Bocas del Toro
The Caribbean archipelago of six larger and countless small islands is part of the province of the same name, which also includes the mainland strip between Changuinola and Chiriquí Grande.
While hardly any tourist comes around there, the islands of the Bocas del Toro between the bay of Almirante and the open Caribbean Sea have been a popular tourist destination for years. Its increasing popularity is also due to the proximity to the Costa Rican border at Sixaola. The main island of the archipelago, Isla Colón, is the most touristically developed, even though on the neighbouring Isla Bastimentos the bulldozers of us-American investors are already preparing the ground for resorts and condo settlements. In the island capital, also called Bocas, at the southern end of Isla Colón, the typical Caribbean wooden houses from the golden age of the United Fruit Company have been restored and mostly converted into hotels. Numerous restaurants, pubs and tour operators have settled here, taking visitors on boat trips to the archipelago’s most beautiful beaches and diving or snorkelling areas. The island’s nightlife also takes place along the main street Calle 3.
Since 1988, a good 13000 hectares of the Isla Bastimentos and its surrounding marine habitat have been designated a national park. A narrow corridor through the centre of the island forms a land bridge between the open and protected coasts, while the majority of the national park area protects marine habitats. These include the two uninhabited Cayos Zapatilla, whose beaches can be considered the most beautiful in the archipelago. They belong to the barrier reef that protects most of the Isla Bastimentos. The interior of the Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos consists of primary and secondary rainforests, which contain numerous endemic species. These include white-faced capuchin monkeys, night monkeys, two- and three-toed sloth, pakas, long-tailed cats, armadillos, rare birds, bats, turtles, caimans, frogs, lizards, butterflies and rare tropical insects. Among the thousands of plant species are tropical hardwoods, forest palms, climbing plants, mosses, ferns, bromeliads and orchids.
On the windward side of the land bridge, the rainforest canopy extends to the beach, which is a nesting site for four species of sea turtles depending on the season. A dramatic landscape is created here by rock walls that extend between the beach sections, together with small bays, streams and rock formations off the coast. Equally spectacular is the underwater landscape, where rock shafts, peaks and tunnels meet and, together with hard and soft corals, provide shelter for over 200 tropical fish species. On the windless side of the island, the coastal forest turns into mangroves, which play an important role in the ecological balance of the offshore reef.
The sea here is covered with small mangrove islands, while sea grass covers the seabed with white or pink coral sand, whose filter function benefits both the mangroves and the formations of staghorn and brain corals as well as sponges, fish and other marine animals.
One of the most famous inhabitants of Isla Bastimentos is the red poison dart frog, also known as the strawberry frog, whose females practice remarkable brood care: After the male has kept the fertilized eggs moist for days, the female carries the tadpoles on her back to the treetops, where they find ideal and safe development conditions in the water reservoirs of bromeliads. During this period, the mother feeds them unfertilized eggs, which she lays regularly.