Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge

The lullaby of lapping waves

Feb 1, 2004
Outside Magazine
Caribbean Resort, Isla Colon, Panama

The H20 cure: cabanas on stilts at Punta Caracol

TRANQUILO IS THE OPERATIVE WORD at Punta Caracol, located just off the serenely beautiful island of Isla Colón, an hour's flight by puddle jumper from Panama City and a 15-minute boat ride from the small town of Bocas del Toro. Sheltered by the surrounding archipelago and, about three miles away, mainland Panama, the resort's six two-story thatch-roofed cabanas are suspended over the water on wooden stilts, spiraling out from a long central walkway to face Almirante Bay. Each solar-powered duplex has its own private terrace and deck, and the sound of lapping water lulls you to sleep. This vision of calm luxury perched at the edge of the world is just what founder and Barcelona native José-Luís Bordas had in mind when he designed Punta Caracol in 1997 as his final project for business school. At dusk on my first evening, I'd already showered and dressed for dinner, yet I couldn't help heeding the call of bath-temperature, cerulean water. In record time, I changed back into my swimsuit and threw myself—with a war whoop—off the back deck. It's the kind of place where glittering-green tropical fish jump up to meet you in rapid-fire succession and bioluminescent plankton are the only lights shimmering offshore after sunset. Every detail of the resort, from hand-woven hanging textiles to fresh papaya and pineapple-covered panqueques at breakfast, is well executed by Bordas's competent local staff. At the end of my four-day idyll, I could tell him honestly, "Es mi idea del paraíso, también." The Good Life // Each bungalow has native-hardwood floors and French doors that open to the bay, as well as wooden lounge chairs and woven floor mats. Bathrooms are lined with clay tiles with a lime-green-and-plátano-yellow trim—brightly Caribbean without being gaudy. Upstairs, the open-air bedroom has a canopied king-size bed with natural-cotton drapes that double as mosquito nets, but you won't need them; the cool breezes off the water at night are enough to blow pesky insects away. As for eats, you won't find fresher seafood: The open-air restaurant-cum-lounge—also on stilts over the water— gets regular deliveries from local fishermen cruising by with just-caught lobster and red snapper, weighed with a portable scale brought out from behind the bar. A must-have: grilled lobster with tomatoes stuffed with rice, fish, and vegetables. (Chase it down with a warm, sweet pineapple slice glazed with caramelized sugar.)

Jaw Dropper // While you're dining alfresco on flame-grilled shrimp, you can watch dolphins, pelicans, and parrot fish trolling for dinner on the reef below.

Sports on-Site // Swim, snorkel, or paddle in clear, calm Caribbean water along a mile of coral-reef coastline; there's no beach at Punta Caracol, but your cabana's private dock is just as enticing. It's an easy paddle inland, via cayuco (traditional wooden canoe), to Isla Colón's mangrove swamps—home to howler and white-face monkeys and the unbelievably slow-moving two-toed sloth, or oso perezoso ("lazy bear").

Beyond the Sand // Pilar Bordas, the miracle-working sister of José-Luís, can arrange outdoor activities on demand: surfing at Bluff Beach, on the far side of Isla Colón; mountain-biking across the center of the island; scuba-diving with queen angelfish near San Cr’stobal Island, four miles away (two-tank dives with Starfleet Scuba, $50; 011-507-757-9630, www.explorepanama.com/starfleet.htm). Hire a guide for the 40-minute boat ride to Bastimentos Island National Marine Park, where you can hike through sugarcane to Red Frog Beach ($30 per person).

The Fine Print // American Airlines (800-433-7300, www.aa.com) flies direct from Miami to Panama City for about $300 round-trip. From there, Aeroperlas (011-507-315-7500, www.aeroperlas.com) has two flights daily to Bocas del Toro for $116 round-trip. The Centers for Disease Control recommends a yellow-fever vaccination and the antimalarial drug chloroquine for travel to the Bocos del Toro region. Double-occupancy rates at Punta Caracol in high season (December 16 to May 15) start at $265, including breakfast, dinner, airport transfers, and use of cayucos and snorkel equipment (from $215, off-season; 011-507-612-1088, www.puntacaracol.com).

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