See allSeven Affordable, Under-the-Radar Beach Destinations

by , SmarterTravel Staff - January 12, 2009
Panama - Al Natural Resort on Isla Bastimentos

Isla Bastimentos, Panama

Looking for the next Costa Rica? Just head down the coast a few miles to Panama and the Isla Bastimentos, part of the Bocas del Toro archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, a 20-square-mile island that's a microcosm of some of Panama's top tourism offerings. Here you'll find virgin rainforests home to sloths and monkeys, offshore coral gardens and mangrove islands perfect for snorkeling, and stunning beaches pounded by Hawaii-sized waves.

The island's Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos ($10 for admission), which encompasses rainforest, beaches, and coral reefs, is an essential stop for all visitors. Most people come to snorkel the coral gardens and Cayos Zapatillas, two little shoe-shaped islets off the main island. On the land, guides can take you on hikes through the forest to see animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys and poison dart frogs. For the best beaches, go to the northern part of the island. Big waves and strong currents make the beaches unfriendly to swimmers, but the sight of the waves and the lack of bathers makes for postcard-worthy strolls.

To really get away from it all, stay at the Al Natural Resort, a series of six open air bungalows set in the forest with views of the sea. Rates start at $180 for the first night and $130 for subsequent nights.

(Photo: Al Natural Resort)

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