tour on the island where patrons can “zip” from point-to-point atop the jungle foliage.
We spent many of our days taking a water taxi to/from Red Frog to either Bocas Town or Bastimentos town for lunch, or to nearby Isla Carenero, which is much smaller than Bastimentos.
There is a wonderful little place perched above the water named Bibi’s which is open for lunch, dinner, or drinks. Penny, one of the owners of Bibi’s, suggested we try the Lobster Basket, which we loved. Our other favorite was Bibi’s Ceviche, fresh and delicious.
Snorkeling, swimming, surfing, and trekking the jungle is what Bocas del Toro is about. Snorkeling in Zapatillas Cay is a place not to be missed because it is part of the National Marine Park. When you think of an unspoiled and immaculate island, the kind you see on postcards, Zapatillas Cay is it.
There are many fond memories of our time in Bocas del Toro, and the best part was that no matter how salty, sun drenched, or tired we were, the nights were perfect slumbering comforts in our villa at Red Frog Beach Resort and Marina.
— Feature by Michelle Schoser, Jetsetters Magazine San Diego Correspondent; photos by the author and Ben Davis.