The Ecotourism Destination of Bocas del Toro, Panama
Isla Bastimentos is one of the larger islands in the archipelago and home to the laid-back town of Old Bank, several indigenous communities, and Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. Some of the most beautiful, wild, and untamed beaches will be found here. Because of the protected areas, wild jungles, and mangroves that make up a large portion of Bastimentos Island, it is considered one of the most important ecotourism destinations in the Bocas islands. The shores of Bastimentos face many angles of the Bocas archipelago. Bahia Honda is peppered with small villages and eco-lodges. At the same time, the beaches on Old Point and the area called Macca Bite face the open sea and the famous Zapatilla Cays.
Old Bank is a small one-sidewalk town of several hundred inhabitants. Many descended from the Antillean labor force initially brought over to work in the banana plantations over a century ago. The vibes of this small laid back town will transport you to the afro-Antillean culture that makes up the Caribbean islands. Getting here is only a 15-minute boat ride from Bocas Town. The locals speak a unique form of creole called Guari-Guari, which is based mostly on English with a heavy patois accent and peppered with Spanish and local indigenous dialects (Ngöbe and Buglé). Since the language is based heavily on English, the locals can mostly make themselves understood in English when choosing to do so. Hang out in the different restaurants that are located in town or just around the Point. If you’re lucky, there are unique special events such as the Bastimentos Fair offering boat races, local cuisine, and cultural dances.
Old Point & Salt Creek Village
Old Point and Salt Creek are located about 35 minutes by boat from Isla Colon. Just getting to Salt Creek Village is an adventure as you ride through the mangrove forests that make up part of Bastimentos Island. The local community has organized several tours and hiking trails, though boat rides are not included. This is one of the few ways to experience the land-based part of the Isla Bastimentos Marine Park. You have an excellent chance to see sloths, white-faced capuchin monkeys, poison-dart frogs, caimans, and tropical bats. You may also learn about the local indigenous culture that makes up this village.
The beach on Old Point is one of the most beautiful within the Bocas archipelago with white sand beaches facing the famous Zapatillas Cays. Just outside are large reef heads and coral, an excellent place for snorkeling and diving. Old Point’s beach is perfect for just hanging out.
Beaches of Bastimentos Island
Isla Bastimentos has perhaps the most stunning beaches on the islands. Still, they are all on the windward side facing out to sea, so be careful if you decide to swim. Some beaches are also inaccessible by boat during certain times of the year. The closest beach to the town of Old Bank is Wizard Beach. Wizard has no restaurants or installations, but the beauty of this beach is undeniable and offers a taste of Bocas’ raw attractions. Red Frog Beach is accessible by Bahia Honda, only a short 15-minute boat ride from Bocas Town or 5 from Old Bank. Red Frog Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Bocas del Toro and is the perfect place for people to watch or enjoy the many restaurants it has to offer. Other beaches include Polo Beach and Long Beach, an important ecological site for the endangered leatherback sea turtles that come to lay eggs from February through August.
Nivida Caves, Bastimentos Island
Nivida is a massive cavern with swarms of nectar bats and a subterranean lake. The cave lies within the borders of the Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, and half the fun is getting here. But it’s next to impossible to do it on your own. An organized tour must be set up before going. The entrance to the cave goes through a mangrove canopy forest until you reach the cave’s opening. Some tour operators offer headlamps, but make sure you wear sturdy boots, expect to get wet as you could wade part of your way into this cave.
- History of Bastimentos
- Bastimentos Culture
- How to Get to Bastimentos
- Safety on Bastimentos
- Basti Tips & Tricks
History of Bastimentos
Christopher Columbus landed his boat here in 1502 on his 4th voyage and called the island Bastimentos, which means “provisions.” Once the island was referred to as merely Old Bank, now the island of Bastimentos is one of the most popular destinations to stay and visit while in Bocas del Toro.
Bastimentos Island is a mix of cultural, ethnic groups. The two main groups are Afro-Caribbean in the town of Old Bank and the Ngäbes of Salt Creek, Bahia Honda, and surrounding areas.
How to Get to Bastimentos
Like most places in the Bocas del Toro islands, you can get to Isla Bastimentos by boat. It takes about a 10-minute boat ride to Old Bank from Bocas Town.
Safety on Bastimentos
Many safety measures have been implemented on Bastimentos island, but just like anywhere, use common sense when visiting its beaches. Don’t leave your things unattended, and don’t be surprised to see police walking down the beaches patrolling the area.
Bastimentos Tips & Tricks
The easiest way to get around visiting different villages on Isla Bastimentos is by boat. Make sure to bring a light rain jacket to keep the body dry. When you walk or boat around on rainy days, carry a sturdy plastic bag for your sensitive items.
|Al Natural Resort||Located on secluded Old Point, isla Bastimentos, nestled inbetween the jungle and sea, this eco-resort offers beachfront bungalows and private rooms.|
|Eclypse de Mar Acqua-Lodge||Eclypse de Mar Acqua-Lodge have over-the-sea bungalows overlooking Isla Carenero and Bastimento’s town of Old Bank- famous for its top quality rooms and impecable service.|
|Red Frog Beach Island Resort||Nestled in the jungles of isla Bastimentos facing one of the most beautiful beaches in Bocas del Toro, Red Frog Beach Island Resort offers private villas in all sizes perfect for a variety of groups whether a group of friends, family or business.|
|Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge||Tucked in the Bastimentos Marine National Park, Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge is one of kind- offering high quality private eco lodges, the only bird watching tower in Bocas del Toro, and excellent service expect to experience the best of nature and adventure packed into one place.|
Things to do
So you got your airplane ticket, and you're coming to Panama for vacation. You have decided that you want to explore the islands of Bocas del Toro for one week, but you're not sure where to stay,...