Join Us At Green Acres Chocolate Farm For An Informative Experience

A trip to the Green Acres Chocolate Farm is unlike any other chocolate tour. That soon becomes clear as we pull up in the boat to this lush hillside rainforest and botanical wonderland.

Chocolate Farm Tour Sign

We encounter howler monkeys bellowing from the distant treetops, sloths hanging from the mangroves and toucans, fruit crows, and black-chested jays flying between the mature fruiting trees of this protected forest. The tour is a tropical nature experience. Gary takes us meandering through his dazzling botanical refuge. He explains about flora and fauna and our essential connections to all this abundant life that grows around us.

Plants and Trees at Chocolate Farm

We walk along in the shade of giant fig, almendro, and wild nutmeg trees towering above us. Gary explains how these cacao trees can grow and produce within the shade of the rainforest, thus maintaining the cycling of nutrients through this rich, healthy ecosystem. This cycle benefits both the cacao and the rainforest trees alike. He explains the fascinating process of growing chocolate in the rainforest. He touches on how the insects, squirrels, and monkeys play an important part in the life history of the cacao trees. These trees hold those precious, antioxidant-rich seeds that have made for a worldwide addiction.

Poison Dart Frog Bocas del Toro

We find an array of herpetofauna: golden-headed geckos, Talamanca Rocket frogs, and the stunning green-and-black poison dart frogs. The poison dart frogs gleam a most outrageous shade of emerald green, marked with a smattering of black blotches. Each each individual frog has its own unique “fingerprint.” These primarily terrestrial frogs hop along, searching for ants, oblivious to the excitement they cause. To maintain their toxicity, poison dart frogs feed upon ants for the poison which they excrete from glands when they feel threatened.   

Chocolate Farm Collage

Gary leads us back down to the waterfront to a tiny processing shed. With a drying platform and fermentation shed on either side of it. The “chocolate factory” or Casita Cacao, is a small-scale operation which was macgyvered by original owner Dave Cerutti using household tools, PVC piping, and small motors. This set up processes the dried cacao beans into nibs and then grinds and melts it into bars. The bars are sold to groups like us who come visit the farm.
When Gary arrived at Green Acres in 2019, he was already well invested in his non-profit, Planet Rehab. This organization is dedicated to wildlife and environmental conservation and education. Gary has interwoven this chocolate farm experience as an opportunity to impart what he has learned about how we can help care for and support local ecosystems. One initiative, planting endangered native tree species, is a component of a healthy rainforest and a way to work with the indigenous Ngöbe community.

Chocolate Farm Product Collage

By the end of the half-day tour, we tasted, enjoyed, and appreciated the rainforest and the decadence of Bocas del Toro’s gold: 100% cacao. Oh, and maybe a delicious shot of Green Acres’ famous chocolate rum as we cheer “salad!” to a beautiful day of learning and love for nature and its biodiverse bounty.

Broken System Breeds Complications in Authentic Relationships

Choosing to lay a groundwork of mutual respect has been an essential part of the foundation for our business.

We believe it has contributed to the fact that we have not had any issues with neighbors or our direct community about property lines. We have a respectful relationship with most of our immediate neighbors.

The strained relationships are strained because we value following laws and regulations, and our neighbors do not have faith in that system. We get it. The infrastructure of the legal system and the government of a long-forgotten province is limited. People have not been accustomed to abiding by the law within such a scenario. Why? Because it is not enforced at all levels. It goes toward the low-hanging fruit and foreigners first when it is attempted. Local people get a pass. Again, it makes sense, but if this community wants to sustain itself in the long run, it needs to include equal enforcement under the law as it charts its path towards regeneration.

As a lawyer, I may be more apt to see these things, yet it is visible. Any time you choose or allow officials to determine whether to enforce a law – it opens the door to corruption. Then there are the laws that might make sense in some parts of the country but not in others. When attempting to enforce a law that physically cannot be applied – officials must turn a blind eye. If the site is to prosper, passing a more limited law or one specific to an area must be part of the plan.

There is a tiny mangrove island islet in front of Tranquilo Bay. We didn’t want anything to be developed on it, so we needed to buy it. Two different people claimed ownership of it, yet neither had occupied it, so it was impossible to confirm. One party had been around longer and had permitted the other party to build in front of a different piece of land. That second party never purchased any land – only built over the water in front of a piece of land. Over time the second party expanded its footprint and abused the gift the first party had given them. We knew that we had to purchase whatever rights both parties believed they had to eliminate any possible issues in the future. So we did – we bought the possessory right to that islet from two different people.

Why? We purchased a tiny island from two parties to maintain community and to dispose of any future problems for ourselves. Lauren Morton defines community as act, “Community is an intentional action rooted in faith, peace, truth, and love.” We chose to buy land from two non-possessory parties because it circles back to having a permanence mindset as part of our decision-making compass.

Caribbean Sea Adventure: Bocas Mangrove Kayak & Snorkel You Will Love

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite tours – and it is the strangest at the same time. We visit the colorful and complex submarine world located within the Caribbean waters. With the help of a kayak, a diving mask, and a snorkel, we discover innumerable corals, fish, jellyfish, crustaceans, and many other living beings, very different from those we see on land.

We begin from Tranquilo Bay’s dock, where we board the kayaks to go to the mangrove lagoon. To reach it, we paddle for a few minutes through the bay’s calm waters until we hit the mangroves. Once there, we cross through passageways and narrow tunnels of this peculiar marine forest dominated by red mangroves.

Slowly crossing this habitat in the kayaks, we appreciate several crabs of different sizes and colors, moving on to the aerial roots of the mangroves. A little higher up in the upper branches, with some luck, we spot kingfishers, herons, warblers, and other birds specialized in this micro-ecosystem.

These forests can look very similar, appearing drab and unproductive. But in reality, they are complex ecological communities, which are the habitat of hundreds of species from different kingdoms. Mangroves gradually colonize the shores of the sea, trapping sediment with their roots, creating soil, and at the same time decomposing biomass, perfect as a habitat for crabs, shrimp, insects, and other invertebrates. Of course, life is not restricted to the sediments and the aerial zone of the mangroves; inside the water, there are endless other organisms.

Dwarf Round Herring (Jenkinsia lamprotaenia) swimming between the mangrove roots
Dwarf Round Herring (Jenkinsia lamprotaenia) swimming between the mangrove roots

We submerge and start snorkeling once we arrive at the open lagoon. The roots of the red mangrove are an excellent site for fish reproduction; they are like the ocean’s nursery. It is possible to observe many kinds in this area: Dwarf Round Herring, Schoolmaster, Striped Parrotfish, French Grunt, Three-spot Damselfish, and Neon Gobies. Clams and colorful sea sponges may also be seen attached to the roots. And that’s not all; the lagoon shelters many Upside-down Jellies, who take refuge on the ground in the middle of the small lake, with their tentacles pointing upwards as if they were anemones. Diving in a little, it is possible to appreciate these strange organisms from very close, without any risk.

 Upsidedown Jelly (Cassiopea frondosa)
Upsidedown Jelly (Cassiopea frondosa)

After having met the main species of the lagoon, we go up again in the kayaks, this time heading to the coral reefs, located on the opposite side of the mangroves.

Corals and mangroves have a unique symbiotic relationship. In contrast, mangroves hold the excess sedimentation keeping it from returning to marine waters. Coral reefs protect mangroves from strong waves; thus, each benefits the other.

It’s time for another stop in the ocean; in this area, the reef landscape is dominated by Fire Corals, Branched Finger Corals, Boulder Star Corals, Boulder Brain Corals, and sea sponges in various shapes, sizes, and colors. This underwater “garden” is home to hundreds of species of fish and other fascinating creatures.

Photo: Striped parrotfishes (Scarus iseri) & Boulder Brain Coral
Photo: Striped parrotfishes (Scarus iseri) & Boulder Brain Coral

Without much difficulty, very close to the surface, you can see Blue-headed Wrasse, Yellowtail Damselfish, Slippery Dick, Great Barracuda, Four-eye Butterflyfish, Blue Tang Surgeonfish, Stoplight Parrotfish, and several others. Delving a little deeper, it is possible to see crabs, lobsters, and with luck, rays, and even sharks and octopuses.

Yellow Stingray (Urolophus jamaicencis)
Yellow Stingray (Urolophus jamaicencis)

In terms of biodiversity, coral reefs worldwide are comparable to tropical forests due to the large number of species they contain. In just 0.1% of the ocean’s surface, they have about 25% of all marine species.

The Bocas del Toro area has more than 280 species of corals and jellyfish, 220 species of fish, and hundreds of other marine animals, such as worms, clams, snails, crustaceans, and echinoderms.

In a few snorkels around Tranquilo Bay, it is possible to observe around 40 to 50 species of fish and many other organisms of this marine microcosm. So, make sure you take this tour and dare to peek into the Caribbean waters. With the help of a simple mask and a snorkel, you will be able to discover a hidden world full of surprises.

Foureye Butterflyfish x2 (Chaetodon capistratus) & Striped parrotfish x2 (Scarus iseri)
Foureye Butterflyfish x2 (Chaetodon capistratus) & Striped parrotfish x2 (Scarus iseri)

Mutual Respect Supports Creation of Promising Private Conservation Reserve

Tranquilo Bay’s path to regeneration has been a winding trail with ups, downs, and spills. We didn’t start our business with a defined intention to set up our space within the vocabulary we find in regeneration now, and yet – we did.

Our approach has been more about being a permanent part of the community in which we live. We believe this colors all decisions one makes. When you begin with a permanence mindset and know you are in for a long haul, you make different decisions than if you expect to be around for a season of life.

Because we planned on making Bocas del Toro our home, we took steps to manage our relationships with our neighbors and our community from the beginning. When we completed the survey for the land we were purchasing, we walked the boundaries. We made sure the surveyor drew the survey lines correctly. We spoke to each of our neighbors to ensure we had the limits right. We confirmed that no one else had a stake in the land we were purchasing. We got to know our neighbors, and we began a relationship of mutual respect in these types of matters.

Conservation Reserve Infographic

Dr. Brené Brown tells us that “when we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” We didn’t want to feel used or mistreated, nor did we want our neighbors to feel that way. So, we set appropriate boundaries and became contributing members of our community.

We applied our values of taking care of your immediate neighborhood to our new home. All our adjacent neighbors became our immediate neighborhood.

Laying this groundwork has been an essential part of the foundation for our business. Mutual respect rather than an assumption of privilege makes for a far better long-term relationship.

What does mutual respect look like? How do you know if it is present or if you are pursuing it?

For us, it meant making sure we knew where the boundaries lay. Then we knew where we stopped, and our neighbors started. It meant we were responsible for our side and not crossing onto their side.

It meant structuring land deals so that both parties had a long-term benefit and relationship. In Bocas del Toro, many people sold their land only to be without cash in a short time because the money came and went. If we were purchasing a piece of land from someone that wasn’t a part of their primary residence, we would buy it straight away because there was no concern about the community’s trajectory. However, whenever we purchased land that was a part of someone’s residence, we took a different path.

We structured a payment plan that worked best for that person and transaction. Structuring it this way gave each party a benefit. The party we were purchasing from had an extended source of regular income. We gave them a sufficient down payment to have a cash bump. They could do something like make significant improvements, buy a boat, or provide a dividend for each of their children. In return, we were able to pay for our investment over time.

Some of the payment plans were based on a set value for the property – those were paid out over a shorter period. Others were based upon a much longer payout where we guaranteed a half-salary for them for many years or until death. While we didn’t know the ultimate price for the land under this setup, we believed it was the right way to support our community.

Local Bocas Naturalist Guide Encounters Banded Royal Terns

The North American Bird Banding Program was created to study bird movements, survival, and behavior. Since 1904, 60 million birds have been banded in North America, representing hundreds of species. More than 4 million bands have been recovered. The program is under the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Yet, the most crucial collaborator in the chain is the curious observer (located anywhere in the world), who in the field detects a banded bird and makes the respective report on the web: www.reportband.gov.

The largest seabird colony in Virginia, USA, is a small island dominated by tens of thousands of nesting Royal Terns each spring. It is home to one of the banding sites researchers use to discover where these terns travel in winter.

Royal terns are an example of how migratory birds connect us all to remote places. Yet the habitats on which Royal Terns and other seabirds depend are threatened by numerous factors, including climate change, human disturbance, and the proliferation of predators.

Records of Royal Terns reported with bands in Central America are very scarce. Still, as the number of birders and the curiosity to observe details grows, this could increase annual records in Central America.

While on several birding tours along the western Caribbean slope offered through Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge, that included the San San-Pond Sak Wetland (International Ramsar Site 611), one of our guides, Roger Morales, has been on the trail of several individuals banded from Near Hampton, Hampton City, Virginia, USA (36°59’30.0 “N 76°18’30.0 “W), by Dr. James D. Fraser.

Roger’s first encounter with a banded bird was on December 4, 2021, in the vicinity of the Changuinola River with a Royal Tern who had a white band and black numbers and code 349. Then the next day, he finds a group of Royal Terns. One of those individuals had a band with code 93C. In Roger’s search to know where these terns came from, he finds www.reportband.gov. He reports his sightings. These reports become vital records for scientific studies to learn the winter movements and distance traveled as part of their yearly migratory journey.

Roger’s next observation happened on December 12, 2021, of an individual with code 46N. The first two observed were banded in July 2020; perhaps it was their first or second migratory journey through Central America, whereas the last observed had been tagged in July 2021, which meant its first trip to the Central American Caribbean.

Three months following the first observations, Roger finds a large group of Royal Terns on another Tranquilo Bay tour in the Changuinola River. This group included two banded individuals. And as a more incredible surprise, he detects that they were two of those he previously found: codes 93C and 46N. Maybe these individuals spent their winter on the coasts of Bocas del Toro.

During the following weeks, on March 11, we found bird 93C again in the same site of the Changuinola River. On March 13, in the Sixaola River (within Ramsar site 611), we found bird 46N next to a new marked tern with code 0M1. The distance between each reporting site is less than 20 km in a straight line.

This continues to be exciting for our visitors. We enjoy our ability to contribute to the knowledge of these species throughout. Learning about their life history and how these terns have managed to travel approximately 3,125 km straight from their nesting or hatching site to the coasts of Bocas del Toro.

We will continue contributing citizen science data to support researchers and the marine migrant species that visit Central America year after year.

Learn More About Bocas Eco Lodge’s Remarkable Economic Impact

During the pandemic pause, I studied the Economic Nutrition label that @shorefastfogoisland uses for its social enterprises. In an article entitled “5 Regenerative Solutions For A Positive Future Through Tourism” where @regenerativetravel summarized takeaways from its 2020 Regenerative Travel Summit, Zita Cobb from Shorefast championed radical transparency so that “we can avoid all of the greenwashing and the social washing and the marginalizing of local people, because it’s not dignified for local people, and it’s not dignified for the visitors.”⁣

Her stance, and our studies of our own business, caused us to review our own economic impact. What Shorefast has done and what companies such as Everlane are doing in a retail environment is give the consumer more information about where their money is going. We want to do the same.⁣

Thus we went back and looked at our impact for 2019 since it was a “normal” year. We hadn’t set up our accounting to manage the information as well as we could, but it gave us a baseline to begin from. In 2020 we updated our Chart of Accounts and our regular accounting to better provide information in the future.⁣

Economic Benefit Distribution is a measure of all expenditures made by Tranquilo Bay. Our instance includes Labor & Benefits, purchases from businesses and people within various distances from Tranquilo Bay within Panama, and then those expenses completed outside of Panama. ⁣

Once the number is calculated based on the data within each category, it is then formatted as a percentage of the total company expense.⁣


60% of our expenditures are made within the archipelago and province of Bocas del Toro. An incremental 24% is made within 100 KM of the lodge, so 84% of our expenditures are made within 100 KM of the lodge. We spend about 5% of our total expenditure within Panama but outside of this 100 KM radius which takes all of our spending within Panama to 89%.⁣

So we have 11% of the funds we spend paid to businesses and people outside of Panama itself. We haven’t drilled down into specific items as to whether or not they are made within Panama only from whom we purchase them. One area where we aspire for improvement would be determining where we stand with local goods purchased from grocery stores, etc. We updated our accounting for 2020 to incorporate more detail to calculate that information.⁣

Community Dollar Flow is a measure of all funds that flow into a community because of a particular company. Our instance includes Labor & Benefits, purchases from businesses and people within a 100 KM distance from Tranquilo Bay, gratuities left for staff, donations made within a 100 KM distance from Tranquilo Bay, and volunteer hours provided within 100 KM distance from Tranquilo Bay. Once the number is calculated based on the data within each category, it is then formatted as a percentage of the total company expense.

It is possible to exceed 100% of company expenses within the direct community because the inputs are broader. We are not there yet, but we can continue to aspire for improvement.

This is a graphic example of Community Dollar Flow. ⁣

  1. Labor and benefits paid to or on behalf of our staff.⁣
  2. Purchases from people and businesses within 100 KM of Tranquilo Bay. This includes both goods and services. A local tour, transportation, and food vendor would all be included within this category.⁣
  3. Gratuities left for our staff outside of our guides. Our guide tips tend to be direct, and we do not account entirely for these amounts.⁣ Beginning in 2022, we will also include the guide tips as appropriate.
  4. Donations, either in cash or in-kind, made by Tranquilo Bay or our guests within 100 KM of Tranquilo Bay.⁣
  5. Volunteer hours provided by lodge ownership, staff, or guests within 100 KM of Tranquilo Bay. These hours are accounted for at local labor or consulting levels as they are all provided in kind.⁣

    Taking the total of each of these categories into consideration, for 2019, 97% of our expense level flows directly into the community within 100 KM from Tranquilo Bay. This differs from the 89% of our direct expenses within Panama. We have also added categories three, four, and five, which are contributions to the community yet are not a direct expense.⁣

We now look at this information monthly to ensure things are staying in line and heading in the direction we want. We won’t update it annually until we have a full year of business, and we didn’t have that in 2020 or 2021. We are hopeful that in 2022 we will be open the entire year.⁣

Join Us For An Interesting Night Hike In Bocas

The forest becomes very noisy at twilight; it’s time for the cicadas to gather, signifying that nightfall is almost here.

Valiant’s Frog by Roger Morales

As we dine, reveling in the culinary delights of Panama, we realize that we are not the only species present. A rodent with huge eyes and a captivating gaze catches our attention on the main building’s balcony. A small Wooly Opossum enjoys bananas placed on the bird feeders. How lucky we were! Having the animal close enough to photograph is a real privilege. It is one of several regular visitors to the feeders at night. Other species may appear at any time, such as the Great Four-eyed Opossum, fruit bats, and even night monkeys.

Anxious to start our nocturnal adventure, we finish with dinner. As soon as we turn on the flashlights, we notice movements in the Hagua tree in front of the dining room. A family of Crab-eating Raccoons is eating the fruits of the Genipa. We hadn’t even started the tour, and we had already seen two species of mammals!

We stroll towards the mangrove. Once inside the wetlands, we observe various crabs, spiders, and grasshoppers among the leaves of the red mangrove. This red mangrove extends to the seashore. We can also see needlefish, gobies, and a yellow stingray in the ocean, resting at the bottom near a coral reef. On the way back from the main dock, we hear strange noises – almost as if they were explosions. These are made by Pistol Shrimps. This species lives underwater and in mud, yet we can listen to their “explosions,” which they make by expelling bubbles from their pincers at high speed. These explosions manage to stun their prey so that the shrimp may capture them.

We continue with the search for nocturnal animals. Without going too far, we find a snake resting on the leaf of a palm tree, waiting for its prey. It is a Brown Vine Snake, harmless to us, so we can approach it quietly to observe it better and take some pictures. Its extended length is surprising in relation to its slender body.

Photo by Hugo Santa Cruz

During the walk, we hear different sounds, some of them belonging to frogs and others to insects. We follow one sound. After several minutes of searching, we locate a tiny Caribbean Dink Frog. This frog is about the size of the guide’s thumbnail. Who would have thought a tiny creature could emit such a loud sound? We see several amphibians and reptiles along the way: a Green Climbing Toad, a Talamanca Rocket Frog, and a Savage’s Bull Frog, as well as a Striped Basilisk, a Smooth Helmeted Iguana, and some anoles.

Photo by Hugo Santa Cruz

We hear soft movements above our heads during the thorough search for amphibians and reptiles; these aerial sounds cannot indicate anything else… a two-toed sloth! Wow, we didn’t expect that; so our attention immediately went to the forest canopy to see this beautiful nocturnal animal on the move.

Two Toed Sloth by Miguel Ibarra

On the way back to our cabins, we hear the Mottled Owl; but we can’t see it. That’s okay. Now we have an excellent excuse to do another night hike tomorrow. Maybe we can find the nocturnal monkeys?

Bocas Eco Lodge Describes Its Unique Guiding Principles

At Tranquilo Bay, we believe that people who experience an authentic, regenerative vacation create treasured memories, but we know treasured memories do not come easy. ⁣

How do you make sure you pick the right vacation? Are the places you are considering transparent about their sustainability and regenerative practices? ⁣

We hope so. That is why we are sharing this type of information about Tranquilo Bay within our transparency and impact series. ⁣

In “Move Over, Sustainable Travel. Regenerative Travel Has Arrived,” the New York Times writes, “Sustainable tourism is sort of a low bar. At the end of the day, it’s just not making a mess of the place. Regenerative tourism says, let’s make it better for future generations.” ⁣

We know that the best measurement we can track is how we improve against ourselves, not against a third party. Thus, we monitor specific metrics to determine how we are doing today and how things change over time. ⁣

If you fail to choose the best location, you could travel to another country and lose your hard-earned vacation time at a commercial green-washed “resort.” We want to help you make the right choice for you and your party. ⁣

We care about your vacation. We care about Bocas del Toro, Panama. We care about doing our part to be the change we want to see in the world. We know you want to do the same when you plan your vacation. ⁣

So, at Tranquilo Bay, we have a set of guiding principles that help us make decisions. This graphic gives you a basic overview of those principles and what’s behind them: steward, serve & sustain.⁣

Stewardship in Action

Under our first principle, which is stewardship, we work to conserve and regenerate that which has been placed into our hands such that we are accountable to the community and the world.⁣

⁣For us, stewardship is where regeneration comes in because regeneration is about “whole systems thinking.” It considers the history of a place to understand one’s role as a steward of the location and its people.⁣

⁣It is no easy feat – it requires specific critical actions to help us make the next right move each day. Within stewardship, we practice ownership or accountability, and we take responsibility for our actions or inaction. We remember to efficiently, diligently, and happily complete our work because we each have commitments to support our team.⁣

Service in Action

Our second principle is that we serve. We support all stakeholders through open-hearted curation and creative communication. This principle is where we practice “after you.” We put others before our self-interest to support our stakeholders: employees, families, guests, the local community, and the world. ⁣

⁣With some profit staying within Tranquilo Bay, we can support a group of employees, guests, the community, and the local economy. As you can see with the connected circles, each group is more inclusive than before. We all rely on one another to preserve and protect Bocas del Toro’s culture, flora, and fauna. A company must be profitable to continue to be a force for good. ⁣

⁣The Singapore Tatler writes, “More than sustainability, regenerative travel allows us to actively participate in reversing climate change and enriching communities.” While there are many definitions for sustainability and a growing number for regeneration, all include serving one another. We must get past our desires and work for the greater good. Our decision-making processes need to consider all creation because we live within that creation – there is no planet B.⁣

Sustainability in Action

Our third principle is that we must Sustain. We do the work that considers the long-term effect of our actions, and we must sustain the business to be a force for good. ⁣

Here we take responsibility for our actions or inaction. Because we know we must sustain this business, this principle reminds us to efficiently, diligently, and happily complete our work.⁣

⁣Under this principle, we place our work in community tourism, education, and science. We work with several different community tourism organizations in Panama, including the Chamber of Tourism of Bocas del Toro (“CAMTURBO”). CAMTURBO is responsible for supporting tourism throughout the province of Bocas del Toro through education, policymaking, and marketing for the destination.⁣

We are also members of APTSO – the sustainable tourism foundation for Panama. We have previously been a part of BSTA, a sustainable tourism alliance for Bocas del Toro. Sustainability is also where we assist local organizations that put children in Bocas del Toro first. We provide field trips for children or auction items for fundraisers for these groups.⁣

⁣As part of our education focus with our guests, it is vital to work with international and national organizations that document, preserve and catalog flora and fauna of Bocas del Toro. We also work with various scientists who study wildlife here in Bocas. You may see an inclusive list of these projects in our Impact Report.⁣

Our Why

Our values and decision-making process have evolved over the years. We embrace aspects of several different philosophies.⁣

We embrace the Triple Bottom Line at the bottom of the pyramid – people, place, and profit. This is where companies are responsible first and foremost to all their stakeholders, including everyone involved with the company, whether directly or indirectly, as well as the planet we’re all living on. But without making a profit – the company cannot continue to be a force for good, so it must make money to keep going.⁣

⁣With the next level – the World We All Deserve. Both environmental and social justice intersect for the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income concerning the development, implementation, and enforcement of laws, regulations, and policies. It’s a lot – but we work on it bit by bit.⁣

⁣The third level – is the aspirational side of regenerative tourism. We are never finished, and we can always learn more and do better once we know more.⁣

⁣And the last level – the one most easily defined as The Golden Rule, where we treat others as we would want to be treated.⁣

⁣We do all of this because it is just and right AND because doing so truly supports our guests’ vacations.⁣

Come Along On The Awesome Whisper Ecological Trail Adventure

Mangrove Creek Isla Popa

Following breakfast, we will leave the facility in a support boat. We take a 15-minute ride across Bastimentos National Marine Park over to the backside of Isla Popa.

In kayaks, (although we skipped them in this video) we will meander through the glassy calm waters of Enrique’s Creek through lush green vegetation. We will paddle through a mangrove creek over to the Whisper Ecological Trail, following the jungle’s edge. The mangrove forest we glide through includes Red, White, and Tea mangroves.


The Tea Mangrove or *Pelliciera rhizophorae* belongs to the “true mangroves” and is fascinating, endangered, and rare. This location is one of the last coastlines in Central America to support this magnificent and unique mangrove. It is called Tea Mangrove because of its leaves which contain tannins and other substances found in tea.

At the beginning of the Miocene Era (about 23 million years ago), Pelliciera rhizophorae had a wide distribution in the Caribbean. Its distribution was reduced by the early Pliocene Era (about 5 million years ago). This reduction in range appears to be related to changes in soil salinity within the mangrove ecosystems, rising seawater levels, and increasing competition from other more tolerant species. There are genetic differences in the leaves and flowers between the Tea Mangrove growing along the Pacific Coast and the same species in the Caribbean.


Poison Dart Frog Isla Popa

Many birds feed near the water’s edge. This jungle is home to trogons, toucans, rufous and green kingfishers, and various frogs and reptiles. As we walk, we listen to the soundtrack for this adventure that includes relaxing nature sounds, soothing water sounds, and birds singing.

Family at waterfall

We find insects, endemic amphibians, and rare reptiles along the trail. It leads to waterfalls and we traverse through rocks up to a small creek. After wading through the spring water, we make our way back to our kayaks as we check out both the flora and fauna this trail offers.

Our support boat will be waiting at the creek’s mouth to return to Tranquilo Bay.

Birding in Panama: Seasonal rarities & new additions!

In preparation for my trip to Tranquilo Bay I’d been scouring bird lists & cross referencing eBird reports to see what species occurred there. Living on the gulf coast of South Florida and with over a dozen past visits to Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador, I knew there would be many familiar species. Ranging from common Florida “yardbirds” to species I’d only encountered once or twice, but I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of species listed that I’d never seen (Bocas del Toro region has a high incidence of regional endemism). Whether familiar or brand new species, I’d long since determined that every sighting and wildlife encounter always brings a chance for new discovery, and I was thrilled at the prospect of returning to the tropics after a few years away and refreshing my memories of these seldom seen species! 

In my research, I was not surprised to note comparatively few June eBird reports from the Bocas Del Toro region (June is likely the least birded month in most areas with the fewest reports). On a phone conversation, I’d told owner Jim Kimball that I was looking forward to birding during this comparatively unexplored season, hoping we might turn up some surprises and add some meaningful local sightings. Jim replied that he was equally excited to get out and do some exploring, mentioning that he had “feathered fiends” on the mainland he hadn’t seen in over a year. At that moment, I knew Jim and I would get along just fine. It also reminded me that the many wildlife guides and lodge owners in the tropics, had been locked down and struggling over the past 16 months as well.

As expected, Luis Gles (a professional bird guide & researcher from SE Florida) and I encountered an amazing assortment of tropical birds and wildlife over our first two full days at Tranquilo Bay. Some were “old friends” & some new acquaintances, but none of these had been truly unexpected sightings. On day three, we set off early making our way across glassy calm waters toward the “Snyder Canal”. The golden morning light reflected beautifully off the water as we sped along passing perched Frigatebirds and a lone Brown Noddy. Numerous Black Terns in non-breeding plumage were bounding along the protected channels between mangrove islands throughout, and Brown Boobies glided low over the water with their bills gleaming brilliantly in the morning sun. Sharp-eyed Luis picked out an extremely pale Parasitic Jaeger lifting off the water and flying a short distance before lighting again. 

(Over our all too short week here we would photo document three distinctly different individual Parasitic Jaegers and count dozens of Black Terns, leading me to assume these non-breeding birds over-summer in these rich tropical waters in their first years rather than risking arduous migrations until they were ready to breed.)

Our friendly guides Jim, Natalia & Ramon had educated us on the local wildlife species and had shown us loads of species that we had little to no experience with. However, when we motored into the broad, tidal expanses of the Changuinola River mouth this changed a bit as the birding took on a very familiar feel. As the wide river opened-up before us, we began scanning the many sand flats and grassy edges noting birds we knew well from our South Florida homes. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Royal Terns were abundant on the exposed sand bars and Ramon picked out a pair of locally uncommon Black Skimmers roosting among them. There were less than a dozen reports of this species locally in total and this was only a third summer report for the region.

While documenting this locally uncommon sighting, Natalia spotted a bird standing against the taller grasses behind. I recognized the bird’s unique shape and color immediately as a favorite from home, and nonchalantly stated, “Limpkin”. Apparently, this species had only been detected on a couple past Tranquilo Bay trips ever and this was a first summer report on eBird for the entire region, making the sighting even more significant. We continued idling upriver scanning the flats and adding more unseasonal bird sightings:  a distant, Black-necked Stilt was the first June eBird report for this species in the region, and we added over-summering Spotted Sandpiper and Sanderlings (again both first June reports for the province) as well as a second individual Limpkin… We were on a roll!

Our next sighting would prove our MOST significant though, when a floppy-winged raptor pumped lazily three times and glided low and slow over the grasses on broad, bowed wings landing on a low snag on the distant shore. Another familiar South Florida specialty, I immediately called this “Snail Kite”. For the only time on the trip, I found myself in the extremely unique position of having more experience with a bird than my local guides. Snail Kite was not only a new addition to the all-time TB bird species list, but it had never been recorded (at any season) from the province nor western Panama as a whole! Jim had already turned the boat around and we were speeding toward this rare bird to get some images for documentation. When we got closer the motor speed was reduced and Luis and I began digiscoping images of this still somewhat distant juvenile bird from the bow of the still drifting boat. 

With documentation shots obtained, we once again continued upriver toward our picnic site. All of these rare sightings were now delaying lunch! 😉 Along the way, we spied another Limpkin perched and a pair flying together over the grassy marshes. Perhaps not wholly unexpected given the numbers of snail-eating Limpkins we were seeing but we were surprised to note not one but 2 additional Snail Kites here as well! 

Even though these were not new or unfamiliar species for me, these Kites were absolutely our most significant local bird sightings of the trip, representing new additions to the list of local avifauna in this part of Panama! Elated from the extremely successful morning of birding, we pulled the boat to the bank and enjoyed a delicious shore lunch topped with freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies and celebratory libations. As we were finishing our meals, one of the Snail Kites (a lovely adult female) perched nearby with an Apple Snail in her talons, joining us for lunch. With beer & cookie still in hand, I grabbed my spotting scope and began getting some higher quality digiscoped images and videos from land. We all proceeded to get some marvelous images before the bird took off to search of more snails and we toasted our good fortune.  I lifted the remainder of my beer and nabbed another scrumptious, home-made cookie. “Salud”! Life is good. 

Snail Kite was one of two species added to the cumulative Tranquilo Bay bird list during our trip, on the day prior we discovered and digiscoped a rare Slate-colored Seedeater (a lifer for all present)!