Taboga is an island in Central Panama. It is one of the favorite escapes for residents of Panama City, who enjoy the beach, hiking, nature, fishing, and boat charters. The island has a charming village with a whitewashed church, a few narrow streets with several small restaurants, small hotels and great views to Panama City from the highest point on the island which stands at approximately 300 m.
Taboga has maintained its core traditions and values. Many villagers continue earning a living by fishing. Throughout the year, Taboganos joyfully celebrate numerous religious festivals, including San Pedro, La Virgen del Carmen, the Passion of Christ, and Carnival. Isla Taboga is a strong, tight-knit community that manages to preserve its customs and natural environment despite receiving scant financial help from the mainland or investors.
Isla Taboga is part of an archipelago 20 km (12 miles) south of Panama City. The largest of the island chain, Isla Taboga (571 hectares; population 1,500) dots the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and boasts a rich diversity of tropical flora and a history marked by international influences.
Isla Taboga sits in close proximity to Isla Morro, which is roughly one square hectare and at low tide connects to Taboga's main beach, Playa Restinga. The bay these islands share once served as a harbor for ships, and the islands themselves provided a strategic location to settle. There was an abundant supply of fresh water, worshippers could pray in the second oldest church in the hemisphere, and those doing business in Panama City could easily anchor and take smaller boats to the mainland.
Taboga was first inhabited by Indians, who lived in thatch huts and fished for a livelihood. The island's original name was “Aboga,” which originated from the Indian word meaning “an abundance of fish.”
Taboga's earliest inhabitants were virtually eliminated during the Spanish conquest. Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was credited with discovering Taboga and Morro in 1513. That year, the Spaniards sailed to the island to establish a settlement, killing or enslaving the Indians and stealing their gold.
Throughout their conquests, the Spaniards continued colonizing Taboga and were a dominating presence until 1549, when Panama freed its Indian slaves and a number of them chose to make Taboga their home. A fort was built on Isla Morro to protect Taboga and its important bay during this period.
Pirates, including the infamous Henry Morgan and Francis Drake, frequented the island, using the harbor as a base to attack Spanish ships and the town itself, or simply as a place to catch their breath and stock up on supplies between raids.
Many travelers heading to the west coasts of North or South America used Taboga and Morro as a resting point until ships were leaving for their final destinations. A number of companies, mostly British and apparently some Dutch, offered a full set of tourist services on Isla Morro, including a small theater and a boat repair shipyard.
Isla Taboga played an important role in France's visionary lead in constructing the Panama Canal. The Canal's French administration built a 50-bed sanatorium on Taboga, later known as Aspinwall, for ailing and convalescing workers who contracted yellow fever or malaria. Those who died were buried on Morro.
There are two separate companies that offer launch services to Taboga Island. One leaves from the Balboa-Amador Yacht Club and costs USD12 round-trip. The ride takes 20 minutes. The other launch is best for tourists who are not in a hurry to get there but want a relaxing boat trip across the Panama Canal; it takes 45 minutes. This launch costs USD12, round-trip, and leaves from Mi Playita, Amador Causeway.
- Getting to Taboga Island (Taboga Ferries), Taboga Island (under 1 hour from Panama City by Calypso Ferry located at Amador Causewayin Panama City).
Due to its size Taboga Island is mainly a "walking island" - i.e., mostly everybody walks everywhere they go. There are a couple of taxis (old pickup trucks) which can take you to one of the 3 hotels on Taboga Island. There are also boats which you may rent from the locals which will take you on boat tours around the island, to include the back side, which is a refuge for Brown Pelicans.
Taboga Island offers a number of adventures for nature and history lovers. There are several marked trails up the mountains which one can enjoy. Plus unmarked rainforest areas to explore.
Taboga is fortunate to have the second oldest church in the western hemisphere. On Saturday afternoon and Sunday the church of San Pedro is open, during the week one can ask for the caretaker to open the church (a small donation is appreciated).
Boat trips can be arranged through Hotel B and B Cerrito Tropical with local guides for whale watching, fishing and tours to the bird refuge on the back side of the island.
- Tours of Taboga Island (Taboga Tour Center), Taboga Island (under 1 hour from Panama City by Calypso Ferry located at Amador Causewayin Panama City).
There are several restaurants on Taboga Island, located in Hotel B&B Cerrito Tropical, Hotel Vereda Tropical, Hotel Mundi, plus two on the main street. There are some snack vendors on the beach.
- Ocean Rock Cafe, 18 Calle de Principal (Isla Taboga), ☏ . 8:30. On the ocean with a private beach entrance provides gourmet dining and tropical drinks. USD7-20.
There are 3 licensed small hotels, prices vary from USD55-110 for two people.
- B&B Cerrito Tropical
- Hotel Vereda Tropical
- Residencial Turistico Mundi