Iguana Island Wildlife Refuge
Isla Iguana is a small island off the eastern coast of the Azuero Peninsula. Declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1981, Isla Iguana protects marine birds, tropical fish, and a large coral reef. It’s a short boat ride from Pedasi and is a pleasant place to visit for the day.
This 136-acre (55-hectare) reserve is surrounded by the oldest coral reef in the Gulf of Panama. The reef here is 500 years old and extends some 37 acres (15 hectares), making one of Panama’s biggest. It is home to 12 types of coral and over 200 species of fish. For this reason, it is popular with snorkelers. Cycles of El Niño have damaged some parts of the reef, but it is still an enjoyable place to paddle around and look for fish.
The waters off Playa El Cirial, a long, white-sand beach on the western side of the island, have some of the best snorkeling. The beach here is pleasant, but sometimes is strewn with trash that washes up from ocean currents. Scuba divers generally dive off the north end of the island, where they have the chance of spotting octopus, moray eels, and schools of fish. Humpback whales sometimes migrate through the nearby waters from June to November.
The island itself attracts a variety of avian species, and is especially famous for its frigate colony, which includes some 5,000 birds. There is a small ranger station on the island, and a hiking trail that extends from east to west. Reflecting the island’s name, the trail and forest teem with iguanas.
During World War II, the U.S. military used Isla Iguana for target practice. There are still holes in the ground from the bombs and it is believed that there may be undetonated bombs that have not been discovered. For this reason, it’s a good idea to stay on the trail.
Boats usually depart from Playa El Arenal, a beach just outside Pedasi. The ride usually takes 20 to 30 minutes and can be choppy.