Sailing around the isles of Bocas del Toro, Panama; hiding from a light drizzle, Green Flash tours owner, Bryan Blaze described my travel companions and I as “flashpackers.” Backpackers, who are a little bit older, with more cash to burn on their short holidays. The term, although new to me, has been kicking around for some years now. Some extend the description to “geeky hipsters’” with backpacks filled with iPads, laptops, GPS, and more. All of which could be used to characterize my travel companions.
Trailhead took a break from hiking the North Coast this month, to bask in the sunlight and admittedly cower in the rain on the island trails of Isla Bastimentos, in Panama’s Bocas Del Torro Province.
Bocas, a small Caribbean community, has a long history of banana production, but today its main industry is tourism. The main island, Isla Colon, features many restaurants, coffee shops, and competing vendors hoping you gain your business.
But for a quieter, more peaceful experience, I would recommend Isla Bastimentos, which features a 32,682 acre marine park, Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, home to mangrove trees, sloths, caiman, various reptiles and amphibians, and nesting sea turtles. Taking a boat tour, like those led by Blaze, can help you explore the reefs around the islands, teeming with tropical fish.
A northern portion of the island, not part of the park, has some options for staying overnight, including the Palmar Tent Lodge, offering “glamping” style tents and a jungle nestled “Jungalow”cabin, where cool ocean breezes come straight through the wall-less structure, making for a pleasant sleeping environment, with remarkably few mosquitoes.
This is a great starting point, for the adventurous- close to spots or snorkeling, ziplining, surfing, cave tours, sailing, snorkeling, and hiking.
On our stay on the island, we enjoyed two day hikes. One taking us along a slippery muddy path to Playa Larga, and another taking us to an organic farm and two picturesque beaches.
Day one, after a nap on the beach, we took the trail from our lodging at Red Frog Beach to Playa Larga, stopping by Polo Beach named after a local man who sometimes cooks up fried fish for visitors.
Unfortunately, no fried fish and only a pile of empty beer cans on the day we stopped by. The easy hike, crossing through fallen coconuts, low leaning trees, and trails of hardworking leaf cutter ants, takes you from one gorgeous beach to another.
At a wooden bench along the path, be sure to keep on the straight trail that runs along the beach. If you don’t, you will run into trails that at this time of year (the rainy season) are extremely muddy. We made this mistake and slipslided our way to Polo Beach; muddy, but luckily still holding on to our Chacos.
Day two, we took a boat shuttle to Old Bastimentos on the other side of the island. A climb through town leads up to Up In The Hill Organic Farm, which offers a tour, nature hike, and tasting of produce grown on the farm. Run by Javier Lijo and his family, the farm grows a variety of products including cacao, pineapples, coconuts, coffee, citronella, and bamboo. All of the products are used by the family on the farm. The timber, transformed into the many structures on the property. The plants, turned into food and body products available for purchase at the coffee shop. A tasting at the end of the hike demonstrated how the fruits of the jungle are transformed into the food that we eat. Highlights included delicious homemade brownies, hot cocoa, fresh coconut, and berries that are used to make curry.
Sugared up and hydrated, we were ready for our hike back down to Palmar. From the top of the hill, we took the trail down to Wizard Beach. Again, these paths are steep and muddy, at this time of the year. Aided by a hiking stick generously donated by Up In the Hill, I was able to easily make the descent, with only a few slips. At one point the crossing was so sloppy, my companions and I came close to donating our sandals to the broken flip flops sticking out of a mud pit.
Along the way we spotted the infamous Red Frog, a tiny amphibian, about the size of my thumb. Poisonous to touch, the tree frog’s color was easily spotted on a tree, and no one was injured.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail opens up to the gorgeous Wizard Beach, a popular surfing destination, with waves too strong for the casual swimmer.
We continued our hike along the beach, across rocks and coral back to Red Frog, ready for a Rum Punch a rinse off in the gentle waves of our beachfront lodgings.
Here are some other photos from our trip!