Peaceful in Panama: How To Do an Inexpensive Caribbean Vacation
After my crazy 5 days learning Spanish in Bocas Town, I was ready for some peace and quiet.
Enter Isla Bastimentos, the peaceful counterpart to Isla Colon’s frenzy. About a 10 minute boat ride away from the main island, Bastimentos is the place people go for a true getaway.
Unfortunately for me, I have expensive taste on a backpacker’s budget. Fortunately, there is a backpacker option on Isla Bastimentos! There are actually several. This post isn’t going to be about all of the options, though. I’m going to focus on one in particular where I feel you can get an almost all-inclusive experience for less!
What do you think of when you hear Caribbean vacation? Probably a mega resort on some beautiful beach with turquoise waters and a hot waiter serving you daiquiris on the beach. Well, my option includes some of those things (want to guess which?) and will cost you a fraction of the price you would pay at a mega resort!
What if I told you that you could sleep a 5 minute walk away from a beach like this for $13.50 a night?
I’m talking about Palmar Tent Lodge.
Palmar Tent Lodge is an Eco-Lodge, dedicated to sustainability. The Lodge is solar powered, so if you want to charge your devices you bring them to the front desk during daylight hours. All water on the property is filtered rainwater. During my stay, there was little water as it hadn’t rained too much in the past week. Water conservation meant limited showers. But who needs a shower when the ocean is a stone’s throw away? If I have to forgo a personalized outlet next to my bed and a hot shower whenever I feel like it in the name of sustainability, I will do my small part.
For $13.50 a night you can stay in an 8-bed dorm “tent.” The dorm tent has a tin roof and canvas walls, so it’s not actually as “rough” as it sounds. In fact, I slept incredibly during my time at Palmar. (Part of that may have been due to the fact that I was at long last bed bug free)
There are more upscale accommodations available at Palmar Tent Lodge, the most expensive being the “King Jungalow,” a 2 floor cabina with a private bathroom, at $105 during high season.
But the dorm bed more than suited me, so I booked my four night stay and got excited for my off the grid Caribbean vacation from my perpetual vacation.
The only thing that may be slightly disappointing to backpackers is the lack of kitchen at Palmar. For me, a total eating out junkie, I was secretly thrilled to have an excuse NOT to cook in a dingy hostel kitchen.
Instead, every guest gets a tab when they check in, and all meals, accommodations, yoga classes, excursions, etc. are all put on the tab to be paid at check out. Yes, this is extremely dangerous for those of us with no self control when it comes to money. I am definitely not one of those people. Nope.
Thankfully, the food is reasonably priced at around $3.50-14 per meal. Though they do get away with a bit of a hike in prices due to the fact that there are few other dining options for guests. I don’t mind paying a bit more for quality, though, and the food was of good quality.
During the day, there are plenty of things to keep you occupied. You can go on a snorkel tour like I did (separate post about that on the way!), attend a yoga class in Palmar Tent Lodge’s private yoga sala, surf, or just chill on Red Frog beach. Red Frog is the most famous beach on Isla Bastimentos, and for good reason.
Kindle in hand, I wiled away hours at a time lying on one of Palmar’s beach chairs, looking out at the crystal clear water.
I really meant to get a surfing lesson. I really did. At only $35 a lesson, I was determined to make Palmar the place I finally got up on a board. Unfortunately, the rip tide was really strong while I was there, which made even swimming a full body workout. If you do go to Palmar Tent Lodge, or Red Frog Beach in general, make sure you don’t make the same mistake I did!
At night, make new friends! I was a bit apprehensive that since Palmar has more of a “lodge” feel to it than a “party hostel” feel (part of what drew me to it!), I would be alone for four days with no one to talk to. While I am an introvert and enjoy long stretches of time by myself, it’s also nice to have friends around to share all the good memories with. I was so thrilled to find myself staying up late chatting with new friends and drinking rum punches.
Palmar Tent Lodge offers group lodging as well as private accommodations, so there is a very social atmosphere. I met people from all walks of life there. A couple from Chile who spoke hardly any English, forcing me to give my Spanish skills a real world whirl. A solo female traveler like myself from Connecticut, who I connected with about almost everything under the sun. And a couple on their pre-moon Honeymoon, all the way from England! One of the friends I made on the main island even came over for a day to enjoy Palmar’s amenities and gossip on the beach with me.
Despite the aforementioned rum punches, most days I woke up early enough to attend the morning yoga class. As I said before, Palmar Tent Lodge has its’ own yoga sala, where volunteer yoga teachers lead classes twice a day.
I took class with the talented MK (who I also got a delightful massage from) one morning, and the other two with Tucker, a traveling yogi.
I asked him if I could take some pictures of him posing in the beautiful yoga sala, and he graciously agreed. If these photos don’t sell you on booking your stay at Palmar Tent Lodge, I’m not sure what will.
You’re welcome, ladies and gentlemen.
At the end of my four days on Isla Bastimentos, I didn’t want my Caribbean vacation to end! I would have happily spent months of my life lazing around on Red Frog Beach, doing yoga, and eating all of the fresh fish. The only slight bummer is that you have to pay a LOT of money for Wifi (Okay, a lot to me is $10 per device for four days, but still..) If I was one of those people who could survive for months without Wifi I would have totally moved in.
So if you’re scrolling through Instagram, getting totally jealous of everyone’s beautiful beach pics, don’t despair! Know that there’s an inexpensive Caribbean vacation waiting for you on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro!
What I Spent
$271.91 Total for 5 Days & 4 Nights
$115 – Food & Drink (Including water because when I stayed there they were fixing their filtration system. Normally they offer a one time fee to refill a water bottle as much as you’d like.)
$62.37 – 4 Nights in a Dorm Bed
$35 – Snorkel Tour
$19.98 – Wifi on my Laptop & Phone for 4 days (Yes, you have to pay per device, which is highly annoying)
$18 – 3 Yoga classes (Guests pay $6/class, All others pay $10)
$17.56 – Tax
$4 – Transportation to the Island
How I Got There
I took Palmar’s boat that leaves at 5PM from Raw Fusion Restaurant and costs $4. There is also one at 10AM.
Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!
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I was not paid or endorsed in any way by Palmar Tent Lodge. I’m just a very happy customer who wants to share the love!
Eva Casey is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to “Eva Explores ” (amazon.com, or endless.com, MYHABIT.com, SmallParts.com, or AmazonWireless.com).