Contadora Island Trip (Panama)
Contadora Island is part of the Pearl Island Archipelago which is located about 40 miles off the Pacific coast of Panama in the Gulf of Panama. It is probably the most popular and most visited island of this archipelago. A few fun facts about Contadora. The reality game show "Survivor" filmed seasons 7, 8, and 12 on the Pearl Islands including Contadora. In 1979 the Shah of Iran was exiled for a short time in Contadora. Aside from the Shah, Contadora has had plenty of high profile residents such as Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne and Christian Dior among others, but the most interesting fact to me is in regards to La Pelegrina pearl. According to historians, the 56 carat pear-shaped pearl was found by a slave near Contadora. As a reward the slave was set free. This pearl has a 500 year old record that I'm not going to go into detail about, but just to give you an idea it's been through the hands of the likes of King Phillip II of Spain to Mary Tudor of England to Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother) to Elizabeth Taylor.
There are two ways to get to the island. You can either fly to Contadora or by boat. Last time I checked there was one flight out of the Albrook "Marcos A. Gelabert" International Airport (IATA airport code: PAC) on Air Panama and the fare was pretty cheap (*IATA airport code for Contadora is OTD). There is also a ferry service, if you prefer this route then I'd recommend you check out Ferry Las Perlas or Sea Las Perlas, this is obviously a longer ride. As far as lodging goes there plenty of rentals and a few hotels on the island to choose from.
We arrived to the island via boat to Playa Galeón and we were only there for an overnight trip. This was last month (March 2015) and it's still summer time in Panama. The weather was great, however upon arriving I noticed the water much darker than what I had previously seen in pictures. I was hoping that it this was just at the beach we were at, but after cruising around the island I noticed it was all over. After talking to the local fisherman, they informed me that during this time of year; the water is usually darker and colder due to the currents and tides. I can confirm both! When I jumped into the water at the beach, I thought I was going to have an angina attack right then and there! Damn it was cold!
Don't get me wrong though, Contadora's beaches are nice and have beautiful blue-green waters, but not so much during this time of the year. According to the locals the best time to visit is from November to February so keep that in mind if you ever decide to visit.
The island had a very relaxed, chilled vibe and to be completely honest it was a little too quiet for my taste. The condo we stayed at was on Playa Larga which is the largest beach on the island. Sadly, there is an old abandoned ferry and the abandoned Contadora Resort is also on this beach.
Despite all of that, the island isn't very crowded and gives you the opportunity really relax. You can enjoy a nice stroll around the island or on the beach. Snorkeling is great here! I didn't get to do much snorkeling because we decided to go fishing for the most part, but I had the opportunity to see lots of fish and stingrays through my GoPro camera. There is plenty of marine life to see. I have already uploaded my Day 1 Vlog of this trip, but on my Day 2 video I'll show you a few clips of the marine life underwater.
We spent the afternoon out on the boat fishing. Again, the local fisherman told us that due to the currents and tides the fish weren't really biting and that with luck we'd catch just a few. So off we went to see if we'd have any luck and three hours into fishing we had yet to catch anything. It was a bit frustrating, especially for me! On two different occasions I caught a big fish only to lose them as I reeled them in. Our patience paid off though, the smallest man on the boat caught the biggest fish. My son caught a Red Snapper that was almost as big as him. He struggled to reel him in, but he fought hard with him and managed to reel him in. The next day we went out fishing for a few hours and caught two Cojinoa fish.
Overall, I had a really nice time. If you are looking for a low key type of Island vacation, then this is the place for you. It's not crowded and it's a perfect place to just chill and relax. I plan on going back during the November to February timeframe so I can enjoy this island when the weather is at its best.
Below is the vlog of Day 1 of my trip. Check it out: