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The Canal and Central Panama Travel Guide

Isla Contadora

The island of Contadora, a mere 20 minutes from Panama City by plane, has some of the country's loveliest beaches. Half a dozen swaths of beige sand backed by exuberant foliage line Contadora's coves, and they lie within walking distance of affordable accommodations. It is a small island, covering less than a square mile, but it can serve as a base for day trips to nearby isles with deserted

beaches and snorkeling sites, as well as deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, and whale watching.

The Pearl Archipelago's indigenous inhabitants undoubtedly had another name for Isla Contadora, but its current name, which translates as "counting isle," was given to it nearly five centuries ago, when it held the offices of the Spanish crown's pearl-diving enterprise. The island was deserted for years after the pearl harvest diminished. Contadora gained its current status as a vacation destination in the 1970s, when wealthy Panamanians began to buy coastal property here. The government built the massive Hotel Contadora—now in ruins—and the island developed a vibrant weekend party scene. The island's most famous temporary resident was the deposed Shah of Iran, on the heels of the Tehran embassy takeover in 1979, who recovered from heart surgery there. Contadora's star has since faded, and it isn't the haunt of the glitterati it once was, but it can be a fun, mid-range place for a vacation.

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