Last Updated on February 27, 2023
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be vacationing in an over-the-water villa, much less in luxury accommodations. It wasn’t until our private boat pulled up, our captain popped the champagne cork, and then whisked my husband and I away into the Caribbean Sea that I really believed it was happening. Lorenzo would be our private boat captain to cruise around the archipelago during our stay and be available at our every ‘beck and call.’
After five weeks of exploring the possibility of ex-pat life in the Panama islands, we were headed to Isla Frangipani, one of the recently inhabited islands in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, just south of Costa Rica. When I looked into over-the-water bungalows in this region, I discovered that they were comparable to villas in the Maldives, without being crammed into a plane seat for more than 20 hours.
Arriving at Our Magnificent Nayara Boca Bali Resort
As we approached the protected bay, the villas of Nayara Bocas Bali (it’s not Nayara Boca Bali, singular, even though many people say it that way) and their private plunge pools went from a distant mirage to reality. The Elephant House, with its towering, intricately carved ceilings and wall decorations, was built in Bali, Indonesia and then transported by ship to Panama. We docked next to a restaurant, our luggage was delivered, and we were escorted to the open-air clubhouse for check-in.
Emerging out of the jungle above palm trees, I saw the first finished multilevel suite, a real Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. I couldn’t wait to see inside, but that would come another day as a welcoming cocktail and lunch were awaiting us.
Fresh Seafood Lunch
We ordered fresh seafood and shrimp likely caught that morning. I marveled at the freshwater infinity pool and two-acre tropical botanical garden where hummingbirds flitted around like tiny helicopters. Tropical flowers in shades of red and yellow lined the walkways and a mini waterfall feature added to the serene ambience.
After lunch, we were led along a curving boardwalk through mangroves. We discovered tiny blue-and-green-hued poison dart frogs. Stingrays floated like waves beneath the boardwalk and hid in the mangroves, while starfish attached themselves to the pier.
Our luxurious, white-washed bungalow’s roofing gave it the appearance of a palapa while still protecting guests against inclement tropical weather. Although I was physically in the villa, I felt like I was watching an amazing Instagram reel.
Other island buildings were also constructed in Bali using a variety of wood types known for withstanding the tropical climate and local insects. We learned that our framework arrived in Panama after 1100 hours of hand carving and assembly. This gem would be ours for three nights.
My attention was drawn to our king-size bed with white gauze curtains on each of its four corner posts. The television was concealed inside a decorative cabinet that could be raised by pressing a button.
How lovely that a charcuterie board and chilled champagne were there waiting for us.
Stunning Inside and Out
When I saw the infinity saltwater plunge pool spilling into the Caribbean, I hurried to the deck to take a closer look. The green tile blended beautifully with the turquoise water and a ladder extended down into the Sea. Even though it had been a lifelong dream for me, my husband was the first to take a swim in our personal pool.
Back inside, I found the bathroom to be exquisite. Mosaic tiles lined the floor and shower. A vanity table against a decorative wall had everything we needed to make our stay blissful. The authentic Balinese furnishings absolutely brought the villa to life. The shower heated up immediately, and the air conditioner was efficient at cooling the entire villa.
This was such a welcome change from the eco-lodges we’d stayed in prior to Nayara Bocas Bali.
An iPad on the nightstand was our lifeline to the front desk. Our first request was for Lorenzo to pick us up at our villa and take us to Dolphin Bay at dusk. He explained how the bay is the perfect shelter for young dolphins to learn, feed, and socialize with their pod.
Upon leaving the bay, he spun the boat around enticing the dolphins to jump through the wake. It was a perfect ending to our dolphin-watching experience.
Enjoying a Lobster Dinner
Earlier I had specially requested lobster for dinner. The preparation was stunning with fanned-out tails seasoned in garlic herb butter and a Panamanian flair. It was the ultimate date night with my husband while listening to a live band playing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and peering at the stars.
Just then, we spotted an eagle ray swimming around the neon-lit pier.
Returning to our villa, we noted our bed turned down with dark chocolate truffles on the pillows, soft white robes laid over top and slippers awaiting our feet.
Learning about the Rainy Season
The month of December can bring 22 inches of rain throughout the archipelago. As the rain came in, I looked outside and could barely see our pool just feet away. Thunder cracked and lightning lit up the sky across the horizon. It was a surreal experience being over the water with a torrential rain in the middle of the night.
The biggest misconception about the rainy season is that it rains all day. Truthfully, the ominous clouds build up, release rain, and move along, leaving behind sunny skies and sometimes a rainbow until the next raincloud comes along. Sitting below the hurricane belt means thunderstorms, not hurricanes, make their way to Panama.
But it’s the rain that brings the water to these islands. As a result, the owner of Bocas Bali researched and implemented the best water capture system to harvest rainwater, a generator for backup, a waste disposal system, and a solar system to provide the most seamless approach to living off the grid. The resort is fully self-contained and doesn’t rely on other islands or the mainland for its energy.
Private Trip to the Zapatilla Islands
The following day, it appeared as though we were traveling through thick, dark gray thunderclouds as our boat approached the Zapatilla Islands. Rain fell on our way there, but the sky cleared as we arrived at the uninhabited islands on the outskirts of the Bocas archipelago.
The view was stunning. Surrounding white sand islands, the water was a kaleidoscope of hues ranging from deep blue to aquamarine.
We fastened the boat to a tree and stopped for lunch. The captain showed us where environmentalists flagged an area indicating turtle eggs waiting to hatch. Mothers brave the thick jungle to lay their eggs in the sand before swimming back out. Baby turtles hadn’t emerged from the sand yet, but in a few weeks, they would begin their journey.
During snorkeling excursions, we observed parrotfish, triggerfish, and flame scallops in the reef at two different hotspots. Vibrantly-colored feather dusters pulled their feather tops into their worm tubes if we approached too closely. Fish inspected my mask then darted away.
It was as if I’d been dropped into my own home aquarium.
First-Ever Aerial Beach
After a day of snorkeling and cruising around the islands, we decided to check out the first-ever ‘aerial beach bar’ featured at Nayara Bocas Bali. When your island is mostly mangroves, with no sandy beach, what else do you do, but build your own elevated beach?
The aerial platform is 90-feet-long and 20-feet-wide. A tiki bar, palm trees, lounge chairs, sand for your toes, and steps descending into the Caribbean all sit on stilts over the water. Our private bartender Franco knew how to make the freshest Pina Coladas and play old-time music on his guitar.
As we were putting our towels away after our dives and swim, we saw the staff setting up for a dramatic evening. I’m not sure if it’s the Panamanian work culture, but the staff wanted us to know that Scott, the manager, takes amazing care of them as well.
To think this piece of Caribbean paradise all started with a private mangrove island, three miles of Caribbean shoreline, and the friendliest people.
Getting to Isla Frangipani
Nayara Bocas Bali may not take as long to get to as flying to the Maldives, but it does require a flight to Panama’s Tocumen Airport and then a transport to Albrook Airport. The flight to Bocas Albrook Airport is around 50 minutes and someone from the resort is there to greet guests and bring them to the property by private boat.
In the near future, Nayara Bocas Bali will be launching a VIP daily air service from Panama’s main Tocumen airport to Bocas airport for an additional charge. The resort will help travelers coordinate their arrival once in Panama.
So, get ready to book your next adventure off the grid, but with all the amenities you could imagine at Nayara Bocas Bali in Panama’s Caribbean Sea.
Yes, this is paradise, and yes, dreams do come true.