Las Perlas archipelago - Bay of Panama
From all the islands in the Las Perlas archipelago, Contadora island is the most famous. Originally it was inhabited by the Cuevas and Cocle tribes until the Spaniards arrived in 1513. Two years later all of them were eliminated including their leader Terarequi.
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the same character that "discovered" the Pacific Ocean or South Sea, named them as ‘Islas de las Perlas’ because the large quantity of pearls found. They chose a place to count them and this place was called ‘Isla Contadora’. The Spaniards imported African slaves to help them harvest the pearls. One of the them found the most famous pearl in the world called ‘La Peregrina’ that was taken to Spain. Phillip II Spain gave it to Queen Mary I of England as an engagement present. When she died it was brought back to Spain for 250 years until Napoleon took it to France after he conquered Spain. Then Napoleon III sold it due to financial problems and eventually it was purchased by the famous actor Richard Burton who gave it as a gift to his even more famous wife Elizabeth Taylor.
The islands became a refuge for pirantes and very few people came to visit. Nowadays Contadora island offers several lodging options as Perla Real Inn, Hotel Gerald, Casa Sol Bed and Breakfast and Mar y Oro. Contadora island is also a vacation destination for the rich and famous who have built their mansions. Some of them are available for rent.
Climate is very dry even during rainy season. The island is very small so it is easy to move around. There are a couple of restaurants but no night clubs or bars. We recommend to bring cash as there are no banks or ATMs in the island.
If you are lucky, you will be able to see humpback whales from the island although we recommend to take a boat tour to appreciate them closer. The warm waters in the Pacific Ocean become home to approximately 2,000 a 2,500 whales that migrate from the winter in the southern hemisphere. The season for whale watching is from June to October. They come to breed and give birth. As they are with their calves, we recommend to practice a responsible watching by keeping a distance of at least 100 to 250 meters. This animals are one of the largest mammals on Earth reaching up to 50 tons in weight and 50 feet in length.
Scuba diving and Snorkeling
Coral Dreams is a diving center located in the island and is certified by PADI. They offer certifications for divers and offer diving trips. The water is warm almost the entire year except during the months of February and March when it is needed to wear a wetsuit. The diving sites are relatively close to the island. There is a large variety of sea life as the vulcanic origin of the island produces many nutrients.
Contadora island has 11 beautiful beaches but probably the prettiest is Playa Cacique which is located on the other side of the island. Playa Galeon is located right next to the airport and Playa Larga is right next to it. Playa de las Suecas is the only nudist beach in Panama. All the beaches have white sands and turquoise water with tones of blue. If you prefer to have your own beach you can rent a boat and tour the closest islands such as Mogo Mogo, Pacheca and Chapera.
Fishing can be done artisanal on a local "panga" or you can rent a yacht depending on your budget. These waters are rich in nutrients making the archipelago in one of the best places for fishing in Panama. The best months to fish are between April and November when the water is warmer bringing species such as tuna, mahi mahi, sail fish and swordfish among many others.