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Romar Traveler revisits Islas Secas--a privately owned archipelago of 16 small islands located in the Gulf of Chiriqui off Panama's Pacific Coast--providing a total island escape, amenities included, for the adventurous beachcomber.


By Rod Lopez-Fabrega and Mary Ashcraft


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-With all due respect to Robinson Crusoe, his fictional experiences on a deserted island in Daniel Defoe's famed novel would have been considerably more comfortable and only just a bit less remote if it had all happened on Islas Secas, a tropical Eden off the coast of Panama.

- The significant difference is that idyllic Islas Secas, a privately owned string of 16 small islands located in the Gulf of Chiriqui off Panama's Pacific Coast is very real and, is now accessible to any adventurous beachcombers eager for a genuine castaways experience.

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-In pre-colonial times the home of a uniquely isolated island culture, the Secas have been mostly uninhabited since then except by iguanas, coatis, a great variety of tropical birds, land crabs and a veritable bouillabaisse of surrounding sea life.

-Inaugurated in mid-December, 2004, the Islas Secas resort is based on Cavada, the largest of the islands. A placid and sheltered bay holds the floating dock to which the resort's small boats can tie up, tides allowing. Pacific tides average 13 feet with a maximum range of nearly 23 feet, so the staff keeps a close eye on water levels when sending guests out on boating, snorkeling or kayaking expeditions.

-Guests first arriving by boat are met by an impressive lineup of staff including ground keepers, the dive master, kitchen crews, chefs, and, of course, Kieron Baudains, the Property Manager of Islas Secas. Guests arriving on the resort's private plane after the one-hour flight from Panama City will be carted down from the island's landing strip, carved from a high plateau, for a welcome by staff.




Accommodations:

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- Accommodations are in extraordinary pre-fabricated casitas or yurts. These round structures, manufactured by the Pacific Yurts Company, are basically very elaborate semi permanent tents set on concrete slabs. Windows encircle the structures in order to catch gentle ocean breezes from any direction. Interiors are simple and elegant with the natural colors of the earth, wood and wicker furniture, beds covered with white quilts printed with swaying palm trees, and a romantic and functional mosquito netting over the bed, all resting on a brilliantly painted floor the color of ripe peaches. Everything else is crisp white, and in the spacious and well-appointed bathrooms shower nooks are painted in the colors of warm tropical flowers.

- Each casita has its own solar collector, providing ample power for low-voltage lights, hot water and small fans located over the beds. Thanks to continuous tropic breezes, no air-conditioning is required. Each casita sits besides its own thatched ranchito complete with outdoor seating, and each casita is surrounded by thick tropical landscaping for maximum privacy from its neighbors but with openings overlooking splendid vistas of beach and sky.

- There are only six casitas on the island plus one larger Casita Grande which functions as the suite. The maximum number of guests on the island is 14, though in a pinch as many as 20 can be accommodated. Additional buildings hidden in the forest house the staff, laundry and storage facilities.




Acivities:

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-Activities can be as varied as the guest wishes. Needless to say, Islas Secas can be a place for total escape. Kieron Baudains describes it, "This is a place for someone who really and truly wants to get away. To me that is the largest draw--and if you are really adventurous, the diving is truly spectacular, the sport fishing around here is world-class, snorkeling and kayaking are steps away from your door. The ocean waters around here are not depleted just as Panama is not depleted from too much tourism. It's not a Galapagos that has been over-exploited. Basically, there's no one here. There are no footprints on the beaches of Islas Secas."

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- For the serious fisherman, Islas Secas now has two 34'SeaVees with twin 300HP engines, as well as a 58' custom Donzi--all equipped with Shimano tackle. The sports fishing program directed by Carter Andrews is offered at an additional cost and fishing sites include Coiba and Montuosa islands, as well as the world famous Hannibal Bank. Surfers also have the option of finding challenging surf at Morro Negro, a short ride away.

- After a full day of swimming snorkeling, kayaking, or fishing in the island clear waters, it could possibly be the right time to visit the hideaway spa in order to calm those overworked muscles




The Castaway Experience:

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-Robinson Crusoe, please take note in case you want a genuine castaway experience.

-An unforgettable day can be an excursion to nearby Pargo Island or Cocos Island. Early in the morning, the resort's launch will take a couple on the 15-minute ride to either island along with picnic lunches, beach umbrella, beach towels, snorkeling gear, and kayaks if the guests wish, and leave them for a pickup five or six hours later.

-Pargo is everything anyone has ever dreamed a small deserted island to be, and there really are no footprints on the beach, except for the ones the guests will leave. There is flotsam to examine, powdery sand, shells, driftwood, palms and interesting waters to explore from a kayak or under the surface. Most of all, there is absolute privacy.




Social Hour and Dining:

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- Every afternoon at six o'clock it's happy hour on Islas Secas. It's the time to gather at La Terraza, a beachside terrace, for a refreshing drink and to meet and mix with other guests and to exchange stories about their adventures that day. With guests making their own schedules, this might be the best time and place to meet the other castaway guests.

- All meals are served Al fresco on La Terraza. The branches of a spreading mango tree protect diners from the sun, and a two-foot wall separates them from the beach and the hypnotizing sounds of neap and ebb tides. A young and capable chef rules the kitchen, creating Nouvelle light and Classic cuisine. Chef Alexander Rojas has wide knowledge of Panamanian fusion cuisine, as well as French, Asian and Spanish cuisine. The dishes are always a savory surprise, as well as a feast for the eyes. Examples from the repertoires of this talented chef might be: Mahi Mahi Passion Fruit Ceviche, Pork Tenderloin in Plum Sauce and freshly made sorbets.




Getting There:

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- Getting there is easiest of all on Islas Secas' privately chartered Twinn Otter plane, leaving from either Tocumen, Panama's international airport or Albrook Field, close to Panama City and formerly an American Air Force base in the days of the Canal Zone occupation. Secas flights can be coordinated with international arrivals at Tocumen. However, the air transfer on the resort's aircraft is an additional $ 7,500 roundtrip for the charter group from Panama to Islas Secas and back. This price also includes VIP meet & greet service at Tocumen International Airport (Panama City), round trip ground transportation to the hotel of your choice and/or to the domestic airport for travel to David

-An alternate way is to depart from Albrook Field on either Aeroperlas or Turismo Aereo, both dependable regional airlines flying 20+ passenger aircraft to David as well as to other destinations inside the country. Roundtrip air tickets are approximately $210. David is the closest city on the Panama mainland to the Islas Secas archipelago. From David, transfer to the islands will be coordinated for an hour long drive to Boca Chica where the Islas Secas boat picks guests up and transports them to the island on a 45-minute boat ride. The boat transportation is $450 per person .


For prices, reservations and scheduling, contact Islas Secas directly at:

Islas Secas Resort
1251 Avenue of the Americas
17th Floor
New York, NY 10020
Phone: +1 646 837-0705
info@islassecas.com





Before You Leave Panama:

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-It is highly recommended that a trip to Islas Secas be combined with another week in Panama, a country that inexplicably has been much overlooked by American tourism. Since the United States officially turned over the canal, the country has blossomed. Approaching the city from Tocumen on the new expressway is a stunning experience as a modern city of skyscrapers and luxurious office and apartment buildings fans out like a Central American Miami.

-The city has excellent hotels, numerous fine restaurants, great shopping that ranges from splendid malls to East Indian boutiques, a fascinating pre- and post-canal history, currency pegged to the U.S. dollar, inexpensive taxis for transportation anywhere, and you can even drink the water from your hotel's taps (thanks in large part to U.S. sanitation standards established during the Canal Zone days).

-Not only that, but the country is home to a unique and colorful indigenous people, the Kuna Indians, noted for the magnificent molas their ladies produce. What is more, the country is stable and safe; the occasional pocket picked being the principal crime affecting tourism.

PHOTO CREDITS: Rod Lopez-Fabrega, Mary Ashcraft, Islas Secas




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