ALSO KNOWN AS THE ARCHIPELAGO DE LAS PERLAS, these islands were named for the large pearls that are found in its waters, the Pearl Islands are comprised of 90 named islands and over 100 unnamed islets, each surrounded by travel magazine–worthy, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. Isla Contadora is the best-known island of the group, especially since the island is home to the palatial mansions of the rich and powerful. The Pearl Islands were also the site of the popular US TV show Survivor, which filmed the 2003 season of their sensationalist series on an unnamed island in the chain.
There is a lot happening in the Pearl Islands and there are several new resorts. Isla Saboga has a beach club and a B&B and The Pearl which is located on Isla Pedro Gonzalez and will have a Ritz Carlton Reserve. In addition there is a grand marina under development. Las Perlas is surprisingly close to Panama City, just 20 minutes by small plane or you can visit by high speed ferry. The rich aquatic life here offers great snorkeling on sunny days — sometimes manta rays and schools of tropical fish can be seen by just popping on a mask and walking out from the beach. The cerulean sea laps at picture-postcard white- and golden-sand beaches backed by a forest canopy. The most developed of the islands is Isla Contadora, with a full range of amenities including hotels and B&Bs, restaurants, tour companies, and daily flights. Isla San José is privately owned and home to one luxury resort, the Hacienda del Mar. There is also a hotel on Isla del Rey, the largest island in the archipelago and the site of a residential development.