The Islands of Western Panama
The wild and remote islands of Western Panama are an amazing cruising ground, and if you have the time they are worth a full season of cruising. This stretch of coastline doesn’t have all the conveniences or amenities that cruisers often grow accustomed too while sailing through Mexico or the Caribbean. These undeveloped, jungle covered islands are a secret paradise for the true adventurers out there. You’re on your own out here, figuratively and quite often literally. While cruising through we had anchorages and islands all to ourselves. Here we were wild and we were free! We’d swim naked to the beach and dance in the rain, build rafts and swing in hammocks. These islands were exactly what we’d imagined cruising would be!
Finally free of Boca Chica, we set off for Isla Gamez. Located only 15nm offshore, this small island is often overshadowed by it’s more popular neighbor, Isla Perida. Isla Gamez is nothing more than a pretty little island with a white sand beach and a couple of palm trees. The water was calm and warm, and it was like having a private island all to ourselves!
While we were here we had some pretty scary squalls move through, and as it was rainy season there was no rhyme or reason to them. They’d come from every direction and light up the horizon, with lightning bolts striking all up and down the coast. We even saw a few palm trees get hit, they’d glow bright red and explode!
It was pretty nerve wracking every time a big squall would move through and we prayed that we would be spared from a strike.
We’d heard horror stories about other boats getting hit, from having thru-hulls melt and the boat sinking in minutes, to having all the electronics fried and needing to be replaced. The ear splitting, boat vibrating thunder was terrifying enough, I can’t imagine actually being struck. Being so isolated and removed from any source of help, we tried to remind ourselves that we had no control over the lightning and that no amount of worrying would keep the lightning bolts away, so we’d turn on a movie or I’d crank up the music while cooking dinner, but neither could fully distract us from the tempest outside.
From Isla Gamez we were well within a day sail range of the private archipelago of the Isla Secas. Though these islands are privately owned, they don’t seem mind the occasional sailboat anchored off shore. We were finally at an anchorage with clear, warm water with healthy coral and sea life, beautiful beaches and no tourists! We spent days beach combing for shells and sea glass, and collecting as much plastic as we could carry. It was overwhelming how much trash we found on all the islands, especially considering most of them are uninhabited. The trash, from what we could gather, came from villages inland and traveled down rivers into the sea, and once in the ocean these islands worked as a fine tooth comb, collecting massive amounts of plastic.
One afternoon we collected five massive trash bags of styrofoam, plastic bottles, flip flops, straws and micro plastics. We dropped them off at an island with a small runway, hoping somehow they’d be removed. Unfortunately, the only other option we’ve heard about is to dig a hole in the sand and burn the trash. We’d love to learn more on this topic and if you have any recommendation or advice we’d love to hear it, because we can only carry so much waste aboard Agape and burning it sounds juts as bad as leaving it on the shore. At present, most Central American countries do not recycle plastic and most of the waste in rural areas is burned. It’s utterly heartbreaking to see the amount of trash that gets washed up on these beautiful beaches. We’ve heard the situation is getting better, but from what we saw there is still a long way to go.
Here at the Secas, we rediscovered what it was like to be kids again, not that is was ever truly lost to us! Josh spent hours building a bamboo raft from debris he found onshore (he called it research incase we ever found ourselves stranded on a desert island), we played games, collected treasures and walked through the jungle looking for animals. It was a special time that neither of us will soon forget.
After a few days we continued south, with plans to return during the dry season when we could enjoy the islands more. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to make it back, and now regret not spending more time there. Just another lesson in slowing down, especially now that we are moving further and futher away from home.
We figure instead of rushing through, why not give each place we do get to see the time it deserves, and truly experience it and all it has to offer. Normally, we take our time and stick around a place until we are ready to move on, but unfortunately sometimes weather and schedules dictate how long we can stay. For this reason, we try to minimize schedules as often as possible, as they always end up making life more difficult and often force us to move the boat quicker than we’d like or in less than favorable conditions.
If you plan on traveling or cruising, we recommend going slower, visiting fewer places but really getting to experience the ones you do get to visit. There are so many amazing places in the world and one can never hope to see them all!
There are several dozen islands located west of Punta Mala, Panama and each island offers something unique. We were disappointed that we couldn’t stay and explore these islands more, but our cruising season was coming to a close and it was soon going to be time to decommission the boat and head home to see family and friends again.
The islands of Western Panama are truly a special place and we look forward to hopefully revisiting them again in the future.