Bocas del Toro

Chapter 18: The World’s First Over-the-Water Beach on Stilts

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 Engineering Drawing 1

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.

Cuca Beach Engineering Drawing 2

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.

Cuca Beach Rendering 1

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.

Cuca Beach Rendering 2

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.

Cuca Beach Construction 1
Cuca Beach Bathroom with Outdoor Showers Under Construction
Cuca Beach Construction 2

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?

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25 responses to “Chapter 18: The World’s First Over-the-Water Beach on Stilts”

  1. Cliff Burgess says:

    Dan, We are very excited to see the progress on your beach. We are headed down to your resort in March. We can not wait to try out the beach and enjoy all that your resort has to offer.

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hola Cliff,

      Our team will be waiting to greet you with Champaign on your short fifteen minute boat ride to Isla Frangipani. Have you been to Panama before?


  2. Dan Behm says:

    Hey Cliff,

    I am glad to hear that you will be at Bocas del Toro in March! Enjoy the beach!


  3. Karen Wood says:

    Once again you have done the seemingly impossible Dan! So impressed! Cannot wait to see if for myself and experience the island, beach and all!!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Karen,

      It is always good to hear from you. thank you for taking the time to read each of my blogs about Bocas del Toro. Building the beach has been a challenge, but it is fun to see it come into shape. I hope I am at the resort when you get to see the beach for the first time.


  4. Mike says:

    Zach Brown song perfect fit. He grew up in my home town of Cleburne, Texas. Beach should be awesome

  5. Gary Moore says:

    Amazing project Dan and team. Can’t wait to try it out and I am sure we’ll be able to get the Cessna Caravan seaplane real close for clients to arrive in the style of Jame Bond for their first martini,…. shaken not stirred 🙂

  6. Dan Behm says:

    Hey Mike,

    That is a fun fact – I like Zack Brown’s music! Cleburne, Texas must be a good place to be from.

    I always enjoy looking for a song title to fit after writing each blog. I did the same thing in my book, “Chief Culture Officer”. A song title for every chapter.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my Why I Bought an Island blog.


  7. Dan Behm says:

    Hi Gary,

    I am in 100% agreement with you! The most exciting way to get to Bocas del Toro is an Elevair seaplane!


  8. Heide Ulbrich says:

    Hola Dan,
    I am truly impressed with what you and your team have accomplished so far. Following your newsletter I’ve been watching your progress and hope that some day in the near future I can be “ bowled over” in person by the real thing…
    I have loved your Castillo in Ojochal and know that I will be enamored with Bocas del Toro.
    Best regards to my friends Scott, Gerson and Diego!????

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hola Heide,

      Thank you for your kind words and following along on the journey of the building of Bocas del Toro. We have had multiple people who have stayed at El Castillo that have now stayed at Bocas del Toro. The two resorts are so different from each other that it is impossible to do a comparison. The one thing that unites them is the acceptance of every guest that visits, the welcome feeling like being at home, and the wonderful experience (and I need to mention incredible food!.) I will pass your regards to Scott, Gerson, and Diego! Their commitment along with David is truly what makes Bocas del Toro a special place. We would love to have you visit someday soon.


  9. Luanne Gerrity says:

    I’ve been following this project from day 1. This is an exciting addition and the update I’ve been waiting to see. I’m so curious about this design and the final end-product!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Luanne,

      I am flattered that you have been following my blog since the beginning! I will make sure to send pictures of the end product once the beach is completed. We already have the palm trees on-site and ready to plant once the beach is completed. Thanks for your comments. Merry Christmas to you Dave, and your family.


  10. Rick & Alexia says:

    Fantastic Dan, we’re really proud to be a part of it. Thank you

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Rick and Alexia,

      I can’t thank you enough for the incredible contributions to the design and building of Bocas del Toro. I feel like you deserve much of the credit for how the resort turned out. Do you have any plans to visit Costa Rica? I would like to offer you two nights, everything included, at Bocas del Toro on us.


  11. Beth Sylver says:

    Hola Dan,
    My husband and I just returned from your masterpiece property! To see your vision in reality was beyond all of our expectations or wildest dreams. Your private island is magnificent, down to every single detail and magic touch. We were especially delighted to visit our good friends Gerson and Scott! And it was great to meet David and to be pampered by every one of the Bocas del Toro family! The only thing we could thing of as we were taking the boat ride back to Bocas, was we didn’t stay long enough, and how soon can we come back! So proud of you all!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hello Beth,

      I am so happy it is hard for me to come up with the right words. Thank you for being so kind and taking the time to write this comment. Please come back to see us again soon as Scott, Gerson, and David will be there to greet you!

      We will have many new things for you to see like the over the water beach, our new treehouses, and over time our botanical gardens.

      Thank again for being so thoughtful. We love it when our guests have a great experience.


  12. Nigel says:

    Looking so good – love the concept. Really worried we are going to have to delay our February trip right now – but trying to make it down there!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Nigel,

      I hope you can make it! Regardless, your deposit is 100% refundable or you can leave it out there and choose a new date. Bocas del Toro is about as a safe a place as you can get right now. Let me know if you have any questions. By the way, I can’t wait for you to see the beach which will be completed by February. I remember your comments from the early beach blog.


  13. Hi Dan… wow this is amazing. Thank you for the visit of the construction site during our stay in December. Having seen the construction site with me own eye this is really impressive and inspiring. We hope to make it back to see it the final completed beach. Thank you again for everything. Cheers.

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hello Leszek,

      I was great having you guys as guests!

      We had some trouble lowering the base of the swimming platform into the ocean which delayed things, but the over the water beach should be completed by February 1. I think it will look much better once we have sand on the beach along with the palm trees. I am excited to see the finished structure too!

      Come see us again soon! I enjoyed talking with you.


  14. Shawna Drummond says:

    We just stayed at Bocas del Toro last week and after talking to the Staff about the project we are trying to plan our next trip to enjoy Cuca Beach! Your resort exceeded all our expectations. The service is impeccable! Coordinating travel was a huge bonus that made our trip far less stressful. Special shout out to Leia, David, and Elkwin. (I hope I spelled their names right)

  15. Shawna Drummond says:

    I absolutely loved my stay this past January. We are so excited for your beach over the water. I know you probably have thought of this as your detail in the plans are intricate. The idea of installing an over the water swing set has come to my mind and I didn’t want you to miss something I know I would love. Depending on the height it could be in ocean on the sides of the platform. I know you don’t need my opinion but thought I would give it. We are also planning our trip to Costa Rica, which I know where we are staying after the service and quality we received in Bocas! ???? thank you again!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Shawna,

      I am so glad that you enjoyed your stay at Bocas del Toro in January!

      I love the idea of the over the water swing. This is the first time that I have heard of an over the water swing. As soon as I hit reply on this I am going to start googling “over the water swings” to get ideas.

      Thank for choosing Bocas del Toro and we hope to welcome you at El Castillo in Costa Rica. El Castillo is a magical place. Please come back to see us again at Bocas del Toro too.


  16. […] more about how Behm created the over the water beach on his BLOG. In fact, the Michigan-born Behm is as fascinated as his beach creation, so you will enjoy reading […]

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