Isla Palenque: Escape from Civilization

QUOTE:  “Wanderlust.  The very sound of it brings a pang of unfulfilled desire.  Many of us harbor this secret desire to explore, to discover a new place, a place all one’s own.” Benjamin A. Loomis, President and Founder of Amble Resorts and Isla Palenque.Sometimes one needs an escape from the everyday to appreciate what normalcy should be.  Thus, my partner and I ventured off to Isla Palenque, an island just off the south coast of Boca Chica.  Once our reservation was booked, we were e-mailed a questionnaire to fill out, asking what we expected from the trip, what tours we wished to pursue, and if we had any dietary restrictions or requests.  Having completed this task, off we went.  Once we reached Horconcitos, we were instructed to call the resort to let them know we had arrived. We then proceeded the 11 or so miles on to Boca Chica, parked the car, and were met by a concierge and boat captain at the main dock.  After a 15 minute boat ride, we arrived on the spectacular eco-resort, Isla Palenque.  Several articles have been written about this resort, but in my opinion, there aren’t enough words to describe the experience!

The 400-acre island is a pristine jungle bordered by several lovely beaches, secret caves and tide pools.  The architecture of the resort blends into the natural surroundings.  Mr. Loomis writes, “The little connections between this stream and that lagoon or those monkeys and these fruit trees becomes much more obvious and knowable in the tiny microcosm of a natural island.  Our mandate:  To tread so lightly on the land that our footprints go almost unnoticed.” This resort has certainly achieved his dream.  Rooms are not ostentatious but eco-chic with spectacular views and upscale furnishings.  There are no televisions or telephones in the rooms, although an iPad and binoculars are provided, and if you go hiking, you are given the use of a cell phone.   Some years ago a serious storm knocked down 100 year old trees, which have been used for construction and furnishings throughout the resort:  Guaynabo, maria, cedro espino, and nispero along with Columbian guadu bamboo.  The headboards are works of art, large pieces of fallen wood carefully sanded and coated.  The floors are made from bamboo and high quality local handicrafts accent the décor.  

There are a number of tours available:  trekking and hiking, kayaking, rock and tree climbing, bird watching, whale watching (in season), fishing, island hopping, snorkeling, and a Ngäbe-Buglé village tour.  Walking around the island, you definitely will hear howler monkeys and may meet other island inhabitants:  hawks, owls, armadillos, anteaters, ocelots, iguanas, frogs, and other wildlife.  You can choose to spend an afternoon at the 3/4-mile long Las Rocas beach, drink some amazing tropical libations and snack on excellent ceviche, chips and salsa, hummus and pita, or pasta salad.  Walking is a delight throughout the island, but the employees are happy to give you a ride at a moment’s notice.

The staff is low profile, yet friendly and helpful.  At Isla Palenque they “don’t believe in one-size-fits-all service policy.”  While we felt the resort was extremely romantic, it would be great experience for families as well. Between 30 and 40 employees live and work at the resort, their base camp is a small city in itself. Consisting of a kitchen and dining area, organic farm, furniture lab, workshops, and dormitories, the employees’ space is creative.  The island has its own aquifer, which fulfills the island’s needs for water that is crystal clear and safe to drink.  Diesel generators supply power.  

We had the opportunity to tour the base camp and were awe struck.  Growing in the organic garden is a wide variety of produce:  peppers, tomatoes, beans, squash, eggplant, root vegetables, herbs, along with hydroponic lettuces, celery, and sprouts.  About 3 years ago, a fruit orchard was planted.  The head gardener, Emilio Rios, proudly showed us the fruits of his labor, including compost made at the property.  

The furniture lab, Taller Ciego, is called “The Blind Workshop” for a special reason.  When the furniture is crafted and finished, the quality control test is performed by Ben Loomis running his hand over the surface to see if the surfaces are sufficiently smooth.

The food on Isla Palenque merits a story in itself, “bringing homegrown simplicity back to gourmet.”  Chef Galibardo Morris’ dishes are like an artist’s palette—pleasing to the eye as well as to the flavor senses.  At breakfast you can choose between omelets, scrambles, pancakes, French toast, cereals, sausages, bacon, toast, fruit, and yogurt.   At lunch and dinner, you are usually given a choice of three starters, three mains, and one or two desserts.  For lunch, you might choose a corvina wrap filled with fresh veggies and accompanied by fried yucca, the Sancocho, or tortellini in cream sauce.  

Appetizers at dinner might be island style roosterfish salad, garlic clams with diced potato, or subtle squash soup with pork belly. With a meal of smoked red snapper nestled in roasted bell pepper sauce, oven roasted pork chop with passion fruit reduction served with black bean puree, or blackened whole chicken with Creole sauce, served with Panamanian green pea rice.  Desserts also are the result of Chef Morris’ imagination and they are decadent.  

Palm Grove Spa is another amenity of the resort, located on a secluded cove at Las Rocas so that during your session you can be outdoors and in total privacy.

The highlight of our trip was getting to meet Ben Loomis, President and Founder of Amble Resorts and Isla Palenque, a very interesting and unassuming genius.  His vision is his passion; he seeks perfection, while having a profound appreciation and respect for nature and beauty.  It was a pleasure and a privilege getting to know him and understand his journey.  He also enjoys concocting some mouth-watering cocktails—his own creations!

I will not spoil the surprise of the special gift from the resort.  It is priceless and reflects the vision.  Yes, we too feel we have discovered true wanderlust.

TIP:  When driving from Playa Coronado to Boca Chica, the road between Santiago and David is under construction.  Plan to hit Santiago around 11:30 because the construction workers go to lunch, and construction stops, thus driving is much easier.

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