Las Perlas Islands

February 15th, 2014
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Some of the most renowned pearls in the world came from the oysters on the seabed around the hundred or so islands which make up the Pearl Island archipelago in the Gulf of Panama.

The islands are mostly uninhabited except for some fishing communities and only a few of the islands have tourist development.

But slowly, the potential of the Perlas Islands as a beach resort and leisure destination is being realised.


Isla Viveros is a private island of 600 hectares in a sustainable marine corridor in the archipelago.

It is being developed under a master plan which includes houses and condominiums, airport, marina, hotels and a ‘Signature’ golf course by Jack Nicklaus.

The Trump Tower Beach Club is open with a direct ferry soon to come plus the inauguration of the airport.

Isla Viveros is equidistant from Panama and Piñas Bay (famous for its deep water sports fishing). The marina offers a complete service for fuel and maintenance.

The master plan for development leaves spaces for parks and clients can enjoy its pristine beaches in harmony with nature.

Projects are also planned for Isla del Rey, Isla Saboga, Isla Pedro González


One of the most spectacular resorts in Panama is Hacienda del Mar on Isla San José in the Perlas Islands, a 20 minute plane ride out of Panama City

San José Island is a wild and beautiful place inhabited only by deer, wild pigs and other small mammals. Birds of brilliant plumage populate its old and pristine forests, fringed by hidden coves and beaches, washed by the lazy water of the Pacific.

The resort consists of 14 cabins offering total luxury, and a large and comfortable club house with bar and restaurant where, when they say “catch of the day”, you can believe it. Fish, lobster and crab are caught daily just off the island.

Large, as Pearl Islands go (some 44 square kilometers), San Jose has abundant wildlife, rich vegetation and many rivers. Sea turtles inhabit the beaches and humpback whales are a common sight from the clubhouse verandah. It is therefore apt that Hacienda del Mar describes itself as an “eco village by the sea”.

But ecology is only part of what is offered at the resort. As a fishing lodge, Hacienda del Mar is almost unequalled. Sail fish and tuna cruise underwater mountain peaks rising from 9,000 feet.


There is much to count

The count was first of lustrous pearls from the seabed below the clear Pacific waters. Contadora (it translates as “teller” or “counting house” or just about any system to help the King of Spain keep sticky fingers out of his treasure tally) is at the head of the Pearl Island chain in Panama Bay.

The pearls had to pass that way en route, the King hoped, to Madrid. No pearls remain to count on Contadora today unless milady brings them along with her bikini. But there are other things to count such as: the marlin or sailfish pennants as your hired fishing boat ends its day or your spearfishing score around the reefs, calories in the island’s restaurants.

The island has a good asphalted airstrip and scheduled flights ply back and forth from Marcos A. Gelabert Airport at Albrook in Panama City.

Visitors to the island will get all the information they need at the Welcome Center situated near the airport. They can also rent carts, scooters, kayaks and beach gear and, most important of all, enjoy Italian ice cream and coffee.

For visitors interested in diving or snorkeling, Panama Dive Tours has everything you need. They also offer whale watching tours in season.

The Perlas Archipelago is part of a marine corridor and whale sanctuary designated by the Panamanian government. It is one of two archipelagos in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. The other is the Galapagos. The Las Perlas Marine Special Management Zone, created under Panama’s Law 18 in May 2007, is the most recent addition to a major regional marine conservation corridor extending from Costa Rica to Ecuador. The 1,688-km2 management zone includes 250 mostly uninhabited rock islands and islets.

Whale watching trips in the Perlas Islands are offered from July to October by a company called Whale Watching Panama whose manager, Anne Gordon de Barrington, reports an 80 to 100 percent success rate in viewing whales on the trips she organizes. Other whale watching companies are Las Perlas Sailing, 202-7426, and Panama Bahia Water Tours, 6931-1547.

There are many beaches around the island. Playa Sueca is a nudist beach.

The Casa del Sol is a charming bed and breakfast run by Peter Grunwell and his wife Anke.It is adaptable for any needs. It has several single rooms, a studio for couples with children, a designer apartment, a large house for big groups and a luxury villa with an oriental ambience.

Gerald’s Hotel has eight rooms and an excellent restaurant open from 7.30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

For villa rentals on Contadora, the company to contact is Battuta Rentals at (507) 833-9345.

Perla Real a Spanish-style inn of considerable charm nestles among tall trees on the quiet residential end of Contadora. It offers 4 rooms and two suites with gracious facilities.

Excellent value is offered at Contadora Island Inn, a five room hostelry offering comfortable, stylish rooms with private decks. The whole house can be rented for groups.

To visit the best spots and remote islands, charter a catamaran for weekends, or 2 to 14 day cruises, with great fishing, snorkeling and sailing. Call 314-1800 or e-mail


Two ferries operate from Panama City to the islands. The catamaran Sea Las Perlas operates daily at 8 a.m. Leaving from Balboa Yacht Club on the Causeway in Panama City to Contadora 7 days a week and to San Miguel and Viveros Friday, Saturday, Sunday Monday and Wednesday with excellent service on board. For more information contact: (507)391 1424

Ferry Las Perlas leaves from the Dock of the Trump Building at 8 a.m. every day except Wednesday and goes to Contadora and Saboga. Round trip is $95. Ramp allows for loading and unloading directly on the beach.Call(507) 6780-8000.


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