After 20 minutes of slow but steady progress (tip: walk in shoes, not flip-flops!) up a jungle path leading from Isla Bastimentos’ main dock to one of the highest points on the islands, we were met by Javi – an Argentinean surfer-type who has dedicated the last 15 years to cultivating his and his families personal paradise, and sharing it with a few lucky tourists. His wife Janette, originally from Scotland, was the first to reply to our email asking if there was a night available in one of the two charming cabins perched high above the ocean.
The Up In The Hill Coffee Shop
Up In The Hill is perhaps best known for their ability to turn cacao pods and stubborn coconuts into sweet treats and all-natural beauty products; the cabins are still a well-kept secret. Before settling into our cabin for the night, Javi invited us to the coffee shop for an afternoon coffee and to taste the banana bread and brownies that tourists travel from all over the islands for. Made with cacao produced on the property and organic coconut oil that Janette and her team make by hand (by scraping the coconut flesh out one by one then squeezing and wringing it until the oils are released) the gooey and deeply chocolate brownies are a local favorite. While we chowed down on our tropical brownie and a perfectly moist slice of banana bread, we sipped some of the most delicious coffee we had on our travels. Creamy coconut milk accompanied the coffee and even inspired us to try making our own upon return to Costa Rica.
While everything served is as locally sourced as possible, sustainable, and organic, there is nothing pretentious about the place. The shop itself feels like wandering into an old friend’s garden; the multi-colored and upcycled furniture feels quirky and laid back and the tropical gardens and meandering paths make room for little nooks perfect for enjoying an afternoon snack. A display of local artwork, carvings and jewelry decorate the main wall as well as a display of the owner’s hand-made beauty products that use coconut oil and local plants as the main ingredients. Tourists and locals alike use the coffee shop as a half-way point between the island’s dock and the remote Wizard’s beach which lies on the other end of the path that runs through the property and is only accessible by foot.
Chocolate Pods and Little Red Frogs
First and foremost, Up In the Hill is a sustainable farm. Janette and Javi have been cultivating new life since they first stumbled upon the land they now call home. The cacao trees that were one just inches tall now boast tiny white blossoms; the first signs of chocolate that will eventually grow into large yellow pods and be harvested for production. Plentiful palms provide a year-round supply of coconuts and the property is landscaped with medicinal herbs, and tropical trees ranging from a cinnamon to hardwoods and fruit trees. It has taken years to achieve, and their chocolate and organic farm tour teaches travelers about the processes that have allowed them to cultivate land worthy of producing delicious, home-grown chocolate.
An added bonus of so many tropical plants is the influx of native wildlife. Between lessons on fascinating plants and taste tests of their chocolate, we easily spotted families of Strawberry poison dart frogs – known simply as red frogs on the island. Around the world and even the island, the species is quickly disappearing – it’s even on the threatened species list – but at Up In The Hill they seemed to be everywhere, chirping from the leaves of bromeliads and hopping among the roots of trees in the garden.
Meeting Silverback; An Eco-Cabin On The Hill
We were looking for a less traditional option in Bocas del Toro, and found it in the eco-cabins at Up In The Hill. While the majority of ocean-front accommodations in Bocas are miserable without both a fan and air conditioning, neither are necessary in the cabins due to a constant and pleasant breeze. While a third cabin is in the works, the Pantai and Silverback cabins are currently open for guests and both offer sweeping ocean views from their respective spots on the property. We opted to stay in Silverback, named for the famous wave it looks down upon, and the older and more rustic of the two. Javi grinned as he opened the door to the cabin, exposing an all-wood bedroom complete with built-in shelves, a standard mattress with a mosquito net canopy and a panoramic view of the trees and ocean ahead. He built the solar-powered cabin with his own two hands he explained, enlisting friendly neighbors and even a couple of horses to help cut and haul local lumber and assemble the cabin meant for family and friends. A covered deck connected the bedroom to the kitchen, bathroom with mosaic walls and a table with built-in benches lining the back wall. Panoramic-style windows made the small cabin feel larger and blurred the lines between indoors and out.
Dinner isn’t served at Up In The Hill, so guests staying at the cabins need to bring their food in. We purchased pasta supplies on the main island and found everything we needed to prepare our dinner – and even had surprise dinner guests when a family of adorable night monkeys settled into a tree by the window for a while! An ocean-view fire pit and hammock at the cabin make for the perfect spot to cook an outdoor dinner if guests are inclined.
Our favorite part of our stay at Up In The Hill was the morning. Waking up to the sound of birds and the ocean waves below with a view from the bed made the rustic cabin feel more like a five-star experience for nature lovers. Being mere steps away from fresh-brewed coffee and chocolate milk made with our favorite coconut milk made waking up even more enjoyable.
We loved our stay at Up In The Hill for its rustic charm and as a more glamorous option than camping. The constant breeze and high mountain views offer a different kind of island experience than most other options in Bocas Del Toro as does the experience of sleeping at a working chocolate farm. The atmosphere is ideal for couples or families looking for privacy and to get close to nature and the coffee shop serves as a perfect place to wind down and enjoy some of the island’s best treats. Would you stay at Up In The Hill? To contact them and read more about the eco-cabins see their property description here.