Isla Iguana has the best and whitest beaches on the Azuero Peninsula, Panama. Today the island is home to large populations of crabs, black and green iguanas, boa constrictors and red-throated frigate birds. All of these were in evidence when we decided to explore this beautiful spot.
Getting there is easy from Pedasi town, drive or catch a cab to Playa Arenal, where you will find a number of boats and their Capitan’s willing to take you over and back for $70. Most guidebooks recommend you arrange a pick up time and only pay when they have delivered you back safely at Arenal. Our Capitan was Lionel and for $70 he took us over, provided us with snorkeling gear and settled down with his fellows in the shade to wait until we were ready to return.
El Cirial is the largest beach and where you land, it boasts the ranger’s station, a small reef education center and a large covered seating or picnic area. Although there where bathrooms at the time we visited, they were either nonfunctional or padlocked. There were also iguanas on every nearby rock and tree.
Isla Iguana is also home to El Faro a smaller beach with stronger currents and better snorkeling. A hiking trail connects the two but be prepared to get wet and muddy feet if arriving in or after the wet season. Within only a few minutes of setting out on this trail, we witnessed two of the islands inhabitants in a life and death struggle. Alerted by frantic thrashing we turned to see a boa constrictor wrapping itself more securely around a 2.5-foot long iguana’s head and shoulders. Stunned, dazed or stupefied the Iguana met its end in the boa’s deadly constricting embrace.
In shocked silence, we skirted around the grisly tableau and returned to the beach, our picnic and the iguana’s favorite pastime—taking food from the tourists. This can be irritating, entertaining or a little wild. We experienced the attack (Monty Python rabbit style) of the killer iguana. Not content with the pieces of apple being tossed to his companions in front of me one large fellow decided to go for the source and launched himself from right field onto my right hand, I shrieked, dropped the apple, he dropped, pounced and ran off victorious. Note to self-do not feed the wild iguanas …….. they scratch.
The islands hermit crab population was out in great force too, we found thousands of them all heading inland just behind the rangers station. The scrabble of their passage over the rocks, pathway and scree was what alerted us too them. Hundreds of little shell houses were on the move–as was evidence of our love affair with plastic—plastic canister’s had also been occupied by these prolific soft bodied crabs.
The 58-hectare island has not always enjoyed the peace and quiet it enjoys today as a wildlife refuge. During World War II it was a US Air Force bombing range. Two unexploded 1,000 pounders were found and detonated on site in the 1990s, unexploded ordinance may still exist in the surrounding waters.
Despite exploding bombs and coral, bleaching it is worth snorkeling. These waters have less silt than the majority of coastline–making it easier to spot the large puffer fish, parrotfish and tangs.
Throughout our stay, we had watched clouds of frigates circle overhead, we had arrived during nesting season. Our Capitan was happy to take us around to the other side of the island for a closer look. The red throats of the males as they looked after baby spotted the shorelines greenery like low hanging berries.
The island is also home to nesting turtles April to September and humpback whales abound from June to late October early November, one more reason to return to this little piece of Paradise.
Note: Make sure you have your passport or a copy of your passport and entry stamp with you as you have to check in with a customs official before you leave Arenal. You also have to pay $10 as a tourist or $4 as a resident to the rangers on the island. Be sure to take your own food, water and lots of bug repellant, may we also request that you take only photos and leave only footprints.