Five years ago, I first heard whispers about Bocas del Toro, an archipelago in northwest Panama, while staying at an eco-lodge in Costa Rica that served little more than rice, beans and fried plantains. Apparently, I’d just missed undiscovered Costa Rica, but Bocas supposedly still had deserted white beaches.
That’s how I find myself off the coast of Panama on a small boat, the only viable form of transportation from Bocas Town, on Isla Colón, to the La Loma Jungle Lodge on Isla Bastimentos. La Loma is part of a new wave of tiny eco-lodges in relatively untouched parts of Latin America that are not only built with sustainable materials, but also give back to local communities by doing things like teaching farmers about crop rotation. These resorts are so eco-friendly in part because they are so small: La Loma, for example, has just three cabins.
Courtesy of La Loma Lodge
Piloting the boat is Henry Escudero, an expat who owns La Loma with his partner, Margaret Ann. A Peruvian-born archaeologist who grew up in Los Angeles, Escudero talks about the area with a scholar’s authority and a history geek’s enthusiasm. He excitedly points out a breaching bottlenose dolphin to our right and notes that we are crossing the Changuinola canal, an inland waterway built in 1898 and later purchased by the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International), which for years mercilessly controlled much of the Panamanian economy.