Tesoro Escondido (cell 6749-7435, www.bocastesoroescondido.com , starts at US$38.50 s/d) is Spanish for “hidden treasure,” and that’s the perfect name for this place, which is between La Coralina and Bluff Beach Retreat. It consists of a wooden house built on a bluff about 10 meters above the surf.
The house is built on four levels; from the terrace/dining room/kitchen level there’s a spectacular view of the ocean and two beaches, one on either side of the house. Or, rather, a partial view—while I was there, a couple of us urged the owner, Monique, to trim back the lovely trees on the property to open up the view a bit. You’d think we asked her to drown a puppy; that’s how much she loves her trees, one of which is home to a sloth that sometimes eavesdrops on guests.
That tells you something about Monique, a Swiss woman who has lived in Bocas  since 1995 and manages the neat trick of always seeming relaxed and good-humored but always doing something to make her funky little paradise a little bit better.
Speaking of puppies, you’d better like dogs if you stay at this place: Monique has five, not including the occasional visiting pooch of a guest or worker, nor her cat. They’re all good-natured, but watch out when they stampede at once.
Rooms are simple and rustic. In lieu of a mini-fridge, each room has a camping cooler; instead of air-conditioning, there’s a clip-on fan over the bed. (There is, however, free Wi-Fi.) But they’ve all got a bohemian chic feel and are perfectly comfortable. There are whimsical touches everywhere.
The tabletops and paving stones are decorated with images of dragonflies, dolphins, and iguanas made from colored glass. The pattern is repeated in colorful glass walls made from salvaged bottles, which are lovely when the sun shines through; birds make nests in these. In fact, whenever possible Monique and her staff have tried to use recycled materials—glass, tile, driftwood, bits of old houses.
There are six rooms in the main house. Rooms 5 and 6 (US$44 s/d) are on the top floor, reached by a spiral staircase made from a tree trunk. They open out onto a balcony with hammocks and feel a bit like a tree-house. They get blazing hot during the day. Rooms 1 and 2 (US$83.50 s/d) are on the level below the dining/bar area, but are perfectly quiet because they’re toward the back of the building, which also means only the bathrooms have a view of the sea. All the rooms have access to shared kitchens.
There are also three cabins set in a tropical garden (39 kinds of heliconia!) on the edge of the bluff. The Turtle and Dolphin (US$71 s/d) are next to each other and similar: one-bedroom cabins with private baths, a deck where to watch the sea from a hammock, and a kitchenette. The Dragonfly cabin is a bit further away and a bit bigger, with two decks. It’s set back, closer to the road, but it’s right above a cove with its own little beach. Monique is building a modern apartment, to be called Casa Verde, next door. My favorite is the Dolphin, because of its stunning view of the waves breaking on the edge of the cove.
Everything is pretty open to nature, so this is not a place for people who are overly skittish about creepy-crawlies. Because of the way the property is positioned and where it is (about seven kilometers from town), guests at Tesoro Escondido are likely to have both beaches to themselves. Off to the right as you face the ocean is La Curva, a lesser-known surf break, which means that surfers can check out the action from the breakfast table and plan their day accordingly.
Tesoro Escondido has a popular French chef, and the lodge arranges various tours and activities, including scuba lessons and trips, boat tours, and horse hire.
Playa Bluff Lodge (cell 6798-8507, www.playablufflodge.com , US$95 s/d, including breakfast and transportation from town) opened in 2009 near the far end of Playa Bluff and the end of the road. At first glance, it seems to be a modern but unremarkable two-story house—albeit one built right in front of a lovely stretch of beach. But a closer look reveals it to be something quite remarkable indeed.
The Dutch owners have turned it into something of a tropical nature preserve. They have built a lush artificial pond in their backyard that attracts reptiles, amphibians, birds, and other jungle creatures. These include incredibly cute red-eyed tree frogs, basilisks, opossums, Amazon parrots, parakeets, and oropendolas. A sloth that was abandoned by its mother now makes its nest in a rancho next to the pond (the nest is made from a stuffed sloth doll) and has been kind of adopted by the couple’s young daughter.
Howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins also stop by from time to time, as does the occasional boa constrictor and green vine snake. Needless to say, this is not a place for those afraid of snakes, though it’s worth noting that in five years of living out here, they have never seen a venomous snake. Beyond the pond are 23 hectares of forest with extensive trails that are rather muddy and hilly; one leads to a waterfall.
The owner, Reinier, bred exotic reptiles in the Netherlands, so he really knows what he’s doing. The lodge has a terrarium filled with a whole rainbow of Bocas’s poison-dart frog , but he keeps them strictly segregated so they don’t mix with the naturally occurring varieties in the area.
The lodge runs turtle tours for interested guests from the end of March through the end of June; this usually means camping out on the beach near the house. The lodge can also help arrange other tours and activities, including hiring horses, which is one way to get to the quiet snorkeling spot of La Piscina, about 45 minutes north.
The lodge has four rooms, with two more on the way. Rooms are spacious, modern, and spotlessly clean, with ceiling fans but no air-conditioning; but the rooms are surprisingly cool even in the daytime. Every two rooms share a connecting, hot-water bathroom.
Breakfast is included in stays, and the lodge will pack a sandwich lunch for US$5. For dinner, guests can have a three-course dinner at the lodge (US$15) or, if they prefer, try Tesoro Escondido. Stays also include free use of bikes and use of a local mobile phone. Even though this is the most remote of the Bluff-area hotels, transportation is less of a problem here, at least during the week: The couple’s daughter attends school in town, which means that guests can grab a free ride in the morning or afternoon Monday–Friday.
The owners speak English, Spanish, German, and Dutch.
La Coralina (cell 6788-8992 or 6491-8185, www.lacoralina.com , starts at US$55 s, US$66 d, including breakfast) was for many years a neglected old guesthouse in one of the prettiest spots on the island, on a bluff above an isolated cove with pounding surf. The spot is as pretty as ever, and now La Coralina has been given a lovely facelift to match. The main building is a two-story, Spanish-colonial-style building with an airy interior and lots of balconies.
The three rooms in the building have either one queen and one twin bed (US$88 s, US$88 d) or two queen beds (US$110 s, US$121 d), with attractive bathrooms, ceiling fans, and air-conditioning. There are also three less-expensive rooms in a courtyard behind the building. The cheapest one (US$33 s, US$44 d) is tiny, barely big enough for its double bed. The other two have two double beds (US$55 s, US$66 d). All three have ceiling fans but no air-conditioning. The bathrooms are shared, but they’re close to the rooms, spotless, attractive, and designed with real flair. All the rooms in the building are simply but cheerfully decorated and painted in bright tropical colors, and the mattresses are good. It’s breezy on the top of the hill, which keeps the chitras down and air-conditioning easier to do without. Additional guests in a room are US$15 each.
The four large suites (US$143 s, US$154 d; except for the Bamboo Suite, which is US$165 s, US$176 d) next to the main building are luxurious and gorgeous, with loving attention given to the inventive decor, king beds, large showers, air-conditioning, DirecTV, safes, and private patios. The Ocean Suite has a view of the ocean from the patio, and guess what the Garden Suite looks out on? The two new suites are also lovely. The Hammock Suite has a private covered balcony with double hammocks; the Bamboo Suite has an outside tub on the private walled-patio.
The bar and restaurant are housed in an attractive rancho on the edge of the bluff with great ocean views and a firepit next door.
Recent additions include a deck with a great view and a swimming pool and whirlpool tub. A day spa, including massages, is also on the way. There’s a little gift shop selling good-quality Central American crafts. The restaurant is open 8 A.M.–9 P.M. daily. Last call at the bar is at 10 P.M. Nonguests are welcome. Note the realistic-looking “rock” wall surrounding the base of the bar. It’s actually made of foam and was part of a set for the Miami Vice movie. The owner brought it down from Florida.
There’s plenty to do at the hotel, and the owner is constantly coming up with new ideas. For surfers, Bluff, Dumpers, and Paunch are within easy walking distance. There are 6.5 acres of trails to walk, and horses are available for US$20 for three hours. Bikes and surfboards are also available for rent. There are outdoor movies twice a week, a book exchange, and free wireless Internet.