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Isla Palenque Resort

Isla Palenque, Boca Chica, Panama
| +506 4040 0420
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Isla Palenque Boca Chica  Panama

Isla Palenque

Why we love it: A private island resort where guests can truly disconnect

The Highlights: 
- Just eight casitas and 400 acres of nature 
- A strong commitment to sustainability 
- A hyper-local culinary program 

The Review: 
Off the Pacific coast of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica, floats a lush island that indigenous people dubbed Palenque, or “sanctuary.” Once home to an ancient, pre-Columbian community, the island stood empty for hundreds of years—save for the all the wildlife, birds, and flora—until Ben Loomis arrived. For five years, the architect and designer lived on site, sleeping in a hammock by night and getting to know the land by day. Eventually, he put both his background and love for nature to use by creating this private island resort, dedicated to the principles of sustainable luxury. 

There are just eight beachfront casitas and one Villa Estate on the 400-acre island, so privacy is a given. Each of the 650-square-foot casitas has direct beach access, an outdoor tub, organic bath products, daybeds and hammocks, artisan-made furnishings, and a mini-bar stocked with local juices, snacks, and beers. Standout amenities include binoculars, a yoga mat, and a meditation cushion, plus a water bottle to use around the resort; Wi-Fi is free, but “island speed.” In addition to the main beach that fronts the casitas, guests have access to six other sandy stretches, along with nature walking and hiking trails, a main infinity pool, a spa, and complimentary use of kayaks, snorkels, and paddleboards. Meals are full of fresh, sustainably sourced ingredients and vibrant Panamanian flavors; rates include three meals a day, along with snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. An Island Foraging experience brings you closer to the culinary process as you learn to fish using ancient techniques, pick goodies from the island’s orchards, and hunt for wild ingredients along rainforest trails. Off-island excursions like whale watching, island hopping, and more can also be arranged, but with the run of a place like this, it’ll be hard to leave.

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AFAR Local Expert
11 months ago

Isla Palenque Resort: Paradise Unwound

Located on a 400-acre private island at the edge of a protected marine park, Isla Palenque Resort in the remote Gulf of Chiriqui is undiscovered Panama at its best; a place still so wild the howler monkeys outnumber guests and you can live as off the grid as you’d like. Do a deep dive into digital detox. It is the kind of place where most cell phone signals don’t penetrate, there is no cable TV or televisions or landline telephones (although if you have to be plugged in there is WiFi) and you can hike for miles through thick jungle without seeing a soul. The eco-luxe resort is latest property by the Cayuga Collection just opened in July and has a serious sustainability focus unlike any other property in Panama.

The Gulf of Chiriquí is about a 7 hour drive north from Panama City or a quick 30-minute flight on Copa Airlines to the country’s second largest city, David, followed by a one hour drive and then about a 20 minute boat transfer to the island. At Isla Palenque Resort there are just eight casitas on a totally deserted stretch of beach, which can sleep up to four people, and one villa that can accommodate a larger family, creating a very Robinson Crusoe style private island experience. Nestled in groves of palms and jungle flora, each casita is named for a different author of an island focused book — I was in the Garland, named for Alex Garland, who wrote the backpacking cult classic The Beach, and there is actually a copy of the book in my room. It’s one of a number of unique decorating touches here. Another is how you can adjust the sliding glass and screen doors to make your room as insulated or al fresco as you feel comfortable sleeping with — I loved sleeping with just the screens closed listening to the sounds of the jungle and ocean as I drifted off.

Days are easily filled with activities from guided hikes to SUP boarding to excursions by boat around the unspoiled Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park. In between playing you’ll want to eat and the food here was delicious and varied — I didn’t get bored of their offerings over a four night stay. The focus is on local, fresh and sustainable — you won’t find any plastic straws or bottles here. The staff is also friendly, professional and speak near fluent English. They’re also very knowledgable about the island and region and its native flora, fauna and history. Rates at Isla Palenque include three meals, non-alcoholic meals and activities. To combine a trip here with a more extended tour of Panama or nearby Columbia or Costa Rica among other destinations, local operator Panama Vacations is great at putting together custom travel itineraries that take the hassle out of planning and include transfers between destinations, which is the trickiest part of traveling to remote lodges like Isla Palenque.