ISLAND PARADISES

Panama 2017 | TOURISM | PHOTO ESSAY: LAS PERLAS ARCHIPELAGO

No longer just for the rich and famous, the Pearl Islands off the coast of Panama City are renowned for their clear waters and pristine beaches.

The Pearl Islands are an archipelago of over 200 islands and islets emerging about 50km off the North Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Panama. The islands are renowned for their pristine beaches, scuba diving, and marine life. The biggest island is Isla Del Ray, though the most popular and well known is Contadora, which features an airport, hotels, and resorts.

ISLA CONTADORA

One of the most notable islands is Isla Contadora, known among the regional community of tourists for its resorts. Contadora was reportedly used by Spanish conquistadores to store spoils before returning to Spain. It is today a resort-island famous for its beachfront villas owned by wealthy Panamanian families. The island of Contadora became world famous when in 1979 the Shah of Iran retreated there in exile. This put the spotlight on the islands as an exclusive and expensive playground for the rich and famous. Since then, Contadora's popularity has only grown and even Hollywood stars have invested in private getaways. The reality show Survivor put the Pearl Islands and Contadora on the map as a tropical paradise, and tourism subsequently started to flourish and the islands are no longer just for the rich and famous.

ISLA TABOGA

This volcanic Island is located about 20km from Panama City. Taboga is also known as the “Island of Flowers." Taboga was discovered at the beginning of the 16th century and was originally called “Isla de San Pedro" by Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. The island's initial settlers were Indian slaves from Venezuela and Nicaragua and the small town rising from the island was founded back in 1524. The town church is considered to be the second-oldest church in the Americas. French painter Paul Gauguin visited the island in 1887. The island has a tropical rainforest climate, with an average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius. Tourism is the major economic activity on Taboga, although fishing and agriculture are also practiced.

PEARL ISLAND

Pearl Island is the third-largest island within the Las Perlas Archipelago. Managed by Grupo Eleta, Pearl Island will soon host a luxurious Ritz Carlton and exclusive villas. The island can be reached by boat, helicopter, or plane from Panama. Pearl Island is a virgin paradise featuring an extensive private natural reserve, with over half of the island undisturbed. The 3,500-acre private island is populated by an extraordinary collection of exotic natural life; Pearl Island is home to a remarkable 150-species bird sanctuary, one of the greatest in the world, including a vast population of migrating pelicans, 700 species of fish, and 15 species of coral that fill the surrounding waters, in addition to 16 species of mammals, sea turtles, and whales that visit the island for a great part of the year.

During an interview with TBY, the CEO of Grupo Eleta, Saint Malo, said, “in order to preserve this critical habitat of birds and marine species, 70% of the total of the island will not be touched, with strict development measures applied to minimize the impact on the environment, guaranteeing the conservation of this natural paradise. We have conceived this project to maintain the majestic natural beauty that exists on the island, so for us it is paramount to be able to protect the environment."