The dinner conversation comes to a lull; those of us gathered around the large bonfire are satiated after another successful beach cookout on Playa Palenque. After-dinner cocktails in hand, the group dynamic fragments into individual reflection as the crashing waves of the rising tide signal a slow and steady countdown to bedtime. As the thoughts of my co-workers and friends get lost in the glowing embers mirrored in the tapestry of stars above and the pups’ heads grow heavy on their paws, I sneak away from the flickering glow to walk the beach.
A few steps into the soft sand and the black night cloaks me completely. My eyes struggle to adjust; suddenly; the beach feels like a terrifying boardwalk into nothingness. I keep my head turned towards the sea, my feet in the tide, eyes affixed on three faint orange blurs of light in the distance, so muted and faraway that at times I begin to think that I’ve imagined them. One of these is the ANAM ranger station on Isla Parida, its nearness bringing me great comfort out in this wild darkness.
As the largest island in the Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui, Isla Parida gives its name to the dozens of smaller islands comprising the Islas Paridas archipelago. They scatter outward from Isla Parida, encompassing 57 square miles that have been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
Panamanians know it as “The Lost Archipelago” (if they even know it’s there), and according to local mythology, pirates used to hide out in the lagoons of Parida while they repaired their ships with hardwoods indigenous to the island. Cannons used to perch high on the rocky bluffs of the island’s offshoot, Pariditas, to ward off enemy attacks.
I just had to discover more about our island neighbor. A short (15 minute) boat trip from Isla Palenque, Parida is an easy and rewarding island-hop, and one that I’m glad to have experienced.
At first glance I thought I understood Isla Parida because the landscape is composed of the same species as Isla Palenque. Palm trees line a sandy white beach edged in black boulders; behind that, tall, dense jungle. Yet, once I jumped out of the boat and stepped onto the sand, it felt worlds away from the one I knew on Isla Palenque – Parida’s beach curves at a strange angle, the water falls back into the sea at a steeper slope, the driftwood washes up to the treeline in unfamiliar patterns. I don’t know the secrets of these palm groves or the small lodge tucked back on one side of the beach. Suddenly, I felt shy, a child invited across the threshold into the neighbor’s house, realizing that I’d taken its seemingly familiar façade for granted.
I’m living proof that you won’t be warned away from Parida by a cannonball if you try to visit. Instead, you’ll likely be greeted by the friendly rangers at the ANAM (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente) station. They’re responsible for keeping track of our impressive tides on Isla Palenque, so be sure to thank them for that – it really helps with planning a day of island adventure. Also, for a small fee, they’ll accommodate you if you decide to try camping for a night on Isla Parida.
The other nearby accommodations options – a few small fishing lodges and B&Bs – are all quite rustic, making our eco-resort on Isla Palenque the mainstay for luxury experiences in this beautiful island neighborhood. Only by asking around did I learn that these establishments are the source of the other two lights I had glimpsed out of the darkness on Playa Palenque – proof in the density of night that I was not alone.
If you try to learn about this region online, you’ll likely net little more than information about the spectacular sport fishing in the Gulf of Chiriqui. Certainly, Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui is a thrilling place for avid anglers to wrestle with the plentiful black marlin, cubera snapper, yellowfin tuna, roosterfish, and numerous other species. But even non-fishermen can soak up the adventure of this archipelago and its protected waters by exploring and seeking to understand the character of these islands.
Island-Hop to Isla Parida
From Isla Palenque or Boca Chica, it’s hard to miss! Instruct your captain that you’d like to see Parida and it’s a short 15-minute ride across the protected waters of the Gulf from Isla Palenque, or about 30 from Boca Chica. Ask to be dropped off on the south side to see the 1300-foot-long beach facing the emerald lagoon where the pirates used to hide.
Fine hardwoods teak and mahogany rise up into the canopy for those who appreciate a breathtaking tropical tree. Iguanas, colorful frogs, parrots, toucans, howler monkeys, and sea turtles are among the species you may encounter on Isla Parida, and the surrounding waters are bursting with life for the fishing pleasure of avid anglers. In the fall, you’ll most likely spot humpback whales cavorting in the 300-foot deep channel that runs between Palenque and Parida.
After exhilarating adventures sport fishing and jungle hiking, travelers to Isla Parida and other islands within the archipelago tend to diffuse the day in a sputter of superlatives. A few favorite quotes from TripAdvisor reviews highlighting this pristine part of the Gulf of Chiriqui…
This is the perfect family vacation, even if you only have 1 fisherman in the bunch. Some days we fished as a family; the MOST beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. The view from the wooden deck is my screensaver. I did yoga there one day and realized how much beautiful noise quiet makes.
You need to experience this place firsthand to really appreciate it. You are closer to the fishing grounds here than anywhere else in the Gulf of Chiriqui.
Thought I died and went to Heaven.
Prepare yourself for deep relaxation, introspection, large fish (possibly whales), and adventures you will not soon forget. As they like to say on the island, “tight lines!”