For a small country – Panama manages to pack an incredible amount of terrain that will satisfy any explorer. You’ve got a cosmopolitan city, cool mountain towns, beaches with
I’ve traveled quite a bit through Latin America and Panama has some of the most islands you can visit in the region (and the most beautiful). San Blas alone has 365+ islands you can hop around on! The beauty of Panama’s islands is that they are located on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the country so you could hang out on a deserted Caribbean Island one day and then check out an island in the Pacific the next!
Here are 14 of the most incredible islands you must visit during your trip to Panama.
Contadora is the most developed of the Pearl Islands and is home to beachfront mansions owned by Panama’s wealthy elite, beautiful white sand beaches, a few restaurants, and a creepy abandoned resort.
Right next to Contadora, you’ll find Saboga. This island is less developed and is the perfect escape for people looking for a secluded getaway and offers more affordable accommodation than Contadora. To arrive at Saboga you can do one of the day trips offered by Sea Las Perlas but you should stay overnight! Some of the best accommodations include El Remanso Bed & Breakfast ($$), Saboga Lodge ($$), and Villa Coral Cove ($$$).
A visit to the San Blas Islands is definitely a bucket list item for most travelers in Panama. This archipelago is home to 365+ islands that are inhabited by Panama’s indigenous Guna people which has kept the big developments out so you can enjoy the islands as they always have been. There are a few ways to visit San Blas:
1. Go for the day: A day trip from Panama City to San Blas is totally doable but remember it is an ALL DAY experience that typically starts with being picked up at 5 am. You do need to take a tour here because the trip is extremely hard to coordinate on your own. There are A LOT of tours to choose from but this tour offered on Viator includes everything with no hidden fees like other tours. The tour includes visiting four islands, lunch, and snorkeling equipment.
2. Stay overnight: If you have the time, an overnight trip to San Blas is the way to go, but you really don’t need to spend more than one night there. This overwater cabin is one of the best you’ll find (CLICK HERE TO RESERVE) and includes all of your meals.
3. Go sailing: While sailing through San Blas is one of the most expensive experiences, it’s also the most unique. Being on a sailboat means you’ll have access to visit the islands at your own pace and go swimming, snorkeling, and fishing when you want. This luxury sailing trip is one of the top-rated experiences and includes all of your meals while onboard.
If you’re staying in Panama City, the easiest and most affordable island you can visit is Isla Taboga. If you have the flexibility, go on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds. The ferry to Taboga only costs $24 round-trip via Taboga Express, leaving from Isla Flamenco on the Amador Causeway, and takes approximately 30 minutes. You can also do an amazing catamaran boat day that includes an open bar and lunch for $89. For an overnight stay, the best accommodation options on the island include Villa Caprichosa ($$$), Casa Rosie ($$$), Taboga Palace ($$), and La Mismosa de Taboga ($$).
Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro is one of Panama’s top tourist destinations and once you visit you can totally see why. This pristine paradise has been attracting surfers, beach seekers, and young partygoers for years. The archipelago of Bocas consists of 9 principal islands and 52 cays, with the main one being Isla Colon, also known as Bocas Town. This is where you’ll find the island’s main restaurants, bars, and epic parties within walking distance of wherever you stay. But if peace and quiet are what you’re after, then you can retreat to one of the more relaxing islands like Isla Bastamientos or Isla Carenero and then water taxi over to Bocas Town whenever you like. There are A LOT of places to stay in Bocas no matter what your budget is! For affordable accommodation, check out Bambuda Lodge ($), which features a long waterslide going from the lodge to the ocean. Also, check out Sol Bungalows ($$) and the Secret Jungle Treehouse ($$$).
Chapera Island is famous for having a season of Survivor filmed there and it’s definitely not a bad place to be stranded on. Unfortunately, there aren’t any accommodation options if you want to stay longer, but you can enjoy it for the day. This island is a bit harder to access so you will either need to charter a boat to visit here.
Isla Bolaños is one of the latest islands in the Pearl Island Archipelago to open its beautiful beachfront to visitors. Sea Las Perlas offers a day trip special for $135 that includes roundtrip ferry, beach club access, lunch, water, snacks, snorkeling, and bathrooms. You can also stay a few nights at one of their gorgeous cabins available ($$$).
If you want to have a bougie beach day with a gorgeous pool, cabanas, and a private beachfront – head to Balu Beach Club on Isla Viveros. They offer day passes here for $140 that include round-trip transportation, access to the beach club pool & facilities, lunch, drink, and a towel. Or if you want to stay overnight, you can rent out this gorgeous house ($$$$).
Isla Iguana is a protected wildlife refugee off the coast of Pedasi with crystal clear turquoise water, snorkeling, whales (during whale season), and hence the name – home to lots of Iguanas. To visit Isla Iguana you first to need to get Pedasi, which is approximately 5-hours from Panama City. There is a direct shuttle from Panama City that leaves from Selina for $40 or if you want to save some money and do public transit you can take a bus from Panama City to Las Tablas for $9 and then a bus to Pedasi for $3, check out this post for complete details. Once in Pedasi, you can book a day tour to Isla Iguana with Selina for $40 that includes transport, lunch, chairs, snacks, & soda. There aren’t any accommodation options on the island but you are allowed to camp. Or you can stay at one of the many options in Pedasi like Selina ($), Santosha ($$), or Casa Lajagua ($$).
Coiba Island, which was once home to a high-security prison, is now a National Park and is often touted as the “Galapagos of Panama”. This island is difficult to access and will take quite a bit of planning, but is worth the journey. You first have to arrive in Santa Catalina, which is around 6-hours from Panama City or if you happen to be in Boquete, they have a direct shuttle for $35. Santa Catalina is your base on the mainland and then you can take a day trip to Coiba and be there in around 1.5 hours or do an overnight trip. Fluid Adventures has some of the best ratings on Trip Advisor for arranging a trip out there from Santa Catalina. Or if you’re looking to come straight from Panama City to experience Coiba, Geoecotur offers quick and affordable day trips (starting at $99) and overnight group trips (starting at $199) throughout the year. If you want to stay a few nights on the mainland of Santa Catalina, check out Bodhi ($), La Buena Vida ($$), and Villa Coco ($$).
Boca Chica is starting to make a name for itself as a luxurious ecolodge paradise with top amenities and beautiful scenery. At the resorts here you can enjoy island hopping, whale watching, diving, horseback riding, and of course relax at the gorgeous beaches. Top places to stay include Boca Brava Paradise ($$), Sand Dollar Villa ($$$$), and Villa Azul ($$).
Isla Grande is one of the many places in Panama that used to be nice, has deteriorated over the years, but might be starting to experience a resurgence in tourism. The island is a popular hangout for locals on the weekend but if you go during the week it will be a ghost town (meaning you will have the beaches to yourself, but lack of things being open). The nice thing about this island is that it’s a two-hour drive from Panama City and offers turquoise Caribbean water, white sand beaches, and has some great snorkel spots. Hotel Cocotal ($$) is the best accommodation option on the island.
Just a little past Portobelo is the beautiful Isla Mamey. In my opinion, it’s the closest island you can get to that almost feels like San Blas and is a lot cheaper to visit. However, it can get crowded on the weekend so be sure to visit on a weekday if you can. If you have a car keep an eye out for the Isla Mamey boat transfer sign about 15 minutes after you pass Portobelo. Once you arrive here it’s approximately a $3 boat ride to the island. This island does not have restaurants so it’s recommended to bring your own food and drinks. This tour on Viator organizes a day tour here for $85 that includes a stop at Portobelo and then a day of relaxing on Isla Mamey.
Escudo de Veraguas
Escudo de Veraguas is one of the most difficult islands you can visit in Panama but also one of the most stunning. The island is home to abundant marine and animal life as well as unique