We miss our monkey.
Each morning, the baby white-faced capuchin monkey would hop about the tree just off our cabin’s porch, foraging for berries growing among the branches.
He (let’s call him a “he” though he could have been a “she”) was a wild, wary – and wily – little thing.
Every time we’d move in for a camera close-up, he’d scamper around to the back side of the tree trunk, out of view.
When we gave up trying to photograph him and sat down to watch him quietly, he’d crawl back into view and continue chewing on the red berries, juice dripping down his chin.
Nature rocks! (aka “things to do at Casa Cayuco”)
Discovering a monkey that “comes” with your cabin is almost to be expected at Casa Cayuco.
Nature reigns supreme at this rustic eco-lodge.
Surrounded by jungly rainforest and hugging a narrow beach on Isla Bastimentos, Casa Cayuco is one of three small lodges we recently stayed at in Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of off-the-beaten-path islands along Panama’s Caribbean coast.
When we weren’t being entertained by our shy little monkey, we’d head to the beach to do the “stingray shuffle” – shuffling our feet along the sandy bottom – to enter the water to swim. This is the way to alert any stingrays in your path, so they’ll glide away. (So we’re told!)
We saw huge rays and silvery balls of jackfish flying out of the sea when we went stand-up paddleboarding. (And when conditions are calm, you can paddle or kayak for miles on turquoise water flat as a mirror. We’ve enjoyed stand-up paddleboarding in Hawaii, Canada, Mexico and Alaska, but paddleboarding off Casa Cayuco’s shores was hands-down some of the best we’ve done!)
Snorkeling is a top activity.
Casa Cayuco offers boat excursions to the Zapatillas, two pristine uninhabited islands surrounded by reefs, in Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. Can you say baby nurse shark, octopus and spiny lobster? Of course, there are lots of reef fish.
The Zapatillas are also an important site for nesting sea turtles. Chances are you’ll see sea turtles when snorkeling there.
One night after dinner, we were taken out in a Zodiac to be astonished by “star fire” – brilliant white twinkles from bioluminescence in the water.
We also hiked along the sandy beaches and on boardwalks through the island interior, looking for birds native to Central America and lizards.
Other activities and excursions are on offer for the adventurous too, including a (complimentary) visit to the local tribe’s village.
Best place to stay on Isla Bastimentos
Casa Cayuco’s young owners, Dave and Suzanne, left their corporate jobs in Michigan and took over the lodge in 2012. They’ve been running it ever since with passion and heart, to the delight of guests.
TripAdvisor reviewers rate Casa Cayuco the Number 1 place to stay (“B&Bs/Inns”) on Isla Bastimentos.
You can choose from six, breezy timber rooms and cabins, most with covered porches.
One cabin accommodates up to five guests, and older children are welcome. (Dave and Suzannes’ own toddler daughter is about, sitting at the bar as she’s fed or learning to walk on the property.)
Being an eco-lodge, there’s no air-conditioning. Instead, the cabins have fans and weathered louvered shutters in the windows which crank open.
You’ll find a queen bed in most rooms and cabins (and perhaps other single beds), but no king-size beds.
Staff from the local Panamanian tribe, who live in a nearby village, do a meticulous job of daily cleaning – changing bath towels and refreshing the vase of flowers brightening your bathroom every two days.
In a homey (and handy) touch, a clothesline with pegs is strung off your deck so you can hang out wet swimsuits and clothes (which get damp with the humidity) to dry.
Oh, the food at Casa Cayuco!
You won’t go hungry at Casa Cayuco – the food is absolutely delicious!
Dave blows a conch shell or rings a dinner bell to announce meals: breakfast at 8:30 am, lunch at 12:30 pm and dinner at 7:30 pm. Guests eat family-style around one long table.
Breakfast and lunch are “serve yourself” and change daily.
One breakfast included pineapple and melon, yogurt, coconut bread, and fresh-baked vegetable quiche and sausage quiche. Another breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, and fried “dough” with honey.
And for lunch, how about chicken stew with carrots and potatoes, cole slaw, coconut rice, black beans, and for dessert, warm-from-the-oven lime shortbread cookies with a sugar glaze? Another lunch was Mediterranean-themed – falafel, yogurt-and-cucumber, sour dough rolls, green salad, hummus and couscous.
In the evenings, we looked forward to pre-dinner drinks at the well-stocked bar – the margaritas are still fresh in our memories.
And then there was dinner, a three-course meal, served by candlelight at the table.
Expect fresh seafood – staff catch the fish fresh daily. Suzanne, who is hands-on helping her culinary staff in the kitchen, has a talent for preparing fish so it’s delicate and cooked to tender perfection.
One night, we started with a mushroom and cilantro soup flavored with ginger and lime, then tucked into fish sauteed with lime and butter, accompanied by fried patacones (mashed plantain then fried like a pancake). Dessert was fresh baked chocolate-coconut cake.
Copious amounts of Chilean white and red house wine are generously poured (and included in the rates).
We also had a lot of fun chatting with fellow guests over meals. Casa Cayuco attracts well-traveled guests used to venturing to far-off places, who bring with them a spirit of adventure. Most are from the U.S. or Canada.
So, should you go to Casa Cayuco?
When we knew we would be “un-cruising” from Costa Rica to Panama (post on that coming later), we wanted to add on a visit to Bocas del Toro afterward. But apart from TripAdvisor, detailed reviews on places to stay in Bocas del Toro are few.
Bocas has no brand name or big hotels, just small family-owned eco-lodges and inns. Having more experience staying at luxury digs, we felt we were taking a bit of a leap of faith when we booked Casa Cayuco and the other two places we stayed at. But knowing that Dave and Suzanne are Americans who cater to North American guests helped with the trust element (we’ve been told that North Americans are pickier than others when traveling and expect high standards of cleanliness, service, etc.).
With Dave and Suzanne at the helm, Casa Cayuco is a place you can trust to deliver a casual, comfortable, full-on nature experience.
We can still hear (and we miss) the cicada concerts starting up at dusk and other vibrant jungle sounds enveloping us – a reminder through the night of the abundant life (our little monkey included) so close by around us…
Practical Information for booking Casa Cayuco
Rates are for two people per night and include all meals, snacks, beer and wine with dinner; use of kayaks, snorkel gear and standup paddleboards; daily housekeeping; guided tour of the local indigenous village; free WiFi; and roundtrip, 45-minute, high-speed boat transfer through mangrove forests to and from Bocas Town on Isla Colon. A minimum three-night stay is required.
How to get to Casa Cayuco:
We flew on Air Panama (one-hour flight) from Panama City to Isla Colon, the main island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. The airstrip and shack (which serves as an “airport”) is just outside funky Bocas town. It’s actually a little easier to visit from Costa Rica though. You can fly on Nature Air from San Jose, Costa Rica, (or take a 10-hour boat-and-bus transfer between Bocas and San Jose). In Bocas, you’ll be met for your boat transfer to Casa Cayuco on Isla Bastimentos.
What we especially loved about Casa Cayuco
Every time Dave rang the bell for meals, we’d start salivating thinking about what delicious treats lay ahead.
What to know about staying at Casa Cayuco
The price of pristine paradise:
Though mosquitoes are few, the no-see-ums are fierce. You may not even not even notice some bites until you get home. So spray yourself! We got lazy about that, nor did we use the insect repellent coils provided and (grumble) suffered the consequences. Mosquito nets provide protection while sleeping at night.
Casa Cayuco is a remote eco-lodge:
It was built by indigenous Ngabe Bugle carpenters starting in 2005 using native Panamian wood. All water is supplied from rainwater collected by the lodge and power comes from the lodge’s solar-powered generator. You’re given a beach towel during your stay, which you can hang up to dry using the clothes line strung above your deck railing. Casa Cayuco is not fancy. And it’s not 5-star. But it’s a place where you can truly unplug – and isn’t that a real luxury these days? For more info about what to expect, Dave and Suzanne have done a great job answering frequently asked questions here.
Here’s a handy picture for you to pin…
Many thanks go to Dave and Suzanne for hosting us as media guests at Casa Cayuco. As professional travel writers, we are always free to write our own reviews of the hotels and resorts that host us, however – and we like to think that you, our readers, find our reviews honest, accurate and helpful…