This All-inclusive Private Island Resort Has Some of the World's Best Whale Watching — and Sightings Are 'Guaranteed' Right Now

Off the west coast of Panama in the Pacific Ocean, this private island sees two whale watching seasons each year.

The tail of a humpback whale surfaces out of the Pacific Ocean's waters at Contadora Island, in Panama, on July 13, 2019.
Photo: LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

There are many whale watching destinations around the globe, but it's rare for one place to have two whale seasons a year. That's the reality in Panama, and perhaps most notably, the private 14-island archipelago 20 miles off the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

Every year, the private islands welcome humpback whales from Chile between July and September and a second population from Antarctica between December and April. Guests staying at Islas Secas, a luxury eco resort nestled on the only inhabited island in the archipelago, get the best seat in the house. The all-casita property — each with a private patio — is perfect for whale watching. In fact, sightings are guaranteed between July and September, according to the property's website.

"To have two whale seasons is really unique. We discovered that there are two different populations: one comes down from the north in December, and a second population comes up from the south in July. If you're really lucky, you might see them meet," said Kristen Rasmussen, a marine biologist and co-founder of whale conservation organization Panacetacea, on the Islas Secas website.

Aerial view of Islas Secas island resort
Courtesy of Islas Secas Resort

And if spotting humpbacks from the resort just isn't enough, you can get noticeably closer on the resort's private whale watching excursion, which follows strict guidelines established by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). From your perch on the private boat, you can even help Rasmussen and her organization, Panacetacea, track whales by sharing photos you take on the trip.

"We use photo identification, which means photographing individuals and identifying them through their 'flukes,'" Rasmussen said. "That data is then shared with other researchers, which gives us a really great way of tracking whales."

And while whale watching is one of the resort's biggest draws, it doesn't quite eclipse the property itself. The accommodations at Islas Secas are all standalone casitas, offering a level of privacy that's hard to come by at most resorts. Each casita has a private patio with views, and either a plunge pool or outdoor soaking tub.

Islas Secas Resort in Islas Secas, Panama
Courtesy of Islas Secas Resort

In addition to drinks and daily made-to-order breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, Islas Secas take their all-inclusive offering up a notch with daily scuba diving and snorkeling trips, yoga classes, guided nature hikes, and access to kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Each reservation also includes one half-day fishing trip and one 60-minute spa treatment per adult guest per stay.

To get to the islands, the resort offers regular one-hour transfers from Panama City to the archipelago's private air strip.

Rates for Islas Secas start at $2,500 a night. Round-trip plane transfers to the island from Panama City are available from $1,100.

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