Last Updated on December 31, 2022
Excited squeals could be heard as adults were hurled into the 84-degree Caribbean waters by the 150-foot water slide. This vivid blue slide emerging from the jungle caught my eye as soon as our boat taxi pulled up to Isla Solarte. I asked if this was the famous Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro that would be our home for a week. It turns out it was.
About Panama’s Bambuda Lodges
Numerous Bambuda Lodges are located throughout Panama. The first of many launched in 2014 and since then have evolved to include accommodations aboard a pirate ship, in a castle in Boquete, on jungle-y islands, and on the main isle of Isla Colon. They all have a laid-back ambiance that combines social vibe with boutique hotel characteristics and are typically at 90% capacity. Their motto is they have a budget for every community. Not every eco lodge in Panama can say that.
Of note, it does have a minimum age of 18.
Although we are not into hostels by any stretch of the imagination, we found Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro to be a wonderfully peaceful place even though it is primarily geared toward the backpack travel crowd. Funny how many of these young folks can travel for months with only a backpack, while we arrived with five suitcases on our five-week visit to Panama.
Our Lovely Jungle Cabin Suite
We received our very own Jungle Cabin Suite, complete with a queen bed, private bath and balcony with a view of the surrounding wilderness. It was roomy, with beautiful textured wood native to the area including a beautiful full-length mirror. The cabin was cooled by a ceiling fan and had in-room Wi-Fi. We enjoyed the small lizards and geckos who liked to hang out with us along with the sights and sounds of the rainforest.
The outdoor-inspired design of our bathroom with stone and slate tiles and sheer mesh windows made it feel like we were taking a rain shower in the middle of the jungle.
In comparison to other places that we’ve stayed in the jungle, we were able to get some real sleep at Bambuda Lodge. We didn’t hear monkeys wreaking havoc in the jungle or on the roofs here.
A Real Deal Eco Lodge
Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro is a real eco lodge in Panama that doesn’t need to get water or power from the mainland. They have a system in place to catch and hold the water for future use, which came in very handy during the drought.
With the help of the solar-powered pathway lighting, we were able to find our way through the jungle to our accommodations with ease. The elevated wooden walkways kept visitors’ shoes clean and out of the mud. There was always music playing at the restaurant and around the pool. It would change from a soothing tone in the morning to an upbeat tune during the day to some light techno in the evening.
Each day, we watched the sailboats anchored in the Caribbean waters looking out toward the mainland. Clouds would gather in the mountains and rain would fall in a dark vertical shaft, followed by stunning sunsets.
Of course, the tropical flora and jungle vegetation completed the perfect ambience.
Dan, the owner, told us that in just a few weeks the jungle would out of control if it wasn’t maintained. For that reason, he has plenty of hired help to trim the foliage and keep everything in pristine condition. The staff was so incredibly nice throughout our visit and remembered our names right from the start. No worries about fumbling with cash when you’re here as the lodge will keep a running tally of your food and drinks.
Keep Active Through These Adventures
Because the island is remote and getting around requires a water taxi, Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro does an excellent job of providing activities for their guests. A signup sheet lists daily adventures on and off the island.
One activity was hiking through the jungle to reach the tip of Hospital Point, a sandy beach overlooking the Caribbean Ocean. Guests also signed up for excursions to the stunning Zapatilla Islands to snorkel or learn about the cacao plantations on yet another island.
Bambuda can even set up a water taxi to take you to the main island of Isla Colon for an extra fee, where you have access to a variety of restaurants and supermarkets for shopping.
The freshwater pool on the island has lots of ways to relax, like floating on inner tubes or playing a more active game of volleyball. We spent most of our days reading in the hammocks or chilling in the pool. If you felt like doing something really exhilarating, you could jump on a boogie board that propels riders down the 150-foot water slide right into the ocean.
Just off Isla Solarte, the coral reefs attract brightly colored fish that hide in the gaps of the reef. At different times, you may even catch a glimpse of a dolphin pod making its way through the island waters.
Exploring the Jungle
One afternoon, we decided to venture out of this eco lodge in Panama to the jungle trail by ourselves – of course with our handy dandy bug spray. Bambuda staff told us we’d need to go barefoot or wear galoshes that they provide as the trail becomes extremely muddy after a rain. I have to say that going barefoot in the jungle had never entered my mind.
We didn’t give much thought to the fact that it was getting late in the day, and it didn’t take us long to reach the dense jungle. But nightfall was quickly approaching. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get lost in the rainforest!
Then I started thinking about the caimans that are often found in the brackish water around the island, so we decided to made our way back. We had probably only gone a hundred yards, but that was quite enough for me. Along the way however we stopped to get photos next to a 30-foot Bird of Paradise towering above us.
Even though there isn’t direct access to a sandy beach at Bambuda, a water taxi can take you to different beaches within the archipelago. Five famous beaches include Carenero Beach, Red Frog, Paunch Beach, Bluff Beach, and Zapatilla Beaches. They all offer something different but during surf season get ready to catch a wave on Carenero, Paunch, or Bluff Beach. Red Frog Beach has a long stretch of sand with capuchin monkeys playing with coconuts just off in the jungle’s edge.
After each adventure, we returned to the comfort of the lounge deck overlooking the pool and ordered a round of drinks with appetizers. Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro has one restaurant on the island that caters to its guests. It serves meals at allotted times, but beverages are always available.
Dinner is served at 7:30 in a family-style setting. We sat with a group one night, but otherwise enjoyed our evenings alone. Every night, the Lodge has a gathering to welcome new guests and review how things work on the island. It was a great way to learn a little about each of the guests that arrived that day. Most are young Europeans staying for about three nights before they continue their journey to Costa Rica.
The Panamanian breakfast for $7.50 USD with seasoned stewed beef garnished with a fried egg was one of my favorite meals. I knew the homemade Panamanian hojalre or traditional fried bread as we call it, would tantalize my taste buds, drizzled with honey. Lovely decorative jungle flowers adorned the plates.
For lunch I couldn’t get enough of the delicious breaded chicken with a chili sauce and white rice. Tom’s Schnitzel was a favorite among their luncheon specialties. We drank a lot of water to stay hydrated, but when it was time for a cocktail, the passion citric cocktail with Smirnoff vodka, passion fruit, and a splash of soda was my go-to.
Even when it rained on the island there was enough covering that you could still sit out on the deck of this eco lodge in Panama and enjoy the view. We played Solitaire and reminisced about the past few weeks and what our next adventures would look like. It was so relaxing that my inner clock was off by a day for at least four days. I thought it was still Saturday until my sister texted me about our next resort adventure. Only then did I realize it was actually Sunday.
Now that is total and complete relaxation.
How to Get There
Getting to the Bambuda Lodge Bocas del Toro on Isla Solarte is a little like the movie “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles,” but instead it’s by water taxi. If arriving in Panama City, change airports and take Panama Air out of Albrook Airport to Bocas del Toro for a 50-minute flight. From the Bocas del Toro airport, which is literally a strip of land cleared away from the jungle with a small building, take a taxi to the dock to get on your water taxi for Bambuda Lodge on Isla Solarte.
Once there, sit back, relax, enjoy the music, jungle life, and ecotourism at its very best. After all, you are in a jungle-y paradise.