Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, Bocas del Toro Province, Panama
GPS: 9.3200848038516, -82.143618100932
Located in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, off Almirante Bay, Bastimentos Island is home to Panama’s first protected marine park. It covers an area of 130 km², almost all of which is in the maritime zone. Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park includes a series of islands, islets and sandbanks of great scenic beauty, accessible only by boat. More broadly, this territory is part of the “New World” discovered by Christopher Columbus at the very beginning of the 16th century. When he landed on the coast of Panama in 1502, the Genoese navigator built one of the first Spanish colonial settlements on the American continent. Captivated by the splendour of the place, Columbus made initial contacts with the Cueva people and continued his journey to Jamaica in search of the Indies. The indigenous tribe of the Cueva disappeared completely after the Spanish colonisation in the middle of the 16th century and the Panamanian coast became an important base for pirates (English, French and Dutch) in the second half of the 17th century.
Founded in 1988, Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park has one of the largest mangrove areas in the Caribbean in its southern part. The latter provides habitat for red and white mangroves, a dense forest of tropical shrubs established along the shores of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. At the other end of the spectrum, Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park boasts numerous white sandy beaches prized for their crystal clear waters, palm tree cover, abundant marine life and coral reefs. The largest island (Isla Colón) of the archipelago is home to the provincial capital of Bocas del Toro, built in the early 20th century. It is a meeting place for different cultures and languages and is an essential starting point for exploring the main curiosities of the park. Many of them lead to the island of Bastimentos, which is as much appreciated for its surf spots as for the beauty and tranquillity of its beaches. It is covered by a thick tropical forest in its centre (populated by countless frogs) and contains a cave where many bats escape at dusk.
This exotic paradise, rich in biodiversity, is entirely free of roads and traffic. Inhabited by some 2,000 people year-round, Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park is known as an important nesting site for four different species of sea turtles (some of which are threatened with extinction). Invariably and for reasons still largely unexplained by biologists, they come to lay their eggs in the same place every year. This phenomenon occurs from April to September on the beaches of Playa Larga and the Caribbean islands of Zapatilla Cays.