Matrimony,Monkeys and More at Finca los Monos

There’s something very romantic about being wed at a pavilion surrounded by a masterfully constructed botanical garden. You’re enclosed by beautiful exotic plants and your senses are absolutely inundated with the wonders of nature. From the reverberations of hundreds of jungle creatures to the aroma of thousands of tropical plants, there is just something intoxicating about being immersed in the tropical rain forest. This is your special day and you deserve to spend it with your loved ones in a place that will invigorate the senses. Today we visit the new wedding venue in Bocas: the pavilion at Finca Los Monos, aka The Botanical Gardens.

Walking through this wondrous property, I imagine what it must have been like before owners Lin and David arrived. Lin grew up in England, but left when she was 18 to travel the world. She had been traveling for 9 years by herself before she met her husband Dave. They left New Zealand together in 1993 with nothing but backpacks. Lin didn’t like the idea of settling down just yet.

They arrived to Panama in 1998 and fell in love with Bocas. They decided to get a place and play around in the islands for a while. One day, they were cruising Isla Colon on their motorbike when they came upon a majestic hill that would change their lives forever.  It was an extremely dense secondary jungle, once cleared by The United Fruit Company years ago, but then regrown extra thick the second time around.

“It took us over two weeks to cut a path with machetes. When we got to the top of the hill, I said ‘This is it. This is my tropical garden,’”Lin fondly reminisces.

Lin and David wasted no time finding out who owned the land and bought all 32 acres. After signing the papers, Lin put down her pen and picked up her machete and right away she got to work. She would clear a ridge here, plant a new tree there, go to the mountains and get new plants to transplant to the island. Before you knew it, 10 acres were cleared and new plants were blooming everywhere.

“Are you any good with machetes?” I jokingly ask her. “Obviously,” she says as she lets out a big smile, looking around proudly at what she has accomplished.

At first she never considered making a botanical garden for the public. She was doing everything for herself.  In the end, she decided to open it up to the public because it was just too beautiful to keep a secret. “I had no master plan. It just evolved,” she remembers.

What evolved from her master plan-less project is really quite impressive indeed. Ten of the 32 acres have been cleared out (leaving the rest wild) and have been seemingly strategically adorned with an array of gorgeous plant life. Many of the plants are not even native to Central America. At Finca Los Monos, you’ll find plants from Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Papa New Guinea, Malaysia and Madagascar. My personal favorite is the “Red Lipstick Palm” from Malaysia with its stunningly red and green contrasted trunk. By the end of the day, I came to think of the place as Plant Zoo of sorts, just without the cages. “You know the place is fenced in…” Lin reminds me.

David, a general engineer by trade, constructed all the pathways and structures you will find on the property, including the three venues, the fish ponds and the nursery.  The name, Finca Los Monos, means “Monkey Farm” and is a tribute to the Howler and White Face Capuchin Monkeys that live on the property and the fact the Lin and Dave were both born on the Chinese year of the monkey.

The purpose of Finca Los Monos is “conservation, education and research”. It has been open to the public for six years now. Scientists are invited to study plant and wild life, tours are provided for nature lovers and the property contains three unique venues for hosting a variety of functions. The first venue is “The Visitor’s Center”. It’s a covered area for dinner, dance and parties with a tented buffet and bar area. The new venues are the Swimming Pool and the Pavilion.

The Pavilion is the ultimate tropical rain forest wedding venue.  It has a breathtaking view of surrounding hills and valleys which is composed of a magnificent mosaic of plant species and a symphony of jungle wildlife in the background.  On a clear day, you can even see the mountains on the mainland all the way to Costa Rica. The Pavilion echoes when you’re inside it, which I thought “Wow, what engineering technique on David’s behalf,” but no:  “We didn’t do it on purpose,” claims Lin. It’s amazing that when you step outside the pavilion, you nolonger hear the echo, but only a perfectly amplified version of what is being sounded within the pavilion. There will be no need for microphones at these ceremonies.

Congratulations to Lin and David in creating something truly unique and beautiful and to all the lovely couples that will be married in the new Finca Los Monos Pavilion wedding venue!

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Trees:

Lipstick Palm, Red Palm, Maharaja Palm (Malaya)

Travelers palms (Madagascar)

Rainbow Eucalyptus  (Papa New Guinea)

Corypha Palm (India, Sri Lanka)

by Nicholas Corea

Printed monthly in both English and Spanish with a circulation of 5,000 free copies distributed at airports, hotels, restaurants and various retail locations throughout Bocas del Toro, Panama City, David, Boquete and Costa Rica. Also published on the Internet on a daily basis.

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