People who travel alone usually choose to stay in hostels to meet other people. In your twenties you stay in a hostel to save costs. This still applies in your thirties if you want to travel for a long time. However, in my thirties I can’t imagine sleeping with 9 other drunkards. You already want a level of comfort that many hostels do not offer. Bambuda Lodge on Isla Solarte, Bocas del Toro, has many more amenities and facilities than you would expect from a hostel.
From a men’s suit to a backpack
Bambuda Lodge is the dream of two Canadians. Dan Adelman used to be an investment advisor but he realized that didn’t make him happy. He sold his small business, grabbed a suitcase and went to explore the world hoping to find a new purpose. He arrived in Panama in 2013, finishing a trip of more than three years as a backpacker. He was disappointed that he had been traveling for so long and he still hadn’t found what he wanted to do. As soon as he reached Bocas del Toro he saw the potential of the place. There were tourists, but not many good lodgings especially outside the town. He was curious and began exploring real estate options. A couple of days later he called Tom Oman, his best friend, to tell him that they were going to buy a property in the Caribbean.
Tom was in a band that wanted to call Bambuda but they didn’t let him. The name sounds tropical and is easy to pronounce, so they decided to call the hostel ‘Bambuda Lodge’. Previously, the property was the home of an American who died and was abandoned. If you visit you will be able to learn more about the history of best friends since they have a book documenting the entire Bambuda Lodge process. It tells when they bought the property, the remodeling process and the actuality.
They figure it out as they go
Dan told me that he had no experience in the hospitality industry, did not know Spanish and had no idea about construction. Of course, everything was a challenge that they overcome with many difficulties. They opened with five quarters after eight months. Now they can accommodate 60 people in 11 private rooms and 22 bedrooms. They continue to expand and invest constantly.
In 2016, when they had two years of operating, they started looking for more properties. Dan saw that a castle in Boquete was for sale. The castle was the residence of a British-Dutch couple. He went to see it and three months later they started building Bambuda Castle.
They just bought a pirate ship in Saint Lucia, which they sailed to Panama for a month. It was remodeled in Portobelo to be taken to Bocas del Toro. Dan told me excitedly, “It’s going to be amazing! It has capacity for 160 people, with a bar, swings and planks. Tourism will change in Bocas del Toro. ”Starting December, it will make tours to Starfish Beach and do‘ booze cruise ’.
Bambuda Lodge is completely environmentally friendly. It produces its own electricity with 52 solar panels and 8,000 pounds of batteries. In addition, it generates its own water by harvesting 60,000 gallons of water that falls on the roof. They have two 30-foot wells that they dug by hand and a small creek at the bottom of the property. Waste is handled with commercial septic system.
There is enough electricity for you not to realize that you are staying in an eco-lodge. You can only notice it when sleeping, since there is no air conditioning. However, the rooms are designed for the tropics. They are completely open with meshed windows so that mosquitoes do not enter. High ceilings with a fan in the center provide enough breeze and the beds have thin sheets. The two nights I spent at Bambuda Lodge I was not hot. I slept very well listening to the sounds of nature.
My room had its own living area with a mesh over the jungle that served as a hammock and two chairs to see the ocean view.
The idea is that the accommodation was also a destination and no doubt they achieved it. As soon as you arrive you will see a pier with kayaks and stand up paddle boards (SUP). To the left of the pier is the star attraction of Bambuda Lodge, a 150-foot slide that takes you straight to the Caribbean Sea. In order to use it they make you sign a liability waiver. Then they give you a boogie board and ask you to press the button that slides water down the slide. This adrenaline-filled attraction is best done sober.
When you arrive you must register with Bambuda Lodge. They ask you your name and where you are from to open the account. If you want to pay by card they charge an additional 3%. The main wooden building is the heart of the property and is where all guests socialize. At the top is the restaurant that serves meals with an assigned schedule. Breakfast and lunch is usually with a fixed menu and has a more extended schedule. Dinner is family style and is served at 8 p.m. You can choose from the daily menu options before 6:30 p.m.
Every morning the kitchen staff decides what to cook depending on what they feel like eating, how many people are staying and what proteins they have. The ingredients are as local as they can get, they use a lot of yucca, culantro and fish. But they have international influences such as British, Asian, Argentinean dishes, etc. Dinners have a price range between $8-14 including fresh lobster.
Zoe, one of the cooks, says they brought her a large avocado crate from Bocas del Toro, so for breakfast she will make avocado toast. They had fresh tuna, so they made ceviche for lunch. People can eat even if they are not staying.
Every afternoon they make a happy hour for guests to interact and have parties periodically. They also offer yoga classes in the mornings and afternoons. If you want to go to the main island they have two free boats every day, leaving Bambuda Lodge at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They return an hour later from La Buga. Those who travel after hours can do so by paying $4 per way. There is a board that shows prices according to destinations.
One of the activities offered by Bambuda Lodge is a jungle trail on Isla Solarte. This trail takes approximately one hour per way. You must pay $3 to do so and sign a disclaimer. This cost includes towel, boots and snorkeling equipment. I went with my hiking shoes, but it would have been better to put on boots. Luckily it hadn’t rained much but there was still enough mud on the floor. The path takes you through a fairly dense jungle crossing fallen trees.
You will go to another path that is marked with signs that say “Bambuda” and “Hospital Point”.
Be sure to look at the floor as you will find many tiny red frogs. Red frogs are famous in Bastimento, but can also be seen in Isla Solarte.
At the end of the trail you will arrive at Hospital Point which is at the nearest point of Solarte Island. Its name is given by the United Fruit Company hospital that used to be in this location between 1899 and 1920. It was the main hospital in the region until its functions were transferred to Almirante. This island was where people were quarantined when they had malaria.
Today tourists are going to bathe on the private beach. It is one of the best places for snorkeling and scuba diving in Bocas del Toro. You can walk back an hour or you can call to be picked up by boat at a cost of $2 per person.
Visiting Bambuda Lodge offers so many options that it is difficult to want to leave Isla Solarte.