Life in Bocas del Toro: Playing at Working

A few weeks ago, I touched on the fact that many of us dream of retiring to the enchanted world of sand beaches and clear water, but when we arrive can find, that without some stimulation, Paradise can get boring. In the beautiful archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama, it is hard to imagine that getting “island fever” would be possible with all the activity of everyday life and the amazing diversity of the environment. However, in even in this Caribbean Island dreamland,  almost everyone needs to find some aspect of life and living that keeps you fresh and motivated.



The good news is that there is an endless variety of activities and hobbies one can explore here. Obviously, the list includes all the things you have dreamed about for years like your morning jog on clear sandy beaches or the sound of the wind and gentle splash of the waves as your sailboat glides through hidden passages between beautiful tropical islands. Perhaps you have always dreamed of being a writer or a time and place to dedicate yourself to your passion for art. Perhaps there is a computer programmer hidden underneath that attorney’s hat you now wear every day.

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Panama is a great place to reach for those pent-up dreams and come out of your shell into the light of whatever passion or desire you harbor inside. The lifestyle is much more relaxed and tranquil that what most of us have experienced in past lives. In fact, for some of us, it is a challenge to learn to relax and let life take on a more complaisant course. But let’s imagine for a moment that one of your main aspirations about “escaping” to the tropical island of Bocas was to have a quite, private spot where you could totally immerse yourself in becoming a model student and practitioner of the habits of the local sloth population.

Ok, fine! You kept busy and motivated as you went through the process of building or buying your dream home and finally got settled in and comfortable with your new life and surroundings. Three years later you have read every Lee Child book ever printed at least nine times, watched every video movie you could lay your hands on at least a dozen times and have learned how to sing “Born Free” backwards. One day you wake up at the crack of noon and realize that something just might be missing from the perfect picture you envisioned so long ago.



It happens to the best of us. But fortunately, there is a cure. There is an endless array of niche markets and business opportunities waiting for someone who has the time and desire to create something to fulfill a need within the community or even beyond. People ask me all the time about what business would be good to start in this area. From my perspective, the only limit is your imagination and the desire to fill a need in some niche market that feels exciting to you. For example, there are over twenty “grocery” stores in this community of 10,000. Yet one enterprising lady realized that there was a need and a constant demand for certain food items that were theretofore unobtainable. She developed a specialty food market around those items and became a model for success.

There is no end to the possibilities. Once you are here, if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will find that there are a lot of services and commodities that are hard to get or impossible to rely on. Just for fun, I asked several of my friends here what they could see as places where a need or service could be fulfilled or a hobby could become an enterprise. The list is interesting and certainly creative. Here are some of the ideas that came up. These ideas are limited only by the level of imagination and energy that someone wants to commit to the project. But just because it is on the list, don’t expect that I am endorsing the idea or believe that it will be the ticket to riches in tropical paradise.  This is just an overview meant to stimulate your imagination and help you along your path to fulfilling your personal dreams about enjoying the islands of Bocas del Toro to the fullest extent. Also these are in no particular order of the perceived need or viability.

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Vitamin/health food/alternative medicine: There is a smattering of vitamin availability but very little in range or product choice. The flora here is amazing in its potential for health and healing powers but only a few are familiar with plants and processes necessary to produce consistent results.

Tropical fruit jellies and jams and produce: Again, there is a wide variety of fruits, nuts and tropical food plants that could be utilized to create a specialty food product market.

Real ice Cream: Don’t get me started. We make our own and have many friends on “ice cream day”.

Professional Cleaning service: There are lots of local people who will provide house cleaning at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, many times the service availability is sporadic and quality/thoroughness is inconsistent.

Landscape and grounds clearing/maintenance: Same as Cleaning services. Needs management and supervision.

Home Inspection Professional for Real Estate: Something really needed in the entire area.

Computer/electronics technicians: Virtually non-existent on a professional level of performance and/or skill level.

Tool Rental Service: Would not wish it on anyone but OMG is it ever needed.

Small engine and/or Tool and equipment Repair:

Security Company: A professional company with complete services would certainly be an asset to the community. Having the ability to monitor and report or respond to problems in a timely manner is sorely needed on every island.

Affordable and timely shipping and mail service from Panama to and from North America: Service does exist but is underutilized because of extremely high cost using existing carriers. A problem with a solution but has lots of logistical challenges.

Marine Specialty services: There is a wide variety of marine skills and products that could be addressed. Boat Lift sales and installation, boathouse construction, boat painting, electronic sales and maintenance, marine wiring and lighting services are just a few items that come to mind. Prop repair anyone?? If anyone tells you they have not damaged or ruined a prop while living in these coral reef areas, they either don’t have a boat or they have not been here long.



Specialty Construction: There are a lot of niche construction projects that go wanting or need professional supervision. Yard and grounds drainage systems, seawall construction, electrical wiring, plumbing, sewer/septic design and installation, solar installation and repairs, dock building, walkways and outdoor stairways,…….I could go on.

Aviation: This one is tricky because of cronyism and over-regulation but general aviation has a great potential for the right person who can jump through flaming hoops and come out the other side with a perfectly cooked pork roast. A helicopter service seems like a no brainer, but hey, I thought airlines serving good meals in flight was a good idea too….who knew????

Drone photography and mapping: Again, sounds totally valid to me but then I thought drone package delivery would be a great thing too. Shows what I know….

Anyway, you get the idea. There is a lot to do and a lot of interesting things you can create around your life in Panama. Oh, and if you do decide to make ice cream, please put me on your mailing list. As always, have fun and look for me to finish my tips on building in the tropical islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama in a forthcoming article.

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

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