We just got back from a mini-vacation to Isla Contadora in the Pearl Islands. The Pearl Islands are a group of over 200 islands and islets located about 30 miles from Panama and stretching out south away from the main isthmus in the Gulf of Panama. We stayed at a comfortable B&B on Isla Contadora which is the most notable island in the group mostly because of its resorts, large homes, airport and white sand beaches. Contadora earned its named because the Spanish used to stop on the island to “count” their inventory of pearls prior to returning to Spain. Contador means counter in the Spanish Language. Tons of photos as well.
The group of islands is just breath taking, as we were flying in, they seemed to be everywhere. The runway on Contadora is tiny and sketchy to say the least, upon nearing the airport the rain started pouring down. So in our best interest our pilot skipped the first attempt and circled around for another. The rain had a perfect little break in it for us to make a safe landing. Now when I say sketchy in regards to the runway it has mostly to do with its short length and the cliffs on each end that are just a few feet from the ocean. Keeps you on the edge of the seat landing and taking off.
After landing we grabbed our bags and hopped on a typical island ride, a kawasaki Mule and headed to the B&B. Most of what you will see vehicle wise is golf cars, side by sides (Mules, Polaris Rangers, etc.) and the occasional small van or truck. While we were on the island we rented a couple golf cars and made sure to drive each road we found, which doesn’t take long. I would say less than 30 minutes even on a slow golf car you could drive every road on the Island of Contadora.
Isla Contadora has seven beautiful beaches of which we were sure to enjoy as many as possible while visiting the Pearl Islands. We snorkeled Playa Ejecutivo which was quite enjoyable. One thing we really love about Panama is the oceans are always suitable for swimming due to great temperatures.
Shortly after we arrived we visited Playa Larga where we noticed a side by side Polaris Ranger stuck in the soft sand trying to tow a small boat from the ocean. So we went over and gave a hand and got them free. This beach is a pretty good size one, with very soft white sand. This beach has several interesting things, including a old ferry boat that was part hoover craft, which has been abandoned and is now home to many crabs and sea life. Also this beach has two large hotels which have been abandoned as well, one is over 300 rooms. These places are both very intriguing and creepy at the same time.
We had been fortunate enough to time our trip to the Island of Contadora in the Pearl Islands of Panama on the night of the Blood Moon. Playa Larga was the perfect spot to enjoy this rare Blood Moon, which was fantastic. Neither Tiffany nor I had ever witnessed a lunar eclipse so this was a great experience for sure. We hung out on the beach with our two friends that joined us on this trip and enjoyed a couple bottles of champagne under the moon light, while we had it. Once the earth began blocking the sun light the moon began to turn a reddish color. When the moon was completely blocked of sun light it was a very red or blood color, spectacular sight.
While the eclipse was in process Tiffany and I decided to take a walk down the beach to explore the abandoned hoover craft ferry. It was a little creepy and very neat all at the same time. This boat has turned into a crab heaven, it had crabs of many sizes crawling around it. Also many people have taken time over the years to add their own art work to this vessel with spray cans, graffiti was all over it, not cool but did give it much character, ha ha.
The next morning we hopped on the golf cars with snacks and an ice chest and headed to one of the three Mini Super (a small grocery store) Stores to get some drinks and more snacks for the day. We then drove the golf cars down to the beach and found a Panga (small local boat often used for fishing or island tours) and negotiated a good rate of $100 for four hours to go island hopping. Typical rate for the Panagas is about $40 per hour on Contadora Isla.
First spot we headed for on the Panga was Mogo Mogo where one of the Survivor TV Shows had been filmed. We are big fans of the Survivor Series and have been watching for sometime now so this was sounding fun. While heading to Mogo Mogo Isla we were fortunate enough to sight a few whales and stopped for a bit to enjoy this spectacle. One whale was quite massive and appeared to have its calf swimming right along with it. When I say quite massive I mean about 3 times the size of our boat we were in, which makes things real, lol.
We continued on to Mogo Mogo Island (Survivor Island as we were calling it) this island was quite breathtaking with large white sand beaches and acres of large happy trees and forest. This Island was just past Chapera Island which was also used on Survivor. We anchored up on the beach and headed out to snorkel, the water on this beach had large patches of very warm water. We had a good time snorkeling and saw several hundred fish enjoying the sea. We will be getting an underwater camera soon to share some of the incredible sights. Mogo Mogo also had a river flowing down to this beach so we made sure to explore the mouth of it a bit and pick up some sea shells and rocks, which were very neat and quite colorful. While walking around this river, we encountered the softest sand we have ever walked in. I would say it was on the realm of quick sand as in some areas Tiffany sank down a good two thirds of her calf, neat and a bit scary at the same time. Then it was back on the Panga and out into the deep blue sea.
We were cruising along and notice a tiny island of just sand and rocks, not a single tree. This was quite a sight just being a pile of sand and stones in the middle of the ocean, so we had to stop and explore. When I say small, this island was only a few hundred feet from one side to the other and is apparently completely under water at high tide. Upon arriving on the shore of this tiny island we noticed some huge shells, so of course we claimed a few to add to our collection. After this we got back on the panga and continued our boat ride around Mogo Mogo and then back towards Soboga Isla and Contadora Isla. The sights during this ride were amazingly beautiful, we took tons of photos which you can see in our photo gallery.
From that small sand island we headed back towards Contadora, looking for one more amazing stop of the day. We headed directly across from Contadora to an island solely inhabited by birds. Despite the beauty of the small island the smell from the residents was enough to make anyone want to turn around. We did a little more shell hunting and then made our final lap back to the beach we launched from. We managed to step foot on 4 island in one day, a new accomplishment for both of us, and some amazing sights we saw.
If/when you make it to Contadora a panga ride is a must-do! We would recommend taking a boat with two engines or a larger one if you want to make it far away, or to cover more ground. We really wanted to snorkel and shell hunt, that and see “survivor island” so the small engine on our rental panga was sufficient. Trust me this can make a huge difference in your day and timing.
Once back to the island we cleaned up and headed down to what used to be Romantica and is now called the Perla Real by the Sea. They have an outside bar right down by the water, and what we were in for was amazing. We sat and watched as the tide and huge rain clouds rolled in. This didn’t stop a large group of locals from coming down and swimming, playing soccer, and then setting up a volleyball net. They started playing right as the first rain clouds opened up. It was amazing to watch as they dove, jumped, and served in a pouring rain storm. About every 15-20 minutes they would stop, run in to the ocean and rinse off! They were diving and playing in the sand like it wasn’t even affecting them. During this time one of the young guys who worked at the Hotel and Bar decided to show off and do backflips in front of us. It was so amazing to watch him, and we captured some amazing shots.
Our final meal on the island was very calm and quiet as it was now a Monday evening. Most of the weekend visitors had already headed back to the city and so it left a small group of visitors that you could tell were more there to relax than party.
The weather our final day was perfect for the flight home. It was sunny and HOT but clear and perfect for a small plane to fly through. We flew in a Piper Cherokee 6 passenger plane which was quite a nice ride and roomy as well. On the return flight I (Todd) was able to sit up front and get some time flying which was spectacular. My mother when she was younger had began flying and accumulating hours towards a pilots license. She has always encouraged me to get a pilots license which I may someday do. A few weeks before we left the US, I had the opportunity do take an introductory flight and get my first hour of flight time, thanks to Tiffany getting it for me as a gift. So to say the least having the opportunity to take the controls and fly while in Panama was awesome! While flying back to the main land, near a small mountain I encountered some cross winds created from the mountain, this took a bit of counter steering to maintain the proper heading. Having this wind certainly made it for more of an experience. Then as nearing the airport the Pilot said if I would like to feel the controls as we landed that was cool as well. I have flown model airplanes and spent hours on simulators, now to actually feel what landing is like, oh yah! That was a fantastic new experience, priceless. Now do I fight the urge to want to get a pilots license or embrace it and go for it? Time will tell.
We landed safely back on the main land of Panama and concluded a fantastic island hopping trip and stay on Isla Contadora. Our friends and us certainly had a great time with a bunch of new experiences along the way. Can’t wait for our next vacation / adventure!
Todd & Tiffany in Panama
If you have a chance check out our Instagram page for some other pictures https://instagram.com/tropiclivin/