So for our first vacation we headed to Isla Grande. It is located on the Caribbean side of Panama, near to Portobelo and Colon. It should take just over 2 hours to get there but if you’re like us then that could easily end up being 7! My advice is DO NOT take a diablo rojo from Sabanitos back to Albrook it was an experience and one I’ld happily not repeat!
We had heard it that it was a picturesque tropical island where the weathers good, it is cheap to stay and the beach would be our spot for a couple of days however 7 of us went and we weren’t overly enthused by it!.
Admittedly we went on a weekday and during rainy season so this inhibited our picture perfect 3 day get away. The Panamanians tend to head out to Isla Grande at the weekends or so research led me to believe so whilst we were there it seemed like we were the only people on the island which wouldn’t be a problem if there was enough to see and do.
How to get there:
From Hispania we decided to get a cab to Albrook Mall Bus Terminal, this cost us $1 per person.
We went to the bus ticket counter with a sign above it saying Colon and told said we wanted to go to Isla Grande, the lady we spoke to was very helpful and showed us the bus we needed to get on as well as telling us where to change buses.
We were set back $3.60 for an air-conditioned bus as well as a film so not bad at all. The journey took us approximately 1hour 30minutes.
Sabanitos is where you need to change buses, you will know you’re at the right place because the stop is outside a supermarket called ‘El Rey’. Here you take a Diablo Rojo to La Guiara $2.60. The bus you need to get on says Costa Arriba. The journey lasts just under an hour. The last stop on this is where you catch the water taxi over to Isla Grande this will cost $2.50, make sure you the boat driver where you’re staying or you’ll be dropped off potentially on the wrong side of the island.
Total travel cost: $9.70 so under $20 round trip!
Let me tell you how it really is, warts and all…the beach is very small about the size of the Casa Yala boardroom! Saying that there are deckchairs and other spots placed around the island where you can easily relax if the weather is good. There is also a lot of rubbish scattered around the island as they have no waste system so once a week a boat will take it back across to the mainland.
What to do:
Well this is debatable, according to some Google searching snorkelling is big around this island and just off the small beach there is a reef. We were unable to do this as we had no equipment and there was nowhere to hire out the equipment from what we could see.
Another option is to hike to the lighthouse which is on the further side of the island. According to sources its about a 20 minute hike and isn’t too challenging.
An option is to ask politely at Hotel Isla Grande if you can use their private beach, on the internet it said that you should be prepared to pay $2 to lay on it though but a little bartering with the staff couldn’t hurt! This hotel also have a catamaran that they use to tour around the island for a $15 this would also be a great opportunity for snorkelling. Unfortunately we were unable to do this as the boats motor had just broken.
Where to stay:
We stayed at Congo which is a basic hostel, the rooms are your typical dorm style with bunk beds.
A positive to this hostel is that the beds are all double. The room came with AC and an en suite bathroom. If you look past the fact the door didn’t shut unless you locked it or the ceiling that had a few holes here and there it was alright to stay in. Carlos is the man in charge here and he is lovely, anything you need he will provide!
This has a really cool bar/restaurant which is situated on a jetty and has a gorgeous atmosphere to it so hanging out there at night is a must.
Price: $25 and includes breakfast and a drink whether this be beer or juice!
Another option is El Nido de Postre, this is run buy a French man and his wife. They are lovely though the woman can get angry at her staff as we overheard! This place was something quite special, the décor is a treat!!
The rooms, where some other interns stayed had space for 7 and an en suite however the sleeping arrangement was as follows; an open air area upstairs with hammocks as well as single beds. It was charmingly decorated and had mosquito nets and curtains to give yourself some privacy.
The food here is very good, its not cheap but it tastes amazing, no one was let down by what they ordered! Their desserts looked amazing and include brownies and ice cream or cinco leches a take on the usual tres leches!
Price: $25 or $35 including breakfast.
Hotel Isla Grande, I didn’t know anyone that stayed here but it looked spacious and gave you privacy unlike hostel style accommodation. This also has a restaurant and bar and would be more moderately priced I would have thought!
Price: $84 for the room which has 2 double beds.
Obviously there is other accommodation on the island but I do not know anything about it. Bananas Hostel is on the other side and rumour has it there is a pool! Online reviews didn’t rave about it though hence we stayed at other places.
- Buy alcohol from the supermarket in Sabanitos, its a lot cheaper than the island and also take snacks with you.
- During rainy season take an umbrella and or waterproof jacket as the watertaxi is a simple motorboat without shelter!
- Take entertainment, books/games as there is not a lot to do on this island.
Although my experience of Isla Grande wasn’t the best I am sure that if the weather had been better and there had been more people to create a vibrant atmosphere it would not be a wasted trip.