Ian Fleming himself couldn’t have dreamt up a more luxuriously isolated resort than Islas Secas. The nine-casita eco-lodge is the only structure in the 14-island archipelago Islas Secas (“dry islands”, so named for the low tides), 20 nautical miles south of mainland Panama. It’s estimated that before the resort was built, the last human habitation was some 600 years ago. The adventure to Islas Secas Reserve and Lodge begins in David, 45 minutes’ flight from Panama City. From here it’s a tranquil hour-long boat ride, through waterways flanked by mangroves and then out into the open sea. The rocky clumps of islands flanking the path gradually drop away and then there’s nothing but you, the occasional frigatebird overhead, and Pacific, the rich blue of the crayon used to draw it.
Fleming would be proud; the approach to this posh retreat is Bondian indeed. After 60 minutes cruising across the Pacific, the roofs of the resort rise out of nowhere, like a mirage. The island is entirely solar-powered by its 1,556 panels; guest water is filtered at an on-sight plant; all food scraps are used for fertilizer; the buildings and furniture are made from sustainable and reclaimed wood; there are no single-use plastic bottles; and much of the produce is grown on the island. In early 2018, Islas Secas hosted two whale researchers studying humpback whales, and by 2020 guests will be able to join them at the field research station now being built. The lodge is not entirely off the grid; mobile service is limited but there’s fast WiFi everywhere, so snorkeling photos can go from your GoPro to Instagram straight away.
This is an intimate jungle hideout, with room for just 18 guests in nine pitched-ceiling casitas surrounded by endemic plants. Walls of wooden slats let in sunlight and the ocean breeze (but not bugs). Each house has a canopy bed made of reclaimed mahogany from India, roomy bathroom with outdoor shower, and is stocked with drinks and healthy snacks. A ceiling fan and air conditioner make for comfortable sleeping. The four casita sites have loungers and plush daybeds beneath palapas and enticing plunge pools that beg for a dip.
Islas Secas is like a luxury summer camp for grown-ups, right down to the activities deck and its racks of scuba and snorkel gear; the snacks; and the games in the library. Here, the musty cabins of your youth are swapped for airy, high-ceilinged casitas; the frigid lake for plunge pools and warm, crystal-clear ocean; and the canteen for a beachfront open-air restaurant. Leading the charge is adventure concierge Rob Jameson, a sandy-haired Brit who actually did do a stint as a camp counselor. Jameson loves fun and wants guests to have as much as possible. His passion for adventure is evident by the grin that grows on his face as he lists off the veritable catalogue of activities—fishing, diving, sailing, wakeboarding, kayaking, paddleboarding, whale watching (seasonal), snorkeling in UNESCO World Heritage Site Coba National Park and, of course, cruising around in the boat (well-stocked with reef-safe sunscreen, Serena & Lily towels, and a cooler brimming with food and drink).
The culinary team at The Terraza, helmed by Panamanian chef Alexander Hey Rojas and Canadian Katie Thurgood, tries to use local ingredients whenever possible—some so local they’re growing just feet from the kitchen. The chefs harvest much of their produce from the resort’s own gardens, where coconuts, mangoes, plantains, bananas, pineapples, and cashews grow. All seafood is purchased from local fishermen. The pair work in tandem, with Rojas cooking Panamanian fusion fare and Thurgood making nearly everything in-house, from cured meats and fish to pasta, baked goods, and ice cream. Her out-of-this-world banana bread in the packed lunches is good enough to induce a madeleine moment. Meals are served in the oceanfront dining pavilion with its soaring cathedral ceiling or on the lawn, the better to play cornhole in between bites of mahi-mahi ceviche.
One of Islas Secas’ great appeals is that it makes adults feel carefree as kids, so of course the resort is super family-friendly. The library is stocked with board games like Twister, Connect Four, Jenga, Trivial Pursuit, and Apples to Apples. On the wide lawn next to the restaurant are two lacy hammocks and the cornhole set; the adjacent beach is ripe for shell collecting. After a morning of snorkeling with sea turtles, whale sharks, eagle rays, and tropical fish, alight for lunch on Isla Pargo, a private crescent of sugary white sand ringed in palms. The waters are warm and shallow, and the staffers who’ve set up the handsome sun chairs and a Champagne feast double as lifeguards, keeping an eye on kids and adults as they kayak, swim, and paddle board in the waters clear as glass.
Within mere hours at Islas Secas, the rest of the world falls away entirely. Guests who’d been happy to hear there was WiFi now deliberately leave their phones behind. The days take on a perfect rhythm, one melting into the next like the sun into the Pacific: breakfast in the restaurant pavilion; breezy hours on the water; an evening swim and sundowner; stargazing after dinner.
Islas Secas Reserve and Lodge opens in January 2019. Rates are US$1,000 (double occupancy, all-inclusive) Jan-May and US$850 June-September; $500/children 6-12 sharing a casita; no charge for children 5 and under. The above prices include boat transfer, all meals and drinks, and all activities except fishing, surfing, and Coiba National Park excursion.
Getting there: Copa Airlines flies nonstop to Panama City (PTY) from more than a dozen cities in Canada, the US, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. From Panama City, fly to David (45min), and then it’s an hour’s boat ride to Islas Secas. The resort also offers a 90-minute charter flight between PTY and Islas Secas (US$500/person/return and dependent on party size).
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