You don’t need to go far for adventure: Paddleboarding and kayaking around the resort’s own island can be transcendent, as can swaying on the bar swings at the “overwater beach,” a seemingly levitating stretch of low-lying sand.
In a province known for epic panoramas—a mix of tropical rainforests, dense mangroves, palm-shaded lagoons and Caribbean Sea—the last position you’d expect to find yourself in is hunched on the floor of your local lodging. But if you’ve checked into Nayara Bocas del Toro, hunch you will. Quite happily. Maybe for hours over the course of your stay.
There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of this private island eco-resort off Panama’s northern coast, as you’ll quickly discover if you’ve booked a Water Window Villa (Nayara’s term for an overwater room with a viewing panel in the floor). The starfish-spangled seagrass below the boardwalk that leads to your room makes for the perfect preview. Upon arrival, despite all the lovely distractions that await—the carved, wooden canopy bed, the firepit on the deck, the well-stocked gratis minibar—you’ll instinctively focus on the see-through rectangle underfoot.
With your nose all but pressed to the glass, you’ll meet a whole cast of characters, some who make rare cameos (say, a solitary barracuda), and others who turn out to be regulars (butterflyfish, damselfish and rays, to name a few). Note that a family of gentle nurse sharks lives in the neighborhood, too. And even if you don’t see them around your villa, you’re practically guaranteed a sighting if you hunch over the edge of the overwater restaurant by night, when this century-old Balinese transplant looks especially ethereal, as do the creatures that glide through the floodlit shallows. Indeed, the underwater show is so mesmerizing, it’s hard to pull yourself away from, despite the fresh, flavorful, locally sourced fare back at your table.
To help offset any strain from all that downward staring, book at least a Relaxing Neck and Back Massage at the resident spa (or on your own deck). But if you want to sample more of the menu and its sustainably grown Panamanian ingredients, consider the excellent Body Scrubs, whether coffee, sea salt or chocolate.
When you’re feeling a bit more active, you’ll want to consult a different menu: the list of local adventures (yes, it includes chocolate, too). You can boat to a nearby Ngabe village to learn about traditional cocoa cultivation and preparation, complete with tastings. Another great daytime option is a trek to a bat cave that may also lead to encounters with sloths, frogs, monkeys and caimans. Try to leave one afternoon free for the Dolphin Bay sunset tour, when your cetacean sightings will be paired with champagne swilling. And by night, if the weather cooperates, don’t miss the Bioluminescence boat trip—your chance to paddle and swim among otherworldly, glow-in-the-dark microorganisms.
Then again, you don’t need to go far for adventure: Paddleboarding and kayaking around the resort’s own island can be transcendent, as can swaying on the bar swings at the “overwater beach,” a seemingly levitating stretch of low-lying sand.
If you’d prefer views from on high, book yourself into one of the fanciful treehouses, each a mix of bamboo and reclaimed hardwood from the Panama Canal. Atop your soaring perch, you’ll be able to see not only the resort’s secret gardens, ponds and pathways, but also the surrounding islands and sea—i.e., precisely the kind of panorama that lands Bocas del Toro on travelers’ bucket lists. nayarabocasdeltoro.com