Blog : treehouse

Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

Whether Willy Wonka or Bocas Bonkers…it’s all about chocolate

As many of you will know, we’re not just developing a treehouse retreat, we’re also developing a chocolate farm. Part of the bíku land is a cacao plantation. Bocas del Toro – home to the bíku retreat – is the cacao-growing region of Panama. And boy does it produce wonderful cacao. To stay on the pulse of what’s going on in the chocolate world, we’ve been going to the Chocolate Show for the past couple of years. Any excuse to eat chocolate!

This year did not disappoint; bigger and better than ever. There was great effort promoting Peru and the Dominican Republic, among others, as cacao producing countries. Our aim is to get Panama representatives at the show one year – to introduce people to the delights the small isthmus has to offer.

I wanted you to get to know three companies I met this year that really wowed me with their business aims as well as tantalised my taste buds!

Harry Specters


Harry Specters is a very special chocolatier indeed. As its strap line suggests, ‘Enjoy the chocolate, Love the cause’, the company is driven by a greater social purpose. The company offers employment to young people with autism, but goes beyond that by providing a number of programmes to boost confidence and self esteem. Find out more. It’s truly inspiring to see how the social impact element is core to what the company does. As if this wasn’t enough – the chocolates are exquisite. I picked up a couple of early Christmas presents from their stall. I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to keep my mitts off the gifts before December! My family might have to do with empty chocolate boxes on December 25!

Beau Cacao

Offering single estate chocolate using cacao grown in Malaysia, Beau Cacao’s chocolate is stunning – the epitome of indulgence. The company sources the cacao beans directly from small-scale farmers and handle the production themselves – all in all better for the farmers, better for the industry and better for the chocolate! It’s great to see a company so passionate about what they are crafting and offering to us chocolate lovers, as well as about the sourcing of cacao and the sustainability of the business.

I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of chocolate bars (as pictured): Asajaya 2014, 73% – beans grown by Mr Chang(!) – amazing caramel tones, rich and smooth; and Serian 2014, 72% – beans grown by Mr Cyril(!) – a much more earthy, smoky flavour. Honestly, chocolate like nothing I’ve tasted before. My favourite thing? The fact that the company tells you who has grown the beans and the year in which the beans were harvested – genius.


I spent a good amount of time speaking to Luis Mancini from CACAOTALES – thank you for your time Luis, and sorry that I took up so much of it! Luis is a cacao farmer, from Peru. He feels strongly about supporting the farmers, giving them the best price for their cacao, and in doing so ‘helping them rediscover their dignity and pride’. Luis set up CACAOTALES to find other cacao smallholders in Peru, like himself, and facilitate direct trade – connecting the best farmers with the best artisan chocolatiers.

I’ll be in touch Luis – looking forward to future collaboration.

A great day out, ate at least half my weight in chocolate (and don’t regret it a bit!)

Until next time, #liveslow!

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What makes a treehouse a treehouse?

What makes a treehouse a treehouse?

Our quest to create unique and magical treehouses for our b í k u retreat has led us to ask the question, ‘What makes a treehouse a treehouse?’ Before we began our journey, we didn’t think there was much debate around what constitutes a treehouse – but, along the way we have found treehouses of all shapes and sizes, including some that are not even built in trees! We were shocked too!

For us, there are three essentials of a treehouse, as well some added bonuses which make a treehouse stay truly unbeatable. At b í k u – we’re aiming for the fundamentals as well as that icing on the cake!

Essentials of a treehouse

A treehouse must be:

  1. Off the ground
  2. In a tree (number 2 normally helps with number 1!)
  3. Magical!

Added bonuses for treetop living

For an amazing treetop stay, your treehouse should have:

  1. A unique design
  2. A swing bridge (of course – and perhaps a spiral staircase)
  3. An amazing view

When is a treehouse not a treehouse?

Most common definitions of a treehouse mention a structure that is built in a tree. The Treehouse Guide further defines a treehouse as, ‘A structure built in or around a tree which interacts with, and relies upon, the tree for its support. A treehouse consists of a roofed platform defining a sheltered space which may be fully enclosed for protection from the elements’.

I love the question that the Guide then asks, ‘Is it acceptable to use ground supports for a treehouse?’ And the answer is, it depends! This is clearly a hot topic of debate within the treehouse community.

The Guide also sets out three scenarios when a structure is not a treehouse, including when the house is fully ground supported and when the tree support is not structurally critical.

We have to say that on our journey, we’ve come across a large number of places misdefined as treehouses. And, it can be hugely disappointing when you’re looking forward to all the magic, nostalgia and quirkiness of a treehouse stay and, instead, find yourself in a building on stilts. Don’t get us wrong, there are some truly amazing and unique retreats and structures built in tree canopies that are magical – which we would love to stay at. But, please, just don’t call them a treehouse.

Living-room treehouses

living-room, in Powys, Wales, does everything you’d expect and want from a treehouse, and more! Phenomenally designed, the treehouses almost disappear into the woodland. Nature and sustainability have been taken deeply into consideration. The treehouses are a piece of hobbit-like magic in a hidden valley that take you away from the daily grind to chance encounters with fairy tale creatures and …. Welsh sheep! It’s a beautiful place to be.

Photos from our visit to living-room, back in 2015.



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3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

3 ‘must tries’ when in Bocas

Hi all, Ariel here. Today I want to share a part of the ‘real Bocas’ with you. These probably aren’t things you’ll hear from travel guides! Here are three things you must try when in Bocas. Heed this advice – it’s from a true ‘Bocas man’ – as we say.

 ONE – ‘dollar bag’

First things first, the famous ‘one-dollar bag’. This is actually now two dollars!! – inflation even reaches Bocas! Funnily enough, we still call it a one-dollar bag – or just ‘dollar bag’. This is Bocas’s version of a take away. It’s made up of fried chicken or fish and guess what else? … patacones! You can also have it with yucca, or as some of us may know it, cassava. I love this.

My mum getting our dollar bag in Almirante, Bocas del Toro. This is the best dollar bag around.

TWO – hot pepper sauce

Hot pepper sauce … Bocas style. This is not tabasco, it’s hot pepper sauce, Bocas style. This is on every table in every restaurant and in every household, used at every meal time. It’s Bocas’s equivalent of salt and pepper. As a matter of fact, you can skip the salt and pepper, but not the hot pepper sauce. And at $1.50 a bottle – it’s a bargain. Hot pepper sauce, love it!

THREE – agua de sapo

Now, this one is to wash down the dollar bag and the little bit of spice from the hot pepper sauce, it’s called ‘agua de sapo’. Translated this means ‘frog’s water’. Now I know it sounds gross, but stay with me. It’s called agua de sapo because it’s made from brown sugar mixed with lots of lime and water, so it has a misty, brown ‘dirty’ water look. But believe me, it’s the most refreshing, thirst quenching drink around!!! This might be a little bit trickier to find for the average tourist. But if you do find it, take a picture drinking it and post on Instagram with the hashtags #aguadesapo #bikutreehouse

Look out for a short video next week on our Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll tell you about patacones, and will try to do a video demo!

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From Bucks to Bocas

From Bucks to Bocas

Meet the other half of b í k u – Zabrina. She tells you why a girl from Buckinghamshire – England – wants to move to Bocas and why you’ll want to join her.

Why do you want to build treehouses in Panama, why are you doing this project?

It’s difficult to give one reason – there are multiple reasons really. It might sound like a cliché, but I don’t want to look back over my life in 20 years and wish that I had done more, wish that I’d been brave enough to take risks. As they say, you only live once. For me, two of the most satisfying things that you can do in life are be creative and help others. With b í k u, we get to do both. I’m excited about doing something where we’re creating things – rather than consuming. Consuming isn’t good for the soul.

What were your early influences?

That’s an interesting question – but an easy one to answer! I went home to my parents’ over the Easter weekend and spent some time looking through the photo albums my dad had put together for my 21st (some years ago now!) – it was fun. Looking through the photos it’s clear to see what – or who – my early influences were … my parents.

My childhood, the way that my parents have raised me has made me into the person I am today – with all my ‘wacky’ ideas – as my mum would say. They have instilled in me a love of people, a love of different cultures, a love of nature, of freedom and of being true to myself. Both my parents are medics – my mum a nurse and my dad a doctor – so I guess wanting to do something to help others comes from them and from what they pursued in their careers.

I could go on and on … I have so many memories from my childhood of being outdoors, being with nature, and I think that’s when I have been at my happiest.

Hard work is also something my parents instilled in me from a young age. This is demonstrated by the picture below! That was the way it usually went – me putting in the hard graft and my brother supervising. I’m lucky he’s not here to disagree!!

What we want to achieve with b í k u will be hard work. I’m under no impression to the contrary. But I think I’ve been conditioned quite well on that front!

Why Panama?

Apart from the obvious – in that my partner, Ariel, is Panamanian? Well, I have – ever since learning Spanish at school – developed a love for Spanish and Latin America. I had never been to Panama until my first trip with Ariel in 2014 – and I completely fell in love with the country. Where Ariel is from – Bocas del Toro – is in the North West of the country, on the Caribbean coast, and very close to the Costa Rican border. Strangely – or perhaps it’s fate – I spent a month in Costa Rica when I was about 19. I was just over that border, living in an indigenous community in Yorkín, helping to develop their eco tourism. This was part of a three month ‘expedition’ to Costa Rica I did with Raleigh International – a non profit, sustainable development organisation.

The wildlife and surroundings are very similar to what I had experienced in Costa Rica, so I actually felt very comfortable, almost at home! From an eco tourism point of view Panama makes complete sense; it’s overflowing with nature!

What is the single most important thing you want to achieve with your Panama treehouse project, b í k u?

From what I’ve seen, I think there are a number of businesses in Bocas that have played the short-term game. You know, they’ve wanted to get in their quick, maximise their profits, maybe get out again and then move on to the next project. With b í k u, we want to have a longer term investment. There’s definitely a gap in the market for a unique customer experience to be given not only through the nature of Bocas but also through design and highly personalised customer service.

We want to reinvest in the community, for the longer term – and be a spring board for other social businesses led by the community. We hope to inspire and to create a lasting change.

Can you do this by yourself?

No! We need your support, the support of people reading this – to make b í k u a reality. We have the passion, the drive, the vision – but need the support of a ‘crowd’ to raise the funds for the treehouse build. For those of you who have already been following our story, you’ll know that we’re going live with our crowdfund in September. For those of you who are less familiar with crowdfunding, there will be future blogs dedicated to this topic. But, in short – our crowdfund will be pre-sales. You will be able to book your b í k u treehouse holiday at a discounted price.

Tell us an unexpected fact about you.

I was held hostage in Tikal, Guatemala!


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A few more piccies from the photo albums Dad put together!

Bird watcher in training. Pssst, the other way round!
Me winning a race with my brother! Or, is he letting me win …
Rocking the matching macks