Pedasi, Panama Best-Kept Secret

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As prime beachfront land in Pedasi Panama grows ever scarcer, investors and developers have been looking to this sleepy stretch of coastline on Panama’s central Pacific for the next wave of development, and discovering in the Azuero Peninsula the very heart of Panama.

Because Panama allows titled property right up to the waterfront, beachfront parcels are being snapped up at a dizzying rate in areas like Pedasi and Playa Venao at the very tip of the peninsula.  Despite its long, sinuous shape, Panama’s coasts offer relatively few truly golden beaches. Much of the Pacific coast is fringed with mangrove swamps, where clouds of mosquitoes billow up to prey on the unwary, while on the Caribbean side, where there is also a thick tangle of mangroves, much of the coast is battered with constant rains, or under the territory of Panama’s aboriginal tribes and not open to outside development.

While there are several excellent beaches close to Panama City, most of these are well-developed or well on their way. The first two hours’ drive west on the PanAmerican Highway are littered with signs for beachfront resorts, villas and condos, offering dreams of oceanview lifestyles, but many of these have taken on an almost suburban feel, as the developed stretches now begin to crowd and bleed into one another.

At the bottom of the Azuero Peninsula, however, one feels almost at the end of the world. There is a timeless quality to daily life there, a blend of the ultra-modern with the centuries-old traditional ways. Impeccably paved highways slink through endless green fields and tiny clustered towns, colourful and tranquil; because they tend to hug the highway, very few towns have sprung up along the many beaches here, and the waterfront is largely deserted but for the fishing boats that moor in shallow waters to haul their catches ashore.

The peninsula’s waters are known as the ‘Tuna Coast’, offering excellent, year-round fishing, with an abundance of yellow-fin tuna, red snapper, marlin and sailfish for the taking, and charter boats are available for sport and deep-sea fishing. Edible catches can be brought back to shore to be cooked up to taste at one of Pedasi’s restaurants, paired with one of Panama’s fine beers for less than a dollar.

Just half an hour from shore lies Isla Iguana, which despite its Pacific location, appears to be a perfect Caribbean island. An extensive coral reef surrounds the palm-dotted island, giving it a powdery, blinding, white-sand beach, and its crystal-clear, shallow waters offer the laziest snorkeling imaginable, as hawksbill turtles, cornetfish, and a myriad brightly-colored tropical fish nibble and dart about the coral branches. The island, named for its thriving colony of spotted lizards, is also the region’s only nesting site for the Frigata magnifica, the magnificent frigate bird, which swoop in thick flocks overhead.

Surfers can take advantage of some excellent breaks, the most notable of which is in Playa Venao, just a half-hour drive west of Pedasi Panama, and scuba divers can choose from a number of dive sites, including Isla Iguana and the Frailes Islands to the west. In addition to the many species of marine turtles, rays, eels and tropical fish that call the tropical Pacific home, lucky divers will spot hammerhead sharks school at certain times of year, and the whales and dolphins that haunt the coastal waters with their young.

Isla Cañas, just beyond Playa Venao and less than an hour from Pedasi, is also a major nesting site for several marine turtles. The mangrove-ringed island is home to about 700 residents, and boasts a 14-kilometer long beach where pregnant females lumber up during the night to dig holes in the soft sand, laying clutches of up to one hundred eggs. A little further afield, the Cerro Joya National Park offers hiking through pristine rainforest, with several waterfalls, monkeys and birds galore.

The Peninsula’s towns burst into festivity in the summer months, running from December to April, the height of which are February’s carnivals, when all the towns don their festive best to parade, dance, and celebrate day and night. Las Tablas, just an hour from Pedasi Panama, boasts the best carnival in the country, but there are few communities that do not participate, each with their own traditional costumes and variations.

With so many activities, natural beauty, charm and culture, it is no surprise that Pedasi, once Panama’s best-kept secret, is about to be its best-known ambassador.

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