7 reasons you’ll love the overwater bungalows at Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge

In CENTRAL AMERICA, LUXURY HOTELS by Janice and George16 Comments

punta caracol

Say what? Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge? Where in the world is this?

You know the Maldives is famous for its overwater bungalows, some with glass panels in the floor where you can see tropical fish doing lazy-eights right below. And you’ve heard about the honeymoon-worthy overwater bungalows in Bora Bora. (We’ve been fortunate to enjoy four indulgent nights at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, where we frequently dove right off our deck into Bora Bora’s ridiculously blue lagoon.)

But Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge? Until we stayed here a couple of months ago, we weren’t familiar with it either.

Well, it’s built on stilts in the water off Isla Colon, which is the main tropical island in Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of islands along Panama’s Caribbean coast. (We also stayed on Isla Bastimente in Bocas at Casa Cayuco – see our review of Casa Cayuco here.)

If you love being close to the water, you might just want to bookmark Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge for a future trip.

punta caracol

Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge is built entirely on stilts over the water

Here are 7 reasons you’ll love staying at Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge

Want a good pin for Pinterest? Just click on the image below :-).

punta caracol aqua lodge

1.  Amazing snorkeling

The snorkeling right from Punta Caracol’s overwater bungalows is nothing short of FABULOUS! The lodge is built over a coral reef. While the reef (ten feet or so below the water’s surface) itself isn’t all that exciting, the variety and abundance of marine life sure is.

Simply put on your mask and fins and step down the ladder hanging off your deck to see needle fish; delicate sea spiders; butterfly fish; yellow-and-black striped Sergeant Majors; giant pillowy-looking pumpkin-colored sea stars; and tiny neon-blue fish that poke their hands out of holes in the sand floor, then retreat when you swim over them.

We spied a barracuda, at least six feet in length, hanging motionless in the water underneath one bungalow.

And a conch, the size of a football, was fascinating to watch as it crawled slowly along.

To top things off, the aquamarine water is crystal clear and warm.

2.  Cute cabins

Originally built in 2000, Punta Caracol’s nine two-storey wooden cabins are very cute. Perched on stilts over the water, they’re gaily painted in pastel colors of yellow and mint green. They sport thatched roofs and use conch shells instead of door handles.

Did you ever spend summers as a child at a rustic cottage? That’s how these cabins feel inside.

The main floor of each cabin has painted wood floors, wooden roll-up blinds over the windows, open wood shelves, two narrow daybeds and a small round table. The bathroom has a painted washstand with mirror and faded red tile floors (also a red tile and concrete shower stall).

Climb up a rickety wood ladder-cum-staircase to the second floor (be careful you don’t bang your head!) and you find a king-size bed shrouded in mosquito netting. A large opening in the side of the thatch roof lets in the breeze and light; heavy plastic drapes on either side can be untied to hang down and block out the light or prevent rain from entering.

punta caracol aqua lodge

The main floor of the two-storey bungalows is furnished with a couple of simple daybeds

Such a cute bathroom with an old-fashioned washstand!

punta caracol aqua lodge

Climb these stairs to reach the second floor of your bungalow (where you’ll find a king-size bed)

3.  Being unplugged

There is no TV, no radio, no telephone, and no electricity to plug in your electronic toys (but there is a communal charging dock for cell phones and tablets in the restaurant). And what a nice feeling it is to be unplugged from the frenetic outside world! Wi-Fi is available in the restaurant if you need it.

punta caracol aqua lodge

Over breakfast, we’d plug in our gizmos at the communal charging station in the restaurant

punta caracol aqua lodge

We’d always choose a fruit plate at breakfast to accompany our eggs (while waiting for our electronic gadgets to be recharged)

4.  Few mozzies

Bocas del Toro is all about escapism surrounded by nature. Expect mosquitoes. But you’ll encounter far fewer mozzies and no-see-ums at Punta Caracol because it’s built over the sea and is blessed with good breezes.

5.  Eco-friendly operation

Punta Caracol gets kudos for striving to be as environmentally responsible as possible.

Natural building materials (native woods, bamboo, wild cane and clays) were used in building the lodge. Solar panels provide electricity and a bio-digestor debugs waste water. Only 2% of the lodge’s 100 acres are used for its operation; the other 98% is a private natural reserve. And bath products are eco-friendly, as is the soap used in their laundry facilities back in Bocas town, (where towels and sheets are taken by boat for laundering, along with all the trash).

One more thing the lodge could perhaps do is to provide refillable water jugs and glasses in the cabins, instead of plastic bottles of mineral water. (But we’re not eco-experts, so there may be reasons that militate against this.)

6.  Spectacular orange sunsets

We loved reading quietly at the end of the day and watching the sun set from the cushioned wood loungers and hammock on our deck.

punta caracol aqua lodge

Hammocks strung across the decks are a comfy place to watch the world go by and the sunset…

7.  Dolphin spotting

Playful dolphins are regularly spotted swimming close by the lodge.

punta caracol aqua lodge

You can walk along a boardwalk above the water into the mangrove forest ashore – photo Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge

If you stay at Punta Caracol Lodge

Location

  • Fly in:  We mentioned that Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge is in Bocas del Toro, Panama. We flew to Bocas from Panama City on Air Panama. (You can also fly in from Costa Rica on Nature Air.) The airport (really an airstrip and shack) is just outside the bohemian town of Bocas on Isla Colon.
  • Boat transfer:  You’re picked up from the airport and taken to Punta Caracol’s dock in Bocas town. From there, it’s a 20-minute speedboat ride to the lodge.

Rates

  • Rates:  For two people, an overwater bungalow costs about $450 to $500 USD (plus tax) per night in high winter season (December to March).
  • Inclusive rates:  Rates include a welcome cocktail, breakfast and three-course candlelight dinner, afternoon tea and cookies, bottled water in your room, WiFi, use of top quality snorkeling gear and kayaks, half-day excursion by boat to Starfish Beach, and transfers to/from the airport.

Be aware

  • Sea lice:  Sigh…. Paradise is rarely perfect. Apparently, people in the know are aware that Panama waters have teeny tiny jellyfish which cause little stings. They’re commonly referred to as “sea lice.” We mostly wore “onesies” – a thin, zip-up swimsuit with full arm and leg coverage, offering protection from the sun as well as stingy things in the water. (We’d bought them on our adventure cruise on the “Safari Voyager” which took us to Panama City from Costa Rica, after staff mentioned jellyfish could be more of an issue in Panama than in Costa Rica). The one time we didn’t wear them, we felt little stings, which bothered one of us (bet you can guess who). Other guests at Punta Caracol, including children, swam and snorkeled in regular swimsuits – and we never saw or heard anyone complaining.
  • No air-conditioning:  It’s hot and humid in Bocas (remember, you’re near the equator). There’s no air-conditioning to cool you off, just fans and the breeze (and swimming in the water during the day). Even with only a sheet (or no sheet), we found it warmish at night for sleeping until about 2:00 am. (But then, hailing from Canada, we’re accustomed to a colder climate.)

punta caracol


We were hosted as media guests at Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge. But we never let media invitations influence our reviews – our thoughts and words are always our own. Photos that aren’t ours are courtesy of Punta Caracol Aqua Lodge.


Janice and George Signature

Comments

  1. I heard about this as a friend stayed, but have never seen photos! Why would you go to the Maldives or Bora Bora if you can go somewhere un-spoilt like this?!

    1. Author

      Punta Caracol is pretty sweet — and easier to get to and less expensive for North Americans than going to the Maldives or Bora Bora. You’ll find more luxurious over-the-water bungalows in Bora Bora though (with air-conditioning and designer bath products, etc.). The ones at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora (where we stayed) were quite decadent. That’s probably also true in the Maldives, though we haven’t been there yet :-).

  2. Like many, I’ve often dreamed of staying in an over-water bungalow. But these are particularly cute! I really love snorkeling but I have wondered if I’d get a little bored after a while. Probably not, I can stare at the sea for hours!

    1. Author

      You probably wouldn’t get bored here :-). Most people only stay for a few days anyway — but with kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, beach exploring and of course reading, you’re kept as busy as most people want to be…

  3. Hi Janice: Looks like a dream location I would love to visit. A strange Q for you though: With those other bungalows nearby and presumably quite open to the air, do you hear “love sounds” coming from your neighbouring huts?

    1. Author

      Good question :-). Some people have said on TripAdvisor that they could hear their neighbors laughing or whatever. Punta Caracol was full when we were there, and we never heard other people’s sounds in our bungalow (just the breezes and water lapping against the stilts).

  4. What an amazing place! I’d love to stay there for a few days. Your photos are absolutely amazing!

    1. Author

      Glad you like our photos :-). Punta Caracol is pretty relaxing — especially if you spend a little time on your deck just soaking it all in or reading a book…

  5. Beautiful but yikes, expensive. We used to stay in places like this when we were working and had our 2 week vacations but since travelling full-time we’ve gotten cheap when it comes to lodging.
    I’s love to snorkle with dolphins though.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Author

      Funny you mention the cost. Punta Caracol is “reasonably priced” compared to what you’d pay in the Maldives, Tahiti or other places where overwater bungalows are more common :-). Especially when you consider that rates include breakfast and dinner…

      1. It’s all about perspective. For double that nightly rate we can stay a month in our favorite apartment in Prague. It looks gorgeous though.

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