Headlines - Budget Travel - "10 Great Islands You've Never Heard Of"
Panama - Isla BastimentosBlissfully lost in the Bocas del Toro region of northwestern Panama, Bastimentos Island comprises almost every thing that's not underwater in a 51-square-mile marine preserve speckled with reefs. Just off adjacent Zapatilla Cay, ribbons of light ripple over 30-foot walls of coral. The four-mile stretch of Playa Larga serves as a critical nesting site for four species of sea turtles. Monkeys gambol in the rain forest, to a sound track of toucans and oropendolas. The region is particularly known for the tiny scarlet-vested poison dart frogs that hop around the forest floor. (They're harmless as long as you don't ingest the venom or allow it to enter an open wound.)
Daily one-hour flights from Panama City land in Bocas, a funky seaside town that blends Caribe creole with Afro-Cuban patois from $60 each way. From there, grab a water taxi ($5) for the 10-minute trip to Bastimentos. Beaches and snorkeling site are everywhere, and boatmen will take you to countless reefs for a couple of hours for around $15. Or negotiate for a ride to the Ngobe village, where curious children swarm visitors, local artisans sell tribal carvings, and guides lead hikes through the forest. At the end of the island opposite the pier is the ecoresort Al Natural, where a boat ride transfer, three meals a day, use of kayaks and snorkel gear, and a private cabana start at $75 a night per person On a tiny island just off of Bastimentos, Coral Cay Cabins offers a similar package but with two meals a day and use of a wooden canoe. - Jeff Hull