Visiting the Caribbean Island - Isla Grande Panama

Isla Grande is a small island on Panama’s Caribbean coast located 15km off the shores of Portobelo, in the Province of Colon. With clear turquoise water, palm trees and white sand, Isla Grande is a picturesque tropical island and a popular getaway for Panama City locals.

The island has a population of just over a thousand people, many of whom are of African descent. The main industries on the island are fishing and coconut harvesting.  Fresh seafood with a Caribbean flavor is something visitors are sure to enjoy while on the island. However seafood is not all the Island is famous for, it is also a top destination for snorkeling, spearfishing, surfing, and the iconic Black Christ statue that sits in its waters. 

The Black Christ of Portobello 

referred to as El Naza (The Nazarene) by locals, the Black Christ of Portobelo is a life size statue of Jesus Christ carved from wood that sits in the waters off the coast of Portobelo on the way to Isla Grande. The statue is believed to date back to 1658, when it was found washed up on the shores of the Portobelo harbor.

Most people believe that it arrived by ship. However, there are several stories as to how and why The Black Christ of Portobelo arrived or was left in the harbor. 

Only a couple things are known for certain about the statue. One is that it was carved by the Spanish, and another is that it has become an important part of the catholic culture in this small Caribbean community. 

October 21 is Festival of the Black Christ, when most pay their respects to the adorned statue.  During the Black Christ festival thousands of pilgrims will arrive in Portobelo from all over Panama and beyond.  The event is a true pilgrimage with visitors walking miles to arrive at the statue of Cristo Negro. During Spanish colonialism, Portobelo was one of the most important settlements, used as a staging area for shipments of raw materials and gold traveling back to Spain. A lot of history, and fortifications still remain in the town. Without a doubt the black Christ festival is unique, and one worth experiencing.

Surfing off Isla Grande Panama

There is one main break off Isla Grande that offers three peaks when it is working. There is a left handed surf break near the rocks, and a center peak breaking left and and another right handed surf break to the right of the middle peak. The bottom is reef and shallow in areas, so booties are advised if you are planning to paddle out from the island. The best way to access the break is by water taxi and it’s highly recommended that if you have not surfed this spot to not get in the water alone.  

Hotels on Isla Grande Panama

Bananas Village Resort Isla Grande - (507) 263-9510

Bananas offers oceanfront cabins and rooms for two people with air conditioning, king or queen size beds, hot water and breakfast is included. The hotel has a pool, equipment for snorkeling, kayaks and volleyball free for their guests. Rates range from $139/night (weeknights) to $169/night (weekends) and are based on a two person occupancy. Each additional person is $30.

Villa En Sueno - (507) 448-2964 

Villa En Sueño is a Caribbean style hotel, offering 16  cabin style rooms with a beachfront view and air conditioning.

There are three packages available, which include rooms and meals. The VIP package is $70.00 per person and includes: three meals a day and drink menu. The Economic Package is $50.00 per person and includes: three meals per day and soda. There is also a camping area. Camping is $25.00 per person per night and includes use of the camping area, access to showers, bathrooms and the three meal economic menu.

El Nido Del Postre - (507) 448-2061 

EL Nido Del Postre is a guest house offering lodging and food to visitors. There are rooms on the ground floor and loft style second level. The ground floor room options include a two bedroom suite for 5, with A/C, bathroom and hot water for $150/night. Room with a king size bed for $70/night and a room with two twin beds for $80/night. The second level rooms include a suite for up to 7 guests, with 3 single beds and two double beds, and a large terrace for $140/night. The shared options include a double bed for $40/night and a single for $20/night. 

Sister Moon is a Hotel - (507) 6034 - 6187

Sister Moon Hotel is an Eco Lodge with eleven rustic cabins; five rooms with double beds, two rooms with two double beds, two rooms with a double bed and a single bed. Each room has its own bathroom and a balcony with a hammock. The hotel also offers two dorm style rooms for individuals or groups of five or more guests, with eight beds in each room. The hotel has a small open air restaurant, a bar and a pool table. Private lodging for two is $82.50, for 3 $126.50, 4 $148.50 and group lodging for $27.50 per person. There is also a VIP package for $153.99 which includes lodging and breakfast for two.

Getting to Isla Grande 

Isla Grande is only accessible by boat from the town of Portobelo Panama. The road is completely paved now and does not require a 4x4 vehicle to access the port, which is new in the last few years. To get there from Panama City drive towards Colon (towards the airport). Once in Colon take a right turn at the El Rey grocery store and McDonalds driving towards Portobelo, Panama. After passing Portobelo your last stop is La Guaira. You can park your car in the secured areas which cost a few dollars a day. Hop on one of the boats that take you over to the island in about 10 minutes and pay the operator. The boat service is not included in the hotel stay.