Cayos Zapatilla – A taste of desert island life
If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll have noticed my regular Brighton food snaps have been taken over by updates from my travels across Latin America.
The reason for this is Simon and I have a new job (our dream job, in fact!) – we’re Hostelgeeks reviewers, seeking out the best hostels in Latin America for a new area on their website (coming soon). We work as a team, Simon writes the reviews and I take the photos and proof the copy.
Over the course of nine and a half weeks, we’ve been working our way across Latin America, beginning in Colombia and heading up through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and finally, Belize, looking for hostels we can recommend.
About a month ago we visited Bocas del Toros in Panama, the hostel we were reviewing, ‘Bubba’s House‘, was on the smaller, more laid-back island of Bastimentos, a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland with panoramic views of the rainforest lined Caribbean sea.
The island was very basic with a limited water supply, very few restaurants or shops and walking the full length of it took just half an hour. With this in mind, we were advised to go on the Zapatilla Cays day trip, the cost for which was $38pp (providing at least 4 people sign up). I have to say, I’m so glad we did this as it was easily the standout experience in Panama.
The day began with a boat ride out to a little snorkelling spot called Coral Key (masks were an extra $5 each to hire) and here we spent a good hour dipping below the water and admiring the coral reef and marine life. The snorkelling was good and I spotted several ‘Dori’ fish – but certainly not the best I’ve seen (that would be Ko Tao in Thailand). After this, it was on to Cayos Zapatilla – part of the Bastimentos National Marine Park.
If you’re looking for a beach with a serious WOW factor, Cayos Zapatilla is the place to go. Two uninhabited islands (excluding the wildlife) named after the Zapatillas fruit, with pure white sands and waters so crystal clear that in just a couple of hours, our guides were able to catch enough fresh fish to cook and serve 10 of us.
Which brings me on to what is unequivocally the trip highlight – barbequed saltfish, caught and cooked for us as we bathed on the beach. The barbeque itself was a DIY job, ingeniously fashioned from tree branches and palm leaves. When it was ready to eat we were handed a blade to cut away a chunk of the fish and a palm leaf to hold it in. There was no seasoning or sauce on the fish, just the smokey infusion from the barbeque, but it was absolutely delicious. Meaty, subtly salty and incredibly moreish.
As well as sunbathing we took a little walk through the forestry on the island, in the hope of spotting sloths or monkeys. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our lucky day but we did discover a completely empty part of the beach, away from the other day trippers, which proved perfect for postcard material photos.
Despite the lack of wildlife sightings and missing out on the chance to snorkel here (the rip tide was in full force so we were advised not to) I fell absolutely head over heels in love with Zapatilla.
The finale of the trip was a stop at a floating restaurant and bar called The Blue Coconut, where we picked up some dinner and a cocktail or two (for a reasonable extra cost). The restaurant is 2.4 miles from Bocas Town and is unique because it works completely off-grid. Relying 100% on solar power and rainwater.
Despite lots of choice on the menu, as we were on the cusp of the Caribbean, the only clear choice for me was spicy jerk chicken – it was so good I ended up having to share it with Simon.
As the sun set, the boys played basketball in the surrounding sea, whilst I soaked up the final rays and appreciated the view from the jetty. Other members of our group kicked back in the sea sunken hammocks dotted around the dock. Around 4pm it was time to board the boat home.
If you’re heading through Panama I highly recommend this day trip. Panama City, where we’d come from the day before, had been a bit of a disappointment but this made visiting the country completely worthwhile.
Have you been to Panama and what did you get up to? Or have you been somewhere with a beach just as incredible as this? If you have, leave me a comment below and share your travel tips. Alternatively, if you like this post hit the small heart button below and let me know.