Theme Song: “Toes,” Cheryl Zac Brown Band
Cover Image Taken in the Crystal-Clear Water in Front of Bocas del Toro Villas – Photo Credit Laabs Creative
Imagine walking down a ten-foot-wide wooden boardwalk lined with palm trees and tropical flowers. Soon a beach and tiki bar come into view. As you get closer you take in the beautiful white sand beach with palm trees swaying in the breeze. There are plenty of lounge chairs with small cocktail tables and the deep blue waters of the Caribbean beyond. You step directly from the boardwalk onto the beach and feel the sand between your toes.
You start to explore, and you’re caught by surprise as you realize that this is no ordinary beach. Straight ahead are tiled steps with railings leading from the beach into the ocean. The steps are wide at the top and gradually narrow as you approach the water. Under the water isn’t more sand, but rather a platform. The entry to the water is like entering a swimming pool, only the ocean is your pool. It seemed so “real” only moments ago, but this is something different, something special!
The island did not have a beach. That is one of the first things I noticed. Bocas del Toro is an idyllic Caribbean resort with tantalizing breezes, stunning architecture, and tasteful art. But no beach. The water surrounding the island is warm, crystal clear, and inviting. But no beach.
A man made beach built on the shoreline was not an option. It would disrupt the mangrove and ocean floor. In Europe they are experimenting with floating beaches. A floating beach seems like a real possibility, until you consider the price. The only option, it seems, is to build a beach on stilts over the water. Surely someone has done it before. But no, not that I can find.
The possibility of being the world’s first adds a sense of intrigue. So, a couple years ago I wrote a blog post soliciting ideas on how best to build a beach on stilts over the water. The readers agreed that we needed a beach, but there was skepticism as to how realistic our idea was. Regardless, they provided many practical ideas such as the requirement for drainage and to account for the change in tide.
It needs to:
- Look and feel like a real beach
- Have beautiful white Caribbean sand
- Have an easy and natural way to get into the water
- Have large palm trees, but not in pots
- Have a bathroom and shower nearby
- Have adequate drainage so that the water could dry after a rain
- Have easy access without steps
- Have an attractive bar and grill on the beach
- Have the correct elevation to accommodate the daily and seasonal tide changes
- Have enough room and stability for twenty to thirty people
- Have space to be enlarged in the future
- Have adequate breezes for our sunbathers
- Be in an area with deep water so there would be no obstructions for swimming
We picked a spectacular spot on an island bay in the same area where we have plans for premium luxury over-water villas. Then we had our architects and engineers get to work on designing our “sandbox” beach on stilts. It took over a year, but the designs are now complete, and the construction is underway with only a month until completion.
We have named it Cuca Beach. Some of the engineering drawings, construction pictures, and rough renderings of the world’s first over water sandbox beach follows:
Cuca Beach is approximately ninety feet long by twenty feet wide. The Cuca Bar, with a stylish curving wood shake roof, provides seating for eight. Our lounge chairs on the beach accommodate twenty. In addition, there will be a ten-foot-wide wooden boardwalk along the entire length of the beach. This will allow us to add a “food truck” and four tables with umbrellas and sixteen chairs on one end of the beach.
There will be four large palm trees on the beach that will be lit to provide a dramatic ambiance at night. The palm trees will appear to be growing out of the sand like on a real beach, but will be planted in large tanks below the surface of the beach to contain the roots. The cement surface below the beach is slightly sloped and includes ninety drains to keep the sand dry. The drains will be covered with geotextile that lets the rainwater through but not the sand.
Providing swimmers access to the water in a way that feels natural was our largest challenge. We did not want our guests to struggle with climbing in and out of the water on ladders. So, we decided on stairs leading to a platform submerged in the water. The intent is to make it feel like you are walking into a swimming pool. In addition, we added a platform midway between the beach surface and the water, accessible by the stairs, so our guests have a place to sit and hang their feet in the water. The beach itself needed to be high enough above the surface of the water in order to accommodate the tides without flooding. This platform also provides a convenient surface to place snorkel masks and fins when getting in and out of the water.
In my initial blog post a few years back, “No Beach, No Way”, I commented, “All in all a sandbox beach is intriguing. It may be cost prohibitive and an engineering nightmare, but if we could find a way to pull it off it might be our best option.” It is hard to believe that this crazy idea is only a month from reality. It truly is an engineering marvel.
Once it is complete, who knows, maybe we will invite the Guinness Book of World Records to view our manmade wonder. Even better, you can experience Cuca beach yourself. Imagine kicking back oceanside with a refreshing cocktail, napping in a pleasant breeze, then taking a dip in the eternally warm Caribbean.
Question: We are working hard to make Bocas del Toro unique to the world. We will have the IBUKU treehouses, a world class botanical garden, and the world’s first over-the-water beach. What other ideas do you have to make Bocas del Toro even more unique? What ideas do you have for creating unique experiences?