Nature and nurture combine on Bastimentos Island, a lush 24-square mile island bordering the Caribbean Sea in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro Province, Panama. Everything from a national park with scenic beaches and hiking trails, cute two-and three-toed sloths, a marina, and a nearby town that provides cruisers with essentials and entertainment is here. It’s a great place to visit whether you’re about to take the plunge by transiting the Panama Canal or just want to explore the western side of the Caribbean.
“Cruisers come here for the smooth water and adventures with local culture,” says Boris Kushnir, managing partner of Island Global Yachting’s Marina at Red Frog Beach.
The marina is a terrific place to base when visiting the area. Its 115 slips capable of accommodating yachts from 40- to 250-feet are located in naturally protected waters on the southern or leeward side of Bastimentos Island. This area is outside the hurricane belt and approximately 133 nautical miles west of the Panama Canal.
“What makes Bastimentos Island great is the activities available. On land, I encourage cruisers to check out the hiking trails so they can get a feel of all areas open for adventure. The bat caves are a must see, but you have to finish with the chocolate factory! The fun ATV rental in Bocas also adds exciting memories of the town ,” says Kushnir.
One of several hiking trails on the island leads to the beautiful Red Frog Beach, where the bright red frogs live, giving the beach its name. Guides lead a short walk into the dense jungle, so hikers can experience its beauty from Salt Creek, a small community of indigenous folks who live on the south side of the island, reachable only by boat. Accessible by a complimentary 30-minute ferry to Bocas Town, a two- to three-hour tour of Green Acres Chocolate Farm shows cacao at various stages of cultivation and production with a chance to sample savory homemade chocolate treats at the end. Trips to the Nivida Cave (or Bat’s Mouth Cave), in the Bastimentos National Marine Park on Bastimentos Island, offer a good chance to catch a glimpse of these creepy winged creatures. ATV tours are a wonderful way to see Bocas Town as well as its surroundings and amazing tracks and jungle trails.
There’s a lot to do and see by water as well.
“Snorkeling tours are available with a guide to bring nature up close. You can sail two hours to the must see Star Fish Beach! Enjoy local cuisine on the beach, snorkel the crystal clear waters and look for the namesake starfish. Blue Coconut Restaurant & Reef is on the other side of Solorte Island. It’s a short sail or fun dingy ride, where you can enjoy local food and step right off where the reef begins. Dolphin Bay is a sweet sail where oven-fired pizza is served and dolphins play in the bay … that’s only the beginning,” says Kushnir.
Cruiser comforts are plentiful on Bastimentos Island. The Marina at Red Frog Beach offers a fuel dock, marina bath house, laundry facilities, ice and vending machines, storage units, stocked ship store with boating and sailing supplies, as well as a cruisers’ lounge. The Red Frog Express Shuttle enables cruisers to visit Bocas Town daily with many schedules to choose from. There are several shops and restaurants in the town. The Isla Colón International Airport is a mile out of town with flights arriving and departing from Panama City, Panama, and San Jose, Costa Rica.
Newly opened at the Marina at Red Frog Beach is an ocean front beach club that has a swimming pool and swim up bar. In addition, construction has started on an on-site grocery store. This will offer cruisers the convenience of provisioning while they enjoy the remote and remarkable flora and fauna of the off-the-beaten-track destination of Bastimentos Island.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.