Contadora and the Pearl Islands
Archipiélago de las Perlas, (the pearls islands), named for the large pearls that were found in its waters. The islands are comprised of 90 named and over 100 unnamed islets, each surrounded by travel magazine-worthy, white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
Contadora was used by the Spanish conquistadors for making a stop in order to take inventory of booty prior before returning to Spain. Hence the name contador means counter or bookkeeper in Spanish.
Contadora was developed in the 1960s into an exclusive get away for the rich and famous people. Like John Wayne, Elisabeth Taylor, Christian Dior, Julio Iglesias, the Shah of Persia, Jimmy Carter also others decided to make it their home. Some of them stayed only for a few days, some of them for years.
Today the island has a complete infrastructure, recently paved roads, reliable electricity and water, a medical center, restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, a police station, an airport and a ferry service.
Isla Contadora is the most frequented island of the Pearl Islands. It has been the base for the famous US and European TV Show "Survivor" for years.
Three million years ago the Isthmus of Panama was created. Until then North and South America were divided by sea. It was the biggest and reportedly the most significant geological event in 60 million years. Prior to that date as the Earth's plates had begun to join the Pearl Islands were created and they emerged from the sea. On Contadora Island and other islands in the group pre-Columbian artifacts have been found. The biggest island is Isla del Rey where more than fifteen pre-Columbian recognised archeological sites of the “Cuevas” and “Cocle” cultures have been identified. However, none of the original population remained.
First, the islands were occupied by Indians who were (with their leader Terarequí) wiped out within two years of the islands' discovery by the Spanish. Spaniard Vasco Nunez de Balboa named the islands Pearl Islands on his discovery in 1513 due to the many pearls which were found there. Another Spaniard, Gaspar de Morales had exterminated 20 local Indian chiefs and gave them to his dogs to tear to pieces.
Dites, another local chief, presented Morales with baskets of pearls, but this simply made the Spaniards want more and hastened the destruction of the native population. The Spaniards then needed workers to harvest pearls and imported slave labour from Africa in the 16th century whose descendants now live on the islands, particularly on Isla del Rey.
The the following years the islands were frequently used by pirates that followed and were relatively undisturbed until the 1960s and 1970s when the building of the resort on Isla Contadora took place to even the Shah of Iran retreated in 1979.
It is a pearl which is shaped like a white drop. It weighs 202.28 grains (50.6 carats). Currently, it is set in a necklace with diamonds, rubies, and other pearls designed by Cartier inspired by a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots.
The famous pearl was reportedly found somewhere near to Isla Contadora in the 16th century. Legend holds that it was found by a slave who was given his freedom as a reward for finding it. It then found its way to the possession of King Phillip II of Spain who gave it to Queen Mary Tudor.
Later it wound up back in the possession of the Spanish royals. Then it was sold to the British Marquis of Abercorn by son of Napoleon III. It had a habit of getting lost and found as it easily fell out of its setting and did so three times. In 1969 it was bought by actor Richard Burton for $37,000 and given to his wife Elizabeth Taylor for Valentines Day. She also lost it, but later found it in her dog's mouth... In 2011 La Pelegrina was sold by Christies in New York, for $ 11 Million in a sale of the late Elizabeth Taylor's Estate.
One thing that has not changed over the years are the crystal blue waters and sparkling white sandy beaches. Now like always it is the perfect get away from cold climates, busy stressful lives, or the noise and frantic of Panama City.