Last update: November, 2009
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.
A group of investors based in Europe has begun work on an ambitious residential development on Isla Viveros close to the biggest island, Isla del Rey. It contemplates 550 homes, airport, marinas and complete community amenities such as a clinic, shops and restaurants.
Condominium projects are also planned for Isla del Rey.
The most recent project involves the construction of luxury vacation homes on Isla Saboga where developer Armel González is very serious about preserving the environment and ecosystem of the island.
Isla San Jose
One of the most spectacular resorts in Panama is Hacienda del Mar on Isla San Jose in the Perlas Islands, a 20 minute plane ride out of Panama City.
San Jose 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 Humpbacked 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.
Snorkeling and scuba diving is awesome. Kayaks, 4 wheel motor bikes, mountain bikes, banana boats, beach barbecues, spring fed swimming pool, sauna and gym, pool table ... all these diversions are offered.
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 is much else to count.
- Your score on the nine-hole golf course. (Were it longer, some tee shots would have to put out to sea on a compass heading).
- Your score on the night-lit tennis courts.
- 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.
Better than extending the infinite list of Contadora’s countables, we offer a "do" and a "don’t". Do count your blessings. Do not count the hours till it is time for you to leave the isle where, the historian tells, the pearls were the size of nuts. In line with the methodology of Contadora’s arithmetical relations with the King of Spain, he did not specify whether peanuts or brazil nuts.
The sun-bright island in the shimmering sea is a popular Panamanian beach resort. The construction of the Contadora Hotel in the 1970s was followed by upscale residential development around the superb beaches which surround this and other islands.
The island has a good ashphalted airstrip and scheduled flights ply back and forth from Marcos A. Gelabert Airport at Albrook in Panama City.
There are many beaches around the island. Playa Sueca is a nudist beach.
The Hotel Contadora is a beach- front complex.
The Hotel Punta Galeon Resort offers a luxurious setting on a bluff overlooking the Pacific and the superb Galeon Beach.
Villa Romantica is a six-bedroom resort hotel fronting the white sands of Contadora’s Playa Cacique. Family style activities include mini-golf, volleyball and many games. All the bedrooms have sea views. Mine host, Austrian Charlie Pree, can arrange fishing, water sports and boat tours to the surrounding islands.
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 2 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 the catamaran Athena: weekends, 2 to 14 days cruise, great fishing, snorkeling and sailing. Call 314-1800 or e-mail at