Investing in The Panama Eco Lodge Vacation You Will Love

A lot of people see a vacation as an expense. But we believe it is an investment. When you schedule a beautiful, sustainable, and memorable experience, it does more than make you feel good. It connects you with each member in your party. It lets you unplug and let go of your everyday. You try new things and relax. The investment you make today should be paid back in treasured memories that last a lifetime.

Experience Cost Per Minute Graph

We pursue and believe in treating your vacation as a precious investment. In trying to compare different breaks from your everyday, we looked at four experiences – one day trip to a Disney theme park, a day at Tranquilo Bay, a quick pop into a coffee shop, and a special occasion meal at Canlis. While all of them allow you to unplug, they each come with their own set of benefits and compromises as well as their own cost.

Disney Park Experience Cost Per Minute Per Person Wheel

Disney theme parks are the best value for your money at $0.14 per minute per person. This calculation is based upon the park entrance fee for the number of minutes the park is open. It does not include any meals, beverages, or special perks.

Tranquilo Bay Experience Cost Per Minute Per Person Wheel

Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge is an exceptional value at $0.24 per minute per adult. Children would be $.12 per minute each. This calculation is based upon the high season rate including taxes for 18 hours a day, assuming people sleep about eight hours. The price includes meals, beverages, guided activities onsite, use of the private conservation reserve and equipment among all of the other things included in the daily stay rate.

Coffee Shop Experience Cost Per Minute Per Person Wheel

Coffee shop coffee is a good value at somewhere around $.33 a minute per person assuming one purchases a $5.00 beverage and spends about 15 minutes inside the coffee shop.

Canlis Dinner Experience Cost Per Minute Per Person Wheel

A special occasion meal at Canlis is a great value at $1.10 per minute per person. This calculation is based upon the price fixe menu at $165 per person with dinner service covering about 2 1/2 hours. This does not include any beverages. I can’t wait until I am able to make it to Canlis to celebrate something!

View of Tranquilo Bay's Front "Yard" from the tower with the word "Off" superimposed

As you can see, there are a number of investments we can all make in ourselves or our families. These vary from something we can stop and pick up every day (coffee shop coffee) to a vacation or meal we must plan on and reserve in advance.

Originally Published on IG: November 11, 2021 Modified slightly for publishing here on our blog.

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.

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.

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.⁣

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.⁣