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The cream rises to the top on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula Page 2

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“Pedasí has one of the best futures when it comes to tourism,” says Coirier. ”Pedasí in 10-15 years will be another high area in Panama and the Americas. Right now, it doesn’t have anything, and that’s the good point.”

Tourism in the area is just getting off of the ground. While there are national parks, white-sand beaches and world class fishing, the area lacks hotels, restaurants, and tourism outfitters equipped to offer quality services. Villa Camilla hotel, part of the Azueros real estate project, is the pioneer in the area offering luxury accommodations and fine dining.

Apart from the surfer’s paradise known as Venado beach, Isla Iguana and Isla Cañas are two of the Azuero Peninsula’s natural gems. Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge is one of the main natural attractions offering white-sand beaches and an extensive coral reef for snorkeling and diving. The island, seven kilometers from the coast, also draws ornithologists keen on spotting some of the 2,000 frigate birds which call the area home. Isla Cañas attracts tourists interested in observing the five different species of turtles which nest on the island throughout the year.

Halloran, who is also the owner of the travel agency Vacation to Panama, hopes to see “National Parks services overhauled, making two diamonds in the rough, Isla Cañas and Isla Iguana, well-managed tourism destinations for nature lovers.”

Fishing could also become an attraction. The area’s coastline, known as the “Tuna Coast” due to its proximity to the Humboldt Current and the Continental Shelf, has a marina locals hope will soon be developed into a tourist destination.

Azueros Infrastructure

The area has electricity, potable water, landline and cellular communication, a good road from Chitré to Pedasí which continues past Venado beach, a medical center, and a landing strip for small charters. Basics the Pedasí area plans to develop over the next couple of years include a hospital (the regional hospital is located near Las Tablas 30 kilometers away), a new highway along the coast from Chitré to Pedasí, and a new airport.

Coirier acknowledges the lack of power and the unresolved water situation in some places, but adds that the permits “are just a matter of time and red tape and administration like in every country.”

An increase in hotels, restaurants and other tourist offerings will also have to follow suit for the area to grow. “You can’t put the real estate cart before the tourism horse,” says Halloran.

In terms of developing on-site infrastructure, most projects, except Azueros, have built what Coirier calls “cosmetic infrastructure” used to attract sales and to show that something is happening. Whether or not there are plans to invest beyond the basics is not clear. “If more speculators would be willing to be creative and commit to investing more than just money, Pedasí will move forward,” says Halloran. “Until then, I'm content to see it remain quiet and friendly.”

“Pedasí is a small oceanside village for tourists, surfers and fishermen,” says Saint-Gilles.” The global economic crisis has served to rectify all kinds of abuses and life continues with perhaps a little bit more consciousness.”

In times of crisis, the cream rises to the top. While the entire Pedasí area may not be able to claim crème de la crème status, the Azueros project with its eye on conserving beauty, promoting tourism and developing infrastructure can. If the area is able to grow with a united front behind Azueros’ high standards, it will attract people with similar values and interests.

Story and photos by Beverly Gallagher.

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