Our next cruising destination were the Las Perlas Islands (The Pearl Islands) approximately 35 miles off the Panama coast from Panama City. Once a haven for wealthy Panamanians, there are now many small hotels with eclectic restaurants (especially on Contadora), but many poor fishing villages on the more distant islands.
A big difference between the Pacific side and the Atlantic side of the canal is the tidal range. Where the Atlantic saw two feet of tide with sand and coral, the Pacific side has twelve to fifteen feet of tide and seriously rocky shores.
Our friends Paul and Georgina were scheduled to stay at a remote island resort and fly back to the Panama City airport and back home to Connecticut. The inn was set high on a rocky hillside with a sweeping 400 foot deep beach. The trick was how to land the dinghy and keep it safe from the large tidal range, have dinner at the inn and return to the boat off the beach and through the ocean swells. For safety, we abandoned the plan of leaving in the dark through the waves and anchored the dinghy as far out as practical. The inn had but one room available, a tiny room used by employees when they couldn’t leave the island when the airfield was closed, so we found ourselves ashore. Of course Rick had to check the dinghy in the middle of the night (it is, after all, our station wagon). The next morning found us mid tide, and we had to drag the dinghy down 150 feet of beach to get back to the boat after bidding Paul and Georgina farewell. Now it was time to discover the rest of the Las Perlas Island chain…
We were following two different cruising guides and pulled into a sweeping bay that promised protection and a path across the rock point to the beautiful sandy beach on the windward shore. As soon as we had anchored, we were hailed by the Panamanian Servicio Nacional Aeronaval (National Aeronaval Service)…. We were to hoist anchor and leave the bay immediately. We showed our cruising permit, but the answer was a stern no, you must vamoose! At the next small town we got to talk (in our broken Spanish) to the local Aeronaval staff. Sometime after the cruising guides were released, a maximum security prison was established on the point! (no wonder we weren’t welcome!).
Many of the islands were uninhabited and some offered great snorkeling with few coral reefs, but millions of fish, stingrays, moray eels, a few sharks and tons of whales! (we didn’t snorkel with the whales, haha). The islands are one of the primary calving spots for humpback whales, and we saw many babies with their mothers. Amazing! We also have seen tons of stingrays leaping out of the water! We befriended some of the few boats cruising the islands and had fun hosting dinners aboard.
We tucked into a small inn on Contadora to do laundry, catch up on blogs, post pictures and do homework for our further exploration the Punta Patino Nature Reserve, a Panamanian river estuary teeming with wildlife. After that, the plan is to head to Ecuador and Puerto Amistad, located in Bahía de Caráquez where we will “winter the boat”, explore Ecuador, and take an excursion to Peru and Machu Picchu before completing some boat projects and heading back to CT for Tax Season for Candy and the Marinas for Rick.
If you have any interest in participating in a portion of the voyage of discovery, contact us!!