I’m bopping around Panama right now, doing an article for a luxury travel website on a small group two-ocean boat trip. First stop is on the Pacific side, hopping around the Pearl Islands—or Isla Perlas.
The best-known destination in this area is Contadora, where there is an airport, a ferry connection and a yacht port. Many of the other islands are deserted or privately owned, however, so it’s not hard to find a private snorkling spot away from it all if you’re in a boat.
This is a popular spot for birds on a migration path, so without even trying you can spot a dozen varieties of birds in five minutes. Besides the requisite gulls and pelicans, there are hawks swooping by, Tiger Herons hanging by the shore vegetation, and Blue-footed Boobies taking a break from the Galpagos. Then there are the Magnificent Frigate Birds.
Frigate birds walk around harassing the others. In one of those weird freaks of nature, these birds can’t get wet. So one way they eat is by skimming over the water and catching fish near the surface. The other way is by harassing weaker birds and forcing them to give up the dinner they just caught. They’re the bullies and thieves of the bird world, each day doing the equivalent of stealing the other kids’ lunch money. It seems to work though: they can live up to 40 years.
Watching pelicans dive from up high to catch fish is always fun, but there’s a dark side to these guys as well. When they start getting old, the protective membrane over their eyes wears out from all the daily diving. Those that make it to old age can eventually go blind. It’s hard to dive for fish when you’re blind, so they don’t last very long after that. They then end up crashing on the rocks, either because they missed the mark or because they gave up and committed suicide.
If you’re looking to retire to Panama someday, this might be a good place to look around. It’s an extra step to get out here from the capital, but it’s relatively early on the development continuim, with several major projects just getting off the ground. There’s a limit to how many sparsely populated islands there are around the world, so the Islas Perlas area is probably a pretty safe bet as far as real estate appreciation goes.