One of the country’s best kept secret is only 15 minutes by plane from Panama City and just over an hour and a half by ferry through the Bay of Panama.
The Pearl Islands is an archipelago of hundreds of islands and islets, many uninhabited.
Although located off Panama’s Pacific Coast, the islands have a distinctly Caribbean feel, with white sand beaches lapped by turquoise waters. Offshore, however, waters are teeming with a rich Pacific marine life, perfect for diving,
snorkeling, sailing, sports fishing and spotting dolphins and whales.
Named by Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa for the abundance of pearls he encountered upon discovering the archipelago in 1513, the islands are also known for producing the largest recorded pearl in the world, ‘La Peregrina’, which once belonged to Elizabeth Taylor.
The most developed island is Contadora with its luxurious villas and a handful of hotels and restaurants. In the days of the Spanish conquistadors, the island was used to store and count gold (hence the name which means bookkeeper in Spanish). It remained relatively undisturbed until the1960s, when construction began on a large resort, and Contadora became the choice getaway for wealthy Panamanians and foreigners, including Jimmy Carter, Julio
Iglesias and Iran’s exiled Shah Reza Pahlavi.
And south of Contadora is Isla San José, the second largest island of the archipelago and home to one of Panama’s most exclusive Pacific island resorts, Hacienda del Mar.