Chasing Panama – Cayo Zapatillas & Red Frog Beach

Over the following two days, we would take transportation via canoe to explore the islands surrounding Bocas del Toro and there are hundreds of them. As we would set out and our boat captains navigated their way through the maze of tiny islands, we were consumed by the untamed beauty of everything around us, the water changing between crystalline shades of blue and green, dotted at every turn with jungle covered outcroppings of untouched beaches and rocky cliffs.

We slowed and began to drift in wide circles of deep blue , open water with several surrounding mangrove forests running along our boats path. As our canoe created waves behind the boat, we turned to see a small pod of dolphins playfully surfing them, taking turns swimming along and under our little craft, jumping out of the water and clearly enjoying themselves. The dolphins had no interaction with us, they weren’t fed or asked to do tricks, there were no nets or walls. They were exactly as they should be and it was beautiful. [Tripadvisor review here] If you’ve never seen dolphins in the wild this is a worthwhile stop for you to make, if only for the fact that you will never be able to visit a man made aquarium again.

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We continued on for some time, finally stopping in about 70 feet of the open water between the islands to snorkel over the coral gardens there before having lunch at Jasmine Restaurant at Cayo Coral. Literally in the middle of no where, you can only get to the over-water eatery by boat. The sounds of Bob Marley and Sean Paul drifted fro the speakers across the small restaurant, surrounded by even smaller huts, all on stilts over the water where the restaurant workers and some of the boat operators seemed to live. We ordered lunch and I enjoyed some of the best deditos de pescado of my life.  It does need to be said that while the location was gorgeous and the food excellent, the majority of the menu is exceptionally overpriced and unless you really need to eat, I would suggest to bring snacks and stick to ordering from their drinks menu.

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Jasmine Restaurant at Cayo Coral

Our tour then led us to Cayos Zapatillas; a group made up of two uninhabited islands located east of Isla Bastimentos in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. They are environmentally protected zones, under Government regulations all visitors to the island pay a small fee which in turn pays of the upkeep and maintenance of the islands. Though obviously very popular tourist locations, they truly did appear to be untouched.

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While the dense interior foliage of the island discouraged any additional exploration, we spent a few, uninterrupted hours walking around the island, me climbing downed trees to take photos and  then lounging in the water and along the powdery white sands.

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The following day, once again travelling by canoe and with the early morning chill still lingering in the air, we arrived at the environmentally protected Red Frog beach around 7:30 in the morning. Paying our small fee to the woman working at the park entrance as she sat in the window of the wooden hut,  we couldn’t hep but notice her infant son cooing and swaying contentedly behind her in his hammock.

Our canoe had dropped us on the opposite side of the island from Red Frog Beach itself and we set off on our  45 minute hike through the rain forest.

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If you have sensitive skin, bring mosquito spray…

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It was an easy walk, uninterrupted and very peaceful as we appeared to be the first visitors to the popular tourist destination and as we emerged from the tree line, we were rewarded with a stretch of impossibly soft sand and calm waters lapping at the shore.

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We spent the following few hours walking the beach line and exploring the small rock structures and tiny rivers that led from the jungle. There is a hotel and yoga retreat as well as a restaurant and pop up craft shop along the beach and the visitors staying there began to drift out by around 9.  Unfortunately the restaurant and bar didn’t open for business until lunch time and we weren’t made aware of this beforehand, so we found ourselves hungry and a bit inconvenienced by this and having to wait on our canoe back to Bocas del Toro for a late lunch.

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The absence of lunch, while significant, was the only drawback from an otherwise exceptionally relaxing day trip to Red Frog beach. In hindsight I would have booked our trip there to maximize the time and probably would have looked into one of the available activities like kayaking or zip lining as well. Plus, I definitely would have made sure there was food. There should always be food.

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