A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise

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By Jenny Xie / Published by Dwell
Casa Comunal, a passion project begun by an avid surfer and his friends, is a new Caribbean getaway that embeds travelers in the local culture and promotes a cooperative mindset.

If sun, surf, and socializing are part of your vacation agenda, then put Casa Comunal at the top of your list for places to visit. Situated on an idyllic Caribbean shoreline on Isla Colon, the largest and northernmost island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama, the modern vacation house enjoys a private beachfront with ample access to the outdoors. From incredible surf breaks, to hiking trails through the tropical understory, to learning retreats covering programs like yoga, music production, and photography, there is no shortage of things to do. "It was important to me to unite travelers, the locals, and nature, and that was the triumvirate behind Casa Comunal," says Jordan Christopher, the surfer, traveler, and self-taught architect who rallied a team of co-designers and friends to realize the project. "The goal was to create a greater sense of connection and eco-consciousness." Having just opened its doors in early December, Casa Comunal can be rented in its entirety, accommodating up to 14 guests, or be reconfigured into two separate units that sleep nine or five, respectively.

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 1 of 8 - The open plan compound consists of Casa Norte and Casa Sur, two units that share an atrium entryway with large doors that roll open or closed to join or connect the two spaces. Much of the shape of Casa Comunal derives from the existing flora on the site, which includes many fruit-bearing trees.

The open plan compound consists of Casa Norte and Casa Sur, two units that share an atrium entryway with large doors that roll open or closed to join or connect the two spaces. Much of the shape of Casa Comunal derives from the existing flora on the site, which includes many fruit-bearing trees.

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 2 of 8 - A local woodworker of the Nove tribe carved this "cayuco," or canoe fashioned from a single tree. Each morning, a caretaker fills the cayuco with fruits and vegetables grown on the property.

A local woodworker of the Nove tribe carved this "cayuco," or canoe fashioned from a single tree. Each morning, a caretaker fills the cayuco with fruits and vegetables grown on the property.

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 3 of 8 - Casa Norte is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, and Casa Sur has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The textiles decorating Casa Comunal's walls were collected during Christopher's travels.

Casa Norte is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, and Casa Sur has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The textiles decorating Casa Comunal's walls were collected during Christopher's travels.

Built of steel, glass, and concrete with spacious covered decks, the structure is designed to both withstand and open up to the surrounding environment. Christopher challenged the team to source everything as locally as possible, using fallen laurel wood for furniture. "Nothing was shipped in via container as many builders do here," he explains. "Everything was carried in my luggage from multiple flights. I even flew all the way here with a corner-style kitchen sink because no store in the country sold them at the time." A sloped roof catches rainwater, which has supplied the house so far, and there is a greywater filtration and irrigation system on site.

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 4 of 8 - Christopher's friend, an engineer at Apple, designed the dining tables and made them on the island.

Christopher's friend, an engineer at Apple, designed the dining tables and made them on the island.

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 5 of 8 - The hanging beds in Casa Norte recreate the feeling of the surf. "You look out at the surfers," says Christopher, "and you almost feel like you're out there with them. You can feel the ebb and flow of the ocean."

The hanging beds in Casa Norte recreate the feeling of the surf. "You look out at the surfers," says Christopher, "and you almost feel like you're out there with them. You can feel the ebb and flow of the ocean."

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 6 of 8 - Above the beds, a net provides additional lounge space for guests to enjoy a book or listen to a record.

Above the beds, a net provides additional lounge space for guests to enjoy a book or listen to a record.

"It was important to me to unite travelers, the locals, and nature...to create a greater sense of connection and eco-consciousness." - Jordan Christopher

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 7 of 8 - The master suite in Casa Norte enjoys a king bed and an en suite bathroom with a large soaking tub.

The master suite in Casa Norte enjoys a king bed and an en suite bathroom with a large soaking tub.

The vacation rental hosts single travelers, families, and corporate groups. "For me, the most important thing is the concept of bringing people together with shared ideas and shared learning," says Christopher, who names the development of the learning retreats as the next phase of the project. "Casa Comunal is the culmination of my passions: nature, culture, art, and people."

A Community-Oriented Vacation Rental in Panamanian Paradise - Photo 8 of 8 - "The house is best used when it's shared," says Christopher. "That's really showing when Airbnb guests suggest throwing the thing open." Outside, a beachside bonfire provides an inviting place to congregate.

"The house is best used when it's shared," says Christopher. "That's really showing when Airbnb guests suggest throwing the thing open." Outside, a beachside bonfire provides an inviting place to congregate.

The introductory rate starts at $200 a night for Casa Sur and $270 a night for Casa Norte. To learn more or book a stay, visit Casa Comunal online.

Thank you to Daniel Fink for the tip! If you know of a property that should be featured on Dwell, email jxie@dwell.com.