Rancho de Caldera, Panama: A (Trendy) Eco Travel Resort

Move over Costa Rica, enter Panama: eco travel has put Panama front and center. Panama is now the hippest and hottest "green" Caribbean vacation destination. Travelers come back in awe of the open beaches, warm water and colorful wildlife. They tell their friends about the humpback whales, the tropical weather, and, perhaps, whatever eco resort they stayed in. The popularity of Panama has attracted both tourists and real estate developers, a handful of whom choose to set up eco resorts.

Rancho de Caldera was one of the first hotels in Central America to with the Green Globe Hospitality certification. Rancho de Caldera operates on hydro-solar and wind power. They are completely off the grid. This doesn't mean their guests will suffer, though, as each cabin has a an iPod doc, air conditioning and a TV. Rancho de Caldera kindly requests that visitors turn off the lights, but they strive to make sure all eco travel guests are comfortable (and able to access wi-fi).

Rancho de Caldera's goal is to become completely self-sustainable, and produce everything themselves. Yes, everything, including cheeses, meats, biodiesel, produce and animal forage. Unfortunately, tropical soil is difficult to work with, due to the strong sunshine and heavy rainfall. By composting, Rancho de Caldera hopes to improve the soil; adding carbon, charcoal and manure should help create a rich dirt. Their gardens currently include herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers and many other vegetables. All the leftovers get composted or fed to their chickens. Rancho de Caldera currently grow tons of fruit, too, including bananas, passionfruit, lychee, pineapple, and four kinds of limes, mandarin, oranges and lemons. The best kind of eco travel involves local food, doesn't it?

Through their gardening efforts, Rancho de Caldera discovered a secret: bamboo. They call bamboo "a gift to humankind". Rancho de Caldera has used bamboo to build their greenhouses. Bamboo is a renewable grass, and happens to be the fastest growing plant in the world. Apparently some varieties have grown more than 47 inches in a single day! Plus, bamboo is great for building, because it is actually harder than oak when it's made into plywood.

Gina Cronin from Ohio is the woman behind Rancho de Caldera. She fell in love with the green hills of Boquete, in Panama, and became one of the leading eco travel entrepreneurs in the area. The resort offers horseback riding, massages and hiking (dogs included, if you wish to invite them). You can also watch the colorful birds, or, as they advise, clouds. The clouds turn orange and pink and grow big and small and spin around. Rancho de Caldera suggests sitting on the porch to watch the rain. Might be worth it: the clouds in the featured photograph were taken from Volcán Barú near Boquete, Panama.

Photo Credit: DirkvdM