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Into the Bulls’ Mouths

Bocas del Toro Islands

The Swan’s Cay Hotel is rather unlike many other vacation resorts offered by the major travel companies. Most destination resorts are run by big local firms or multinational businesses who strike deals with providers such as Apple and Travel Impressions to give vacationers the best deals available.

The Swan’s Cay Hotel is certainly one of the best deals available – there’s no doubt about that. But it’s also small and family run. Nevertheless, it offers such quality and value for money to its guests that it has found its way on to the Travel Impressions resorts list.

First, the location. The Bocas del Toros (‘bulls’ mouths’) islands lie off the north coast of Panama, close to the point where to Central American isthmus dog-legs eastwards to join the bulk of continental South America. Over three hundred miles away from the bustle of Panama City, and equipped with their own airport, they offer a haven of quiet and peace in amongst the bustling resorts of the Caribbean. They are also a major center for ecological tourism.

The Swan’s Cay Hotel, rather than being a multi-storey behemoth, is constructed on just two levels, and, although a relatively new construction, has been built with an eye to respecting the architectural traditions of the region. It is, in short, a very pleasant place: self-contained yet airy, with delightful private courtyards and an annex. It’s also uniquely convenient: it’s probably the only resort listed by the major companies that’s only two minutes from the airport that serves it. Don’t worry about plane noise – Bocas del Toro is probably one of the least busy airports in the world! The hotel is situated on the main street of Bocas town, which is relatively small and quiet. This peaceful atmosphere is reflected in the hotel itself, which has only forty-six rooms. Privacy and personalized service come guaranteed.

The hotel also has an excellent restaurant – small enough to feel personal and intimate, yet sufficiently well-equipped to provide an excellent service. The hotel claims that its cuisine can satisfy even the most discerning diner. The cooking is a mixture of Italian, Spanish and local fare – and a sufficient variety is on offer to tempt all but the most fussy eaters.

Besides the diversity of the restaurant, the Swan’s Cay hotel also has the usual resort features of a pool and other facilities. Its chief delight, though, must be its location. Bocas del Toros is one of the most overlooked and unspoilt areas of the continental Caribbean coast. The town and resort are situated on one of the larger islands of the group – Isla Colón – is a great place for doing taking part in all the usual Caribbean vacation activities. Diving, scuba, swimming, pony-trekking, sailing and surfing are just a few of the pastimes available. One of the advantages the area has over more popular parts of the Caribbean is that there are proportionally fewer vacationers using the facilities. The experience, therefore, is much more personal, and local instructors pride themselves on being able to tailor their teaching to the needs of each individual who is taking part in a particular activity.

As already mentioned, the group of island is very popular with so-called ‘eco-tourists’ – those seeking to learn a little about the region’s natural environment and wildlife while on vacation. A careful policy of conservation is operated by the Panamanian government in cooperation with local businesses and tour operators. Very occasionally you may have to put up with a preferred beach being off limits – the islands are very popular hatching grounds for marine turtles. But don’t worry: there are plenty more to choose from!

For those who don’t begrudge the turtles their beaches, there’s a chance to find out more about these majestic creatures, and to observe them in their natural habitat. There are four types of turtle that turn up in the region: the green turtle, the loggerhead, the hawkbill and the leatherback. Watching the turtles nesting is an unforgettable sight. You have to be careful to make sure that you’re going with a recognized guide, and that no lights are shone at the animals at this most delicate stage of their life cycle. But as you watch the turtles you can draw satisfaction from the fact that not only are you watching one of the great wonders of nature, you’re helping the animals themselves. ‘Turtle tourism’ makes more money for the locals than does hunting the animals or selling their eggs. Your support makes a genuine difference to these animals’ futures.

Bocas del Toros is the vacation spot for you if you would like a Caribbean vacation with a difference. You can enjoy all the conventional aspects of a beach holiday, while also enjoying some experiences that are hard to come by elsewhere in the region.

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