How to Visit the Pacific Coast of Panama, According to a Travel Expert

A new boutique itinerary guides travelers to two fantastic island retreats.

<p>Courtesy of Isla Palenque</p> A bird

Courtesy of Isla Palenque

A bird's eye view of Isla Palenque.

Just a short flight from the U.S. — and one of the world’s lesser-known airline hubs — Panama is an ideal destination for time-constrained travelers seeking a spectacular journey without having to travel far. In particular, the country's magnificent west coast includes unspoiled, emerald isles, white-sand beaches, dense jungles, and one of the largest coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

The area's thriving coastal and marine environments make it a playground for wildlife: sea turtles, giant rays, humpback whales, and hammerhead sharks, among others. It's hard to find a better place for outdoor activities like sportfishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and surfing.

<p>Kerstin Meyer/Getty Images</p> A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Panama.

Kerstin Meyer/Getty Images

A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Panama.

Emmanuel Burgio, a member of Travel + Leisure’s A-List and the founder of Blue Parallel, a luxury travel boutique, recently scouted the region for a new luxury tour. Focusing on epic outdoor adventures, exclusive insider experiences, white-glove service, and experiential lodging, this new itinerary includes stays at two private-island paradises on the warm, crystalline coast. Below, Burgio shares the details.

Isla Palenque

This private, 400-acre resort has eight beachfront casitas (plus a VIP Villa Estate) from which guests can explore seven untouched private beaches, wilderness trails in the jungle, and stunning ocean views.

When you arrive at your casita, it's only a matter of time before you put down the phone and "island mode" begins. I recommend the spectacular Las Rocas Restaurant & Bar, which uses local, seasonal ingredients. You can also participate in a hands-on cooking class to learn about Panamanian cuisine.

During the day, take a private boat to nearby islands and islets, where you can find more hidden beaches: These are perfect places to see natural landscapes and diverse flora and fauna while snorkeling, kayaking, or paddle boarding.

On land, you can take private guided jungle hikes around the islands, passing white mangroves, bird-filled lagoons, tide pools, and coconut groves. If you’re lucky, you might hear the loud roars of howler monkeys in the trees.

<p>Courtesy of Isla Secas</p> A private cabana at Isla Secas.

Courtesy of Isla Secas

A private cabana at Isla Secas.

Islas Secas

This glamorous resort is spread across an archipelago of 14 islands. Each luxurious casita has ocean views, a private plunge pool, and a tropical garden, while the resort boasts a wellness spa and restaurants specializing in ocean-to-table gastronomy. Another highlight is the high staff-to-guest ratio, which creates a personalized, intimate experience.

A visit here is not complete without making the most of the outdoor excursions on offer, especially spending the day in Coiba National Park. Home to 750 fish species and 80 bird species, this UNESCO-designated protected area is Panama’s alternative to the Galápagos Islands. Try hiking through the island’s ancient forest, snorkeling, or scuba diving.

Another exhilarating activity I recommend here is sportfishing. The world-renowned Hannibal Bank and Isla Montuosa — both underwater regions in the Pacific Ocean — are ideal for trying this, as they're known as great places to catch marlin and tuna.

Emmanuel Burgio is a member of Travel + Leisure's A-List and creates custom trips in Central and South America. All of the experiences mentioned above can be arranged as part of a tailor-made itinerary by contacting the Blue Parallel team or emailing emmanuel@blue​

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