It may take a full day and a half to reach it, but, oh, at the end of three plane rides, two shuttles and a ferry your pay-off awaits.
Islas Secas. Unknown to all but the local fisherman, it is an eco-minded island sanctuary that took its shape organically, inspired by the naturescape of a 16-island chain about 25 miles off Boca Chica, Panama, in the Gulf of Chiriqui.
The largest island in this Pacific Ocean archipelago, Isla Cavada, is where your journey’s reward awaits – an idyll with pristine waters, breezy casitas (or yurts), walking trails following Mother Nature’s imprint of reef, coastline, mangroves and coconut trees, and a laid-back vibe as languid as the ebb and flow of the tide.
Along the way are memories-in-waiting to delight all the senses. The ferry ride aboard a SeaVee from Boca Chica to these uninhabited volcanic islands feels more like an amusement park ride without the safety bar – no lines, shrieking kids or sticky seats, either, just oceanic surround sound and the waters of the bay, whose hues change from navy to blue-gray to aquamarine. The million dollar views. The bracing sea-salt air. The immutable peace and calm.
Although it is a first class resort with an international staff, there is nothing fussy about Islas Secas. In fact, the island atmosphere feels more like friends gathering to play Swiss Family Robinson, albeit with soft beds, gourmet cuisine and state-of-the-art fishing boats.
Guests are at their leisure. Curious about the surrounding islands? Resort manager and underwater nature guide Kieron Baudains will arrange for boat and guide. Need a deep tissue or Thai massage? Resident massage therapist Brianne Spans will appear at your bohio (cabana). Want to channel your inner downward dog? Spans, also the yogi, will materialize, mat in hand.
The solar-powered casitas charm with their simplicity while offering all the comforts of home; actually, better than home because someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning – laundry, too. Clothes are whisked away; returned freshly washed and dried and folded. Champagne and cooling cloths chill in the fridge. Crisp white linens enrobe the bed, whose mosquito netting adds a romantic touch. A shower round the corner within the yurt captures the island breeze.
“Air conditioning” comes via the breezes whooshed in from the ocean, an oscillating floor fan and a two tiny fans above the bed. Swaddled in your cocoon, the view is of Nature’s best handiwork: the blues of the ocean with the shifting sun playing along the waves; the greens of overlapping flora; the whites of the clouds puffing lazily along the horizon.
With only seven casitas on the island, guests typically max out at a delightfully sparse 14, adding to the sense that you and your travel companion are the only inhabitants romping about paradise. The casitas are arranged so that each commands its own private views and beach area. Walk out your screen door, round the bohio and slip into the clear, cool waters. If you want to swim or sunbathe in the buff, only the passing iguanas will be the wiser.
With their comfy chaises, irresistible hammock and shading thatched roof, the bohios coax guests into quiet reflection and untroubled dozing – certainly no more energetic pursuit than noting the passing wildlife. There is no television to rattle your senses, no phones to jar you out of a lazy daydream – only nature’s soundtrack of chirping birds and wind-rustled palm fronds.
Adventures are plentiful: hiking, spearfishing, diving amidst underwater sea mountains, Hobie Cat sailing, kayaking, wakeboarding, snorkeling. The view under water is as breathtaking as above, with humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles abounding in these waters.
There are private beach excursions to Islas Pargo, where you can be “marooned” for the day with picnic lunch and plenty of privacy; jaunts to Isla Coco to marvel at the frigatebirds with their hook-tipped bills; snorkel and diving excursions to Coiba National Park; surfing at Morro Negrito; collecting beach glass on Isla Cavada; zoning out in a natural Jacuzzi while reef fish dart about.
Then there’s the big game fishing, exhilarating to all, including newbies to the sport.
“Panama is arguably one of the top five big game fishing destinations of the world,” says Capt. Carter Andrews, director of fishing at Islas Secas. “Hannibal Bank is legendary among fisherman. Blue and black marlin, yellow fin tuna to 300 pounds, sailfish, dorado and wahoo are all swimming in these offshore, nutrient-filled waters. A day on the water with one of our boats and crew is a treat – from the fishing to the scenery to the animal viewing.”
And the food? Chef Alex Rojas works his culinary magic, tailoring meals individually to seafood lovers, carnivores, vegetarians – everyone from the gastronomically adventurous foodie to the downright picky eater. Photo-worthy dishes show off the chef’s Panamanian background and French and Asian influences: Mahi-Mahi Passionfruit Ceviche, Tuna Tatake in Wasabi Vinaigrette, Organic Chicken, Yucca Salad.
“And you can bring your fresh catch back to Chef Alex to prepare the best fish dish you have ever had,” notes Andrews.
Meals are served on the terrazzo on the main beach against a backdrop of lapping water and setting sun. Cocktails and tapas precede dinner, with staff greeting guests and asking after their day’s adventures. Optionally, cocktails are served at the Sunset Deck, located cliff side high in a thick canopy of vegetation and looking out over the crashing surf as the sun melts into the bay. Desserts are petite bites layered with flavor (and dessert chef J. Paola Fernandez can be persuaded to share a coveted recipe).
Islas Secas is a resort that leaves no shell unturned in tending to your comfort to enhance your stay. And your hosts are free with smiles and stories and always ready to show off their jungle-clad corner of paradise and nudge guests toward a new adventure – or leave them to relax into the lazy rhythm of island life.
Book your Islas Secas casita from mid-December through the end of May. Rainy season commences June through early December.
To bring on your adventure: Crocs – they are the preferred footwear on the island; tablet or e-Reader (casitas have Wi-Fi).
To leave home: sunscreen and bug spray – there are bottles in the yurts, on the fishing boats, all over the island – for liberal (and necessary) use.
To take home: BPA-free biodegradable water bottle and roomy canvas beach bag – gifts from Islas Secas.