The Pearl Islands
The Archipelago de las Perlas, or the Pearl Islands, is a collection of roughly 200 hundred islands or "islets" (small and uninhabited islands) that are all found 30 miles or more from the Pacific coast of the Republic of Panama. They are in the Gulf of Panama and effectively sheltered from the north by the land mass or isthmus.
They are not named for their arrangement but for the many large pearls that were once found in the oysters harvested from the surrounding waters. Today, however, they could easily be described each as flawless pearls thanks to their immaculate white sands and their jewel like perfection.
With over 200 islands or islets it would seem that there would be a lot of people traveling around the Pearl Islands, but that is not really the case. Like so many other areas of Panama, a lot of the land has been protected and preserved. Currently around 22% of the entire country is held as national parklands, and that has allowed much of the pristine natural beauty of Panama to be retained.
The Pearl Islands are the same and only a handful of them have been developed for tourism. However, some recent real estate plans are causing some to worry that more luxury resorts or homes will begin to crowd some of the larger islands. These islands include:
- Contadora Island - This is where the majority of resort accommodations are found, and where daily Air Panama flights bring travelers who are going to spend time in the region. This is also the island that is home to so many of the wealthiest Panamanians.
- Isla del Rey - This is the largest of the islands and is dotted with a few towns (including San Miguel). The size of this island is substantial and it is bigger than the remaining islands combined.
There are, as indicated, dozens and dozens more islands and though many are named, not all have visitor services or accommodations.
There are only two ways to reach the Pearl Islands - air or sea. There is catamaran ferry service that takes around 2 hours and departs from the Balboa Yacht Club (which is on the Panama City Causeway) once each day. The air option is via Air Panama and this is a flight from Panama City to Isla Contadora with two flights daily on weekdays and several on weekends. Some people also charter private boats and yachts to their preferred islands.
Once on the island most people choose to walk to their destinations as the longest walks are from ten to thirty minutes. There are rentals available (usualy 4x4) for those on Contador Island, but this is mostly an unneeded expense.
Whether staying on Contadora Island or one of the other islands, there is a long list of things to do. Among them are:
- Scuba diving - Again, this is going to be Pacific water diving and will reveal less coral and much more wildlife
- Whale watching excursions
- Boat tours - Some are geared towards seeing different islands but others have specific themes such as bird watching, whale watching, or even snorkeling
- Snorkeling - This is often Pacific snorkeling and can be quite different than what is experienced in Caribbean waters
- Bird watching
- Sport fishing
- Beach hopping - You can often walk to the different beaches of Contadora, but it is a great deal of fun to hire a boat to explore any of the beaches of the nearby islands
Naturally, you might opt to stay at a resort that also features a long list of activities. However, it is a good idea to keep in mind that the Pearl Islands are among some of the most secluded and pristine. This is why the famous TV show "Survivor" chose it for one of their seasons.
The islands are also very historic. They were still home to native populations at the time of the European arrivals, but the shelter created by the archipelago made it an ideal choice for the sailors and pirates who soon resided on the larger islands. It is even rumored that Contadora Island was given that name because it was the "counting house" for the many pearls taken from the nearby waters.
Whether you want to revel in the pirate stories and maritime history of the Pearl Islands, enjoy endless days of sunbathing on your own private beach hideaway, or explore the natural and scenic beauty of the area as you dive or sail the waters, you can easily do so, and now is an ideal time to plan your getaway.
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