Casa Cayuco, an eco-resort reachable only by boat, sits on the Eastern end of Isla Bastimentos, in the Northeastern part of Panama, on the Caribbean Sea. On top of the team’s very real efforts towards sustainability (solar power, rain water harvesting, plant-based and local seafood cuisine), they employ almost two dozen residents of Salt Creek, a nearby indigenous village inhabited by members of the Ngäbe-Buglé community.
Along with donating funds and providing jobs, they also partner with organizations like Pack for a Purpose and Floating Doctors to actively engage in projects like improving schools, sending supplies, and their current key project, opening a medical clinic to promote and empower the residents around health care. Everyone who stays at this serene and gorgeous resort gets a list of supplies they can bring to donate, and a guided tour of the village that lies just beyond the mangroves.
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Casa Cayuco Review
I spent 4 nights last October at Casa Cayuco and was blown away by the level of service, the family-style plant-based and local seafood meals, and the remote location on the Caribbean Sea. The various low-key adventures (rainforest hiking, snorkeling, monkey meet-ups) offered several times a day are of very high quality, and I truly enjoyed getting to know the staff who cook, drive the boats, and serve as guides, many of whom are a part of the Salt Creek community mentioned above. I also met all kinds of fellow travelers at meals and on excursions.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Fly into Bocas del Toro airport (BOC), where your guide will pick you up and take you to the boat dock in Bocas Town. From there you’ll zoom on a 35-minute speedboat ride to the resort. The flight is an easy one-hour trip from Panama City’s domestic airport (PAC), which is across town from the international airport (PTY). Definitely plan on exploring Panama City for a couple of days before and after your visit to Casa Cayuco. A jumping-off point for all kinds of adventures, Panama City offers fantastic restaurants, bars, nightlife, history, and of course, the Canal!
While the staff at Casa Cayuco is extremely accommodating and enthusiastic, each day at the resort is a casual, choose-your-own-adventure type of experience. You won’t find a concierge, reservations or sign-ups for any activity. Instead, each morning at breakfast your host will present the morning excursions that are available, based on weather and group interest, and everyone decides what to do. At lunch, the afternoon’s options are presented. It takes a moment for us type A travelers to get accustomed to the easy pace and no pressure schedule, but once you relax into it, you’ll find you don’t even need a watch.
Your stay includes your own set of snorkel gear, yoga equipment, paddleboards, and kayaks. Also included is a 2 hour tour of Salt Creek Village. I enjoyed seeing the schoolchildren in their classrooms, talking to their teachers, and understanding a bit better how Casa Cayuco’s neighbors live. We bought local crafts, and the boat ride through the mangroves was stunning.
One afternoon I took a 90 minute hike with some other guests on the Sendero (trail) that starts on Casa Cayuco’s property. We traversed the jungle to the beach, then explored the beautiful shoreline. We even found an abandoned cayuco (the wooden canoes formed from tree trunks for which the resort is named) and snooped around the sparse local dwellings. If you go with a guide, you are quite likely to see sloths, monkeys, and tree dart frogs, and to get help and insight identifying the indigenous plant and bird species along the way.
I also very much enjoyed a boat trip to neighboring Urraca to visit the Monkey Island Foundation, a haven for several types of wayward (but healthy, and very cute and cuddly) rescue monkeys.
A snorkeling trip to Isla Zapatillos is not to be missed. Your guide will take you by boat to some beautiful sites, and will swim with you in the calm turquoise water to help you find and identify incredible specimens of fish and coral. All levels welcome. Trips to snorkel in the mangroves are also available and highly recommended.
Other available excursions include guided visits to a Bat Cave at Bahia Honda, and a sustainable Chocolate Farm (with tastings!), fishing, surfing at Bastimientos Marine Park, and lots more.
Though not included on the “official” Casa Cayuco list of attractions, one night after dinner our main guide José offered to take us on a quick boat excursion to see the bioluminescence, the algae that lights up the sea on clear nights. “It looks like stars in the water,” he said, and he was right. If the conditions are favorable on your visit, don’t miss it. You can even take out a SUP board for the ultimate nighttime paddle. I also pleasantly whiled away several sunsets on the dock with José while he cleaned the day’s catch and fed the local nurse sharks.
Casa Cayuco offers a variety of spacious, open air accommodations, from seaside bungalows to a fantastic multi-floor house in the treetops, to rooms in the lodge and a jungle bunkhouse. The entire property offers free wifi and hosts 38 guests total.
Ceiling fans and mosquito nets bring tropical authenticity to your experience. There is no air conditioning, and I experienced several torrential rain storms on my visit, all comfortably from my airy room. The jungle does get damp, so bring a wireless phone charger, but leave your hairdryer at home.
All meals are served family-style, announced by the sound of a conch horn. The delicious buffet-style offerings at breakfast and lunch vary every day, ranging from Panamanian specialties like rice and plantains, native fruits and vegetables, and favorites like hummus and homemade breads, plus a daily afternoon snack that will be delivered to you in your hammock or wherever you may be relaxing. Dinner brings a three-course plated meal, often revolving around local seafood, and finishing with a lovely homemade dessert nightly. The satisfying plant based cuisine can be modified for special diets–just let your host know ahead of time. Alcohol is not included in the price, but a tight selection of cocktails, organic wines, and beer are always available, along with juices and smoothies.
For that special occasion, you can ask your host for dinner to be served on the porch at your bungalow, or have them set up a romantic candlelit dining table on the dock.
Book your visit online. The team will provide you with plenty of guidance and lots more information about your stay, including advice on tipping and things to do elsewhere in the remarkable country of Panama.
Guest Author: Lisa Futterman is a Chicago-based freelance travel, food, and beverage journalist and chef. Her love of cheese, wine, and spirits has taken her all over the world—from the Comté aging rooms in Fort St. Antoine in the Jura to the wild agave fields in the desert outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. Her work has been published by Food & Wine, Chicago Tribune, Eating Well, @futtypages., and many other national and local publications and websites. You can find lots of her favorite cocktail photos, global travel insights, and shellfish shots on Instagram