Pacific Beaches and Islands
Due to Panama’s unique geographic location, Panama boasts some truly amazing idyllic islands in the Pacific and gorgeous Pacific Beaches. The beautiful warm waters are more reminiscent of the Caribbean Sea than the Pacific Ocean and offer endless opportunities for island hopping, water sports, and just lounging around your own private beach.
There are numerous different types of islands and beaches; and the water sports activities that are available depend on the location, the particular island, and respective beaches.
Boca Chica and the Bocas del Mar Beach Resort
Nestling amidst a stunning tropical paradise, Bocas del Mar Hotel in Boca Chica offers the perfect base for discovering the region. This is the gateway to the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park with its many luxuriant green islands, palm-tree-fringed white beaches and an incredible variety of wildlife, right on the hotel’s doorstep! The hotel has its own private dock at the hotel, ideal to go beach-hopping or set off on a sports fishing trip.
Your days at Bocas del Mar, which is a stunning boutique hotel with modern, luxurious amenities, can be as relaxing or as adventurous as you want it to be. You can enjoy the two beautiful infinity-style pools, sunbathe on the wide terraces or private cove, or simply relax over a delicious meal and cold beverage at the stylish restaurant and bar. And all the time you will be taking in the spectacular surrounding views of sailboats dotting the deep blue water and the island beyond just waiting to be explored.
Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park
Golfo de Chiriqui National Marine Park, a 14,740 hectares Marine Park that encompasses many uninhabited islands and serves as a refuge for howler monkeys, leatherback and hawksbill turtles, tiger herons, and scores of exotic fish.
The rich marine life is paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers alike filled with gigantic schools of colorful tropical fish and the opportunity to come nose to nose with the large Sand Tipped Shark. Not surprisingly the waters of the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park are legendary for sport fishing as they boast some of the best fishing in the world.
Coiba National Park and Coiba Island (Isla Coiba)
Coiba National Park is a marine preserve off Panama’s Pacific Coast in the Gulf of Chiriqui. It is comprised of 425,380 acres and 38 different islands, the most famous of which is Coiba Island. Isla Coiba has the dubious distinction of having been a penal colony but that is good news for travelers since the flora, fauna and natural beauty have been virtually untouched over the years. Coiba National Park was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
Getting to Isla Coiba is half the fun as it is located about 30 miles off the Pacific coast in the western part of Panama. Travel by boat is a must and you never know what you might see – sea turtles, whale sharks, all kinds of birds – during the two-hour boat journey from the mainland’s small beach town of Santa Catalina. The only facilities on the island include a visitors’ center and cabins managed by Panama’s National Authority for the Environment (ANAM). Camping on the island is also permitted with prior approval from ANAM.
The tropical jungles of Isla Coiba are pristine and various forms of wildlife that can be seen (and heard) include howler monkeys, crocodiles, and crested eagles. It is true paradise for bird watchers as 97 of the 147 species of birds found throughout Coiba National Park are found on Isla Coiba. The island is a refuge for crested eagles and scarlet macaws. And Coiba Island also maintains 20 endemic bird species, including the Coiba Spinetail.
The beaches of Coiba Island are undeveloped and consequently spectacular. The surrounding waters are ideal for snorkeling and diving and different species of tropical fish and sharks can be seen. The waters also offer shelter to four different types of turtle including leatherback, hawksbill, olive and loggerhead.
Pedasi, Playa Venao, and Iguana Island
Still way off the beaten tourist path, though not for long, Pedasi and Playa Venao are about as relaxing a small-town beach destination as you will find anywhere in the world. You will find some of the friendliest and most easy going locals in all of Panama who may be riding by on horseback as surfing enthusiasts from all over the world come to Playa Venao to catch world-class waves and live the laid back good life that the area is so famous for.
Isla Iguana (Iguana Island) is a wildlife refuge located approximately 5 miles from the mainland of Pedasi. It features beautiful white sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, fantastic coral reefs known to be some of the best preserved in the area, home of multiple species of birds, and the largest nesting grounds for frigates. It also harbors a wide variety of other animals and marine wildlife.
To get there, an open fiberglass boat known as a “panga” will take us from Playa El Arenal to the island. Once there, water lovers can enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving and enjoy seeing a fantastic variety of marine life. Hiking trails also dot the island, and you will be able to see iguanas running all over while you learn more about the island at the Visitors Center and snack on the season’s freshest fruits.
Santa Clara Beach
About an hour and a half west of Panama City sits the unpretentious yet increasingly popular beach area of Santa Clara. Previously nothing more than a small fishing village, a few vacation homes and budget-type hotels, Playa Santa Clara now boasts the Sheraton Bijao All-Inclusive Beach Resorts. At the same time, one of the very best public beach facilities sits on Santa Clara Beach where you can rent a traditional style bohio to escape the relentless tropical sun. There’s a great restaurant serving local style Panamanian dishes and ice cold beer.
Just a quick 20 minute flight from Panamá City but a world apart is the idyllic island of Contadora, the largest of the many Pearl Islands lying south of Panama City that dot the Pacific. Contadora Island is the best equipped for tourism of all of the Pearl Islands offering a good variety of land and water-based tours, hotels, restaurants, a daily ferry service to and from Panama City and regular flights connecting the island with Panama City.
Contadora was once the “place to go” for the rich and famous. It boasts many beautiful homes that have been owned and visited by Panamanian presidents and vice-presidents, Christian Dior, the former Shah of Iran, and John Wayne, among others. Today Contadora is the perfect vacation destination that is still “undiscovered” by many. You will find quiet, uncrowded beautiful white sand beaches with gorgeous turquoise blue waters and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
Sit back and simply enjoy island life, have an island to yourself, or snorkel some of the best places in all of Panama. There is no better place to relax and unwind than the tranquil island of Contadora.
San Jose Island
San Jose Island has been blessed with 57 spectacular coral white, ebony black, and radiant gold beaches and coves that surround the island that are embedded between the temperate and calm turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Panama. Wildlife on the island is abundant due to the rich vegetation and the profusion of fresh water from the many spring fed rivers. The only accommodations on the island, Hacienda del Mar Resort, reports wildlife numbering more than 3,000 wild boars, large quantities of deer, black and green iguanas, agoutis, parrots, giant pigeons, and beautiful scarlet macaws. There are more than 100 different species of birds inhabiting San Jose Island and the neighboring waters and the beaches are used by many sea turtles for nesting and the laying of their eggs. Amazingly it is even possible to see humpback whales right from the beach.