Panama Road Trip - Pearl Islands & El Valle

With one free flight courtesy of Continental’s Onepass frequent flyer programme, my girlfriend and I flew to Panama and picked up a hire car to scope out some beaches for a couple of weeks.

Having overnighted in Panama City at Eurotel (a budget hotel, great value, perfectly suitable and with a decent, if slightly noisy, location), the following day we took a short 20 minute flight to the Pearl Islands, located just off Panama’s Pacific coast.  I’d read much about the idyllic Pearl Islands, which has been the setting of various TV programmes such as the Survivor series. We stayed at the Perla Real Inn, which I can thoroughly recommend, but there are numerous alternatives - see our reviews of all the hotels in the Pearl Islands.

The Pearl Islands are indeed very beautiful, with lovely beaches, scenic boat tours and friendly people. The islands are a great place to chill out for a few days, but there’s little to do other than that. I was dissapointed by two things - firstly, the litter, which is absolutely everywhere. Remote islands look idllyic from a distance, but when you arrive the beaches are spoilt by litter everywhere. There seems to be no attempt by either the local authorities or the local tourism industry to do anything to address the litter problem in Panama’s Pearl Islands, which is a real shame. I was also dissapointed by Contadora Island itself and it’s beaches (Contadora is the hub of tourism and hotels in the Pearl Islands). When I say dissapointed, this  is in a relative sense - the beaches on all the other islands seemed to be more beautiful.

After four nights in Islas Perlas as the Panamanians call them, we caught the short flight back to Albrook Airport in Panama City, where we met a friend at the National Car Hire pick up desk. We’d booked (online) a small hire car for $200 for 10 days. The conniving thieves at National Car Hire then promptly advised us that the actual cost was over $400. After much arguing, we ended up paying as there was no better alternative. Watch out for those hidden extras if you book with Panama’s National Car Hire.

We drove a couple of hours west of Panama City to El Valle de Anton, a small town that Panama travel guidebooks will tell you is situated in volcanic crater and has a wonderful climate. We saw no evidence of either - we found Valle de Anton to be too hot, and you’d never have guessed that you were in a volcanic crater. We were sucked in by the hype - El Valle de Anton is meant to be an amazing retirement spot in Panama - but I doubt I’ll be returning.

Panama Road Trip - post 1 of 4 - Continued - next the Azuero Peninsula

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