Our time in Bocas del Toro, and Panama as a whole, was almost over. We’d chilled on Isla Colon, explored Isla Bastimentos, and day-tripped to Islas Zapatillas. But there was one more stop in our archipelago hop of Bocas del Toro to come: the infamous Aqua Lounge of Isla Carenero.
Only a few hundred meters and a few minute’s boat ride from Bocas Town on Isla Colon, Isla Carenero is no far-flung getaway. And yet Aqua Lounge might as well be a different planet. From, well, anywhere.
Looks innocent enough in those photos, right? That’s only because at that point, everyone was still nursing their hangovers from the night before. Aqua Lounge makes no secret of what it is — a spring break like getaway for backpackers. Which is a bit like the MTV version of spring break, except everyone smells worse and the hot girls have more tattoos and there are generally more dreadlocks and Australian accents involved.
We stayed at Aqua Lounge for three nights, the perfect amount of time to soak up the boozy nightlife and wear down the springs of the aquatic trampoline (plus, the place was packed — that was the only timeframe we could reserve beds for!). While we met others who based themselves at the hostel for their entire stay in Bocas and thus went off to explore every day, we had already done all our island hopping, so we pretty much stayed put. A tiny kitchen serving up fantastic snacks and smoothies at pretty decent prices made it easy not to leave.
You do have to be prepared to rough it a bit — there are only cold water showers and the beds were easily the most uncomfortable I have ever slept in. But it has its charms. The entire construction is over the water, and I loved rolling over in the morning and peeking at the water through the cracks in the floorboards. And, you know, the fact that the entire thing was a playground. That was another bonus.
Occasionally I would remember that there was an outside world out there, somewhere, or that we needed cash or supplies for dinner or some other thing that would necessitate getting up and putting on more than a bikini. And then I would convince Anders to get it and return to my trashy crime novel (hostel book exchanges rarely have New York Times best sellers, let me tell you) or hammock nap. It was a pretty fantastic little vacation.
I did the bare minimum of work while we were here, but put off anything that wasn’t urgent. The sun was finally out, the wifi wasn’t great anyway, and the frat-packer atmosphere didn’t really blend with business. So instead we played.
Our GoPros got quite the workout, and you can see the results in Ander’s fabulous Panama video. Sadly, at Aqua Lounge we said goodbye to my dearly departed waterproof iPhone case (which was the victim of an errant footstep) and one of our brand new reusable water bottles (which was the victim of a late-night water bottle kidnapping). We saw more than one iPhone being placed in a bag of rice during our stay — if you’re headed to Aqua Lounge or any other water-based party hostels around the world, I highly recommend getting some sealed cases for your electronics.
One of my dear travel friends had been raving to be about Aqua Lounge since I first announced I was Panama bound — she had arrived to spent a few nights and didn’t leave til two weeks later — so it really felt like the trip was coming full circle.
On our final morning on Isla Carenero, we went for a stroll around the tiny island to see what we’d been missing. We passed friendly locals chatting on their neighbor’s stoops, ramshackle general stores, and fancy sailboats tied up to rubbish-strewn harbors. It was charming and authentic, and almost made me regret my days spent doing little more than cheerleading jumps into the ocean. Almost. But not really. That trampoline wasn’t going to bounce itself!
Can you believe this post marks my final dispatch from Panama? My month there was such a highlight in my travels and reliving it here with all of you has been another one.
Thanks for coming along for the ride, guys.