Howler monkeys crying at sunrise, scorpions lurking under the bed, and no-see-ums biting everywhere brought me to Bocas del Drago, Panama.
As a traveler, I seek out experiences that are unique to the area and emblematic of the local lifestyle and culture. In the case of the Bocas del Drago, a small town in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, I came to snorkel along the coral reef, take in some Caribbean art, scorch my taste buds with Caribbean-grade hot sauce, and of course, battle with no-see-ums. I indeed did everything that I set out to do and more, and I sincerely believe that everyone should have the opportunity to swim with zebra fish and brave diabolical spices. However, given the state of Bocas del Drago, it is hard to justify my desire to share these experiences with everyone.
Bocas del Drago is a true tourist town. The main street is lined with hotels and signs in English; many locals derive their income from the tourist industry. Ironically, the tourism that supports the town also threatens its future. It negatively affects the town’s water supply, the environment, and marine life. The island’s water supply comes from rainwater, and experiences frequent shortages. The town’s infrastructure is simply not equipped to deal with a large influx of people and amount of trash that they bring with them. The town does not have a sustainable method of garbage disposal either, and mounds of trashed are dumped in the nearby forests. Tourists can also harm the marine life. One of the more popular beaches, Starfish Beach, was once, as the name states, full of starfish. They are now rare because tourists used to play with the starfish and accidentally drown them in air.
Bocas del Drago is thus the epitome of a paradox: tourism sustains the community, yet degrades the area of interest. The town is currently a picturesque community with a lot to offer, but it is uncertain how long that will last. If you visit Bocas, please be aware of the potential environmental impact of your trip.