Tips for crossing the border from Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro, Panama

The border between Costa Rica and Panama, on the Caribbean side of these two countries, is the Sixaola River. The town on the Costa Rican side of the river is called Sixaola, here you will visit customs to check out of the country of Costa Rica and meet your contact from Panama. You will walk across the bridge to enter Panama with your new driver, leaving your Costa Rican driver to return home. The town in Panama, across the Sixaola River, is called Guabito.

The drive in Panama will take you across the low flood plains of the Sixaola and Changinola river valley’s. This area collects the watershed from the massive Talamanca mountain range, which extends through both countries. This is an important wetland for many species of tropical flora and fauna and includes habitats such as rivers, humid lowland forest, mangroves, coastal lagoons and other marine coastal environments.

A wetland reserve taking in the most of the coastal region of this area is called the San San Pond Sak (Humedal de San-San Pond Sak). This sparsely populated area is home to several endangered species such as manatees (sea cows), hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead sea turtles.

Next you will come to Changinola, home of United Fruit Co. /Chiquita Brands Intl., this town is older than the country itself and thick on lore of a bygone era when it was simply known as, The Banana Republic.

Crossing the bridge over the Changinola river is like stepping back in time, you might have to stop and wait for the company train to pass over first, it is only a one lane bridge. From here you will be entering the densely forested foothills of the Talamanca Range. Just up in these mountains is La Amistad Bi-national Park, some 2 million acres in size, it is jointly protect on both sides of the border. This represents one of the largest protected tracts of primary forest in Central America, and it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Keep an eye on edge of the canopy, the wildlife is spectacular. You will be passing over several elevated bluffs with spectacular views of Bocas del Toro Archipelago below.

The location of this unique site in Central America, where Quaternary glaciers have left their mark, has allowed the fauna and flora of North and South America to interbreed. Tropical rainforests cover most of the area. Four different Indian tribes inhabit this property, which benefits from close co-operation between Costa Rica and Panama.

After several small pueblos, you will be passing the outskirts of Almirante, another antiquated banana town. About 12-13 miles outside of Almirante, at kilometer marker 48 ½, is a yellow sign and pink gate for La Escapada. This small eco lodge is built on a steep slope near the waters edge, the grounds are beautiful, and the birdlife is outstanding. Here you can take a short break and stretch your legs, or have a cold beverage and watch the marine life from the dock.  The boat will be waiting there to transfer to the hotel of your choice.  Tranquilo Bay is our suggested lodge for coming days.  From here it is a beautiful 45-minute boat ride to your final destination. The ocean leg of your journey will take you across Bahia Almirante passing Sheppard and San Cristobal Islands, and into Dark Land. The glassy calm and emerald green sea, and the long shadows from the steep mountainous terrain, blend to make an intense surrounding. A narrow channel passes into another smaller lagoon named Boca Torito, or little bull’s mouth. It is here where the mother dolphins bring their calves to rear. Leaving the dolphins behind, we will enter Bastimentos National Marine Park, the mangrove islets, sea grass beds and coral flats are stunning. Oceanic birds such as brown boobies, magnificent frigates, and brown pelicans will be feeding on marine wildlife that is fleeing from predators below. As we round the southern peninsula of Isla Bastimentos, we will have our first glimpse of the Zapatilla Keys, and the lodge for the next days:  Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure lodge.

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Do you Know? Bastimentos Marine National Park

Bastimentos Marine National Park is comprised of a group of islands located in Almirante Bay in the province of Bocas del Toro. The park encompasses a large portion of Bastimentos Island, Zapatilla Cays, in addition to the waters and mangroves that surround the island.

The north eastern side of Bastimentos Island faces the Caribbean Sea. Five beaches are found here along with stretches of cove inlets and coral reef. These beaches are: Wizard Beach, Red Frog Beach, Turtle Beach, North Beach and Playa Larga. The south western side of the island has a mangrove coastline with very calm water year round. The landscape is much more dramatic, with large rock faces, stretches of long beaches, in addition to coves and inlets.

Bastimentos was Panama’s first marine park and covers an extremely diverse 28,600 marine acres.  With a protected corridor no wider than seven miles, its oceanic diversity includes sea fan garden, vibrant coral reef, and over 200 species of tropical fish.  Oceanic formations in the area include walls, freshwater caves, tunnels, pinnacles, coral spires and towers, groove and spur, ocean impact reef, sandy ledges, and protected patch reef.  Bastimentos is one of the few protected areas in Latin America that preserves, simultaneously, the wildlife and habitat of beaches, coral reef and mangroves.

Beyond the Panama Canal

Beyond the Panama Canal, you could find yourself in lush tropical rain forests of the Canal Watershed or walking through the maze like streets of Casco Antiguo between the colorful colonial buildings and art shops and gourmet restaurants. You may also find yourself on a deserted island watching tropical fish weave through your toes. This is just a touch of what you will find in Panama. The country’s rich history is just like the fine detail you will find in a Guna indigenous mola.

In a diverse country like Panama, it comes as no surprise that travel and tourism are well developed. Tiny locally owned luxury boutique hotels coexist with many of the world’s big names in the hospitality sector, such as Waldorf Astoria, Trump, Hilton or Marriott.

Escape the winter and let yourself be surprised by Panama. Encounter traditional indigenous settlements less than two hours from the city’s international banking district, watch the incredible wildlife along the Panama Canal while huge cargo ships cross from ocean to ocean in the background, spend the morning in a state-of-the-art convention center and the afternoon on a perfect beach. Whatever you are looking for, you can find it here.

Suggestions: Stay in the colonial district of Casco Antiguo and visit nearby landmarks such as the Miraflores Locks, Panama Viejo arqueological site, the Biodiversity Museum designed by Frank Gehry and climb Discovery Centre Rain Forest tower-climb up 30 meters and gaze over the forest canopy in the Soberania National Park.

Visit the picturesque San Blas Archipelago, home of the Guna people and eat amazing seafood while learning about this vibrant culture. Then make your way to the Chiriqui highlands and search for the resplendent quetzal and drink the renowned Geshia coffee. Also make your way to the Bocas del Toro Archipelago for great snorkeling and beach combing at its best. If you have time visit the Azuero Peninsula the heart of Panama´s colonial culture and great beaches for surfing and sunbathing. For the more adventurous trek the Darien gap. Panama has something for everyone.

By EcoCircuitos Panama

Slow-moving shallows put the heat on Bocas Coral

From STRI.org

Snorkel-perfect coral reefs in the calm, mangrove-fringed waters of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago are expected to be among the hardest hit by warmer temperatures that lead to coral bleaching and mortality, a new study finds. These shallows in Panama’s Caribbean are characterized by low water flow, allowing water to reach precariously high sea surface temperature (SST) when compared to areas with greater water movement.

Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach of the University of Virginia tapped into a wealth of long-term monitoring data collected by STRI scientists around the Bocas Del Toro Research Station, including coral bleaching records. Their models were published this May in the journal Coral Reefs.

“By 2084, almost all coral reefs are susceptible to bleaching-induced mortality, except for a region of relatively lower thermal stress along the outer boundary of the archipelago,” they write. “By 2084, only corals exposed to open ocean currents are predicted to survive.”

corals

 

There are some caveats. The key to heat-induced coral bleaching is not a single blast of hot water, rather long-term exposure to above-threshold temperatures. This is measured in degree heating weeks (DHW). By the end of the study period DHW >8 °C-weeks were modeled for the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts widespread bleaching and significant mortality under these conditions. By comparison, DHW values during a 2010 Bocas bleaching event ranged between 2.3 °C-weeks and 9.5 °C-weeks.

Some coral species may adapt to higher temperatures. The study’s models predict that areas flushed by cooler water will have a higher chance at surviving well into the future.

Li and Reidenbach studied modern water-flow patterns, simulated heating scenarios for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, and quantified local thermal stress on coral reefs. While previous studies have looked at SST impact on corals at a large scale, the researchers focused on a much smaller spatial scale, which is less common. The fine scale of their work better lends itself to the creation of mitigation strategies for marine protected areas in Bocas.

“Our findings are also likely applicable to many coral reef regions worldwide, and in particular reefs that are found in shallow and partially enclosed coastal regions with long water retention times,” they conclude.

Bocas del Toro Panama, Western Caribbean slope