As one of my gal pals put it; “Isla Iguana, on a Monday afternoon, in Panama, fifteen minutes by boat from our Home. Does life get any better than this?” And no, I don’t know if it can; unless perhaps it was raining chocolate and a case of red wine parachuted in.
Our province of Los Santos has roughly 125 miles of coastline, with many beaches. Isla Iguana is known for its blue water and soft white sand and the island is about 15-25 minutes by boat from Pedasí depending on how high the waves are. When we went out on Monday the bay waters were pretty rough and it seemed to take a while to get there. Coming back the waves were almost as high but it was 4:30 and our captain was in a hurry to get to shore and get his boat out of the water before the rain hit. But, maybe it only seemed that way because I sat in front on the way back!
It is important to consider the tide when planning to go to Isla Iguana. We planned our trip for high tide. The snorkeling is better and it’s easier for the boats to get in. All of us have tide chart books (Tabla de Mareas) that sell early in the New Year in the tiendas around town. If you’re visiting, there is usually a tide chart in El Pedasieño the local monthly newspaper, you can check the tides on the internet or just ask a local. To get to the island we caught a boat from Playa Arenal. Boat rides are $60.00 no matter how many people you have with you so the more people going for the ride the less you will pay. Our boat fit the seven of us comfortably and we probably could have squeezed in one or two more. One of my friends had already arranged for a local captain to take us over for the day but there are usually boat captains hanging around waiting to take people over. Before boarding the boat we checked in with the immigration fellows and showed a photocopy of our picture, information pages and the last entry stamp from when we arrived in Panama. You can also just bring your original passport with you (make sure you have a waterproof bag to put it in) or in my case I used my residency card. There is also a “sign in” sheet that we completed with our passport/cedula numbers, ages and names. Once we arrived at the island there was a ranger station maintained by ANAM (National Authority for the Environment). There we paid an entrance fee of $10.00 for tourists and $4.00 for locals. (As a side note, we all commented that the ranger must have a tough go of it working in such a beautiful environment!) My cost for the day was $14.00 since we agreed among ourselves that we would pay $10.00 each to the boat captain and as a resident I paid the $4.00 entry fee. We also signed a sheet with our names, the date and where we were from and received receipts for our payment.
The waters surrounding the island are well-known for hump back whales and huge sea turtles when in season. There are two beaches; one at the rear of the island, El Faro that has a small strip of sand enclosed by lava rocks and El Cirial that is a nice larger strip of sandy beach where the boats come in to anchor. The sand is soft with hermit crabs scurrying around the beach looking for their next meal. Orange and purple land crabs, frigate birds, gulls and iguanas and little yellow warblers are everywhere.
During World War II the U.S Air Force used the island as a practice bombing range. They left huge craters scarring the landscape can still be seen if you walk the trail that goes around the island, as three of us did. We followed the hiking trail that leads from one beach to the other has big stands of sugar cane with their tall seed heads dancing in the wind. As you continue from El Faro to loop back around there is an area where the frigate birds nest. On part of the trail we smelled the birds before we saw them and we were breathing through our mouths for a short time. The reward at the end is the visitor centre that isn’t very well maintained but offers a pretty, elevated view of El Cirial beach below.
There are no tiendas on Isla Iguana so we packed our own lunches and beverages. We also brought our own snorkel gear, although a few sets are available on the island it’s not a given on any specific day that they will be available. Sunscreen is also muy importante, even on a cloud covered day such as ours some of us were getting a little crispy. It might also be a good idea to bring insect repellent but we had no problem with the bugs when we went.
Isla Iguana was an exercise in using my senses. I listened and I could hear the iguanas and hermit crabs skittering through the underbrush and the waves crashing in ocean. I could taste the light saltiness of the water when I was snorkeling and see the beautiful fish. I felt the ocean breeze and the sand between my toes and yes, a couple of light jellyfish stings, remnants of the dry season and cooler water. I smelled the ocean wind and the not so pleasant smell of the frigate birds along the trail. It was another wonderful day full of reflection, laughter, fun and good friends. With all this, how can life not be good in the campo?