Bocas Bali, the “air beach” for adults that has opened in Panama

Bloomberg — You’ve heard of overwater villas…but an overwater beach? Dan Behm, owner of the new adults-only Bocas Bali resort in Bocas del Toro, Panama, bets he’s never encountered one.

This former tech executive turned hotelier says his ‘air beach’ is the first of its kind in the world. “I had heard of projects in the Netherlands where beaches were built on floating pontoons,” Behm told Bloomberg. It’s not like that.

The sprawling pier-like structure is filled with sand and supported by 12-meter-tall PVC piles, which were drilled into the ocean floor with high-pressure water jets.. On its edge, a series of steps descend into the 9-meter deep waters, as if it were a walk in the deepest part of the pool.

On the surface, the beach is meant to feel like anywhere else, with lounge service and a food truck; a sophisticated (and invisible) drainage system prevents runoff from polluting the water. Even though, unlike a normal beach, given the immediate depth, guests can grab snorkel gear and see everything from nurse sharks to stingrays near the stairs without having to swim.

Behm casts himself as the classic Type-A competitive professional, the kind of problem-solving entrepreneur who left his Michigan tech company, Open Systems Technologies Inc, after turning it into a $5 million IT company in 2015. dollars, $160 million hardware reseller. . The idea of ​​”firsts” appeals to him.

He was interested in opening a hotel in Bocas del Toro not because of a long connection with the place, but because he saw an opportunity to build overwater bungalows (the kind that the found in the Maldives or Tahiti) within an easy flight radius of The property, which opened in September 2021, offers 16 solar-powered teakwood lodges, all flanking a small outlying island surrounded by mangroves and coral . Rates start at around $1,000 a night, and getting there is a one-hour flight from Panama City, plus a 15-minute boat ride..

“With technology, I could always use my creativity to create things, but you could never see them. This time I wanted to create something that could be seen, with features that couldn’t be found anywhere else,” he says, of why he bought a nine-acre plot with 88 acres of mangroves and about three miles of coastline facing the eastern Caribbean Sea that lacks that key element for an island resort: a strip of sand. “But you can build one,” he said, he was told.

Behm’s beach design process took a year, with sustainability as the goal. “To introduce sand into areas where it doesn’t occur naturally, we were afraid it would disturb the coral and the mangroves,” he says. And building a floating option on pontoons was prohibitively expensive.

Not excluding the carbon footprint of having to import all the materials (the sand and palms were from other parts of Panama, the green quartz steps were flown in from India)Daniel Cáceres, an environmental auditor who has evaluated or helped create some 300 green projects across Panama, guided us on the least intrusive way to approach the project.

Once the beach is overBehm is considering his next projects for Bocas Bali, which include elaborate tree houses designed by Balinese bamboo architect Elora Hardy and a series of botanical gardens, a dozen of them “secret” and a work of art ” massive”.. This five-year-old garden project is an unconventional option, that is, the introduction of non-native species into a pristine location, given the unglamorous but sustainability-focused investments that have already been made on the island, such as rainwater harvesting systems and gray water treatment facilities. .

But Behm is not intimidated. He wants to introduce more color into the landscape, he says. “And by introducing new plants, we also attract a ton more hummingbirds and butterflies”.

From an ecological point of view, he continues, “we really believe that we give back more than we take”..

This article was translated by Andrea González

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