What It’s Like to Stay at Islas Secas, a Private Island Resort off the Coast of Panama
A beautiful tropical getaway where you can push all your worries to the side while soaking in the sun.
In Three Words
Guilt-free Island Paradise.
What’s the deal?
Who hasn’t wanted to ignore the most bothersome aspects of modern life and escape to their own private island? You can at Islas Seclas, an archipelago of 14 islands—all but one of which are untouched—located in the Gulf of Chiriquí, off the Pacific coast of Panama. The tropical getaway, which is owned by investor-turned-conservationist Louis Bacon, is the sort of place that’s only supposed to exist in dreams or movies. Thankfully, it’s real and has a surprisingly elegant luxury resort you can stay at next time you need to get away from it all. It’s also easier to get to than you’d think, thanks to the Twin Otter private plane that flies between Panama City and the island’s runaway a few times per week.
Few places can match the natural splendour and tranquillity of Islas Secas. The retreat is made up of a spread-out series of thatched-roof cabanas, but, despite being 20 miles from the mainland, still has many of the features you’d expect to find at any ultra-exclusive lodging, including a terrazzo with a stunning indoor-outdoor dining space, a lounge with a top-notch mixologist, and a spa tucked into the lush greenery. What elevates the resort is the way that its buildings and infrastructure seamlessly blend into the landscape—everything is well-kept, but not overly manicured—enabling you to better absorb your surroundings. Conservation and sustainability are key tenets of the Islas Secas ethos, and the staff is always within earshot to help you make the most of your time in one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas without disturbing the island’s fauna and flora.
The Best Room
Islas Secas can host up to 24 guests at a time and has a variety of rooms, or casitas, for individuals, couples, families, and groups (the four-bedroom Casita Grande, which starts at $12,000 per night, can sleep up to eight). Our favourite was Casita Mirador (which starts at $4,400 per night), a beautiful two-room cabana located on the hill above the resort’s dock. Surrounded by leafy tropical gardens, the secluded space has its own terrace and plunge pool, as well as one of the island’s best views. Here you can wake up to humpback whales swimming in the bay. Spring 2024 will also see the opening of the new owner’s residence, which is where Bacon will stay when he’s on the island. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom space is basically a five-star hotel—it has its own dining room, gym, and pool—and offers even more privacy and beauty.
Did they greet you by name at check-in?
They did. A group of staff members was waiting for us when we walked up the main dock following an hour-long boat trip from the mainland—the sight of leaping dolphins was a good teaser for what was to come—which is the other way to reach the island. The welcome was warm and appreciated.
Was a welcome drink ready and waiting when you arrived? (Bonus point if it wasn’t just fruit juice.)
Yes. The island’s conservation director, Beny Wilson, was waiting for us aboard the boat that took us to the island and had a cooler of cold drinks, including beer, sodas, and bottled spring water. There wasn’t bubbly or anything harder, but that can be arranged should it be so desired.
Is there a private butler for every room?
No, but service is still one of the resort’s strong suits. It felt like every time we needed assistance, someone from staff was within earshot to help meet our needs. It really can’t be stressed enough how helpful the island’s staff was, from the activity crew, who are happy to teach you how to ride a Seabob, to the wait staff, who know what you want before you do, everyone we dealt with helped ensure our stay was the best it could be.
Is the sheet thread count higher than 300?
The thread count of the sheets on all the island beds is 350. You’ll feel it too, once you slip between the covers after a long day of snorkeling, e-foiling, or just soaking up some sun. Even if the sheets weren’t so smooth, you’ll have little trouble falling asleep. The setting is so serene that the only thing you’ll hear at night is the sound of the crashing waves, the occasional bat, and the Halloween crabs.
Is there a heated floor in the bathroom? What about a bidet?
The floors aren’t heated, but they don’t need to be. It’s warm year-round on Islas Secas. The bigger worry might be if it’s too hot, especially because the resort’s focus on sustainability means they frown on running the A/C all day. Fortunately, there’s a unit in each casita that you can run at night. When it’s light out, well-placed ceiling fans and a layout that maximises cross-ventilation will keep you more than cool enough. It’s also a tropical island, so a little sweating is to be expected.
Are the toiletries full-sized?
Each casita comes fully stocked with full-sized toiletries and amenities made by Costa Rica’s Biosfera. And if you forget your favourite moisturiser, sunscreen, or insect repellant, don’t fret: Your casita has everything you’ll need, along with some other non-toiletries you may have forgotten, like flip-flops, sun hats, and a bag for the beach. Even away from your casita, staff always has sunscreen and other necessities on hand.
Is there a private pool for the room’s exclusive use? How are the spa and gym?
Each casita does come with its own plunge pool, a wonderful feature when you want to cool down after a day of traipsing around the island. There’s a bigger, and much more luxurious, infinity pool located a short walk from the terrazzo if you’d like to get some actual swimming in, though. The spa, meanwhile, is much more peaceful and soothing than you’d expect to find on a tropical island. There are also yoga classes should you want to get your day off on the right foot.
Do you want to spend Friday night in the lobby bar?
It’s a private island so entertainment options are limited, but even if the resort had been located in the heart of bustling Panama City, its bar, which is done up like a ritzy fishing shack, would be a great place to spend the evening. The drinks, which are dreamt up on the spot by the mixologist to meet your taste and vibe, are superlative, and it’s also the place you’re most likely to mingle with the island’s other guests.
Is there caviar on the room service menu? If so, what kind?
No, but you can eat your weight in ceviche. Islas Secas isn’t necessarily the place for someone who expects to be pampered 24/7, but once you book your stay, the resort’s team will start working with you (or your travel advisor) to make sure they have everything they need to make your stay as dreamy as possible. They’ll also deliver it to your casita, which can also be where you have all your meals as well, though the views from the dining area are not to be missed. And if you catch something on your morning fish, they’ll find a way to work that into at least one of the dishes.
Would you buy the hotel if you could?
In a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t want to add a collection of picturesque islands to their property portfolio? Unfortunately, we suspect Bacon would put up a fight. Luckily, full-island buyouts are available if you want to bring all your nearest and dearest to paradise with you.
What Our Score Means:
1-3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you stay here.
4-6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.
7-8: Very good. We’d stay here again and recommend it without qualms.
9-10: Forget booking a week. When can we move in permanently?
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