Pearl Islands Archipelago
As you disembark from the catamaran or touch down on the airstrip, prepare to be swept away by the enchanting allure of Isla Contadora, a gem nestled in the Pearl Islands archipelago, a mere 40 miles south of Panama City.
Picture yourself in this tropical haven, where over 200 islands and islets dot the shimmering canvas of the Pacific Ocean. While Isla del Rey and Isla San Miguel are among the largest and most prominent islands in the group, don’t miss out on the wealth of smaller and lesser-known ones that make up this archipelago. These islands are known for their natural beauty, pristine beaches, and rich marine life, making them a popular destination for tourists and adventurers. Isla Contadora is one of the most populated and developed islands with lucrative real estate, luxury accommodations and world-class beaches, making it an attractive destination.
Once inhabited by the native Cuevas and Cocle tribes, the Spaniards arrived in 1513 and brutally exterminated them. The Spanish conquistador Vasco Nuñez de Balboa named the archipelago ‘Islas de las Perlas’ because of the large quantity of pearls they found there. Isla Contadora became their base of operations for counting the pearls and other treasures the Spanish collected and hence was given the name Contadora, which means “Accountant”.
The island was forgotten about for a long time after the Spanish left but gained fame again in the 1970s as a destination for wealthy travelers, including celebrities and politicians who frequented the Hotel Contadora Resort, or owned a holiday home there. It was known as a tax haven and a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The hotel has long since been abandoned and left to rack and ruin along with the former ferry that used to bring the rich and famous from the mainland. Both can be found and explored on the island’s Playa Larga.
From the moment your feet touch Contadora’s sandy shores, you’ll sense the island’s magnetic allure. An incredible choice of pristine beaches stretch out before you, beckoning sunworshippers – Playa Larga, Playa Ejecutiva, and Playa Cacique are just a few of the dazzling options.
But it’s not just the beaches that captivate. The crystal-clear waters surrounding the island host a vibrant underwater world, perfect for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. Coral reefs beckon, showcasing a kaleidoscope of tropical fish. And if you happen to visit between June and October, consider yourself lucky – it’s prime time for whale-watching, as humpback whales grace these warm waters with their majestic presence.
Isla Contadora is more than just nature’s masterpiece; it’s a bustling oasis. Here, luxury accommodations and world-class beaches merge seamlessly, painting a portrait of paradise that’s hard to resist.
Getting here is a breeze, too. A two-hour catamaran ride from Fuerte Amador Resort & Marina ($110.50 per person) or a quick 30-minute flight from Albrook airfield (costs vary depending on plane size) will whisk you away to this island utopia.
And the island’s allure hasn’t gone unnoticed by global investors. This Forbes article, from earlier this year, as well as extolling the virtues of Panama’s real estate market, specifically calls out Four Elements Contadora, a luxury Balinese inspired property, as one of the places bringing Contadora back to its 70s glory.
As you stroll around the island, you might spot wild red brocket deer meandering casually through the streets. While cars and trucks do exist, the preferred modes of transportation here are golf carts, four-wheelers, scooters, and bicycles – all available for rent. Or on foot of course, the island measures only 1.2-square kilometers (0.5-square-miles), so getting around is super easy!
While Isla Contadora may lack ATMs and offer limited culinary diversity, its natural charm remains intact. This tropical paradise is evolving, yet its essence remains untouched. So, if you yearn for a slice of paradise, where nature and luxury dance harmoniously, make your way to Isla Contadora – a tropical retreat just a stone’s throw from the vibrant heart of Panama City.
If you’re looking for an eerie sight on your trip to Contadora Island, be sure to pay a visit to the abandoned Contadora Hotel. But that’s not all you’ll find there – right on the beach, you’ll discover the haunting skeleton of a beached ferry. This vessel once ferried passengers back and forth from Panama City and other Pearl Island islands, but now it lies abandoned and useless. When the hotel shut down, the boat was left behind and slowly picked apart for any salvageable materials. Despite its neglect and decay, the beached ferry, coupled with the crumbling hotel, have become the most iconic landmarks and tourist destinations on the island. So if you’re up for some eerie and captivating exploration, be sure to add the beached ferry and abandoned hotel to your itinerary!
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