Sweet Bocas – is this private-island villa Panama’s best-kept secret?
On the northern coast of Panama is an area called Bocas del Toro. Scruffy and characterful, this colourful Caribbean province sees mostly backpacker tourism, some of whom never leave due to its relaxed and happy ambience. One such former backpacker was Lucy, a softly-spoken young French woman, who met me at a deserted pontoon, helped me onto a speedboat and whisked me off to a forgotten corner of Isla ColÃ³n, the province’s main island.
As we approached, I got the view I’d been waiting for: Sweet Bocas, a stunning, glossy teak house on stilts, stood over clear, turquoise waters, surrounded by open decks with brightly hued, comfortable furniture. Our hostess, Lucy, made sure I always had a carefully crafted cocktail in my hand and wanted for nothing, even for a second. She introduced me to her husband, Joseph, the resident chef who produced Michelin-quality meals for me three times a day, and then Tom. Tom is a Duracell bunny and Action Man rolled into a gorgeous 25-year-old Dutchman who was always bounding up to me and saying things like, “Sunset stand-up-paddle-board?” Or, “Let’s go and hike to see my friend Polo. He’s lived alone in a shack on a glorious beach for 60 years – he’ll make us lunch.” Or, “Have you ever tried one of these full-face snorkels? Let’s swim all the way around the house!”
The house itself is absolutely stunning and the property, as a whole, is faultless. It is easy to tell that restaurateur and traveller Annick, the visionary behind it, has put her heart and soul into the project. The main home (it does feel like a home – full of personal collections and books) has seven bedrooms and there is space for a further four people in a bamboo, glamping-style structure, making this perfect for groups of friends or big families with teenagers. All of the huge, en-suite rooms are luxuriously and beautifully decorated with tasteful furniture. The hideaway is full of bright colours and patterns, while somehow still feeling minimalist. There is always a wonderful breeze blowing through, keeping all the rooms cool.
The private land behind the water covers 15 acres and includes a big freshwater lake, a toy shed – a huge boathouse containing all the water-sports paraphernalia you could possibly think of – an infinity pool, a gym, a tennis court and a yoga studio. Behind all this is miles of forest, separating you from everyone else.
Nearby, as well as Polo’s beach are tons of others with incredible surfing, hiking, snorkelling and wildlife spotting. You can island-hop around with the private boat or do some water-skiing or fishing. The more exotically inclined may wish to try something else of the myriad on offer, such as freediving or shaman healing. There is plenty to fill your time, but my favourite thing was to lie in the bouncy net over the water with cushions and my book, watching the fish swim by underneath me.
This is one of those truly once-in-a-lifetime, exceptional holiday spots, perfect for a group of friends to have a big party or just to come and flop for a week.