One of my clients is an ocean expert and has also become a dear friend. Yesterday he treated a small group of us to a tour of the Pearl Islands by air. We went to the private air terminal at Albrook Airport and boarded a 9-passenger Kodiak. I don't know much about airplanes, but the guys who did were suitably impressed.
The pilot performed a buttery-smooth takeoff, and within a minute, we were flying over Playa Bonita Village, the private beach and resort where most of us live. The trip to Contadora--one of the most populated islands--takes 90 minutes by high-speed ferry, but just minutes in a small plane. Once away from the mainland, the water changed from blue to a deep green, and then it changed to a lighter neon green around the islands. I've never seen anything like it. The water glowed as if there was a huge spotlight below each island. The pictures are good, but like most photos, they don't do it justice.
The archipelago of islands are called the Pearl Islands because they string along like a woman's pearl necklace, one island right after another. Seeing them from the air, they seemed more like puzzle pieces scattered on a watery table; they aren't quite connected, yet it's evident they belong together. Of course, the Puzzle Islands isn't as catchy as the Pearl Islands, so don't be looking for a name change any time soon.
Humpback whales migrate through Panama from July to October, and we saw quite a few whales as they played near the islands, splashing their enormous tails for us as we whale-watched from above. The pilot got us so close to the whales that we thought we might be splashing our tail in the water as well. It turns out the pilot was just showing off, and we never got wet. Darn. That would have been a really great blog.
After a two-hour tour, we flew back to Albrook Airport. It was such a breathtaking experience that we kept our high for hour, helped along by some celebratory champagne, of course. Touring the Pearl Islands of Panama by air was definitely one of my Top 10 experiences in Panama. Heck, make that a Top 3 experience.
If you've got the budget, a private plane or helicopter tour is not to be missed. If you don't have the budget, you can always go whale watching by boat.