Growing up one of my favorite authors was Graham Greene, so when I read an article about his fascination with Bocas del Toro I decided to find out more about what makes this place so special. Sure enough, I found what I was looking for. Bocas del Toro, located approximately 20 miles south of the Costa Rican border in Northern Panama, is a hidden treasure known for surfing, a biodiverse rainforest, the archipelago islands and islets, and cocoa plantations. It is off the beaten track and rustic. We decided to surprise our teenagers with a holiday trip to an eco-adventure resort, Casa Cayuco, located on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro. The thought of getting away from it all, with a chance to unplug and decompress, while exploring rain forests and the archipelago islands at a sustainable resort was intriguing, but what it really all came down to was…the food. I had read an article about the incredible meals prepared and served by the chef and co-owner Suzanne Smith and her husband Dave and I knew this was the place to try.
We flew directly to Panama City and then flew Air Panama to Bocas del Toro. Unfortunately, you have to change airports which is a hassle, but we did hear there are plans in the future to offer flights from the main airport, PTY, to Bocas del Toro so stay tuned.
Sunrise in Panama City on our way to Albrook airport
We did not spend any time in Bocas del Toro unfortunately due to flight delays, but a good friend and fellow foodie traveler, Hilary, had stayed in Bocas several years ago and she provided us with several of these suggestions: the Island Plantation for a beach day and lunch, Playa Bluff for another beach day to rest and relax but plan accordingly as there are no dining options at this spot, El Ultimo Refugio for dinner, Bibi’s on the Beach for lunch, and Café del Mar for the breakfast burritos and smoothies.
As Casa Cayuco is located on Isla Bastimentos, a 40-minute boat ride through the Bocas del Toro archipelago islands, there is only one drop off and pick up per day for all guests. Dave manages all the logistics and excursions for guests, so he picked us up at the airport and took us to the Batido Bus for a quick bite before our boat ride to Casa Cayuco.
Welcome to Casa Cayuco
Casa Cayuco consists of 4 cabins situated on the beach front and one cabin in the jungle (back part of the resort) which is where we stayed. The cabins all have a private porch area.
The eco-lodge is all-inclusive with 3 set meals each day announced by either Dave or Suzanne blowing the conch shell. Breakfast and lunch are self-serve buffet style. There is one large family style table where you eat each meal interacting with fellow guests. Daily snacks are brought to your cabin at 5:00 pm. Suzanne,a self-taught chef, has always loved experimenting in the kitchen and each meal did not disappoint.
We took several tours during our stay. The nice thing about Casa Cayuco is you will have the opportunity to plan your excursions once you arrive. Every night Dave plans out with each family what they want to do and organizes the excursions for the following day. Snorkeling around Mangrove Cove and Dolphin Bay is a must. Our guide, José, knew exactly where to find the largest starfish, sea marbles (the unofficial name for the multicolored liquid filled balls scattered across the ocean floor), lobsters, coral, and dolphins.
One afternoon we took a boat ride to Zapatilla Island to explore and surf.
On our last day, Dave took a group of guests on a tour of Salt Creek village located 30 minutes from Casa Cayuco via boat. Salt Creek is a Ngobe Bugle indigenous village of approximately 1,000 villagers. Dave and Suzanne realize the importance of giving back to their community as a portion of every guests’ stay is used to fund village projects throughout the year.
We like to get some exercise on our trips and as a masters swimmer, I always bring a cap, goggles, and buoy wherever I go. We were able to swim 2 miles each day, swimming straight along the beach to the neighboring resorts close to Salt Creek Village. Unfortunately, due to the rougher weather conditions outside the reefs, we could not spearfish. I guess we will just have to make another trip one day. But, we did see a sloth. Have you ever seen a sloth?
Panama City and the Panama Canal
View of the tankers waiting in the bay to enter the Canal
Casa Viejo is the historic quarter of Panama City and it is one happening area. Designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997, this is where the President of Panama has a residence and the Panama Canal Museum is located. Explore the city, the churches, the cobblestone streets and historic buildings. There are so many restaurants to choose from and if I did not have our teenagers along, I would have stayed in Casa Viejo at CasaCasco enjoying their rooftop views.
Playa Bonita Village
We stayed 30 minutes outside of the city at The Westin Playa Bonita which is located on the Pacific Ocean with views of the tankers waiting in the waters to enter the Canal day and night. Bring bug spray as it was really buggy in the early mornings and late afternoons.