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Panama, like many countries in the region has archipelagos in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Some of the islands are inhabited, others are deserted and a selected few, due to their beauty, biodiversity and historical importance, have become natural parks, protected by the laws of the land. Isla Iguana is one of them. Located 5 kilometers off the Los Santos Province on the Azuero Peninsula, this 58-hectare wildlife reserve is a sanctuary for sea turtles and birds which use its beaches as a nesting ground.
Isla Iguana has an interesting history. During World War II, the United States Army used the Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge as a bombing range. To clear the area, two thousand-pound bombs stuck in the surrounding coral reef were detonated in the 1990s.
In the 1960s, a settler on the northern part of the island claimed it as his property and planted exotic plants such as mango and guava trees, corn and sugarcane. These non-native plants still inhabit the island to this day. Late in the decade, the man was removed by the government and the Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge was declared to be a protected area on June 15, 1981.
Isla Iguana’s flora and fauna on land and under water is plentiful. The island is aptly named Iguana, because you can find these reptiles sunbathing at every turn. Many birds call it home or simply come to recharge their batteries before continuing their trip. Iguana is especially famous for its frigate colony, which includes around 5,000 birds. You can also spot over 20 species of tropical birds, and hermit crabs.
There is a small ranger station with a visitor center, a lighthouse, public bathrooms, and a series of well-marked hiking trails. Everything is organized in the island without spoiling its natural beauty.
The reef of the island is 500 years old and extends some 37 acres (15 hectares), making it one of Panama’s biggest. It is home to 12 types of coral and over 300 species of fish, as well as dolphins. Depending on the season, you can also spot sea turtles laying and hatching their eggs, and families of humpback whales hunting sardines in the fish-filled waters that surround the island. Diving, snorkeling, and fishing are all favorite pastimes at Isla Iguana. You can spend hours discovering this magical aquatic world.
If you are a sun worshipper, Isla Iguana soon will become your favorite place. Playa El Cirial on the north of the island has white sand and crystal clear waters which rival any other similar place in the world. Because the island is a national park, they are practically deserted. You can even fantasize that you are the only person there, surrounded by your personal guard of iguanas.
Walking is a good way to explore the island. You can see exotic flowers, trees, different types of lizards besides iguanas, crabs and even the bomb craters the U.S. army left after firing their numerous weapons.
There aren’t many facilities on the island, so if you go by yourself you’ll want to bring your own insect repellent, sunscreen, food, drinks, and towels or chairs. The entrance fee to the island is $14 for foreigners and $10 for residents.
To get there go to Playa El Arenal, a beach just outside Pedasi. The ride usually takes 20 to 30 minutes and can be choppy. Air Panama has direct flights to that town at certain times of the year. To find information visit www.airpanama.com.