An unexpected visitor brings the jungle magic to Editor Sid Evans’ Central American getaway

By Sid Evans

Our family of four had just settled into an open-air cabin at a small eco-lodge and chocolate farm called La Loma, on Isla Bastimentos in Panama, when we heard a muffled thump in the forest. My wife, Susan, abruptly stopped unpacking. "Did you hear that?" she said. "I think a sloth just fell out of a tree."

"No way," I said confidently. "Must have been a coconut."

But Susan was already headed out the door and down the dirt path to investigate. (Sometimes she just knows things.)

A young sloth on a walkway at La Loma Jungle Lodge in Panama
Sid Evans

Minutes later, all four of us were watching a stunned but seemingly unhurt sloth make his way across the forest floor, s-l-o-w-l-y. He clambered up the small wooden bridge we were standing on, so close you could see his long, sharp claws. He resembled a stuffed bear with a very expressive face. My daughter, Phoebe, said he looked like he was smiling.

Swimming off the Zapatillas islands, about a half hour boat ride from the lodge
Sid Evans

We hadn't traveled to Panama for the sloths, per se, but we were looking for a different kind of spring break, and thanks to a tip from an editor at this magazine, that's what we found. White-faced capuchin monkeys would sometimes wake us in the morning as they swung through the trees, prompting the kids to bound out of bed in amazement. One day we took a boat trip to the Zapatillas, a pair of pristine islands where we snorkeled around the reefs for hours without seeing another soul. Another day we donned helmets and headlamps, following a local guide deep into the jungle to explore a hidden bat cave.

A simple, elegant table set for one of La Loma’s fabulous dinners
Sid Evans

The dinners prepared by Maggie and Henry, La Loma's charming proprietors, provided a different kind of adventure, with inventive dishes built with local ingredients and spices—snapper steamed in banana leaves, a South India–inspired fish curry with ginger and turmeric, and a decadent chocolate cake made from grated coconut instead of flour. One evening after dinner we took a hike in search of caimans, small alligator-like creatures that come out at night to hunt in the creeks. When I spotted one—its yellow eyes shining in the beam of my flashlight—I felt like a kid at camp.

I know not everyone gets as excited about sloths, caimans, and bat caves as I do, but our stay at La Loma was a spring break I won't soon forget. Those kinds of unique experiences were what editors Tracey Minkin and Lauren Phillips were seeking when they came up with our list of "50 Secret Places." They may not all be easy to get to, but if you're looking for a different kind of trip, this story—and this issue—is for you.

Coastal Living Editor-in-Chief Sid Evans
Laurey W. Glenn

—Sid Evans, Editor-in-Chief; @sidmemphis