LAS PERLAS ISLANDS – PANAMA

    Well after an exciting trip through the Panama Canal, it’s off to the Las Perlas Islands.  This is
    a group of islands approximately 40 miles south of Panama City which we were told would be
    worth taking a look at.  The fishing and diving as well as the scenery were reportedly very
    good.  We were sailing along really nice on a close reach all afternoon until the wind dropped
    just before sunset.  This sunset was probably the best of the month.  Theresa and Conceicao
    couldn’t resist taking several pictures.  Anyways, because of the late start out of Panama City,
    we were again faced with a night approach.  We double and triple and quadruple checked
    everything, verifying depth readings with the charts, along with position readings and checking
    radar etc.  We managed to slip in alongside the lee of Isla Contadora without any hitches and
    set the anchor.  Dick along with a little help from the others prepared another fantastic dinner,
    popped open a good bottle of the wine he had picked up in Bocas, and all was well.

    The next morning, based in part on some fishing and snorkeling tips we had received, we
    decided to run further south to the southern most islands and work our way back over the next
    few days.  We lifted anchor early and slowly headed around the southern end of Contadora.  
    Our day started quickly with two whales jumping a short distance away.  Everyone was excited
    and we headed over in their direction hoping to get a better look.  I was really thinking that
    they would disappear, but to my surprise, they came right up to Free Spirit and were now
    jumping almost completely out of the water in a very playful manner.  This was a mother and
    baby just having a great time and didn’t mind us being beside them at all. We spent over an
    hour right beside them before finally heading on.  Conceicao got the shot of the day with the
    whale half way out of the water beside the boat, which of course, had to go to the photo album.

    There is a big rock formation just off the southern part of Isla Pedro Gonzales that we were
    told would be good for spearfishing, so this is where we headed first.  We found the spot
    without any trouble, but unfortunately the tip didn’t pan out.  No fish, but it was only a very
    short distance to an anchorage just off another beautiful Panama beach which was perfect for
    swimming and exploring for the next couple of hours.  Late in the evening we circled around
    the island a little ways and found a cove which was absolutely perfect to anchor in for the
    night.  As we dropped the anchor, an entire family of the native islanders came out to greet us
    in their small boat. It was a mother, father, older son and two small kids all loaded in this small
    boat.  They were obviously happy to see us and immediately were offering up fresh mangoes,
    papayas, and some coconuts.  With them alongside Free Spirit, we gave the kids each a big
    bag of chocolate chip cookies and gave the parent’s, I’m sure, a much needed $5.  Everyone
    was full of smiles thinking they had really made out.  The kids had the cookies, the parent’s
    had the money, and we had a good feeling about the place, along with some really nice fresh
    fruit.  Another great night in Panama!



    We woke up the next morning to a rainy day and decided we would spend the morning running
    a little further south to the southern most and definitely most remote Isla San Jose in search of
    a place called Hacienda del Mar which I had seen noted in one of our guide books.  The place
    is on a privately owned island and reportedly had 12 cabanas, a restaurant, and a sports bar.  
    It’s, of course, the sports bar that immediately got our attention with the big screen TV and
    pool table along with some ice cold Panama beers.  Our imagination was running wild thinking
    about what this sports bar was going to be like out on some remote and almost uninhabited
    island, but Oh Well, we needed something to do.  The book was very unclear as to where this
    Hacienda was and had us circling almost the entire island in search of this now, way blown out
    of proportion, great sports bar.  Finally, about to give up, we spotted a beautiful white sandy
    cove with big black rock formations all around coming up out of the sea and a small
    development on a cliff overlooking the sea.  We found it and could tell immediately that it was
    going to be a really special place, which it was.

    Hacienda del Mar was one of the places that receives a unanimous WOW from everyone.  
    Dick said “Why go any further?  We won’t find anything better than this.”  The place was truly
    an unbelievable find.  Dick and Theresa were scheduled to fly out of Contadora in three more
    days but, seeing this place, they got busy and changed the flight to leave from here.  It turns
    out that because of the relationship the owner of the island has with the airlines, Air Panama
    lands a small plane here a few times a week on a grass landing strip, shuttling people out to
    the island.  The cabanas all sit up on a bluff overlooking a postcard perfect beach setting with
    a swimming pool, restaurant, and yes, a sports bar with big screen tv and pool table.  The food
    and service here was excellent.  The grounds were perfectly maintained.  Beautiful birds were
    all around.  The staff was always smiling and helpful.  We had great snorkeling, some more
    unsuccessful spearfishing, a four wheeler ride into the jungle, and just an overall nice relaxing
    time.  Oh yea, and plenty of cold Panamas.  

    After Dick and Theresa flew out, we spent one more night at Hacienda before sailing back up
    north to Isla Contadora.  On the way we managed to catch 2 sierras which made great cevichi.  
    We walked around the island, but nothing compared to where we had just come from, so after
    a good night of sleep, we decided to go on back to Panama City to do some minor work on the
    boat while waiting for Sean to arrive.  Needless to say, I would definitely go back to the Las
    Perlas Islands.