In a world overflowing with enchanting destinations, why does Bocas del Toro
keep luring me back? After all, as a sea gypsy with an ocean-going sailboat, I have greater mobility than almost any type of traveler. I can go just about anywhere on the planet where there is at least five feet of water.
Indeed I have dropped anchor at some legendary spots in this hemisphere, including the fabled West Indies, the sun-bleached Bahamas, the magical San Blas Islands and even the Forbidden Isle of Cuba. But a special sort of happiness washes over me every time I point the bow of my lovely sloop, Aventura, towards the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
Certainly one attractive aspect of the area is its physical beauty. I can explore tiny lagoons where my only neighbors are howler monkeys, or visit tropical reefs as colorful as a crayon box.
It’s hard to find a town more laid-back town than Bocas. You can walk down the middle of Main Street on a Saturday night without getting hit by a car. Or for a bit more social invigoration, you can start your revelries on an old shrimp boat tavern and end them at a disco built atop a shipwreck.
However, for a place to entice me long-term it needs to have a bonanza of interesting people, and Bocas surely meets this requisite with its blend of Caribbean, Spanish and Indio locals that rub shoulders with a foreign mix of surfers, adventure travelers and ex-pats. In fact the word “interesting” does not do justice to the eccentric extranjeros I have met while sailing around the islands.
Take Joseph and Maria for example. They cruised into Bocas del Toro
on a 42-foot boat and immediately decided to stay. With their Italian and Austrian roots, they surprised everyone by opening a pizza parlor to support their new lifestyle. Now people travel from all over the archipelago to savor their delicious tropical pizzas.
Or how about Dave and Linda? Dave ran a construction company in the United States for decades, which was less-than-practical training for his future vocation as a Panamanian chocolate maker. After completing the construction of their dream home at the southern end of Dolphin Bay, Dave realized that his property was loaded with cacao trees. He dutifully researched cacao cultivation, and now produces organic chocolate sought after by some of the finest restaurants in the country. And as if this career change didn’t make the couple odd enough, Dave and Linda also used to have a semi-wild ocelot as a pet. Visitors to their farm were encouraged to wear jeans and long shirts because of the cat’s unforgettable “nibbles.” (The ocelot has since found a mate and returned to the wild.)
With its dazzling assortment of characters, natural beauty and slow-motion pace of life, it is easy to understand why Bocas del Toro
has a reputation for seducing wandering sailors like myself. Oh, and one more element impressive enough to entice any sailor to Bocas del Toro – there are virtually no hurricanes!