Life in Bocas del Toro: Dreamland vs Reality

Read Article 1: Life in Bocas del Toro: Defining Paradise
Read Article 2: Life in Bocas del Toro: What Price Paradise?
Read Article 3: Life in Bocas del Toro: The Panama Journey Within
Read Article 4: Life in Bocas del Toro: Dollars and Sense

I have fantasized about tropical oceans and life on a beautiful island for as long as I can remember. I attended a college that was located near an ocean. Later, during my adult career years, whenever I had the opportunity to take a vacation, I always choose water, sand and sunshine. Some experiences turned out better than others, but I was never disappointed and became even more determined to find a “Place in the Sun” where I could enjoy my dream each and every day. Eventually, I found a way to turn my fantasy into reality. So now, much later, after having “lived the dream” in the islands of Bocas del Toro for several years, how does the dream compare with the reality of my everyday life in this tropical “paradise”?

Well, I must say that it is indeed different than the vision I perpetuated for all those years. The vision I held of endless white sand beaches with me reading in a hammock, swinging in a gentle breeze, where my most pressing decision was what color of bikini to wear the next day and my biggest stress factor centered around whether the waiter would remember to bring extra ice with my next drink, has not quite materialized yet. (Actually, that is not exactly accurate but that’s a story for later.) This is not to say I have not found surprises here which have exceeded my expectations and kept me far more entertained than anything I might have imagined.


It is true that part of what entices us to chase the dream of “endless summer” is to escape the hurry and hustle of a more complicated lifestyle. But the real truth is that most of us want and need to be busy in some way. Almost everyone I know who has “retired to the tropics” with the intention of total and perpetual relaxation has soon become bored and disenchanted. I think one of the most important things to realize as an expat moving to a foreign environment is that you need to plan ahead to have something in your future that involves you directly being engaged in some aspect of whatever constitutes your true inner passion.

In most places, and especially in the islands of Bocas del Toro, the possibilities are endless. If you have an artist or writer inside you waiting to spring to life, the peaceful atmosphere combined with an endless source of inspiration are your companions here. Builder, designer, inventor, woodworker, gardener, mechanic, entertainer, guide, fisherman….the list goes on forever, limited only by your creative juices and imagination. There is a niche here for everyone.


So what else can be found in Bocas del Toro to excite and entertain when you are not occupied in some way with a rewarding vocation or creative endeavor? Well….One of the things that attracted me to this place is the beautiful, warm waters surrounding me in these Panamanian islands. It seemed to make total sense to own a boat to take full advantage of that phenomenon. Being able to explore and enjoy the area at my own pace whenever the opportunity presents is a wonderful gift. Having a boat also allows me to occasionally take my clients throughout the islands to view properties of interest. That is not to say that you must own a boat in order to live and function in this area. There are a fleet of water-taxis available for transportation to and from almost anywhere in the archipelago. And there are always “friends with a boat” who love to share expenses to explore or go diving, snorkeling, fishing, surfing or sailing. (I promise to write an article about “owning a boat in Panama” soon.) At some point, I have done all of the above activities but at times Doug and I just go out on a calm afternoon, tuck the boat into one of the many small, secluded mangrove coves that dot the interior of the island complex and let it drift as I rest in the shade of the bimini reading a good book while pelicans dive for dinner nearby, spotted rays swim placidly beside the boat and an occasional butterfly chooses to investigate the bright colors of my nearby beach-towel.

LIVE IN BOCAS DEL TORO: SEE REAL ESTATE

What else is there in Bocas del Toro besides warm tropical seas? A whole world awaits. For those who like the night life, Bocas has a generous variety of bars, restaurants and even a casino or two. There is a large and growing expat community where it is easy to make friends with others who have common interests. Gardeners, surfers, fishermen, birdwatchers, artists, entertainers and a variety of exercise groups all have a presence and network of connections within the community.

The country of Panama itself is a truly diverse and unique place. Oceans, islands, mountains, jungles, grasslands, lakes, rivers, cities, towns and native villages all exist in a friendly and accessible area smaller than many US states. Exploring all the diversity of beauty and adventure exceeds what could be accomplished in a lifetime. It is human nature to travel thousands of miles to explore the wonder and majesty of granite peaks but when we live in the foothills never venture into the mountains behind them. In Panama that trait would be a mistake indeed. What I have experienced and seen while walking, bicycling or driving through these islands of Bocas del Toro and through the country of Panama has truly enriched my life. In our modern world, (which includes Panama), there are roads, trails, and waterways where we can enjoy driving, rafting, mountain climbing, zip lines through the forest canopy, underground caves, golf, tennis, fishing and just plain quiet appreciation for a world of color and beauty that continuously surrounds you.


So although I did not match my reality with my vision entirely, I can say that what I did discover was much, much more rewarding and has been a far greater adventure than I ever anticipated. If I had it all to do over again, I would not hesitate for a second. The friends I have made and the wonderful experiences I have been able to experience and share reach far beyond what I had visualized in the days when I could only fantasize about having a life in the tropics. Now I know that is was always possible to live in the beauty and celebration of life found in a place like Bocas del Toro, Panama. The only thing that that was ever in my way was the lady in the mirror.

In my next article, I’m going to talk about some of the nuts and bolts basics of actually living in a new and unknown environment. We talked previously about some things like food, transportation and financial matters in Panama but what about the basic need for shelter? Should I buy or build in Bocas del Toro? What does it cost? Land ownership??? Main island or outlying areas?? Stay tuned, I will address some of these questions and many more in the near future.

Article by: Anne Michelle Wand, United Country Bocas del Toro

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