By Meret Schueschke
A short boat ride away from bustling Bocas Town with its multiple bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, Bastimentos Island is a nearly untouched Caribbean retreat. With less than 1 500 inhabitants, and no access to cars on the island (there are no roads there) this is one of those places that do not seem to have changed much through the times.
A substantial part of the Island and the waters surrounding it form the Bastimentos National Marine Park, a marine nature reserve. Encompassing coral reefs and sandy beaches, as well as a sizable chunk of rainforest, the reserve provides shelter for a variety of wildlife. The animal the Island is most famous for is a species of poison dart frog: the tiny red amphibians with their black spots can be found only here, and are numerous enough to have given their name to one of the most popular beaches on the island: Red Frog Beach, which is located inside the National Park. Accessible by boat only, this beach is a wonderful sunbathing and surfing spot. It was from here that I set out on a little forest adventure: The trail to the town of Old Bank.
This trail, roughly three kilometers in length, runs along the northern coast of Bastimentos, and is, as I was about to discover, not exactly a walk in the park, but definitely worth doing.
I walked along the beach for a while, until a painted sign pointed me to a small path in the forest, and began my adventure. At first it was relatively easy going. The trail was narrow, but easy enough to find, and every step led me to a new discovery.
The forest was full of the sounds of birds and insects, lizards scuttled around in the undergrowth, and I could still hear the crashing of the waves on the nearby beach. Now and again, the path returned to sandy strips of beach, meandered through coconut tree groves or passed across rocky outcrops before another reliable little sign pointed me back into the forest.
After a while, I started to feel like a true explorer, discovering a completely foreign place, almost expecting pirates or the Spanish explorers of days long gone to pop out from underneath the trees. I kept stopping to look at the fascinating little things along the path: tiny red frogs, bits of broken coral, and my personal favorite: colorful hermit crabs inhabiting empty shells. Now and again I went to cool off my feet in the waves breaking on white sand (and got thoroughly soaked several times, but in the warm weather this was a welcome refreshment).
After a while, the trail started getting muddier, and harder to walk, but being all caught up in discovering this exotic forest, I only took serious notice of this when one of my sandals got stuck in a mud hole. Fortunately the next bit of beach where I could get cleaned up was not too far away, and from that point on I just went barefoot when the mud became too persistent.
And then, suddenly, I found myself on a long stretch of white sand beach again, a new sign informed me that I was almost at the end of the trail: I had arrived at Wizard Beach. Another twenty minutes through the forest brought me to the town of Old Bank. Brightly painted houses, children playing in the streets, fruit vendors selling coconuts down by the docks: This was the Caribbean as I had always imagined it. I realized then I had spent almost four hours in the forest, I was muddy, tired and hungry, but I had had the chance to experience an amazing place, and to discover yet another facet of the ever-changing beautiful country of Panama.
If you would like to visit Bastimentos Island f or stay at one of the fantastic lodges on the island of Bocas del Toro such as Eclypse de Mar with its cabins built over the water, across the bay from Old Bank, La Loma Lodge in the Jungle, Tranquilo Bay on the Southern tip of the Island, or Al Natural near the indigenous settlement of Salt Cree you can contact our office for details and itineraries at Info@ecocircuitos.com or calling our Panama office at +507 3151488