My adventure in Panama continues on another island also belonging to the Bocas del Toro archipelago: Isla Bastimentos. This is where I visit Henry and Margaret, who, together with their son Lucho, have created a small paradise: a stunning Jungle Lodge with working chocolate farm.

As soon as the boat reaches the shore, I feel that this is a special place, and I can’t believe how secluded it is….all I can see is the dock, the rest of the grounds and the Lodge are hidden behind a patchwork of various shades of green. Through the garden, lush with butterflies, flowers, plants and trees, Henry leads me to the central Lodge, which is the heart of La Loma. This is where the common area and the restaurant are located and where several local ladies are in charge of the kitchen. Now this is what I call a restaurant with a view: colourful tropical birds fly by one after another, the most gorgeous flowers spread an intoxicating scent and of course with a first-class view of the cacao trees.

And I haven’t even seen my room yet….only four ranchos – open air houses – completely private, are perched between (or above) the dense jungle vegetation. Reaching the highest rancho requires some effort, as it can only be accessed by a steep climb, but it has the best view of the bay! My rancho is located a bit further down, under the forest canopy and closest to the restaurant. The wood ranchos really have that WOW factor and provide an exclusive, luxury jungle experience. For the bed is large and comfortable, a fan and large mosquito nets are present, and everything is open, allowing guests to become one with the sounds of the jungle. The private bathroom features a lovely shower, lavatory and sink. There is also a small sitting area and a hammock with a first-class view: I spotted a sloth with cub in a tree, monkeys came foraging in the mornings and once I found myself face-to-face with a prehistoric monster: a very large iguana…… all of this right outside my lodge. You can stay here for a minimum of two nights and breakfast, lunch and dinner are included (drinks at a charge). Also included are the transfer from and to Bocas town (arrival and departure), the use of kayaks, boat transfers to Red Frog Beach (a lovely beach for relaxed afternoons), a visit to the Bahia Honda primary school and a chocolate farm tour, including an introduction to cacao and other indigenous plant species and a presentation of how chocolate is made.

La Loma is a unique place, or rather, it’s an experience, and hosts Margaret and Henry, with their wonderful eye for detail and hospitality, make it an unforgettable adventure. The food is delicious and plentiful (soon a La Loma cookbook will be published!) and cacao is used in many of the dishes, for instance in the delicious ‘chicken mole’ – chicken in a spicy chocolate sauce! Everything is homemade and a cooler packed with an extensive lunch is provided for day trips.

As I said, staying at the lodge is lovely and there are various walking trails on the vast La Loma estate, but I would definitely recommend that you also book at least one of the excursions. For instance, I went snorkeling and island hopping with Mr. Kelly: an excursion that was concluded with a visit to the heavenly Zapatillas islands, and I was lucky…. When I was there, hardly any other boats were present and the white sandy beach was practically deserted! My children were especially enthusiastic about our visit to the Bahia Honda primary school, as was I – it provided an interesting insight into authentic local life: experiencing first-hand what school life is like in these parts was a real eye opener for the children. And, the cherry on the cake, my twelve year old son gave the local kids a hilarious crash course in Dutch….I hope the Dutch word for frog – kikker – still echoes around the Bahia Honda bay!

In short, La Loma Lodge is one of a kind, an extraordinary experience that you’ll remember forever. And, above all, it offers a wonderful mix of jungle, beach and a peek into the local community life….which I think is the perfect combination for a dream spot!

Read more about Panama in my blog ‘Panama Post’