Panama Report (online)  

Written by Matt Landau       
Wednesday, October 17 2007

It was the first time in a while I felt like I was back in Costa Rica again. Jagged-toothed coves, islands of deep dark volcanic rock, and dolphins breaking in the wake. Our worn out panga cut through the sea as the Pacific morning sun shone down and we looked back at the rustic coast of Panama, spotting from afar the fair sandy beaches of Chiriqui.

Didn't that sound like a little poem?

The coast was dotted with the kinds of secret hidden coves that belong in pirate films: half-moon bays and deep green jungles that speak of Swiss Family Robinson and Gilligan's Island. Of men with sticks as legs and parrots that talk and wear eye patches.

Boca Chica, the island-studded coast not far from Chiriqui's all-too-trendy Boquete, appears to be the perfect example of "the way it looked back then": back to a time when real estate tycoons and all inclusive resorts were just a twinkle in the eye of large conglomerates and cheap tourists.

The majority of the surrounding coast is untouched, with the exception of several small towns where cantinas and rustic beach cabanas offer fried fish and cold beer for fifty cents. Boca Chica has the real feel of Costa Rica, with its boutique, eco-friendly hotels nestled into the mountains: places, with their open terraces and door-less rooms, that seamlessly bring the outside in.

This is not something you see much elsewhere in Panama. Places like Seagull Cove Lodge camouflaged into the jungle, Pacific Bay Resort running solely on solar power, and Cala Mia where dark woods and organic materials fluently compliment their environs. Unlike shiny condo towers and tall-reaching sky scrapers we see in the city and at various Central Pacific beaches, these cozy bluffs overlooking the islands seem to offer a view unlikely to ever go out of style.

The sport fishing in Boca Chica is remarkable too. In most restaurants and hotels you'll find the obligatory photo with the owner or his friends holding fish, the size of small sedans, by the gills. These photos are often captioned by corny handwritten phrases like "Way to go Shane!" or "Bart! That one's bigger than your wife!" The photos are usually smeared with fish blood and faded by the sunlight.

One of the local fishermen, Hugo, took us out in his boat on the basis that we'd either drink a lot of cold beer or pay him some money upon return. He was a weathered looking guy with the same kind of calm smile I've come to attribute to coastal life. He showed us the entire coast through Playa Bejuco which was simply stunning. The semi-famous Islas Secas lie not too far out as well, known for their white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters; home to another of the nation's more exclusive resorts.

With nearby regions becoming almost oversaturated and a new international airport supposedly in the works, Boca Chica seems to be the obvious go-to spot for decent investment growth. It beholds the kind of potential we've seen in places like Pedasi and Penenome with impressive landscape existing and large-scale tourism foot traffic imminent. You can gauge this potential with the number of roads set to be built. But more importantly, Boca Chica is the kind of tourism destination that Panama desperately needs more of. Mom-and-pop-like establishments offering unique products and authentic experiences. That's why I'd go back.