Contadora island, from celebrity glory to the situation today

(June 2017)

We left Panama City on a grey and rainy day, looking forward to finding a white sand paradise with blue skies. We took the ferry to Contadora Island, one of the islands belonging to Las Perlas archipelago on the Pacific coast not further than an hour and a half from the city.


The newspaper library tells that Contadora’s name comes from the time the Spaniards counted their success and pearls of their operations before taking them to Spain. Later there was a time where multimillionaires and celebrities (from the movie and music industries) were usual in the island and later came the “decay”. So it seems that for many years celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne or Cantinflas, the failed attempt of exile of the Sha of Persia and his wife Farah Diba, Julio Iglesias the singer or Felipe González the Spanish ex-president were here.  They all fit in this tiny island full of great and luxurious mansions and same type of hotels.

As I said before, later came the decay of the island, which was a result of the fewer frequency of visit of those same celebrities and the abandonment of luxury tourism in the island. These were not bad news to the 120 millioners that set their mansions in the islands, as it made it more exclusive. Those mansions and exclusive resorts have been built through the years. Getting to the island, if you compare to ther places close to the coast, is expensive, so the exclusivity is still alive. Many foreigner tourists come to Panama City and skip this wonderful island because as we say, it is not the cheapest trip and you can always go to other more famous heavenly beaches like San Blas archipielago or Bocas del Toro.


We set food around half past nine in the morning, we had to be at the docks to go back at around 3 in the afternoon, so we needed to make the most of our time. There is the chance to rent a buggy (kind of golf cart) to get around the island, but it is only 3 square kilometers and a few public beaches so we decided to walk instead. As soon as we arrived we headed to Playa Ejecutiva, walking almost half of the island (which took us around 7 minutes).


Playa Ejecutiva is small, quiet, clean with chill water and a few mansions around. It kept that way all day, both with low and high tide, you can also walk around the rocky area where we saw lots of crabs. Also, in the water we found lots of little fish, a bank of larger fish and two green trumpet fish. If we have to look for a but it would be that around 50 to 100 meters from the shore there were a few yachts which  make the view less than fantastic, but there they were and to be honest we forgot about them. Around noon a group of fishermen came to the shore, it was then when some of the millionaires came out to buy 8-10 lobsters freshly caught for lunch. What a life!


We wanted to change to a different beach, just for the sake of saying that we had been to a few so we crossed the island from north to south (5 minutes timed) to get to Playa Cacique. This beach is bigger than the one we were in before but the same crystal clear water and white sand. However the tide was rising and the current had brought garbage to its waters, so we went back to Playa Ejecutiva. Just around the school (Contadora has around 100 inhabitants, most of them workers from hotels and houses, and they’ve built a small school) we were surprised by something in the middle of the road. We definitely weren’t expecting finding a deer in this beautiful island as leafy as it could be. We followed it as we could (and it didn’t run away) to take a few pictures. Once our goal was achieved we continued our way to the beach where we ate and stayed until we left for the ferry.


Although we didn’t go touring the island, we’ll try to go back, there are a few beaches in the island worthy of mention like Playa Larga (highly recommended with low tide), Playa Caracol (in the southwest part of the island) or Playa Las Suecas (“The Swedish” the only nudist beach which names comes after a some Scandinavians naked moment).


As far as we know, the options available in the island (accommodation, food, etc.) are expensive, so if you don’t want to spend much just bring something from home. If we go back we might do some activities that are offered by different agencies: buggy rental (there are also bikes in theory), snorkelling tours, kayak trips and diving; but this time it we just wanted to lay in the sun.


Ferry ticket: $90 per person (usual price, you can find some discounts during low season for $) (there is also the option of getting to the island by plane)

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