Even though my eyes were heavy, I didn’t think I would be able to sleep in that little seat on that little plane to Bocas del Toro. 6 a.m. flights and I don’t get along. Waking before 5 a.m. is completely inappropriate. As far as I am concerned, there is only one 4:30 and it is just before happy hour. I closed my eyes and thought back to the last time I was headed to Bocas del Toro. It was on a cramped bus with my friend Shelley who was living in Costa Rica at the time and needed to get out of the country to renew her Visa. I had recently graduated from college and took advantage of my lack of commitments to backpack Central America. I remember Bocas being the highlight of the entire trip.
I wake and glance out the window, seeing a crude baseball diamond with players huddled in the infield until the runway quickly appears. Apparently, the Bocas baseball stadium outfield doubles as the airport runway. As I gather my bag and walk the few blocks to my hotel, I realize that Bocas has changed… of course, it has been ten years. But I also realize that my perspective has changed. What I used to spend in an entire day on three meals and lodging, I now often spend on a single cocktail.
Despite the proliferation of restaurants and lodging options that didn’t exist when I first visited the town (we had two lodging choices), Bocas remains a backpacker paradise. It’s not somewhere I would send my parents. The Caribbean charm is still present, with brightly-colored wooden buildings and laid-back, English-speaking locals. The town itself has no beaches but all you have to do is hire a boat to explore the famous crystal-clear water and deserted stretches of sand.
Sounds lovely, but I was here for business.
The goal of my Bocas trip was to shop the competition. We want Isla Palenque to be the best option for principled resort buyers in Panama, and Bocas seemed to be the place where real estate sales success had been realized. My three site tours were full of insights. I’ll admit, my opinion is a bit skewed, but these visits made me realize the potential of Isla Palenque. Our site rivals any in Bocas del Toro, our vision is superior, and our pricing is competitive. Some projects in Bocas seemed like dreams that will never be realized, some were cleaning up mistakes from the past, and others just offered a plot of land in a field.
I used to believe that Palenque’s biggest drawback was access and the lack of existing tourism infrastructure. The smaller plane and limited flight schedule debunked the access thought. And after one night of hanging out with sophomores from Florida State (it seemed like everyone in town was from there), I realized that Bocas Town didn’t have a fantastic tourist experience. Upon returning to town after every site tour, I wanted to be back on the empty beach, cocooning in a hammock with my book.
Bocas may have changed, but so have I. It was great to eat Thai food in Panama. It was great to see that people are making a commitment to owning a second-home in Panama. It was great to see travelers from all over the world descend on one little town. But in the end, Bocas wasn’t as idyllic as I had remembered.