Bocas del Toro

Chapter 6: I Own an Island – Now What?

Theme Song: “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Queen

I bought an island in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. The plan is to build an overwater resort that is unique to the world. With 9 acres of dry land, 88 acres of mangrove, and 3.1 miles of Caribbean Ocean shoreline, it was time to let our imaginations run wild!

Manta Ray Island

How many villas should we build? Where should they be located? What size should they be? Should the restaurant be built over the water? What about a beach? How wide should the boardwalk be? Where will the staff live? Starting with a blank slate was exhilarating, but mind boggling at the same time. We decided to start with a study of overwater resorts.

Overwater Resorts Around the World

It turns out that there are only 200 overwater resorts in the world. This is surprising since we see them everywhere on travel sites, blogs, and marketing materials. It is also interesting that over half of them are in the Maldives, a country south of India that is virtually out of reach for most of the world population due to distance, time, and cost.

Example of a high-end resort in the Maldives

The price point for overwater villas is shocking to most travelers. They average a whopping $800 to $900 per night (much higher in the Maldives.) The low number of resorts and the allure of being surrounded by water has clearly driven the price per night way beyond traditional resorts. This all presents an opportunity for us as our nightly prices will likely be nearly half of the competition.

Our study revealed the importance of a restaurant, a spa, a land-based clubhouse and bar, wide boardwalks, and a broad range of activities. In addition, we decided to add a condo community, an employee staff house and a greenhouse for growing fresh vegetables.

The Project Masterplan

After much debate we decided on the following masterplan, which shows the placement of the structures for the entire project. The buildings will all be interconnected with a ten-foot-wide boardwalk without railings.

Placement of all structures in relation to the dry land

The resort villas and restaurant will fit nicely in the protected bay, where the overwater house is today. The house will be moved to the back of the island for the resort staff to live in, and the remaining house foundation will be re-used for the restaurant. The adjoining bay will easily accommodate eighteen condos.
The land-based clubhouse with an infinity pool and bar will be accessible to hotel guests and condo owners via the boardwalk.

Architectural Floor Plan of Our Proposed Clubhouse

A Glimpse of the Villas and Restaurant

We are building the resort villas and restaurant in Bali Indonesia. They will be disassembled, shipped to Panama in containers, and reassembled over the water in Panama on pilings.

The restaurant will be open air with towering ceilings, large beams, and Balinese decorating throughout. It will have spectacular custom-designed tiles manufactured in Bali.

Rendering of our Restaurant Being Built in Bali

Each villa will contain over 1,100 hours of hand carving, an impressive tall ceiling, and an individual infinity plunge pool.

Rendering of Our Villas Being Built in Bali

The entire resort will have an authentic Balinese atmosphere which led us to name the resort Bocas del Toro – “Bocas” after the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago and “Bali” after the style and country we are celebrating. Following this theme, the restaurant will be called The Elephant House.

Now that we have a masterplan and a Balinese theme, next up is a trip to Bali to find authentic furnishings and decorations that will bring the resort to life!

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18 responses to “Chapter 6: I Own an Island – Now What?”

  1. Dave Trayers says:

    Love the idea of an observatory!
    Will there be a marina? You need a glass bottom boat (or submarine!) for excursions. Sailboat too. I’ll captain it for you!
    What are the plans for electricity? Just the generator(s) or are you also adding solar? I imagine with the availability of low wattage LED lights, you could light the whole place using just solar.

    • Dan Nicolini says:

      Any thoughts to a glass bottom room in the bungalows? Perhaps not the bedrooms for privacy reasons, but maybe near an entry way?

      • Anonymous says:

        We have had several discussions about whether or not to add some glass in the floors of the villas. I had a friend who stayed in a villa that had a small portion of the floor in glass. He said that it was more of a marketing draw than actually adding interest or value to the space. However, many people think of these glass floors when they think of over the water units and may expect them, so it is still under consideration. I would be interested to know what some of the other blog readers opinions are on this topic.

        Thanks for asking the question Dan.

  2. Dan Behm says:

    Hi Dave,

    We hope to have a marina eventually, but it is not in the initial plan. There is a large deep water bay that will be perfect for a marina someday.

    We are starting with a generator plant that will supply sufficient power for all of our electricity needs; however, we will start testing a solar solution on one of our villas. Our hope was to run completely on solar, but the batteries made it cost prohibitive. We still plan to have everything run on solar over time as the battery costs come down.

    We plan to have paddleboards, kayaks, boats, and eventually a sailboat. We we be looking for suggestions from blog readers for other activities that might be fun on the island.

    Thanks for your comments. We are learning a lot from our readers. The sandbox beach idea has really come together based on ideas from blog participants.

  3. Cliff Burgess says:

    You are likely familiar with but you may want to talk with them. They did solar power for their 1-bedroom bungalows.

    When will potential investors be able to learn more about Condo opportunities?

    • Dan Behm says:

      I appreciate the tip regarding Cliff. I will definitely take a look at what they are doing with solar. We are exploring the idea of having the condos self contained with individual solar panels, batteries, and water catchment basins. This will likely depend on our experimentation with the first solar powered villa.

      We will know more about potential condo investment opportunities in the fall. Right now I am struggling with the size, finish level, and price point for the condos. We have one condo currently designed, but I think it will be too expensive. Part of the problem is that the island infrastructure of power, water, and waste treatment is driving the price up. Also, the boardwalks and extra expense of building over the water is driving up the price (the water is deep where the condos are going and we think we will need 40 foot 15 inch diameter cement pilings. This will be very expensive when you consider approximately 30 pilings.)

      We plan to include the condos in the resort rental pool and also give condos access to the clubhouse and other amenities on the island. In addition, condo owners can keep their boats next to their condo and keep a larger boat out in the bay at no cost.

      I will provide more information on the condos as it becomes available.


    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Cliff,

      Thank you for the link to Itz Ana. I was not aware of this resort – it looks fabulous! I am going to check into it further.

      We have our final solar design completed. The entire resort will run on solar with generators as backup. I plan to write a post on the island infrastructure including power, water, waste water treatment, and raising the elevation of the island for the botanical gardens.

      As of right now we have decided not to offer condo sales, but that may change in the future. The cost of the island, the infrastructure, the boardwalks, and the added expense of building on cement pilings over the water added so much to the cost that the condos would have been offered at $690,000. This is too high for the area so we had no choice, but not to build them for now.

      Originally I planned to build this resort without investors, but that has changed due to the increase in the size of the project. We now plan to build 20 overwater villas and 20 treehouses over a 3 year period. Let me know if you are interested in seeing the business plan. Right now it is being updated and should be available again in about three weeks.

      Thanks again for your interest.


  4. Vincent Murphy says:

    So I joined the company you previously led. Can I join this one? 🙂
    This looks wonderful!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hey Vince,

      So glad to hear from you!! Joining the journey via the blog is the way to go – all of the fun and none of the headaches.

      I hope you continue to participate. We have already had multiple discussion strings like this one that are shaping the resort.

      So happy to have you with us!


  5. karen wood says:

    Congratulations Dan!! This is such an exciting project. I’m in Bocas April 22-25 so will be in touch with Virgilio to see if we can find the island. I love the observatory idea- they have a great observatory on Isla Colon so I bet you can connect with them for ideas as well. The whole Balinese theme will really make this stand out!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Thank you for your kind comments Karen! Scott Dinsmore mentioned that he was trying to be in Bocas while you were there, but he couldn’t make it that week. I appreciate your interest in the project.

      I hope you are able to connect with Virgilio and make your way to the island. There won’t be much to see at this point, but it will be fun for you to witness the “before” and “after”. It is fun to know that you are following the blog!


  6. There is no doubt this will be a destination like no other in the world. Dan is no stranger to challenges and solving problems; he has made a career out of it! I look forward to the progress and ultimately visiting when complete. Well done, Dan, you can do it!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hey Scott,

      I really appreciate your confidence and enthusiasm! It has been a blast so far, but it is comments like yours that give the encouragement I need when things get tough. Thank you for following the blog! It would be fun to have you and Shaya as one of our first visitors:).


  7. Jessica Magnuson says:

    Dan – Amazing!!! We cannot wait to stay here as guests. El Castillo has truly been our favorite destination to date. No doubt this will be just as spectacular. We adore your staff, thanks for keeping us updated on the progress – fun to watch. Glad Jim Crowley connected us. – Dan & Jessica

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Dan and Jessica,

      I am so glad that you enjoy El Castilio! Scott, Pablo, Gerson, and the others are really special people and I appreciate them more than you can know. It is kind of you to participate in my blog – thank you for your comments.

      Scott Dinsmore is the magic behind what creates the casual welcoming atmosphere at El Castillo and he will also be the one creating the culture at Bocas del Toro. Scott is also heavily involved in the resort design. He spends a week in Bocas Del Toro every month to make sure the project is on track.

      I hope you continue to enjoy the blog and hopefully get a chance stay at the new resort some day. We hope to have a soft opening in early 2020, but know that this is quite aggressive.


  8. Laura says:

    Dan, I’m so excited about this resort & can’t wait to come stay. What kind of privacy will be there on the decks between villas? I’ve enjoyed the water hammock at another resort & I think something like this would be a great addition. Low maintenance & should be able to anchor in front of individual villas. I wish they made a larger one that could work as you floating beach option.

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Laura,

      We are planning to have privacy screens on the left side of each deck opposite the pool. To begin with it will be a small screen. Once the villas are built we will decide if the screen needs to be extended to the end of the deck. I am a little concerned about the windows on the left side of each villa. We might have to use frosted glass for privacy, but I am not sure how that would look. We have designers involved so I am sure they will come up with a solution that is aesthetically pleasing.

      I like your water hammock idea. Thanks for sending the link to the website. I will look into it and also run it by the designers.

      I really appreciate your input and hope that you are enjoying the blog. The comments from readers have really helped to generate ideas and solve problems.


  9. Francia Harris says:

    Hi! We loved staying at El Castillo. When are you projecting your new resort to open? We are eager to come!

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