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Discovering Panama’s Caribbean Treasures

The Caribbean always conjures images of turquoise waters, immaculate white sand beaches, palm trees gently swaying to soothing ocean breezes, and maybe a pina colada…or two.  Likewise, Panama always brings to mind enormous tankers or cruise liners crossing the world’s most famous canal against the backdrop of the financial center skyline. But what happens when we hear the words Panama Caribbean following each other in the same sentence as if they were pointing to a common place? The first move would be to reach for your smartphone and quickly google it with a smirk on your face. Am I missing something here? In fact, you are, dear traveler. As a matter of fact, Panama is home to two gorgeous archipelagos located in the Caribbean sea that can be very well categorized as the Caribbean’s last and best kept secret.

 

Located near the Costa Rican border, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is a snorkeling and diving haven featuring coral reefs, large extensions of mangroves, white sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters. The sleepy Bocas del Toro archipelago is also noted for its Georgian architecture, sea turtle nesting sites, reggae and calypso music, and excellent seafood. To reach Bocas, simply jump on one of the daily flights available from Panama City or take an overland transfer across the isthmus after visiting the cloud forest town of Boquete. You won’t find large hotels here but rather family-run B&Bs on main Colon Island and cozy aqua lodges built on stilts over the water plus some luxurious villas in Bastimentos and other nearby islands.

While Colon Island may appeal more to backpackers with its cheap motels, rental studios, numerous bars and restaurants and funky nightlife, the outer islands are ideal for a honeymoon or romantic hideaway. Either way, tours to the gorgeous Zapatillas Keys, Playa Estrella (a beautiful beach colonized by hundreds of starfish), Red Frog Beach, or Dolphins Bay will unveil the beauty of this still relatively unknown piece of paradise. Other activities worth trying are the excursion to the Bat Cave, the thrilling canopy tour in Bastimentos Island, and the chocolate tours in the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous communities.