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.
Contadora - 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.
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.
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.
Whale watching trips in the Perlas Islands are offered from July to October by a company called Whale Watching Panama contact (email@example.com) or Las Perlas Sailing, 314-1288.
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 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.
Perla Real a Spanish-style inn is located on the quiet residential end of Contadora, offers 4 rooms and two suites.
Excellent value is offered at Contadora Island Inn, a five room hostelry offering comfortable, stylish rooms with private decks.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Isla San José
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.
The resort consists of 14 cabins offering total luxury, and a large and comfortable club house with bar and restaurant.
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 veranda.
Just beyond Contadora lies the island of Saboga where some residential projects are under way. Beach Club Las Perlas makes Saboga a perfect destination for a day trip or longer from Panama City. The club has a restaurant and bar and facilities for water sports.
Two ferries operate from Panama City to the islands. The catamaran Sea Las Perlas operates daily at 7:30 a.m., leaving from Balboa Yacht Club on the Causeway in Panama City for Contadora 7 days a week and to San Miguel and Viveros Friday, Saturday, Sunday Monday and Wednesday. For more information contact: (507) 391 1424
Ferry Las Perlas leaves from the Trump Tower Ocean Club Panama and goes to Saboga, Contadora and Viveros Island. They have two ferries with daily capacity for 250 people, with the option of including a day pass for the most exclusive beach clubs of the Archipelago. For more information contact: (507) 831-5048/49, (507) 6200-0080.