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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


Seeking Superpowers in the Bat Caves of Bastimentos

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The island of Bastimentos in the Bocas del Toro archipelago seems to me like a mini-ecosystem in itself. The largest island of the Archipelago is covered in dense forests, lined with breathtaking beaches, filled with exotic animals and plants and, I discovered, it hosts an intricate maze of a cave with swarms of nectar bats and a subterranean lake.

I am not sure what I expected to encounter when I first heard this information, but as usual, when I was asked if I wanted to tag along on a trip to the bat cave, I eagerly agreed.

Any appropriate adventure in Bocas del Toro begins with Chapo as your smiling, agile guide. If you're ever going to venture into the unknown, that is the man you want leading the way. Thus, myself and a group of students climbed into Chapo’s boat and made our way from Isla Colon to the mangroves of Isla Bastimentos. The thick mangroves created a path through the Bahia Honda creek just wide enough to allow the boat to navigate slowly through as we kept our eyes glued to the trees in hopes of catching sight of a sloth or other rare animals.

Part of Bastimentos from above. It was magical to navigate through the mangroves and tiny islets.
Part of Bastimentos from above. It was magical to navigate through the mangroves and tiny islets.

When we docked at the entrance of the Bastimentos Marine National Park (on the South side of the island), we gathered our headlamps from a local guide before following Chapo on the hike to the cave through a cacao plantation and the rainforest. The rainforest came alive with the sounds of birds and animals we couldn’t quite see. I found myself gazing up at trees so tall that they blocked out the sun. Suddenly, Chapo put a hand out to stop our trek. He pointed down to the foot of a tree and motioned for us to look closer. There, at the bottom of the tree was the elusive red frog of Bastimentos. Finally, after 6 months in Panama, I was looking down at the legendary creature that was no bigger than my fingernail! I had only a few seconds to snap a photo before it hopped out of sight.

The famous Red Frog
The famous Red Frog.

Thirty minutes later, we found ourselves at the mouth of Basti's famous Nivida Cave. I peered inside hesitantly and considered waiting for everyone at the entrance, but that would’ve cut this blog post too short. And thus, in the name of research, I put on a headlamp and joined Chapo and my fellow adventurers in the cave. Initially, the trek into the cave was easy, even as darkness enveloped us. However, the ceiling of the cave quickly sloped, the walls became more narrow, and the water level rose.

As a trailed behind the group with my camera held above my head, the bats occasionally swooped down and around us before returning to their perch. As the water level rose, I tried my best not to think about what could be in that water (you shouldn't either!) and to just keep moving forward. Soon, we had to leave all our belongings behind on a rock as the water level rose to our chests. Towards the end of the cave, we navigated a narrow path that led to a natural underground pool basking under the dim light of a hole in the ceiling of the cave.

Group of adventurers and Spanish students ahead of me inside Nivida Cave in Bastimentos.
Group of adventurers and Spanish students ahead of me inside Nivida Cave in Bastimentos..

As usual, Chapo had one last adventure up his sleeve! He showed us how to swim through the pool, climb out, and then dive into the water from above. I decided to pass on this adventure and watch from the safety of my perch. However, when we were making our way back out after everyone else had taken a leap into the water, I lost my footing on a rock and fell into the water!

I saw my life flash before my eyes as the commotion caused the bats to swarm. Then I realized that that wasn’t actually my life, it was the life of a young Bruce Wayne (Batman). One of my fellow adventurers reached out his hand and pulled me out of the water, no worse for wear. Once we returned to the light of day and exited the cave, I did a hopeful check for any sign of burgeoning superhero abilities but, alas, nothing exceptional came from my fall other than a good story to tell over a cool drink.

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We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years. So search our blog to plan your vacation. From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss. You'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while on vacation!


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