Tour Panama’s Los Islotes Beachfront Community

Pioneering On Azuero’s Sunset Coast

Much of the chatter on the Facebook group page we set up recently for the upcoming Live and Invest Overseas Panama conference has been about things to do while in Panama either before or after the conference. Some folks are going to explore the country a little before we get down to the nitty-gritty in Panama City. Some are going to Boquete, others to the San Blas Islands or Bocas del Toro, and still others fishing for peacock bass on Lake Gatun.

If you want to take care of business before you dive into the pleasure part of a Panama excursion, an extracurricular activity you may want to consider is a trip to the corner of Panama I now call home, the Azuero Peninsula. It’s about four hours by car from the capital and, I think, one of the prettiest spots on the planet. The place April and I have chosen to settle is a development called Los Islotes, on the western shore of the Azuero, and it’s the main attraction of a three-day tour I will be leading from June 10–13.

I was reminded of the history of Los Islotes recently when Kathleen, Lief, and I, and about a dozen other people, gathered under the small gazebo that we call a rancho at the top of a hill at Los Islotes a few weeks ago. The view from there is expansive, with the Pacific Ocean below and the mountains of the Cerro Hoya National Park to the south. “We’ve been spending time here,” Kathleen told us, “since before there was any here.

“When we stumbled upon this coast nine years ago,” she explained, “nobody was paying it any attention. Panamanians didn’t even know it. We’d tell local friends in Panama City that we’d spent the weekend in Morillo, on the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula, and they’d respond to ask, ‘Where’s Morillo?’

“During our first visits out here,” she continued, “Robby’s Cabañas at Torio, the next village along the coast, was the only game in town. Maybe a year later, Ludvig opened his place across the road from Robby. I was the first guest to stay in the first cabana made available for rental at Ludvig’s.

“Ludvig realized at the last minute that he didn’t have sheets for the bed and had to send someone to Santiago to buy some for me,” she said.

Kathleen said that when she arrived on the scene in this part of Panama, the road down the coast from Santiago had just been paved for the first time. No one traveled it. They would pass ranchers on horseback herding their stock and the occasional Peace Corps volunteer or backpacker on foot.

Lief and Kathleen came to Azuero’s western coast in search of a big piece of coastal property. They wanted to develop a private beachfront community and were bowled over by the caliber of the beachfront property to be had along this Pacific sunset coast. It’s called the Sunset Coast because it’s the only one in the country (thanks to the east-west orientation of the isthmus) from which you can watch the sun set over the ocean. Kathleen and Lief bought the land that would become Los Islotes in 2008.

Nearly a decade later, there are a few more people on the Azuero peninsula, myself and April among them. The area around Morillo and Torio has grown into a pretty lively community, in fact. Robby’s and Ludvig’s cabanas are still available for nightly rental. In addition, now you can choose from among a half-dozen other hostels and surf camps, including one, El Sol, with a private suite that goes for US$600 a night. It’s finished with European furniture, imported fixtures, and original art.

A lot has been accomplished at Los Islotes in the 10 years since Kathleen and Lief first set eyes on the area. Development permits have been issued. Roads have been cut. There are telephones and internet in the small on-site office. We’ve even broken ground on the Founder’s Lodge, and water and sewer pipes have been laid for part of the development.

Meantime, everyone else is catching up with us at Los Islotes. The nearby communities are growing, and there are many more places to hang your hat when you make your way out to this part of the coast to soak up the sun or surf in the sea. But demand is still ahead of supply.

The vision for Los Islotes, as Kathleen and Lief have described it to me repeatedly, is of community. Those of us who have bought out here and are building our own houses are pioneers, and we love it. As the world gets smaller, private, pristine outposts like this are harder to find.

I consider myself lucky to have stumbled across this one. And I would love to show it to you.You can still sign up for the June tour here.

Peg Fairbairn
Panama Insider