South America Travel Guides

Panama Travel Guide:
Panama (General)
Panama Flights
Bocas del Toro
San Blas Islands
Pearl Islands
Pacific Coast near Panama City
Azuero Peninsula & Pedasi
Santa Catalina & Coiba
Chiriqui Province
Darien Province

Pearl Islands

The Pearl Islands are an archipelago of numerous small, beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean just a 15 minute flight from Panama City. At the moment, tourism and visitors are concentrated almost entirely on the medium sized island of Contadora, though there are plans to develop and build holiday homes on various other islands, most of which are currently uninhabited. The beaches are white sand, and the islands have a laid back lifestyle, ideal for a few nights relaxation.

Pearl Islands Hotels

Hotel Contadora - a large all inclusive hotel in front of one of Contadora's largest beaches - Playa Larga. Most rooms have a fine beach view. There are various restaurants within a ten minute walk.

Punta Galleon Hotel Resort - another large beach front hotel. Punta Galleon's beach (Playa Galleon) is not as beautiful as that Hotel Contadora' and the hotels decor a little tacky and tired. There are various restaurants within a five minute walk.

Villa Romantica - the third of Contadora Island's beach front hotels, Villa Romantica is much smaller with approximately ten rooms, and the beach is one of the best on the island (Playa Cacique). I'm told it's been recently renovated (2011).

Perla Real Inn - an excellent small bed and breakfast in the South of the island, see our full review of the Perla Real on our blog.

Contadora Island Inn - one of the best value options on the island, the Contadora Island Inn is a house converted into a bed and breakfast hotel and is located almost next door to the Perla Real. The beaches are a five to thirty minute walk away, while the nearest restaurant is at Villa Romantica some five to ten minute walk away. There are other restaurants at the far end of the island, but it's about twenty minutes walk.

Cabanas Contadora - this is the cheapest option on the island at $45 per night. Rooms are basic but clean, and include a small kitchen and porch with hammock. The main drawback is the location - beaches, restaurants and just about anything is over ten minutes walk away.

Hacienda del Mar - an intimate upmarket luxury hotel located on the private island of San Jose. The staff are excellent, and Hacienda del Mar is easy to get to, though the island does apparently have rather a lot of biting insects.

Pearl Islands Boat Tours

The Pearl Islands was were the Survivor TV series was filmed, and various boat tours can show you exactly where the programme was made. The organised boat tours typically visit a few deserted islands with beautiful beaches, plus offer opportunities for some excellent snorkelling. A shared half day boat tour costs $35 per person, alternatively a full day catarmaran trip costs $60. Those averse to sharing the deserted islands with other tourists on one of these group tours can always charter a private boat for $25 per hour. You'll discover that the most beautiful beaches aren't on Contadora Island - you need to travel a little to find them.

Contadora Island's Beaches

Other activities on Contadora Island include hiring a golf cart or bicycle to explore the islands numerous beaches, including one of Panama's few nudist beaches (Playa de las Suecas). At low tide, there are some lovely coastal walks possible over the shorelines rocky outcrops - walk round the coast South from Villa Romantica's beach (Playa Caqique) to discover some beautiful luxury beachfront homes owned by Panama's rich folk, plus some empty beaches only accessible at low tide such as Playa Camaron, Playa Roca and Playa Dimaggio. Contadora Island's most beautiful beach is Playa Ejecutiva, easily accessible on the Northern coast of the island.

Practical Contadora Island Travel Information

Contadora Island has no bank, though both Visa and Mastercard are accepted at most hotels. Contadora has a couple of small supermarkets, plus a small internet cafe.

There are regular flights to Contadora Island from Panama City with both Aeroperlas and Air Panama at a cost of $100 return. It might also be possible to arrange to travel by boat from Panama City to Contadora Island, at a cost of $60 return, but the service in infrequent and has no schedules - contact Hotel Contadora for information and advice.

As with much of Panama's Pacific Coastline (indeed all of Latin America's Pacific coast), whale watching can be organised during the months of June to September.

The Pearl Islands have a lovely sunny climate, but the heat is not overly oppressive. The peak tourism season is from December to April, which co-incides with the dry season in which there are next to no mosquitos or biting insects on Contadora island. The rainy season is from May to November.

The Pearl Islands Litter Problem

On your flight from Panama City to the Pearl Islands you will see from your plane what a beautiful archipelago paradise it is. Sadly, the islands are becoming rather spoilt by the presence of an excessive amount of litter on the beaches. The proximity to the major shipping lane of the Panama Canal, plus the lack of respect on behalf of visiting rich kid Panamanian tourists who irresponsibly dump litter as well as antisocially blare out music from their cruise boats (from what we witnessed) means that many of the beaches throughout the Pearl Islands are very seriously blighted by litter. The fact that there seems to be no governmental nor communal will to address the problem does not help. Hotels such as Villa Romantica make no attempt to clear the excessive amounts of litter in front of them for example. An increase in tourism will only lead to further litter, and this is a real problem that the Pearl Islands will need to address if it hopes to become a major international travel destination as planned.

Pearl Islands photos:
Pearl islands aerial photo
Pearl islands archipelago.

Pearl Islands
An empty beach on an uninhabited island in the Pearl Islands.

Contadora Island Beaches
A beach on Contadora Island (Playa Ejecutiva) - Punta Galleon Resort in the distance.

Private Holiday Home on Contadroa Island, Panama
Contadora Island private holiday home. South America Travel Guides and Tips - All rights reserved.