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The Art of Doing Nothing

The Art of Doing Nothing

Tucked among greenery, the pool offers a respite.

Isla Palenque on Panama’s Pacific Coast shines!

Tucked among greenery, the pool offers a respite.
Tucked among greenery, the pool offers a respite.

As of late, one destination has been on the tip of my friends’ tongues more than any: Panama. My husband has a high school friend who runs a travel agency in Panama City, and he’s been there 15 years, but it’s only recently that we’ve considered visiting. I genuinely don’t know why; Delta offers a direct, three-and a- half-hour flight, and the country is in the same time zone as Atlanta.

Octopus with potato, crunchy lentils and goat cheese on a bed of "slow-cooked" egg yolk.
Octopus with potato, crunchy lentils and goat cheese on a bed of “slow-cooked” egg yolk.

A short few days in Panama City are fun and manageable, but the main event for our trip is Isla Palenque, our first chance at relaxing in almost three years, one pandemic and toddler later. On 400 acres of a protected tropical island on Panama’s Gulf of Chiriquí and with only eight casitas facing the Pacific Ocean, it’s the perfect opportunity to unplug.

Everything is taken care of from the moment staff picks you up in David, about a 40-minute flight from Panama City. The hour-long drive to Boca Chica, the launch pad for the 15-minute boat ride to Isla Palenque, is pleasant, thanks to our wellinformed and gregarious driver.

That friendliness continues as we are brought up to the island’s dock and greeted. The staff is sincere, and they are 100% local and mainly from Chiriquí province and the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous people. Isla Palenque is managed by The Cayuga Collection, a group of eight sustainable luxury resorts throughout Central America.

There are only eight casitas on the island, each with air conditioning, an outdoor bathroom with a shower and tub and furniture made from the island’s reclaimed wood.

The resort is unstuffy yet attentive, with the details worked out discretely and efficiently behind the scenes, the choreographic timing so perfect it feels like magic. (For example, someone is radioed while we are at breakfast, and our room is spotless upon returning.) The resort allows you to get back to basics but in style. In my case, this means being terrifically, unapologetically lazy: The majority of my time is spent walking the beach, eating and sleeping in a delightfully air-conditioned and luxuriously appointed casita.

Almost everything on the island is included, and it’s a choose-your own- adventure kind of place: Birdwatchers got going at 6:30 a.m. sharp, but I chose to kayak with a small group after breakfast. I was surprised to see how clear the water is on this side of the country since the Caribbean gets most of the accolades. There’s snorkeling, hiking and archeology tours, plus seven beaches to explore and 8 miles of hiking trails for the athletically inclined. But the appeal of Isla Palenque to me is to do not much at all. Three farmfresh meals are offered daily—Tiradito, the Latin American answer to sashimi, and huge tropical salads, for example—with ingredients grown on-site at the sustainable farm. The resort also has strict eco-friendly practices, such as no single-use plastics and solar power.

Isla Palenque is known for helping visitors connect with nature.

For those who need a hairdryer, this is probably not the right place, despite luxuries such as perfect water pressure, beach chairs on-demand and freshly squeezed juices. Most guests arrive at meals barefoot. By the end of our stay, I am wearing the same dress to every meal. As I listen to the howler monkeys call at sunset in an outdoor bathtub, I confirm this was the right place to reintroduce myself to vacation mode.


STORY: Lauren Finney Harden

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