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Gulf of Panama Islands's insider take:

There are no beaches around Panama City, so resident sun- and sand-lovers head to the islands in the Gulf of Panama. Beautiful and historically rich Isla Taboga is the most easily accessible, just 12 miles offshore from the city. Its best beach is the slightly pebbly but calm-watered stretch right near the town dock. It's an easy stroll (past whitewashed churches and bougainvillea-covered houses) from the spot where daily El Calypso ferries arrive. These carry passengers between the island and the Panama City Causeway; the trip is less than an hour each way (507-314-1730;

Farther out in the Gulf of Panama, the Archipiélago de las Perlas has more than 30 idyllic islands, with white sandy beaches and turquoise sea for snorkeling and deep-sea fishing (several of the islands were featured in the reality TV show Survivor). You can easily get here by plane: Both Air Panama ( and Aeroperlas ( ) run daily flights to the islands from Panama City, and the one-way trip takes just 15 minutes. Flights land on  Isla Contadora, or "Accountant Island"—legend has it this is where Spanish conquistadors used to count their booty. There are a number of palm-fringed beaches, a few hotels, and a handful of B&Bs—but not enough to make it feel crowded.

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