Playa Cacique, Panama

Photo: Hotel Mar y Oro

Some people return to the same resort, where they feel comfortable, over and over. Not you. Other people find a destination they like and stick with it. Again, not you. While most people wait for a spot to become popular. Still, not you.

You prefer to explore a place that’s remained under the radar. You want to arrive before the crowds. You definitely want to beat the big resorts. That independence makes you a trailblazer. A travel trailblazer.

Lately, you’ve been thinking about Panama. The Central American county should be a more popular destination. It isn’t that far away. There are plenty of flights from the United States. Plus it borders both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Hello, beach lovers. But, aside from its capital city and the grand canal, “the hub of the Americas” is largely ignored.

The Archipiélago de las Perlas (the Pearl Islands) sit in the Gulf of Panama, just 30 miles off the Pacific coast. There are more than 200 islands and islets in the archipelago. Many of them are tiny. Most of them are uninhabited. Plus they’re home to some of Panama’s best beaches.

Isla Contadora (Contadora Island) is the ideal first stop on the islands. Counting Island, named for the pearls that the Spanish used to count on it, has a small airport with direct flights from Panama City. The hilly island is covered with rainforest and ringed by white-sand beaches. A coral reef lies just offshore. It doesn’t have much of a town, but it does have friendly people who zip around narrow roads on golf carts and scooters. It doesn’t have big resorts, actually any resorts, either. Accommodations are limited to a few inns and a single hotel.

That hotel, Mar y Oro, is where you’re hiding out for the next few days. The little hotel sits right on Playa Cacique. Its 14 bedrooms were recently renovated. Suite Panamá features a king bed, wooden beams, and an ocean view. Fishermen deliver fresh seafood to the restaurant, MiraOlas, each day. Fish burgers are served along the water at Cacique Beach Bar. While there are more blue-footed boobies than people strolling on the sand in front of you. On second thought, maybe everyone should keep ignoring Panama.

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