I have to preface my glowing review of this amazing place by saying that despite how much we loved Isla Palenque, it is definitely not for everybody. If you are not into off-the-beaten-path travel, if you require mega-resort amenities, if you are not an active traveler, if you don't have an adventurous spirit and if you are not willing to be far removed from bustle and hustle of the city life, shopping and night clubs in favor of getting up close and personal with nature - then this place is NOT for you. However, if you want a break less ordinary, then pack you bag and prepare to be wowed.
Since the property is still very small (only 6 rooms at the time we visited in mid-May 2013), now is probably the best time to go. We really hope that the island doesn't get built up and turned into another time-share, cookie-cutter vacation place, as we understand they are planning for some residences to go up on the other side of the island in the near future. It would be a great shame for the island to be over-run with people and turn into a generic beach resort. Right now however, it is something very very special.
A private island in the Gulf of Chiriqui (on the Pacific side of Panama), Isla Palenque is quite remote and that's one of the great things about it. Clean air, empty (and I mean completely empty) beaches, plentiful wildlife, and so much peace surrounds this place that on your hikes you will feel like the only person on the entire island. No one but monkeys to cross your path while the sound of rainforest completely draws you in. Be prepared however, and bring PLENTY of bug spray - mosquitoes in the forest are starving for your blood and there are tonnes of them. Make sure you have enough bug spray to reapply several times per day if you plan on hiking a lot. Within resort area and on the beaches there are no mosquitoes since there's enough breeze in the open areas to keep them away. In the evenings at dinner time however, bug spray can come in handy when the air is still. Mosquitoes are basically the only thing that can bring you any amount of discomfort on the island, but if you come prepared you will barely notice.
The property is serene, facing a beach and surrounded by hiking trails and primary jungle. Lovely infinity pool overlooks the beach. Super cozy restaurant, with tiki torches lit all around for dinner time. Balconies in ocean view suites are awesome - best naps up there in the afternoon! Comfortable beds, nice bathrooms. One thing the rooms lacked were screens on sliding balcony doors, but we were told those were going to be put in soon. Having the screens would allow people to keep the doors open and get some fresh air in instead of running AC, which would be a nice choice to have, and would also prevent smaller bugs getting in when the lights are on at night.
Amazing people work here. Warm and friendly staff are always ready to help with anything you want or just keep you company and chat while you're having a drink. The atmosphere in general in the resort feels relaxed, laid back and just super chilled out. It is obvious that people enjoy working there and that feeling of content kind of echoes through everything at the resort.
And then, the food. Truly the shining star of Isla Palenque is the man who will feed you day in and day out, with the absolute best food you've had in a long time and possibly in your life. This man is chef Oliver Blond and he is a culinary genius! The food he makes is inspired, creative and it's to die for. In 8 days we stayed on Isla Palenque, we didn't have a meal that we didn't love. 3 times a day, for 8 days in a row he created dishes that looked like works of art and melted in our mouths. All of the guests who stayed at the resort at the same time as us, were of the same opinion - the food was out of this world. It is the #1 reason we would return to Isla Palenque, as even though the chef shared one of his mouthwatering ceviche recipes with us in great detail, we can't get the magic right at home! I am convinced that as the resort gains popularity and continues getting rave reviews, it will be in large part due to chef Oliver's talent.
The negatives? There aren't any that matter where it counts. There are large bugs sometimes, but you are in the tropics, so it should be expected. There are mosquitoes and you will have some bites, but if you bring bug spray you will be prepared and it won't be much of a bother. The beaches are not what you might expect if you are used to sugary white sands and transparently clear seas of the Caribbean, but the waters are very warm, the beaches are pristine and the solitude is absolute, so you can get your skinny-dipping on all you want. The staff can be a little laid back as far as organization of day trips goes and you may have to keep asking what the plan is for the upcoming days, but in the end it is up to you what you want to do, and really you can do anything you want here.
Go. It'll be one of the very best vacations you'll ever take.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.