Panama is a beguiling small Central American nation that most people would only know for its eponymous canal. However it has wildlife, nature reserves, private islands and beautiful landscapes in great abundance and I think it is one of the most exciting up-and-coming destinations right now in Central America.
It often gets wrongly overlooked in favour of Costa Rica to the north, known for its astonishing national parks and incredible wildlife as well as stunning and luxurious remote lodges and sustainable retreats.
However in my experience Panama more than lives up to the promises of its sophisticated neighbour and it boasts some truly unique and autonomous indigenous communities, beautiful tropical coastal islands, incredible coffee and fascinating history that is definitely worth visiting.
Until now there has been rather a lack of really great quality accommodation for those who love adventure but don’t wish to compromise on comforts and service. But this has started to change and I have just heard of a new private island retreat due to open in early 2019, which I am particularly excited about!
Islas Secas looks set to be a truly remarkable and spectacular private island retreat off the Pacific Coast of Panama in the Gulf of Chiriqui. The concept is to set up a private marine reserve and small intimate lodge on Isla Cavada, close to Coiba National Park and is the brainchild of American conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon.
Bacon is founder of the Moore Charitable Foundation that now encompasses the Islas Secas Foundation which will be at the heart of everything that takes place at the new private resort. Islas Secas is a miniscule archipelago of volcanic forest-covered islands in an important bio-diverse marine corridor.
Along with conservation and protection of wildlife, habitats and the rights of local indigenous people, there will come the chance for marine species research projects. Specific projects already underway include safeguarding Coiba National Park marine reserve, establishing new shark sanctuaries and protecting Green Emerald hummingbird habitats.
One can stay in one of only nine casitas on the Island, with a four bedroom villa residence to follow later in 2019. Guests can be assured that their footprint is minimal thanks to composting and 100% solar power.
I am very much looking forward to visiting when it is ready, particularly the learning centre and dive centre. I think the chance to head out on marine safaris in Coiba National Park as well as the chance to snorkel or fish in the waters around Islas Secas will be truly magical.
Make a stay at Islas Secas one for your wishlist for travels in 2019! I will be one of the first to make it out there to check it out! I think it will make a wonderful combination with some other superb options in Panama.
Why not take to the air by helicopter? Explore some of Panama’s harder to reach corners, or see the Canal - it is even better appreciated from above!
Take an aerial ride to Lake Bayamo, the ‘Jewel of Panama’, whose lakefront is home to indigenous Guna, Embera and Wounan Amerindian communities. You can kayak here too, and spot rare species of birds and other animals including frogs and bats in the spectacular caves here.
If you value your privacy and are looking for the ultimate peace and tranquillity, then what about chartering a fabulous private catamaran to sail around the San Blas archipelago?
Wake up to blue skies and turquoise seas and perhaps barter for your lunch from indigenous Guna Yala fishermen or help to catch it yourself! Many islands are uninhabited and the rest are home to a handful of communities whose traditional handcrafts and embroidery are legendary.
There are also some fantastic private villas around Panama if you would prefer to stay on land. From a property owned by a European royal family - perfect for exploring the coast and enjoying some fabulous horse-riding on the Azuero Peninsula - to a ‘geisha’ coffee plantation in the highlands around Chiriqui, or even a remote property in Omar Torrijos National Park for serious off-the-beaten-track jungle adventure in style, there is so much to do here beyond the capital and the canal!
Headline image and following three images courtesy of Islas Secas
Aerial canal, kayaking, private catamaran, private villa exterior and horse riding images courtesy of Truly Panama