The Resort at Isla Palenque
Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama; amble.com/IslaPalenque; six suites from $299 (U.S.).
Cruising the hundreds of emerald islands and islets in the Gulf of Chiriqui, off the Pacific coast of Panama, is like tapping into virtually unchartered territory. Panama is fast becoming one of the truly hot travel destinations in Central America, and because tourism is still in its infancy, opportunities to escape into untouched wilds abound. A good place to start your adventure is the newly built Resort At Isla Palenque, a luxury eco hideaway perched on the rocky outpost of a tropical 162-hectare island in the Gulf of Chiriqui.
In ancient times, the area's indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé people – one of four major indigenous tribes in Panama – would use Palenque as a sanctuary, a special place chieftans would come to hold sacred ceremonies. It's easy to see why. Isla Palenque has a pristine and wild beauty, one that has been largely preserved. Here you'll find lush jungle, picture-postcard beaches and endless flora and fauna.
It's a long way to go, but the distance keeps away the crowds. Guests arriving from North America must fly into Panama City, then transfer to a smaller airport about 45 minutes away for a regional flight to the city of David. From here, it's an hour by car (arranged by the resort) to reach the gulf's gateway town of Boca Chica then a quick 15-minute boat ride brings you to Isla Palenque's island paradise.
Isla Palenque features an 81-hectare private forest reserve and the island is just outside Coiba National Marine Park, the largest marine park in Central America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find one of the biggest reefs in the Pacific Ocean and some of the best diving in Panama. The area's main draw for many travellers, though, is its world-class sportfishing, particularly for black marlin.
Estate rooms are perched amongst jungle trees on the volcanic coastline and offer grand views of the ocean. Rooms are decked out in crisp white linens, bamboo floors, cantilevered ceilings and wall-to-wall windows that allow light and greenery to infuse the space. Hand-crafted furniture and works by local artisans add to the authentic flavour of the decor.
The silence: There is no sound on Isla Palenque other than the roar of the surf, the chirping of the birds, the waft of the breezes and the howling of the monkeys. The best place to revel in that natural soundscape is on hiking trails that venture to beaches and sandbars, to lagoons and grasslands, to tropical jungles and volcanic bluffs. There is even a "blow hole" – so named because of the way the ocean hits the rocks and spews water into the air.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
Every room is equipped with binoculars so that guests don't miss out on a single sighting of the monkeys and abundant birdlife (parrots are easy, but see if you can find a toucan). But the resort blends in so well with the surrounding rain forest, you don't have to leave your deck chair to see the howler monkeys who visit the tree above the pool.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
The two-tiered, 3.5-metre waterfall infinity pool is a great place to cool off – water from the island's aquifer cascades over massive volcanic boulders into a wading pool. The long, narrow shape, however, means it feels too crowded if there's more than a couple of people taking a dip.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
On this remote island, the only choice is to eat in and savour chef Oliver Blond's truly phenomenal cuisine at Eden. His menus change daily and feature ingredients from the restaurant's organic gardens and local farmers and fisherman. Dishes range from duck, ceviche and glazed pork, to beef sliders, pineapple ice cream and coconut mousse. The lobster risotto, served in the shell, is divine.
The writer was a guest of the resort.