Overnight stay at Isla Palenque, Panama

| Johan van Rijswijck

As Robinson Crusoe on an uninhabited island

It's late afternoon. The red glow of the setting sun shows David, a city in the west of Panama, at her best. We don't see much of it though, because we are on our way to a very small island in the Pacific. "If we go the other way here, we will be in Costa Rica within an hour", my driver, also called David, says when we turn onto the PanAmericana. It is another hour and a half drive to the little port of Boca Chica. Here I board a boat that takes me to Isla Palenque.

Curious? Then watch the video of 1 minute and 20 seconds below:

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An idyllic spot in the gulf of Chiriqui

Isla Palenque is a small island just off the coast of Panama, overgrown with tropical rainforest. In places where the dense green doesn't seem to plunge directly into the infinite blue of the Pacific Ocean, the rainforest is separated from the ocean by picturesque bays with deserted beaches. The island is owned by the American architect Benjamin Loomis. Inspired by Daniel Defoe's world-famous book 'Robinson Crusoe', he decided to buy this idyllic spot in the Gulf of Chiriqui and lived there for 5 years. In order for others to share this little paradise, he started with the realization of the Isla Palenque resort. It opened its doors in the summer months of 2018.

Only 8 stays on a wide sandy beach

It is the 10th of November, the day on which the first call for independence is celebrated every year in Panama. As in many other places, this celebration in the harbour town of Puerto de Boca Chica is accompanied by a lot of drink, noise and loud music. In the middle of the partying crowd I board the boat that brings me to my final destination. By now it is pitch dark and as the boat moves away from the mainland and deeper into the infinite darkness, the sounds from the village fade away. To my feeling I actually leave the inhabited world behind me.

After about 20 minutes we arrive at a small pier. I am received enthusiastically by hostess Celianis. Via a narrow winding road through a dense forest, we drive to the other side of the island. This is where the restaurant and the 8 guesthouses are located. Although it is dark and I can't fully perceive my surroundings, there is an enormous peace and quiet falling over me. In the distance I hear waves breaking on a beach while a sultry breeze is blowing through the trees. Via a wide sandy path I walk to my cottage. The houses are surrounded by a lush green of shrubs and palm trees. They are no more than 50 meters from a wide sandy beach and have plenty distance from each other for sufficient privacy.

Living like a main character in a novel

In line with the owner who, inspired by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe decided to buy this island, all 8 cottages are named after famous writers who wrote about islands. I will spend the next few days in the cottage named after the writer Herman Wouk. This writer of Juwish-American descent was born in 1915 in the Bronx in New York. In 1954 he published The Caine Mutiny, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. However, the book that brought him to the gallery of namesakes of the houses on Isla Palenque, is the Don't Stop the Carnival, published in 1965. The story revolves around a middle-aged New York press agent in a midlife crisis. In search of a better life, he works as a hotelier on a fictional Caribbean island. What initially seems to turn out to be a joyful existence of fun and entertainment, for the protagonist Norman Paperman will eventually turn into an earthly valley of tears. Fortunately, I have the strong feeling that my stay here will not end in this.

Fully equipped

The houses are spacious, very tastefully decorated and fully equipped. Upon entering I find Wouk's book, after which my stay is named. Later Celianis will tell me that they have deliberately chosen to give visitors a book and not to place TVs. This gives people the opportunity to really relax. However, there is a very strong wifi connection and there is an iPad with which you can easily communicate with the employees of Isla Palenque so that you can be served and call at any time. 

During my stay on the island I go for walks, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. Still, I enjoy the serene tranquillity that reigns in this enchantingly beautiful place most of all. I feel like a real Robinson Crusoe here, except for the hardships that the castaway must have suffered when he had to survive on an uninhabited island.

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