Isla Bona and Otoque

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After being away from the boat for just over three months, Rachel and I were excited to get out on the water again. We’d put the sails back up, ran all our lines and checked all the systems on the boat to make sure Agape was just how we left her, in good working order. 

The day finally came when we could no longer stand the rocking and rolling at the dock and we fired up old Mr. Perkins, breathing in deeply his familiar perfume of diesel exhaust with just a hint of burnt oil, ahhh cruising! The lines were loosened and we backed out of our slip in the torture chamber, heading for the nearby islands of Isla Bona and Otoque. With strong winds still blowing, we had a quick but comfortable day sail to the only protected anchorage on the northwest side of the island. 


Isla Bona is currently uninhabited, although signs of a major mining operation of some kind are still evident. All around the island you can find abandoned and dilapidated structures, already being consumed by mother nature. We had heard that the mining on the island was some sort of Chinese operation, but inside one of the structures I found a Baker Hughs shaker (a large machine used to separate solids), which is an American company, and all the control consoles we found were in English, which leads me to believe otherwise. Our google searches have turned up little information, so we still have no definitive information on who mined what here. 

On top of the small peninsula protecting the anchorage you can find a massive field of extremely heavy, black sand. Picking up a handful feels like holding a lead weight! We brought some of the sand back to the boat to see if was magnetic, and sure enough it was. We figure it was full of iron and that it’s possibly what they had been mining on the island.


Isla Bona is fun place to explore, and it’s a lot like you are entering the set of the TV show Lost. There are no set trails and if you want to poke around the island you’ll find yourself bushwhacking a lot. I always find abandoned buildings and machines in secluded areas like this intriguing, seeing how quickly nature reclaims things and wipes away our footprints, always keeps me humble.


Bona also offers some amazing fishing, snorkeling and bird watching, as the island is located in the Gulf of Panama, which during dry season months becomes one of the richest locations on the isthmus in terms of food. The strong trade winds blow away warm water from the surface of the sea, bringing up cooler water from the ocean’s depths, full of nutrients that attracts many different species of marine life. This upwelling coincides with the nesting periods of brown boobies, brown pelicans and magnificent frigatebirds, and while visiting we could not pass up the opportunity to exploring the shoreline around the island watching the different breading behaviors at all the nesting sites. Our favorite was the male magnificent frigate birds with their inflatable, bright red throat pouches.

In the evenings we’d grab a cold beer and do an hour or so of trawling behind the dingy, and this was a hot spot for sure! Fishing can be a little more challenging from the dingy as we have to keep a close eye on our hooks, knife and fish spines and teeth around the inflatable tubes of the boat, but being able to gather our protein in a sustainable and direct from nature way, is something we are forever grateful for.  I love watching Rachel’s eyes light up as the reel buzzes and she grabs the rod to set the hook. While here we caught sierra mackerel, black skipjack tuna, rainbow runners, mahi mahi, and red snappers.


Just a mile away, is the neighboring island of Otoque, which is inhabited and has two two small villages. Our first trip to Isla Otoque, our fiends on S/V Dad’s Dream and us, took our dinghies to circumnavigate the island. It turned out to be much larger than we had originally anticipated and it turned into an all day dingy mission. We stopped by one of the villages to walk around and swim with some of the local kids. They loved playing on our dinghy and jumping off the pontoons.


After a few beautiful days anchored off Isla Bona we decided to take advantage of the favorable winds and make our way to the Las Perlas Islands, knowing that we’d return here again several times over the following weeks with friends and family that would be coming to visit. 

These islands are a perfect stop for boats traveling from Punta Mala or Marina Vista Mar to Panama City or the Las Perlas Islands.

These islands are a perfect stop for boats traveling from Punta Mala or Marina Vista Mar to Panama City or the Las Perlas Islands.