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Sweet Bocas

Discovery is part of daily life in the westernmost part of Panama, where there is an archipelago named Bocas del Toro, meaning “mouth of the bull.” Legend has it that back in 1502 the sound of immense waves crashing against volcanic rocks reminded conquistadores of the roar of a bull. For centuries this archipelago housed native tribes and freed slaves, pirates burying treasures and merchants looking to establish themselves. Today ...

Discovery is part of daily life in the westernmost part of Panama, where there is an archipelago named Bocas del Toro, meaning “mouth of the bull.” Legend has it that back in 1502 the sound of immense waves crashing against volcanic rocks reminded conquistadores of the roar of a bull. For centuries this archipelago housed native tribes and freed slaves, pirates burying treasures and merchants looking to establish themselves. Today surfers and travelers are the ones visiting Bocas del Toro, where they find the best swells in the Caribbean and so much more.

Nestled on a private island within this archipelago is Sweet Bocas, a retreat established as a way to experience luxury sustainably and more authentically. Inspired by her father’s commitment to providing vocational education to thousands worldwide, founder and creator Annick Belanger has poured her heart and soul into the evolution of the estate. Guests who stay at Sweet Bocas have the opportunity to relax and recharge while they learn and give back. The commitment to empower and protect the environment, our bodies and our cultural exchanges permeates every aspect of the Sweet Bocas experience. The estate boasts the largest freshwater private lake in the archipelago and is designed with a fully functioning permaculture farm. It is connected to a nine-room villa furnished with the finest amenities, which delivers 360-degree views of tropical paradise and absolute privacy. It is no wonder that Sweet Bocas attracts travelers seeking to disconnect by reconnecting with nature, culture and themselves. The guest list, which is highly guarded, includes an Oscar-winning producer and director, actors, fashion icons, real estate titans, Wall Street bankers, tech entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

A day at Sweet Bocas begins with birdsong at sunrise. The estate’s 30-foot yacht and her captain are ready to take surfers in search of the perfect break, guided by world champion pro surfer Terry Simms. After surfing, coaching and exploration, it’s back to the retreat for lunch prepared by Wilmo Ordoñez, head chef and permaculture manager at Sweet Bocas, using ingredients grown on site. Having worked for top restaurants in the world, such as Claus Meyer’s Gustu in Bolivia, Wilmo is now developing new farming practices and farm-to-table cuisine that resonates with the Sweet Bocas mission as well as guests’ palates. After lunch, some may catch more waves, others may choose to explore the grounds or to visit a local community and volunteer with one of their organizations. In the evening, Wilmo will prepare a seven- or eight-course meal that guests can enjoy while conversing about the legacy of the Ngöbe-Buglé tribe that has populated the area for centuries.

Given that Bocas del Toro boasts the best and most underrated surfing in the Caribbean, it makes sense that pros like Terry Simms gravitate there. It’s also important to remember that Bocas del Toro has a local community watching over this tropical paradise, which is why Sweet Bocas, along with Terry Simms, advocate and support Give & Surf. The locally embedded organization provides education and community development to indigenous tribes and welcomes volunteers. Through these partnerships, Sweet Bocas trains local people in permaculture, hospitality and sustainability—skills they can share in their community.

Bocas del Toro is a must-go destination not only for surfers but also for anyone seeking the real Caribbean, while Sweet Bocas is the rare find that strikes a perfect balance between luxury and social impact. The roar coming from the mouth of the bull has been too quiet until now. It is time to give Bocas del Toro the credit it deserves as a premier location for sustainable cultural exchanges as well as memorable, authentic experiences.

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