Popa Island, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Cradled within one of Popa Island’s wide bays, Laguna Azul Eco-lodge enjoys both the beauty of the surrounding island’s primary forest and the protection of its lush shores. Tangled within mangroves and delicately perched on a reef, this six room over-the-water resort functions as an intimate and comfortable vehicle from which you can fully engage with the natural surroundings.
Unlike the over-the-water bungalow-style accommodations characteristic of nearby Punta Caracol and Coral Lodge, Laguna Azul invites a close connection with the natural environment while preserving the local architecture. The two-story wooden structure resembles the homes and hotels that cascade over the waterfront around the main Island of Colon, albeit a 35–minute speedboat ride from town, and quite literally in the middle of nowhere. In spite of the remote location, where the real luxury resides in nature, Laguna Azul can hardly be called rustic.
Laguna Azul Eco-lodge has been smartly conceived with a keen eye on gently and responsibly wrapping you into the pristine surroundings. The avocado-colored façade and the light–blue walls in guest quarters create a connection between the structure and the natural environment. The absence of TV in the spacious suites facilitates this connection by tuning the interior environment to the sounds of toucans, dolphins and the gentle lapping of the lagoon. &$40;There is a TV room on the first floor.) The full service restaurant and bar, pillow–top mattresses dressed in soft linens, and glossy loquat floors topped with elegant cedar and wicker furnishings upholstered in gold and greens allow you to contemplate the untamed surrounding in absolute comfort.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t weigh their impact on the environment. In fact, Laguna Azul Eco–lodge employs innovative efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Biodegradable soaps and products are available throughout the property. Waste water is treated and used to irrigate the landscaped grounds, and the hotel’s roof is designed to collect rainwater. Solar energy complements a generator. Laguna Azul also strives to thrive hand–in–hand with the local indigenous community. Currently, fifty percent of the workforce (with a goal of at least seventy percent) is from the Ngöbe community.
Laguna Azul Eco–lodge also faces north capturing the soft Caribbean breeze. Not only does this facilitate ultimate relaxation on the expansive patio and the balconies lining five of the suites, but it also eradicates the mold smell that invades so many accommodations in the tropics, even the most luxurious. For those who love communing with the natural environment but worry about insects, the breeze also keeps no–se–ums and mosquitoes at a surprising minimum. For part owner and Bocas local Ruben Dario Navarro (who may also be your designated personal concierge), reducing distractions so that you can observe the surroundings with clarity is one of the main goals.
The efforts to provide serenity are combined with highly personalized service to ensure comfort as well as a unique experience. In addition to the tours included in the general package, your personal concierge can arrange any number of activities. Do you enjoy snorkeling and diving? After exploring the reef at the foot of the hotel, perhaps you might get the chance to venture off with your guide and catch your own lobster, which one of the resort’s two chefs will prepare. Outside of the tour to town, individual trips to and from Colon Island can be arranged for an additional cost. If you’re interested in dancing the night away in the lively town of Bocas on Colon Island more than once, Laguna Azul may prove too remote.
In addition to the myriad activities to choose from around Bocas, the hotel’s amenities offer recreation. A large open–air gym, housing a half dozen exercise bikes, a Nautilus machine and a couple of elliptical trainers, is the perfect place to get in a brisk cardio workout. There is also a pool table and a ping pong table. There isn’t a beach, but the stunning white–sand shores of the Zapatilla Islands (where several Survivor episodes have been filmed) are just a twelve–minute boat ride away. A floating dock, large enough to place two chaise lounges, is just a few breast strokes from the hotel.
Laguna Azul will enchant those eager to disconnect. Business owners and busy executives can still receive a cell phone and wireless signal on the first floor via satellite. There is also a computer and a scanner. While the ambiance is intimate and exclusive, the hotel has been designed to also offer privacy. Suite balconies are divided by high wood walls, and the huge first floor lounge and dining area provides a variety of seating arrangements catering to both couples and groups. Rooms one and five on the corners offer the most privacy and the best views. The birdwatcher in the family will delight in suite number five, which offers the best view of nearby Popa Island.
Those looking to enjoy remote island life on solid ground, without forgoing the pool and clubhouse, should consider Popa Paradise located ten minutes away on Popa Island. For a relaxing escape away from it all though, this island retreat offers a real getaway.
Review by Beverly Gallagher, photos courtesy of Laguna Azul Hotel.