Panama: Cruising with Caution in Archipelago de Las Perlas

Located 35 miles from Panama City off the Pacific coast, the Archipelago de Las Perlas is a popular stopover for yachts en route to the Galapagos Islands. With an uncertain security situation following two armed assaults on cruisers earlier this year, a cruiser reports on their cautionary, but wonderful cruising here this year.

Published 1 month ago

Following two armed assaults on cruisers in the area in February and March 2023, no arrests have been made.

See the Noonsite Panama Security Reports page for details of both incidents.

Captain Dietmar from Panama Posse advises that cruisers go to Las Perlas at their own risk, but those that do are cruising with caution according to this recent report from a Posse member.

Report: Reprinted with Kind Permission of the Panama Posse

Cruising with caution to the Archipelago de las Perlas in Panama Bay during these last summer months has been both exceptional and, to be honest, a bit unsettling at times.

Panga Parking at Isla Pedro Gonzales, Las Perlas. (c) Panama Posse

First – the exceptional:

The water is a warm, clear, paradise aqua marine-blue.  There are whales and turtles, birds and butterflies, blossoms and fruit in abundance.

The southern hemisphere humpback whales migrate to these islands to have their babies, breed, breach and sing from July through October.  There are whale shows on the daily, none to be missed; each unique.  The most common sightings are pairs featuring a mama and her calf.  They are in near constant contact as they swim, come up for air, loll about with their flippers in the air, and dive down again.  Experiencing the mist from their exhalation in close proximity is quite literally breathtaking and truly exceptional.

Gin clear water off Isla Chapera in the Las Perlas Archipelago, Panama (c) Panama Posse

Second: The unsettling:

There were two attacks in the Perlas on isolated cruising boats last season.  Both boats were anchored alone in different anchorages on the north and east side of Isla Del Rey.  While the incidents were a few months apart, both boats were caught off guard after sunset, met with aggression and left with their boats ransacked and many items destroyed or taken.  The mystery of who committed these acts is still just that…a mystery.

As a visitor, wondering if the same people are nearby or not is truly unsettling and the possibility of being boarded like that is terrifying.   It is sad, it is scary, it is not what I came out here for.  And yet, while this is perhaps new to the Perlas, this in not new to the world.  Horrible things happen.  Wonderful things happen.

Village of Pedro Gonzalez on Isla Pedro Gonzalez( c) Panama Posse

Ultimately, I firmly believe that I/we can be careful and NOT turn ourselves over to fear that limits our adventure and opportunities.  I remind myself things I have known all along: There are risks and rewards on the water beyond the weather.  Lightning can strike and more than likely it will not.  This is a stark reminder to know where we are going, trust our instincts, and cruise accordingly.  Stay open, stay kind.  A voice inside me advises, “Do not let fear paralyze you but inform you.”  This fear has cautioned us.

Cruising with caution

We are cruising differently through the Perlas Islands.  Rather than cruising freely, with or without a buddy boat, we are cruising with caution.  We are staying with another boat at all times (mostly), venturing ashore  less where there are towns, completely avoiding Isla del Rey and all proximal islands and sadly but honestly, feeling much more guarded when any local goes or comes by.

All this said, I am grateful to report that so far, cruising with these precautions has been going well.  We have explored many beautiful anchorages, beaches, and coral reefs.  We have harvested and eaten fresh coconut and fresh fish.  We have met some locals, on the beach, on the water, and in town.

More often than not the people we are meeting are kind and making their way, doing what they do whether that is motoring by on their way out fishing, waving or not, stopping by, selling fresh caught mariscos (seafood), appreciating fresh water, or swimming over to let us know there is a resident croc here and there so don’t splash too much.  Yikes…right…now that adds to the fear factor!

Anchored off Isla Chapera. Photo taken from beside the buddy boat. (c) Panama Posse


Security update:

The Panama Posse organisers continue to run a security forum with the local authorities and stakeholders but no arrests have been made since the incidents in February and March 2023.

Captain Dietmar from the Posse provided the following update.

“If you are in a collective anchorage with four or more vessels, your risk of attack is lower if you place an anchor watch, but not zero. If you are in a location without other vessels your risk will be significantly higher. Any anchorage outside 911 cellphone range (emergency calls ) is a much higher risk.

“The Modus Operandi has been for small fishing vessels to scout the anchorage with a vessel returning at nightfall to attack. If anyone ventures to the Las Perlas you are going at your own risk. Unless you are a professional soldier / special forces and willing to engage in combat and therefore ready to engage, you are at risk.

“If you are being approached by a small vessel please take close up pictures of the vessel and the occupants and transmit them ASAP so we can build up evidence – any small fishing vessel with obfuscated markings or shielded faces is a dead give away that an attack is eminent.”

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising

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