Casa de Tortugas - Stories

Preparing to live off the grid on our island.

Now that we have purchased property, it is time to get serious and really learn what it will take to live there. Before we put money down, we learned some basics, but there is a lot more to learn.

Isla Popa is 14 miles from Isla Colon and the only way to get back and forth is by boat. The island has no water, power, sewer or gas. To have a comfortable life, we will be living completely off the grid and taking care of our own needs.

Lets start with the most important thing, water. Without access to water, there's no way to survive. (can you feel the drama? LOL)


It is quite comon in Panama to use rain catchment, so that is what we will be doing. This will allow us to catch rain off our roof and store it in large tanks. On the average, Bocas del Toro gets 136 inches of rain each year. In contrast, Seattle Washington only gets 37 inches of rain each year. Some months have more rain than others but it rains most days, at least for a while. There is no real "dry season" but there are times when it can go a week or even two without rain. We won't have any trouble harvesting enough rain for all our drinking, cooking, bathing and other needs. We have decided to place the rain tanks high enough so we won't need a pump to run the sinks and toilet or the ground level outdoor shower. We will need a pump to get enough pressure for our indoor shower and to push water through the filter to our drinking faucet. Only the drinking water will get filtered. We don't see the need to filter the rest. We can always change our minds later.


Power will have to come from solar. We have looked at several DIY setups and have come to the concusion that it is not a good idea for us to take on this task ourselves. There are a couple companies in Bocas that can help us and we have been in contact with them. Our goal is to let them do the install and have them educate us on maintenance so we can be as self sufficient as possible. But it is too much of a risk to try and do the initial install. 


Sewer will take the form of a septic system. This is a time tested method of disposing of human waste. We have plenty of land for the tank and leach field. Even though there are only two of us, we will be installing a system that can easily handle a full time family of 4 to make sure we have a buffer. This also means that when family and friends visit for a week or two at a time, the system will not be overloaded.


Our last need is gas for cooking and possibly for running our generator for those rare days when the solar panels and batteries can't provide enough power. For this we will use standard 5 gallon tankes of propane. We will have several for dedicated use and a couple extra at any given moment. We will need one for the stove, one for the generator, another for hot water for the shower and sinks. The hot water heater will be on-demand with no storage so it will only heat what we need when we need it. It is also likely that we will have an outdoor grill which will need it's own tank. Fortunately, propane is a fairly cheap option and we can get replacement tanks at the outpost just 5 minutes across the bay.


Our life will be completely off-grid living. We will use only the minimal amount of each resource with as little waste as possible. We won't need to give up our comforts. Regular hot showers are one of the luxuries we expect to keep. We will have low power lights and no air conditioning. Our home will be designed to keep us naturally cool. We don't really need to worry about keeping warm because the lowest recorded temprature in Bocas was 68 degrees fahrenheit (20 celsius).

Our way of living will be very different from what we experience in the Northwest. But we are looking forward to this new adventure and all it will bring.

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