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Taboga is known as the island of the flowers, not only because of a popular ‘bolero’ that has the same name, but for the number of flowers that can be found in houses and parks around this tiny place. Maybe that is why the French impressionist artist, Paul Gauguin, decided to spend some time there.
The island is full of history. The Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, launched his first attempt to conquer Peru from Taboga and many pirates made plans about how to steal the fortune Isabel of Spain had amassed from her American colonies as it passed through. Some historians believe that the town of San Pedro was founded in Taboga around 1524 by Hernando de Luque.
In front of the beach of the former Taboga Hotel the islet of El Moro can be seen. You can reach it by sandbar at low tide. Around 1840 the rock was the headquarters of the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company. It had a fleet of 12 vessels going from Taboga to Valparaiso, Chile. Piers, anchors and giant boilers can still be found among the vegetation, ruins of a prosperous past.
The tiny church of San Pedro claims to be the second-oldest in the hemisphere, and is surrounded by the town square. The island also has a beautiful tradition involving the Virgin of Carmen, who is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Every July 16 there is a procession on the island and then the image of the Virgin is taken on a boat decorated with flowers to navigate around the island’s coastline.
In 1882 when Ferdinand De Lesseps decided to build a waterway in Panama, a hospital to treat employees suffering from yellow fever and other tropical diseases was opened in Taboga. A trip to the local cemetery is very interesting. There you will find the names of some of the employees who lost their lives in this failed venture.
The French painter Gaugin lived in Taboga around 1887 and his house is now a museum and one of the most important tourist attractions of the island. During World War II searchlight facilities were set up on the island and remained there until the 60s.
Like many places in Panama, Taboga has a lot of history, so next time you visit the island visit the unusual places that are usually overlooked by visitors.