Colon Island, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Built entirely over water in a sheltered bay backed by tangled mangroves and facing the Bahia de Almirante, this exclusive eco-sensitive property can only be reached by a 20-minute boat ride from Bocas town, placing it quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Offering the most elusive luxury of the 21st century, sanctuary from traffic, email and television, Bocas del Toro's Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge combines the timeless luxury of solitude and nature, but falls short with the more mundane ones of Haute cuisine and silky soft bedding.
Punta Caracol's nine pastel-colored Polynesian-style bungalows sit on stilts atop Caribbean green waters housing a thriving coral reef. Smiling staffers greet arriving boats and lead guests through the thatched-roof open-air restaurant to an adjacent reception area. Peering over the edge into the shallow waters, you can spot parrotfish, giant star fish, and white spotted leopard rays at any given moment. From the reception, a bumpy wooden jetty leads to a Master Suite just to the left, five Punta Caracol Suites, and three Luna Suites at the end.
Guest quarters have hardwood floor lounge areas with bamboo and dark wood accents, sofa beds, and cream tab-top curtains covering French doors that swing open to private verandas with twin cushioned chaise lounges. Steps terrace to the sea for a quick swim day or night. Glossy wooden stairs, requiring sure footing and care, lead to the upstairs bedroom equipped with a canopied king-sized bed. The mattresses are comfortable and the average-quality cotton sheets are cool but the pillows filled with clumpy bits don't provide the most restful sleep.
Overall, the bungalows exude a rustic warmth and an exquisite simplicity with their exposed thatched ceilings and soft lighting from both the uncovered upstairs window and the halogen-lit lamps. First-floor baths come with walk-in tiled showers, plenty of fluffy towels and Punta Caracol branded toiletries. Reducing its impact on the environment, the resort uses aerobic sewage treatment, which means that no paper products can be flushed. The 12-volt electric power supplied by solar for each bungalow generates enough for the lights and ceiling fans but not enough to plug in a hair drier or charge a laptop. The restaurant and reception offer outlets for charging.
All rooms and community areas face west, commanding the perfect sunset. For those wanting a little more space, the Master Suite has an additional upstairs terrace and a larger lounge area. While all bungalows have sofa beds, the Master Suite is the only one that might sleep a third adult comfortably. The Luna Suites have larger decks accessible from the outside and the inside, as well as a seating area at the entrance with a swing chair and a small wooden table and chair set. The Master Suite and the Luna Suites would be best for families with children.
While the remoteness might seem to imply an all-inclusive experience, there are no forced good times here. The untamed natural surroundings allow you to craft a personal, improvised set of experiences. Snorkeling and kayaking are just a drop from the bungalows, while land-based activities are a boat ride away. Punta Caracol offers daily complimentary shuttles to Bocas town at 1 and 6:30 p.m. and returning to Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge at 1:45 and 6:45 p.m. The property also organizes day trips for a fee. On stormy days, there are plenty of board games and reading materials to entertain.
The Punta Caracol restaurant and bar, open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., boasts idyllic views and invites lingering. Linen topped tables decorate the breezy button-down restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, coffee/tea time, and dinner. The uniformed staff is acutely aware of weather conditions and carefully makes adjustments throughout the day to ensure guest comfort. Friendly and prompt with an affinity for customer service, the largely local staff go out of their way to cater to guest needs. However, many seem to lack confidence at times. The menu, a mix of Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisine, though well-presented, is hit and miss as far as consistency of quality is concerned. Main courses are fine, but nothing too exciting apart from a few exceptions: the shrimp scampi and the baby scallops in a light tomato sauce are fantastic. Spanish tortilla, a house specialty, makes for an excellent appetizer paired with one of the wines from the ample wine list. Dinner salads tend to be unimaginative and most desserts don't make the cut.
This serene and photogenic hideaway, practically synonymous with Bocas de Toro, has become a bit of an area landmark. Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge won't disappoint the loving couples, the water enthusiasts and the need-a-break-from-it-all executives who embrace the idea of luxury defined more by pristine surroundings than by high-end modern convenience.
Web Address: www.puntacaracol.com
Total Number of Rooms: 9
Published rates: $344 - $578 (including breakfast and dinner)
Review and photos by Beverly Gallagher
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