The Pacific Islands of Eastern Panama


More of the Pacific islands than not are unnamed. Some are privately held, owned by the rich and/or famous, while others are popular destinations for day-trippers from the capital by boat or air. A range of overnight accommodations, from rustic to luxury, can be found on one island or another. Depending on their interests, visitors on Panama tours will find plenty of enjoyable pastimes on these Pacific islands.

A number of small islands are located ten miles out to sea directly south of Panama City. With its proximity to the capital and regular ferry service, Isla Taboga, the largest of these islands, is a popular day-trip. The island’s wildlife refuge protects one of the world’s largest colonies of brown pelicans. The French painter, Paul Gauguin, lived here briefly in 1887 following a short but grueling stint on the French work crew that tried and failed to build the Panama Canal.

Thirty miles from the coast southeast of Panama City in the Bay of Panama is the Archipelago de las Perlas, or Pearl Islands, consisting of over 200 islands and atolls, mostly uninhabited and some privately owned. The archipelago may be reached by air or fast boat from the capital. Boats ferry visitors between islands. The harvesting of pearls has taken place here since pre-Columbian times, and today, the pearls are still world-famous for their high quality. Deep sea fishing is a popular activity on Panama tours to the Pearl Islands.

Perlas archipelago's Isla Contadora was once the place where the conquistadors inventoried their booty before shipping it off to the fatherland and derives its name from all the counting that occurred here then. After President Jimmy Carter allowed the exiled Shah of Iran to undergo cancer treatment in the U.S. in 1979, the banished leader was whisked to Isla Contadora to live before moving on to a permanent host-country. (Carter's humanitarian gesture caused the Iran hostage crisis in which American diplomats were held for over a year in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran). Jungle, tropical wildlife and deserted shores have made Isla Contadora and nearby Mogo Mogo and Chapera Islands the perfect setting for the popular television series, “Survivor.”

The biggest island in the Perlas chain is Isla del Rey where a luxury resort, called Cuna de Vida (Cradle of Life), will soon be turning this sleepy island into a thriving center for visitors on Panama tours who favor extended stays. The development will feature fractional-ownership villas and estates plus a privately operated international airport. To the southwest is Isla San Jose, a privately owned island where a small pristine eco-resort is located.