Sunday, September 27, 2020

GET TO KNOW THE BOCAS DEL TORO ISLANDS

by  | Feb 17, 2017 | ActivitiesBeachesBocas del Toro 


The Bocas del Toro Islands Are All Unique

Just like any city has its own quirks, each of the 5 Bocas del Toro islands has its own distinct flavor and characteristics. Despite their close proximity, popping around between the Bocas del Toro islands is like going in and out of different worlds. Let’s go through them one by one, so you’ll know exactly what to expect when planning your Bocas del Toro island vacation. This is a very brief overview of the characteristics of each island, more information can be found about each island specifically on our blog.


1. Isla Colón, “The Main Island”

 


Isla Colón (named after Christopher Columbus)  is where most of the action happens in the archipelago. The international airport and all of the main water taxi ports, as well as the ferry port from the mainland, are all found on this island. What you see in the photo above is the most populated area of all of the Bocas del Toro islands, however, the majority of this island is thick jungle and is much larger than what is pictured here. It is connected by a small isthmus. Isla Colón has many restaurants, bars, nightclubs, bed & breakfasts and hotels.


2. Isla Carenero, “The Little Surf Island”


Isla Carenero is the little brother of Isla Colón, located a stone’s throw away (or a $1 water taxi) and is much smaller and more relaxed than its close neighbor. This is the least populated of the Bocas del Toro islands and is mostly known for its boutique restaurants, tiny hotels, a few restaurants and surf spots. From the backside of Isla Carenero you have an amazing view of both Isla Bastimentos and Isla Solarte. It’s a great place to get away from the hustle & bustle of town for a quick lunch or a sunset meal with a view. The interior of this small island is swamp, so there tend to be slightly more sandflies around sunrise and dusk. It is wise to carry a bottle of oil (which you can purchase locally) or some bug spray to save you from some discomfort during those times.


3. Isla Bastimentos, “The Wild Island”



Isla Bastimentos (or “Basti” for short) has some of the most developed areas of Bocas as well as some of the most wild. The Red Frog Villas development is situated here which is a large complex of 2 to 7 bedroom villas with ocean views and a large marina that can accommodate sizable yachts. It is also home to a diverse population and unique Afro-Caribbean culture complete with its own dialect called “Guari Guari”.

There are remote beaches and hiking trails throughout the interior of the island, but it is always recommended to travel in groups for safety and navigation. Some of the most stunning beaches in the archipelago are found on 
Isla Bastimentos. There are eco-hotels, tent lodges, and remote bungalows that can accommodate any traveler’s vibe and budget. There are also bat caves filled with wildlife and some of the rarest species of frogs to be found on Earth. Isla Bastimentos is a must-see!


4. Isla Solarte, “The Quiet Island”


Isla Solarte is a less populated area of the archipelago located directly parallel from Isla Bastimentos. Aside from a few homes and small hotels, most of this island is dense jungle. There are some unique scuba diving and snorkeling areas around the edges of Isla Solarte, and some hidden coves that have been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Christopher Columbus’s fleet passed by here in the 1500s. One of the most historical features of this island is called “Hospital Point” and is an area where those afflicted with malaria were sent to be treated. There are still some concrete tombs that can be found on this island. Currently, there are many native Ngobe indians who live off of the land without electricity or running water.

 
5. Isla Zapatilla 1 & 2, “The Castaway Islands”



The Zapatilla Islands are a popular day trip due to their remote location and picturesque white sand beaches. This is the embodiment of the “lost on a deserted island” mindset, as they are both completely uninhabited. So, what top 5 records would you bring? While small enough to circumnavigate on foot, most people will find a shady spot and spend the day watching the water lap against the shore. These islands are not always accessible when there is heavy surf, but on a perfect day the water will be flat as glass and it’s an experience unlike any other Bocas del Toro islands can offer.

Make sure to pack a lunch and plenty of water as there is definitely no restaurants or shops here – it’s just two tiny islands in the middle of nowhere. Zapatilla 1 is where most tours typically stop, so Zapatilla 2 is even more remote. Although you’re still in Bocas, a day trip out here will make you feel lost at sea.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

ONE STEP CLOSER TO MY PANAMANIAN PARADISE

 by Gary Stamper,  Sept. 23, 2020

Bocas Del Toro Sunset

Were it not for the COVID-19 virus, I would already be in Panama. That said, I am also intensely aware that so far 200,000 of my fellow Americans have died of the virus and related causes, a much worse outcome than not being in Panama. Perspective, Gary, perspective...

One of the people I've met here in Texas doesn't believe that the virus has killed 200,000 people in the U.S. or that's it's a serious threat.  They told me they'd much rather catch COVID than the flu, and I mentally wished them good luck with that and Fox News.

Yesterday I bought my airline tickets for my exploratory visit to Panama, Panama is scheduled to open to tourism again on October 12th and I'm leaving on November 2nd, the day before the election, providing Panama doesn't have a relapse in cases between now and then, requiring them to re-enter lockdown. 

The people of Panama have conscientiously worn their masks, socially distanced, and endured extremely strict curfews, which is why they've had better results and fewer per capita deaths than say, the country that has the leading COVID death rate in the world, the U.S. 

I'll likely be there from 10 to 14 days. I bought a round-trip changeable ticket with trip insurance so I could change my return date if needed, or get a refund should I not be able to go, and even with that my airline tickets from Houston were less than $400. 

I'll be spending the first two days in Panama City, a modern bustling city by any standards, playing tourist (Hey, you gotta see the Panama Canal and other attractions, right?) and meeting with my immigration attorney about a permanent resident Visa. I'm applying for the world-renowned Pensionada Visa, created to entice ex-pat retirees with a minimum guaranteed-for-life pension of not less than $1,000 a month. 


Panama has put together the most appealing program of special benefits for retirees you’ll find anywhere in the world today…and the program is open to foreigners.

In Panama, resident pensionados or retirees are entitled to:

  • 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, theaters, concerts, sporting events)

  • 30% off bus, boat, and train fares

  • 25% off airline tickets

  • 25% off monthly energy bills

  • 30% to 50% off hotel stays

  • 15% off hospital bills*

Plus a lot more perks.

After two days in Panama City, I'll catch a smaller commuter plane to the "Isla Colon International Airport." The airport is located in the provincial capital of Bocas Town, the tourist center of the group of islands and my final destination. The airport is only about 1 mile west of the city. 

Bocas Town, where I plan on living, is a bohemian, waterfront town on Isla Colón. It's the largest and funkiest town in the Bocas del Toro archipelago and is visited by travelers from all over the world. Hotels, restaurants, gourmet grocery stores and other tourist facilities crowd the small town, making it one of the most popular places in all of Panama. It's particularly popular as a destination surfing town and also well known with hikers, the club scene is hot and heavy into the late hours and the whole place is supposed to have a light Jamaican vibe, an I've got my eye on a local reggae band that might need a singer.


I'm traveling light with my phone, a computer bag and a backpack carry-on containing one pair of pants, 2 pair of shoes(sandals and tennis shoes) a small grooming kit, 3 pair of shorts, two shirts, some assorted t-shirts, and my Soul Train Cruise ball cap. While there, I'll be looking for a downtown storefront for a business idea I have and connecting with a realtor I'm already talking with, meeting with a new friend who is the editor of the local paper, "The Bocas Breeze," who is also a musician and artist, connecting with the local ex-pat community, local Shamans, local artists and business people and anyone else I can talk to make sure this is where I want to live.


Does this photo look like someplace you'd like to live? I'll also be connecting with a local Spanish school, Habla Ya, as they trade Spanish lessons for volunteering in their organic gardens, a win-win for all since I'm an organic gardener and I'll learn the peculiarities of organic gardening in the tropics.


This and more, my trip is all about making connections and firming up if this is where I want to be. Tourists can enter Panama with a passport and a ticket out and stay for 90 days before they have to leave. 

I may or may not come back. Everything I'm not taking with me now will be ready to ship at a phone call, and, if need be, my daughter can sell my car...probably my last car...It partly depends on whether I can get my Pensionado Visa this first trip or not, and how I feel about Bocas Del Toro. I've been all over the Caribbean during the past 20 years, and I know I love the laid-back Caribbean vibe... I'm going to find out if Bocas Del Toro is the right place in the Caribbean... 

I'm pretty sure it is, and I'm really tired of moving.