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Wow. I knew this was going to be something different. But who would have thought that a stay at the Rambala Jungle Lodge in the middle of the jungle would be so awesome?!
My wife, Lisa, found out about this place and thought it would be something unique to do. A stay in an open-air bungalow in the middle of the jungle… sounds good to me!
So she booked our stay at the Rambala Jungle Lodge a month or so ago and we just spent a couple of nights there last week.
It was super cool in everything from the surroundings to the wildlife to the accommodations and the activities… and today I’m going to tell you all about it!
What is the Rambala Jungle Lodge?
As the owners, Jonathan and Tasha, put it on their site, Rambala Jungle Lodge is “Panama’s only all-inclusive, hike-in jungle lodge.”
You’re spending your trip in a place off the beaten path and you’re staying in a wide-open bungalow in the jungle. That’s the most interesting part. But it’s also all-inclusive so your drinks and food are covered. There are also some really great outdoorsy activities to do there to keep you from getting bored, which I’ll talk about later.
Rambala Jungle Lodge is in Bocas del Toro, which most visitors and ex-pats know as being the area with some cool islands and beaches. Well, it’s also the province that’s home to the small town of Rambala. And just on the outskirts of that small town is a jungle where the Rambala Jungle Lodge is located.
By the way, we found out we were pronouncing it wrong when we first planned this. We were saying it as “ram-buh-luh” when it’s actually pronounced “rahm-báh-lah.”
It’s about a 2½ hour drive from Boquete, which is funny because if you could straight-shoot the whole thing, it’s only 21.5 miles away. But there’s really only one way there and because of the mountains, it becomes a 65-70 mile drive.
Regardless, it’s not too bad of a drive but the road does start winding quite a bit as you go through the mountains. Also, be aware that our cell signal (through Tigo) was almost nil for us for a lot of the second half of the drive. Hopefully, you’ve already covered yourself by downloading some Google Maps areas to work while offline.
Along the way, we stopped at a random spot where the view was definitely waiting for some photos…
There’s also a damn dam that you cross over that has some more photo opportunities…
Eventually, we got closer and Jonathan guided us in over WhatsApp since Google Maps has no idea where to go once you get to the gravel road off the main road. Then he sent a message that said…
Um, water buffalo… here? Maybe that’s some Panamanian slang we’re not familiar with or something.
Or, maybe not. We came across a huge swampland with hundreds of water buffalo who seemed content just hanging around in swampy mud up to their knees…
Anyway, we ended up getting to the meeting place where we left our car parked for the next few days. That’s where we met Jonathan and set out on the 20-minute hike into the jungle to Rambala Jungle Lodge. The hike was almost all uphill and wasn’t what you’d rank as easy but it wasn’t too hard either.
As a side note, we brought one backpack each and I also had a cinch sack with a few extras. I highly recommend not bringing a lot of stuff unless you happen to be staying for an extended amount of time.
And with that, we made it to the lodge where Tasha introduced herself and welcomed us with some cold wet rags to cool down with, along with some ice-cold lemonade. It’s the small details like this that they did a fantastic job of attending to that helped make our stay great.
We sat with them and rested for about 10 minutes while they gave us the low-down on everything. I gotta tell you, they’re great people – super nice and a lot of fun.
Then Jonathan took us to our bungalow where we’d be staying and then he headed back. We loved the setup there and unpacked our stuff before setting off… let the fun begin!
What are the accommodations like? Did you sleep alright?
There are only three cottages or bungalows (or whatever you want to call them) at the Rambala Jungle Lodge and they’re all raised off the ground. There are two smaller ones closer to each other and overlooking the river and waterfalls, which is nice.
We stayed in Colibrí, which is closer to the hiking trail but has no water view. However, this one is bigger and more isolated, which I like better. It’s also closer to the lodge and that made it a little easier since we went back and forth quite a bit. We’d stick with this one if we go back again.
No matter where you’re at, you know it’s not going to be too crowded with so few places to stay there.
Our place had two beds, a fully-stocked mini-fridge, a safe, a couple of hammocks and other places to sit, and a nice bathroom.
Off-grid power from the river provides electricity throughout (all the refrigerators, lights, etc.). You do have outlets in the rooms for power, too. That means you can keep your cell phones and anything else charged up.
Be aware though that we rarely had any cell phone signal on the grounds. We’re using Tigo as our cell phone provider. My understanding is that the only carrier that works well there is Claro.
All of that is just fine with me. It would be stupid to head out into nature for a few days if you’re just going to play on the internet the whole time. But I did use my phone to take a bunch of photos (over 500!) and track the hikes we went on so it was nice to be able to charge it up each night.
And, you know it going in, but you’re in an open-air dwelling. That’s nice because it puts you as close to nature as you’re going to get. On the flip-side, I was a little anxious going into this because there are jaguars in the area and they recently spotted one on their trail cam.
To quell my uneasiness, we stopped at a Home Depot type of store called the Do it Center on our way (way out of our way) so I could buy an air horn. I know, I know… silly. But it made me feel better having that on the nightstand to possibly scare a jaguar or any other wild animal off if needed.
Of course, mentioning that to Jonathan might have been a mistake. He loved teasing me about that during our stay there. When we went to check out via PayPal at the end of our stay, I needed to use his phone as a hotspot to get internet. Here was the available hotspot…
Sleeping was the only struggle we had while there. Not because of the temperature – the ceiling fans above the beds cooled things down dramatically. And not because of any bugs swarming in on us – the beds have mosquito netting around them, which works great.
No, the problem is that you’re in the jungle. And because of that, we had a lot of noises keeping us up. There were bugs randomly chirping loudly at each other (I think we had one in our bungalow) throughout the night that would wake us up. And then, shortly before the sun would rise, the birds and cicadas enjoyed waking us with some good morning talk.
Honestly, this isn’t much different than when we go tent camping. You can’t expect a perfect night’s sleep unless you do this long enough to get used to it. But the beds were comfortable and we managed to get enough sleep to make it through our time there.
How were the food, drinks, and places to hang out?
This is an area I was surprised by. I wasn’t expecting the food at Rambala Jungle Lodge to be anything more than some pub food for the most part. But this was like a 5-star restaurant. Tasha is an excellent cook!
She would ask us what we wanted to eat (with 2-3 choices and already having taken any food allergies into account) usually a few hours before a meal. Then we’d also come up with a time to eat. Given that it was just us in the whole place for the first day, that was about as easy as it gets. Otherwise, that gets coordinated with others in mind.
But the meals were excellent. We had a nice twist on Sancocho (a Panamanian soup), teriyaki chicken with fried rice and wontons, hamburgers, spaghetti carbonara, quesadillas, eggs, omelets, pancakes, and other good meals. The desserts were delicious as well! We’re not people who normally take pictures of food (because that’s weird) so we took a few when we remembered, but I missed out on some really good spreads. These pictures don’t do it justice.
And the drinks were great, too! I knew there would be beer, but that was about all I was expecting. And there was plenty of that available. But there were also mixed drinks that were fantastic and they had some wines there, too. For the non-drinkers, plenty of options for you, as well.
All the meals and drinks were handled in the lodge. However, we also had a stocked fridge and snacks in our bungalow that could be refilled as requested. Jonathan is also willing to deliver coffee to you in the morning at your cottage though we didn’t take him up on that.
The lodge was a great central location and also the home of Tango, a parrot they rescued a while back. And boy, was he a talker. We could even hear him all the way from our cottage sometimes chattering on.
On our way out on the last day, I forgot he was there because he was quiet (for once) and he gave me a little nip on the arm as I passed by him a little too closely… you son-of-a… 🙂
Other than the lodge and the bungalows, there are a few other structures at Rambala Jungle Lodge. There is a palapa with some chairs and a fire pit in the center to hang out and relax.
There’s “El Rancho”, a hangout with a pool table, darts, a few hammocks to sit in, and a couple of bar stools.
There’s also a little area with some additional hammocks (sorry no pic of that) and they’re working on building a hot tub… no jacuzzi fun for us on this visit!
I mean, what else can you ask for? This is like a resort!
Are there sloths at Rambala Jungle Lodge? Any other wildlife?
Yeah, I knew you all you cared about is if the Rambala Jungle Lodge had any sloths hanging around nearby!
Well, you’re in luck. We saw two or three during our time there. It’s hard to know if we saw the same ones on different days but still cool to see them in the wild!
And Jonathan knows his stuff, too. He’ll tell you the type of trees they hang out in, how to spot ’em, and all sorts of other cool info.
Besides the sloths, there were toucans and other birds all over the place. The birders love this place to check them out.
There are cows and horses roaming around. Chickens are running loose. There are snakes, spiders, and lizards. Heck, Faith even spotted an armadillo one night while we were sitting around!
But most importantly, we didn’t see a jaguar. 😉
Yeah, but the bugs! And how was the weather?
I gotta tell you – the bugs weren’t a big deal (or as much as we thought they might be). Lisa would put on the Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellant since that’s the only stuff we ever buy since it works so well for us. She didn’t even get a single bite while we were there.
Um, Faith and I decided to fight the power instead. We didn’t wear bug spray at all our entire time there. I succumbed to about 6 war wounds and Faith ended with about 4… oops. I do believe though that a few of mine were actually spider bites though so I doubt the bug spray would have helped me much with that anyway.
They also had some bug spray at the lodge if we needed some. Additionally, there were those mosquito coils in the room to help fend off the little suckers. I don’t know if those things work or not, but Lisa lit them religiously both evenings we were there.
As far as the weather goes, I didn’t have internet access so I can’t tell you exactly what the temps were for us. But I’d venture to say that it was probably in the low 80’s during the day and the low to mid 70’s at night. Other than while we were hiking and sweating, there wasn’t even a time I thought about the temperature, which means it was probably about the right temperature the whole time.
We barely got any rain there during our entire Rambala Jungle Lodge visit. Don’t get your hopes up though if you plan on going there. It’s in the middle of the jungle so we were very lucky.
What did you do while you were there?
We had a ton of fun during our Rambala Jungle Lodge stay…
Faith has done a lot of horseback riding over the years. But Lisa hasn’t done it since she was probably around 14 years old. And me… nope. Never. But I was game – let’s do this!
As a side note, horseback riding is not included as part of the all-inclusive pricing. As of now, it runs $45 per person or $80 per couple for approximately two hours around the mountain valley.
Tomás, who is a member of one of Panama’s indigenous tribes (Ngäbe, I believe), is Jonathan and Tasha’s right-hand man and main employee. He also takes care of and trains the horses on the grounds. He’s a nice guy, speaks pretty good English, and he’s the one who took us on the tour.
I gotta say that I was struggling to get my horse moving sometimes and to go the direction I wanted him to. I was thinking, “What the @#$% – this isn’t brain surgery. Am I this stupid that I can’t do this?”
After probably about 10 minutes of this, I called out to Tomás and told him what was going on. We ended up trading horses and boy, oh, boy, what a difference! Not only was I riding like a master on Pacífico, but Tomás couldn’t get the other horse to do anything either. It just didn’t want to move at all. That made me feel much better!
But we felt bad for Tomás because he ended up walking up the mountain dragging this horse (and I do mean that sometimes he was literally dragging it). By the end and going down the mountain, he was able to ride it more often than not though so that was a little better.
It was a fun experience and I’m glad we had an opportunity to do it. Jonathan sent up a drone while we were riding and took some cool aerial photos that he sent us.
There are two cool waterfall spots around the Rambala Jungle Lodge premises that you can relax and swim in with tubes available for floating. I liked the tubes because the water was ice cold… “refreshing” as some like to call it.
These are fun little areas to hang out in and it made for an enjoyable couple of hours.
On our last morning there, we ate breakfast and then headed out for a hike. There are two parts to this hike: the regular trail and then a more “advanced” hike that you can either continue onward with or bail on. We only had time for the first part of the hike and I’ll tell you… I would hate to know how advanced the advanced hike is because that first part was not easy! It wasn’t extremely difficult but it gave some small challenges along the way.
I clocked our hike at 1 hour and 10 minutes throughout 1.1 miles. The trail was well-marked so it would be hard to get lost. I’m not sure what the second part of the hike would have been like.
Jonathan said that they can lead night hikes as well and that gives a whole different dimension to things. You’ll see all sorts of different bugs, snakes, caiman, and other fun on these. But he prefers that you do the same hike during the daytime at least once first so you’ll know what to expect. We didn’t make that happen.
We spent some time on a couple of occasions at El Rancho. We played pool and tossed some darts… just a little bit of fun during the day.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in our Colibrí bungalow except mostly for sleeping. But when we were there, maybe waiting for one of us to shower, we made sure to relax in the hammocks in the room… very nice.
On our last night, we spent a few hours hanging out at the firepit with Jonathan and Tasha. That was a lot of fun. As I said, they’re great people and it was great to talk to them, have a few beers, and hear their stories.
This trip turned out to be one of the coolest things we’ve done, but it’s not going to be for everyone. If the idea of a night at the Hilton is roughing it for you, this ain’t gonna be your place. But if you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll love it at Rambala Jungle Lodge and won’t want to leave.
If you’re interested in this unique and fun experience, you can check out the Rambala Jungle Lodge Facebook page for more info. You can contact them via email or WhatsApp with the info listed on that page. Enjoy!
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Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!