It’s easy to feel like you have the place all to yourself when cruising the waters of Panama’s Gulf of Chiriqui. The stillness above the water belies the riot of sea life below the surface. “We were cruising through the Gulf, remarking that we were the only people in sight among all of these beautiful islands,” says Isla Palenque sales director Abe Zimmerman. “Out of nowhere, an enormous humpback shot out of the water. My breath has never been taken away like that before.”
While whales have been migrating to Panama for thousands of years, international travelers are just now discovering the allure of a visit to this incredible country. Humpbacks undertake an annual 4,000-mile migration from icy latitudes to warm tropical waters. Feeding in the Arctic and mating in the equatorial Pacific, these magnificent aquatic mammals bring the thrills of prime whale watching to Chiriqui travelers. Isla Coiba and Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui are two of Panama’s best spots for whale watching, both located near Amble Resorts’ eco-development on Isla Palenque. You can even spot whales frolicking just offshore from the island’s beautiful beaches.
Panama holds the distinction of hosting humpback whale migrations from both northern and southern hemispheres, from Alaskan shores and the tip of South America. Whale season in Panama’s Pacific waters spans from July to November. The height of activity occurs in the final months. Male humpbacks perform elaborate mating rituals in which they jump out of the water in twisting motions, known as breaching. Male humpbacks also produce a unique song, which lasts 10-20 minutes and is repeated over the course of several hours. Scientists believe the songs may be a method used by migrating whales to stay connected. Females calve in these warm tropical waters (one year after becoming pregnant) and help prepare their offspring for the long journey to the cold-water feeding grounds.
In a way, whales are much like the international travelers who come to Panama: they work hard, endure long journeys, survive cold and ice, so that they have the chance to visit a warm-weather paradise and play!
We can learn a lot from whales. They seem to have been way ahead of us in terms of recognizing Panama’s appeal. But unlike whales, we humans don’t have to leave Panama as December approaches, and we’re not biologically obligated to strike out for Chiriqui’s waters at the beginning of every summer. We can come and go as we please, choosing to break up our winter doldrums with a week in the tropics or even move our entire life to one of the most attractive places to live abroad. If you’re visiting Panama for the first time, I recommend following the whales’ trail to Panama for an experience you’ll never forget.