After spending 3 days relaxing at the gorgeous gay friendly Hotel Banana Azul in Puerto Viejo, we still didn’t feel we had rested quite enough to tackle Panama City. So, before moving on, we wanted to have some more beach time at another stunning gay friendly hotel on the beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama.
We had previously read articles that recommended Bluff Beach as the most gay friendly area. This seemed to be due to the fact that it is away from all the crowds. As we were wanting some relaxing beach time, this seemed to be perfect for us!
And after a bit of digging around, we came across the gay-owned, luxury, beachfront hotel, Island Plantation. The tagline on their website is ‘indulge in barefoot bliss’, it sounded ideal! Read on to see what we loved about our stay!
The Background of Island Plantation – Bocas del Toro
Island Plantation is owned by gay couple Herolf and Chris, who both love to travel. They visited Panama back in 2012, and one day decided to cycle out to Bluff Beach, a 4km long stretch of pristine, unspoilt beach.
Immediately they fell in love with this part of the island, wondering why such a beautiful area wasn’t more developed, and didn’t offer more places to stay.
2 days later, they had purchased an abandoned jungle lodge, with just 3 rooms, that today is the beautiful Island Plantation Hotel.
This was a lot of work for Herolf and Chris, in fact a lot more than they had anticipated. Bluff Beach is quite far away from the main town of Bocas, and as a result is almost completely off the grid which only added to the workload! However, after 18 months of hard work, the original 3 rooms were completed and ready to be moved into! The hotel is fully self sustainable in terms of electricity and water making it very eco-friendly.
To date Island Plantation has 10 rooms, and Herolf has plans to increase this to 15-20.
About the Hotel
In our opinion, Island Plantation is definitely a ‘relaxed luxury’ style hotel. The service received from the owners and all the staff was second to none, but delivered in a friendly, and personal way.
The features of the hotel itself are also what lead it to be a luxury property. The pool area surrounded by jungle is absolutely beautiful. The restaurant onsite gives you the option of either fine dining, or choosing one of the delicious traditional pizzas cooked in their wood oven. One of our favourites was the seared tuna steak! The included breakfast was also served in the main restaurant with plenty of choice from the menu. We would certainly recommend the pancakes!
The decor of the hotel was also beautiful. As mentioned, Herolf and Chris also love to travel, and they have taken inspiration from their travels when it comes to decorating the hotel.
The overall property has a distinct “Balinese” feel to it, which we absolutely loved.
The property also has a beach bar, which is where lunch is served. They also serve delicious cocktails during the day, and you can also enjoy your evening meal here if you choose to eat earlier. During the day music is played here making it the perfect place to sit and relax! After speaking with Herolf, he has a great vision of the beach bar becoming an Ibiza style chill out bar perfect for a younger crowd looking for the next ‘it’ destination.
Another important feature is up on the hill. There is a beautiful yoga platform high up overlooking the island. In the past, Island Plantation has hosted yoga retreats and continues to do so. If that is something you are interested in, then this could be your own personal retreat.
The hotel is situated on the beach and is about 20 minutes away from the main town in a taxi. It definitely is a perfect location to get away from the tourist crowds, enjoy some privacy and just rest and relax!
What makes Island Plantation gay friendly?
As is the case with many other gay-owned hotels we have stayed in, the place is naturally gay-friendly.
However, living up to this “assumption” is very important to Herolf and Chris. They make sure to explain to any new staff what their relationship is, and explain to them that it is the same as any relationship between any other couple. It is made clear that there will be gay couples visiting the hotel too, as it is renowned for being gay-friendly, and that they need to treat visiting gay guests exactly the same as they do with any other guests.
A lot of the staff onsite are gay too. Despite Panama as a whole being classed as a conservative country, the general feel, especially in the tourist reliant Bocas del Toro, was that nobody thought twice about sexuality!
All of this combined with the overall service received from everybody meant we could truly relax, be ourselves and thoroughly enjoy our stay!
What did we love about our stay?
So many things!! We had a fantastic stay at Island Plantation – it would be hard not to, the place is just beautiful. But here are our top choices of what really made this one of the most beautiful places we have stayed in.
We had chosen to come to Bluff Beach as it was renowned for being gay-friendly, but also because we wanted to be somewhere quiet, peaceful and relaxing. And it definitely lived up to this.
Most days there were less than 10 people on the beach. The beach itself was beautiful. The waves were a little too rough for swimming, but were so much fun to play in!
The property itself backs onto the jungle, which in itself was stunning, but also attracts plenty of local wildlife. We saw the beautiful poison dart frogs (do not touch!) on the walk up to the yoga platform on more than one occasion.
And if things got too quiet, it was only 20 minutes in taxi to Bocas Town which offers a variety of local bars and restaurants.
The staff were incredible! Always happy and smiling, and always willing to help with anything! The service was most definitely as you would expect from a luxury hotel, but not delivered in a stuffy, formal way.
We also liked that as the property only has 10 rooms, there wasn’t the need for a huge team of staff. It was nice seeing the same faces around the property and getting to know the staff members by name.
Everyone was super friendly and personal – we were very sad to say goodbye!
Island Plantation has one of the best restaurants in the Bluff Beach area – so much so that we never felt the need to venture to eat out!
Every evening we chose from the main menu, and it was like fine dining every night. We especially enjoyed that there was often a different fresh fish to try!
For lunch we chose to relax at the beach bar, and share a pizza prepared in the traditional oven.
The Design and Decor
We were very interested to hear that when it came to renovating the property from its previous jungle lodge state, despite the easy option being to tear it all down and start again , Herolf and Chris opted to recycle and reuse a lot of the original structure.
Certain things have been moved around, but they have used as much of the original property as possible. Despite this now being a luxury beachfront property, it definitely still retains its rustic feel!
We also really liked the inspiration taken from elsewhere in the world – especially the Bali inspired architecture. And Herolfs explanation as to why they have done this is great – “We wanted to bring Asian inspired properties closer to our neighbours in the USA, so they can enjoy places like that even if they are not able to travel so far. They can stay in the same time zone, use the same currency, but enjoy a little slice of Bali closer to home!”
We described Island Plantation as relaxed-luxury; Herolf calls it “barefoot-luxury”. He is being quite literal too – you will often find the staff walking around barefoot, even in the restaurant.
We loved this – despite it being a beautiful, luxurious property, it doesn’t come across as formal. There is absolutely no dress code for dinner, if you want to turn up barefoot too, you can!
What was also important to us, was that this was an adult only hotel. There were no screaming children running around which would certainly not be relaxing.
The overall vibe onsite really reflects what we felt about this part of the Caribbean as a whole. You can still experience luxury, but be relaxed and chilled out at the same time!
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Island Plantation. It more than lived up to our requirements. We were able to rest and relax, enjoy some peace and quiet, enjoy a beautiful beach and re energise ourselves all in a gay-friendly environment before getting ready to take on Panama City!
How to get to Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas del Toro is made up of 9 different islands, located off the northeastern, Caribbean coast of Panama.
The main town of Bocas del Toro, located on Colon Island, serves as the transport “hub”. If you are already in Panama and wanting to visit Bocas del Toro, there are two main options.
Flying from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
There are daily flights available from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. These are operated by Air Panama, and booked relatively early in advance can be quite reasonably priced. However, prices do vary depending on the season you visit.
Flights take a little over an hour and are by far the easiest option.
Getting the bus from Panama City to Bocas del Toro
If you are on a budget, then there is a bus option. This leaves from Panama City to Almirante, which takes roughly 11 hours. You can catch the bus from Albrook station which is a short taxi ride out of the city. Just make sure you tell your taxi driver you are getting the bus to Bocas Del Toro and you need Gran Terminal de Bus.
Once at Almirante, it is about 30 minutes to Bocas on a ferry. You can find the ferry yourself or jump in a taxi for $1. The ferry should cost $6.
Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro (Costa Rica to Panama)
However if you are coming from Costa Rica a lot of people take the route we did, which is from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, to Bocas del Toro.
For this, we highly recommend CaribeShuttle. For just $33, you will have a hotel pickup in Puerto Viejo, a guide to help you with the border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama, and then your ferry crossing direct to the marina in the heart of Bocas Town itself. There are 3 departures daily, and the overall journey is 4-5 hours.
Once you have reached Bocas Town, there will be plenty of available taxis to take you to your chosen hotel.
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