Isla Grande Panama is around 2 hours and 120km away from Panama City. It stands as one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the area.
How to get to Isla Grande Panama?
You can cut the journey in half if you take a boat ride from Panama City to Portobelo, and then take a quick drive to Isla Grande, all the while enjoying the wonderful scenery.
If you go this way, you can make a stop at the port of La Guaira for a quick snack.
There you’ll find the transportation to the island and in about 10 minutes, and you’re free to explore!
The lancha transport, a small motorboat, is free for children, and for the rest, it goes for $2.50 per person.
Now depending on the transport, you might arrive in some of the more run-down areas, but don’t lose heart!
While they do have a slight issue of the first impressions, most of the island is, in fact, a paradise.
When you start moving further in, you’ll be greeted by unique imagery, white sand beaches, and welcoming hosts.
Before we begin, here are some other amazing budget alternatives to try out!
About Isla Grande Panama
The island was a military base back in World War 2, and there are still remains of forts and structures from that period all around the area.
Isla Grande Panama, along with Portobelo, were important locations for transferring the gold from South American colonies to Spain.
To secure the transfer, the areas were heavily fortified and defended at all times.
There is an ongoing renovation effort that aims to rebuild the structures from this era as they make up the island’s cultural identity.
Today, Isla Grande Panama is famous for its crystalline beaches that offer a cozy, Caribbean atmosphere.
It’s also an excellent choice for people interested in scuba diving, snorkeling, and surfing due to safe waters.
When you inevitably fall in love with the Spanish atmosphere and customs, Europe has plenty of beautiful places to offer.
Things To Do At Isla Grande Panama
The Island Guide
When you arrive at the port, you will probably start hunting for local attractions.
One of the most famous ones on the island, and in Panama in general, is the iconic Black Christ Statue.
It is a rare opportunity to see a tanned Christ surrounded by turquoise water and colorful houses in the background.
The statue was found in Portobelo harbor, and it still isn’t certain how it got there or from where, and there are several local stories that speculate about its origins.
Few facts are known about the statue, but it was probably carved by the Spanish somewhere around 1658.
The statue is now an integral part of the Caribbean catholic community and has its own holiday.
The locals refer to it as “The Nazarene” and hold an annual Black Christ festival to commemorate the figure.
On October 21st, the festival attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the world that come to pay their respects.
If you get carried away by the statue, you may want to visit Christ the Redeemer in Rio, one of the wonders of the modern world.
There is also the famous lighthouse that dates back to 1893 and is the oldest one in Latin America.
It is 55 meters above sea level and stands on the west side of the island.
There is a concrete path leading up to it; however, it is quite steep, so climb slowly.
Inside is a spiral staircase, and from the top, you have a beautiful view of the island and its surroundings.
Explore the Other Side
When you finish your tour of public beaches and attractions, you should continue your journey towards the other side of the island.
This side is mostly uninhabited, which gives it a wilder, more natural charm.
Turquoise water, thousands of fish, and the endless Caribbean Sea all around you.
There is only one hotel that offers you the possibility of staying on this side: the Banana Village Resort.
It looks like a club from the 80s, but the architecture blends particularly well with the decor. It offers a premium location and atmosphere in the heart of Isla Grande Panama.
The hotel restaurant is also delicious. Prawns or scampi with Caribbean sauce, everything is a real treat and worth the price. Especially the cocktails.
If you get tired of enjoying the swimming pools or the sandy beaches, there are paddles and kayaks for exploring the wild nooks and crannies, available for free!
What About the Surf?
High tides and strong currents are a part of the Panamanian climate, which makes the conditions ideal for surfing.
The local residents in Isla Grande Panama are friendly and approachable. People will usually direct you towards the best beaches and give you advice if you ask for it.
The surfing community is also welcoming to the tourists as the island is a surfing prime location.
Unlike other parts of Panama, where there are occasional risks of alligators and wildlife, Isla Grande Panama beaches are relatively safe.
The only present surfing dangers are reefs and rocks, which can be sharp, shallow, and dangerous.
Be sure to check coral reefs before surfing and ask around about how shallow the water is.
Although the wind and waves are usually advantageous, it never hurts to check the forecast beforehand.
Isla Grande, Panama Hotels & Accommodation Options
The go-to beach on the island is Playa de la Punta, right in front of the Hotel Isla Grande.
A beautiful sandy beach with clear waters that’s ideal for sunbathing.
During the busier months, there is a safe swimming zone sanctioned off by ropes, that all boats must avoid.
The hotel charges the entry to the beach with a fee of $4, while the children get free access. For the entry price, you can also use their outdoor showers, chairs, and tables.
If you go further down the coast, you can also stay at the Sister Moon hotel, which is nice and not too expensive.
There are a few other hotels to choose from, but most aren’t really suited for a prolonged stay.
Isla Grande Panama is most popular as a day trip location, due to its proximity to Panama City, so most hotels are more suitable for shorter visits.
Another pet-friendly option is the Marino Hotel. Some rooms have a seating area with private bathrooms.
he hotel has a 24-hour reception and offers many activities in the area like snorkeling and fishing.
Isla Grande Panama Restaurants
Where to Grab a Bite? Isla Grande is not really famous for the food or the restaurants, but there are still great options available.
Hotel Isla Grande offers a seafood grill along with fries, which are simple but delicious.
If you’re visiting on the weekend, be prepared to wait as the place gets full quickly.
Bringing some emergency snacks or having a picnic might be a good choice in these cases.
Aside from that, there’s also the unmissable Captain Jack’s.
This establishment has a varied food and cocktail menu and is among the most famous ones around.
El Castillo is another one, and it perfectly complements the trip to the beach. You can get the best dishes of local food in this establishment.
In addition, they have a modest international menu for those who want a bit more diversity.
When you leave the Isla Grande, you can also make a stop at El Nido del Postre along the way. It’s a small restaurant a few hundred meters up from La Punta. Here you can get great homemade ice fruit lollies, which are perfect for the boat trip back.
Check out these locations if you want your journey to continue on the Mediterranean instead!