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Kayaking in the Pearl Islands

Listed under Kayaking in Panama.

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You can easily imagine how pirates once chose this cluster of some 90 islands and 130 islets that comprise the Archipelago de las Perlas - or Pearl Islands - as their hideaway just off Panama's Pacific coast. While nowadays it might be hard to trace any of their legendary booty in the surrounding waters or hidden on these mostly uninhabited little islands, the pearls for which they were named and the oysters bearing them them still do exist here. All of which might also be unlikely anything you will spot during any short kayak outing here -- and yet the allure of the region remains strong thanks to the real enough beauty of navigating amongst tiny islets of creamy sands and lush foliage.

The Pearl Islands were so named by explorer Vasco de Balboa in 1513, and later the bucaneers used the area as cover to attack Spanish vessels carrying treasure. Today their remoteness endures, with the only way to arrive here being either to get to Contadora Island, and take a charter boat operator from there, or travel the somewhat longer charter distance from Panama City about an hour and a half away. The more unusual method is the one we were lucky to enjoy: sailing into the area on a small cruise ship which then laid anchor several hundred yards off one island, and allowed passengers to motor launch ashore while also bringing along a few kayaks for us to go out on for the rest of the afternoon. The island we were picknicking on and kayaking from was uninhabited although it was once home to a prison, presently only birds were making use of the dense scrub behind the beach. The kayaks were lightweight plastic one and two top-seating models that were easy to launch into gentle swells. If you go out far enough, you can also snorkel over coral reefs that attract brightly colored schools of fish. Larger local marine residents you might be lucky to spot on a longer kayak and snorkel exploration include sea turtles, manta rays, and white-tipped reef sharks.

Written by  Hal Peat.

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