Contadora, Panama·- The Pearl of the The Pearl Islands

Every time I hop in the plane and fly out to Contadora I feel like a kid going to Disney World.  The whole experience from the moment we leave to the moment we return back to Chame is something I will never tire of.  The Pearl Islands make up an archipelago located 50 miles from Panama City or 90 miles from Chame Airport.  Contadora which is translated to Accountant acquired its name as Contadora is where the natives counted their pearls before selling them to the Spaniards.  Early in the 20th century an underwater epidemic wiped out the pearl oysters, almost to the point of non existence.  Contadora is the 5th largest island in the Pearl Islands and is the hub of tourist activity.  Coral Dreams is the featured dive shop on the Island and offers Whale Watching, Snorkeling and Diving tours daily.   If you are looking to spend a few days; there are a few Bed and Breakfasts and one hotel on the island to choose from.  The accommodations are not five star but this is what adds to the charm of the island, the unique blend of old and new offering a definite unique south pacific experience.

I think it is the history of the island that makes it so special.  Pirates and Spaniards fighting over treasures, the residence for the Shah of Iran in his exile to Panama, and the venue Jimmy Carter and Omar Torrijos chose to transfer The Canal back to Panama.  We also cannot forget to mention the Pearl Islands was the venue for 6 seasons of The Survivor Television Reality Series.  The island is in an era of rejuvenation with old forgotten resorts to new ocean front palaces.  One can still purchase an island property for under $200K that is merely steps from sandy white, crystal clear waters. 

Whale Season is by far the most epic time of the year.  From July to October the Humpbacks from the Southern Hemisphere migrate to give birth to their young.  It has been said that this is the largest migrating area in the world for these amazing creatures.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to see the whales at least a dozen times every year.  The experience is something that is unexplainable.  My heart starts racing, I usually start to clap and holler and more often than not I forget to take a picture.  When the whales surface you will more often than not see the Mom and her young and often times the Dad will tag along.  It is truly overwhelming as to how big the whales are and yet they are extremely graceful and so incredibly magnificent.  If you are lucky you may also get a visit from the dolphins that will swim around the boat in numbers ranging from 20-100 at at time.  Last year a group of us jumped in and swam with the dolphins which again is something I think everyone should experience.

There are a fews ways to get to Contadora.  One can charter a plane and fly from Chame in under 30 mins, or you can drive to the city and catch a commercial flight that will get you there in 20 minutes.  There also exists a ferry that will get you to Contadora in 90 minutes, which you catch at the end of the Amador Causeway.

If it is a day trip or a weekend trip or for us our home away from home, Contadora should not be missed.  The food, the charm, the glimpses of wild deer and their young, the crystal blue waters and white sand beaches will have you instantly mesmerized.  I know for us, Contadora is magical, so magical that I know that one day I will find my pearl in The Pearl Islands.


Karyn Saunders is a young expat living in the Pacific Beach Community since 2008. Her passion for Panama and for her community is seen through her insightful, discussion-promoting articles on living in the tropics.  Karyn is a Virtual Recruiter, Writer and specializes in Social Media Marketing. She is also a Motivational Speaker and Personal & Professional Life Coach.