The Pacific Islands of Central and Western Panama


Azuero Peninsula And Surrounding Islands Are Great For Folklore, Crafts And Rustic Beauty
The Azuero Peninsula, best known to visitors on Panama tours for its folklore and traditional crafts, has islands in all three directions. To the east in Los Santos Province is Isla Villa where the Penon de la Onda Wildlife Refuge protects the nesting sites of several marine bird species. To the south are two notable destinations for wildlife enthusiasts on Panama tours. Isla Cana, is the site of a wildlife refuge where many marine turtles come to nest. Isla Iguana, while named for the reptiles that inhabit a portion of the island, is known for its sublime snorkeling and diving in the eastern Pacific coral reef with its vast array of marine wildlife, for its five turtle nesting sites and its large number of birds.

On the west side of the peninsula is the Gulf of Montijo where Isla Cebaco lies. The island's only inhabitants live in a small fishing village on the north end of the island and the wave action out from its southwestern tip attracts mostly local surfers in-the-know during the dry season.

Two hours west of Isla Cebaco by boat in the Gulf of Chiriqui are the almost forty islands off the Pacific coast of Veraguas Province that comprise Coiba Marine National Park, protecting the second largest coral reef in the eastern Pacific. Named for its former indigenous inhabitants, the Coiba Cacique tribe, Coiba is the country's largest island and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Coiba Marine National Park is filled with wildlife and considered the Galapagos Islands of Panama, offering visitors on Panama tours good surfing, snorkeling, diving and whale watching opportunities. Advance permission to visit is required. On Coiba, a penal colony once curtailed population growth, but with the closing of the prison in 2004, development has taken off, to the concern of environmentalists. This is a boon to the island's citizens who have the lowest standard of living in Panama but bad for the fragile coral reef eco-system. For an update on the situation, go to

West of Coiba is Golfo de Chirqui National Marine Park, another wildlife mecca that protects the Paridas Archipelago, a group of two inhabited and twenty uninhabited islands. Starting from Isla Boca Brava, most visitors on Panama tours here make their way to the uninhabited islands, some close to shore and others further out to sea such as Isla San Jose and Isla Bolanos, enjoyed by snorkeling and diving enthusiasts, and Isla Gamez, popular with boaters. The park is a magnet for birdwatchers who come here to observe the 275 species.

Between the two marine parks is the small Islas Secas archipelago of sixteen islands. It is owned privately owned and the site of a boutique eco-resort.

Among Southern Explorations' Panama tours, the eight-day Luxury Panama trip travels to the Azuero Peninsula.