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By Ilene Little
Frank Jackson of Island Time Panama promotes Las Perlas from an investment, development and real estate perspective. “I represent and promote individual islands like Saboga as destinations in Las Perlas,” he said. Each of the Pearl Islands has developed its own identity. Three islands –Pedro Gonzales, Saboga and Viveros– are being developed with good master-planned designs, infrastructure and environmental standards.
People describe Contadora as a mixture of part-time residents and wealthy property owners from all over the world. There are several full-time residents who are entrepreneurs who own various tourism-related enterprises. Small grocery stores, a 24-hour urgent-care center and other businesses support the community.
Saboga is in the early stages of being populated by a mix of expats and Panamanian property owners. A rich heritage is still present in the island’s working-class, fishing village of about 400 descendants of pearl industry laborers. The church in the village is said to be over 500 years old and is a scenic landmark on the northeast side of the island. Viveros has more resort-oriented projects such as the beach club which features a large infinity pool, similar to hotels in Hawaii. Pedro Gonzalez Island, according to Jackson, “strives for exclusivity.”
Island infrastructure and amenities
All four islands mentioned have good infrastructure such as water, electricity, roads and communications. However, not all are at the same stage of development.
How to get to the islands: by sea and by air
Ferries are the main source of transportation to the islands. Sea Las Perlas and Ferry Las Perlas have direct service to Contadora and Saboga. Viveros has indirect ferry access, meaning it’s the second or third stop on the route. Contadora and Pedro Gonzalez also have airstrips for private and commercial flights.
Marinas, piers and docks
Currently, there are no docks in the Pearl Islands for ferries to use. Getting to any island involves debarking from ferry to panga (a small, open boat) and then from panga to the beach. Saboga is providing a solution. The equipment and crew to build a long pier and floating dock are en route from Canada. According to Armel Gonzalez of Grupo del Sol Developments, “the pier will have a fuel dock and serve commercial ferry traffic as well as recreational boaters.”
Engineer and project leader, Erik Precourt of StructMarine in Montreal, said, “They are closing the doors on the container as we speak. The crossing will take about 22 to 25 days.”
Places to stay on the islands: residences and rentals
Many accommodation options are available in Contadora, some of them oceanfront. Saboga’s options are more limited. While there are no official accommodations in Saboga or Viveros, there are homeowners with websites that advertise bed and breakfasts.
Logistics, logistics, logistics
According to Jackson, “the main thing about real estate is location, location, location. Logistics is the real key here when an island is 30 to 40 miles out into the ocean.” Developers are making adjustments by building with different materials. In Saboga, a developer is even considering constructing a mini concrete-plant.
One property owner’s experience
Jennifer and Lee Scott were the first full-time residents in the El Encanto master-planned community on Saboga where they have been living full-time since 2012. “Getting food out here was the toughest thing,” said Jennifer. “It was also a logistical nightmare to get the home furnished. It took us a full year before we had even close to adequate Internet connectivity. But we now love it and are very happy to be here.”
According to Jackson, “the Pearl Islands may experience the next boom in investment real estate and possibly for resort real estate. Certainly in the next five to 10 years, the Pearl Islands will be a huge player.”