My Trip To Islas Secas & What Makes This Private Island ShineRESORTS
As CEO of EliteLyfe, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many exotic and exclusive vacation destinations around the world. All for work, of course. It’s all part of our service. When dealing with the upper end of the luxury travel market, detail is everything, and we have to make sure that everything is perfect.
The fine details of a vacation experience cannot be grasped from photos and phone calls. It can only be experienced first-hand. You’ve got to get out there and breathe the air. I make the trip to get that all-important first-hand account of the location, the accommodations, the facilities, and the service so I know it’s right for our clients.
I’ve been lucky enough to tour and inspect a few private island resorts around the world. In March 2021 I took a trip to Islas Secas in Panama to vet it for EliteLyfe’s portfolio. Everything is perfect and I could go into great detail about it all but here’s what, for me, makes Islas Secas shine in its uniqueness as a private island experience.
The first thing you need to get out of your head when you’re looking at an all-inclusive private island vacation is any ideas about what “all-inclusive” means. I get it. In the past, all-inclusive has been a trap that binds tourists to set meals and restaurants and inhibits your freedom to explore beyond the hotel walls.
When you’re talking about the peak of luxury travel like Islas Secas, all-inclusive doesn’t restrict you at all. If anything, it gives you the freedom to experience new things that perhaps you wouldn’t do if you had to pay for it, like kitesurfing or e-foiling (but more on that later).
Literally, every meal I had at Islas Secas was excellent. The Executive Chef, Saul, was trained in San Sebastian in Spain by a Michelin Star chef. They do a truly fantastic job and every single meal I had, everything I ate, was of the highest quality and cooked to the highest standards.
Islas Secas works with an organic farm on the mainland to ensure all fruit and vegetables are grown naturally and served fresh. Fish, octopus, as you can imagine, are caught daily right off of the island. When all the ingredients are fresh and organic, everything tastes amazing. Even a casual beach barbecue or a breakfast sandwich was like eating a five-star meal. We had grilled octopus, a variety of fish, steak, chicken. All sublime.
When you sit down for dinner at Islas Secas, Saul will often call over to the table to explain the creations they have made and to make sure everything is perfect. The pastry chef also comes to the table to present his artwork that he’s created to finish your dinner.
Wow, the pastry chef. He makes, bar none, some of the finest desserts and pastries I’ve had in my life. He’s very creative but he does traditional things perfectly too, like freshly made croissants for breakfast and mind-blowing dulce de leche.
In the evenings, he would get creative, and make exciting desserts with new and unusual combinations. One night, we had a miso chocolate mousse. Yes, miso. As in “miso soup”. Wild stuff but I love food, I think it should be fun, and it was absolutely phenomenal.
Islas Secas is a beautiful paradise island and gosh, who wouldn’t want a nice refreshing drink? The service team doesn’t have a waiter-turned-bartender. There’s a professional mixologist who’s ready to excite and delight.
The first thing he made for me was a watermelon mint mezcal margarita. It was fresh, refreshing, and not too sweet. Perfect for the climate. I could tell straight away that we were going to be friends. Whenever I went to lunch or dinner he would greet me and ask, Mr. Contardi, is there anything I can make you to drink? My answer was often, yes.
When I went to breakfast in the morning the staff would ask, Mr. Contardi, can I get you your two shots of espresso with ice water and a little almond milk? My answer to that was always yes. They quickly learned that I liked a nightcap after dinner too. In my case, an extranjero served neat. All my favorite drinks were always served just the way I like them.
Staff & Service
The service staff at Islas Secas? What can I say, they are absolutely phenomenal. This is one of the things I love the most about luxury service that many don’t realize: the staff learns your habits, they get to know what you like at what times. They work for you and around you.
Luxury service is a fine art. You have to balance formal with personal and invisible with accessible. The staff ha to adapt according to how the customer sets the dynamic. I like warm and personal, so the team at Islas Secas got me straight away and always greeted me with pure smiles and family-like care and attention.
One of my favorite guys, David, knew how to party. We did some salsa dancing. Now I’m a big guy, and he was trying to teach me how to move but what he didn’t know is that I bring the flavor to the salsa and I bring it hot! We had such a fun time. The staff, they’re not just there to serve you, it’s all part of the relaxation process. Let go. Have fun. Good times.
At Islas Secas there are no TVs in the bedrooms. There are tablets and laptops for the kids so don’t worry but the point of being on a private island is to get outside - to explore - and to discover new things. Islas Secas is a paradise that was made for explorers.
My first activity was scuba diving. I went with a great professional instructor and saw eels, bat rays & pufferfish. Beautiful. I saw wildlife I’m not used to seeing which always creates a magical experience. It brought me into the moment. The busy life I left behind was instantly forgotten out here on the ocean.
At Islas Secas, the water is so clear, we were diving 40-50-60 feet under and visibility was perfect. There are very few boats in the area so the fish are not scared away. The islands are volcanic so the water is nice and warm due to rising thermal currents. It’s pleasant to swim at all hours of the day.
The following day, I chose to go fishing. Now I’m no fisherman but Panama is well known for having some of the best fishing in the world. There are deep-sea fishing excursions for big tuna but I just chose a half-day trip just off of Islas Secas. We took a boat out with some great Spanish music and some beers. My kind of fishing trip.
Our guides had been fishing these waters for generations and so they took us to the best spots. Would you believe it, I caught a 40-pound roosterfish! That’s a rock star catch if ever there was one. Apparently, they’re common in the region but wow, what luck! Some of the guys caught some tuna that we kept for meals and everything else we released.
Ever heard of e-foiling? No, me either. It’s a new thing. It kind of looks like a surfboard but has a hydrofoil fin with an electric engine. I gave it a go and, even though at first I called it “e-falling”, I really got into it. I’m not someone who usually enjoys themselves with activities like kitesurfing but here was something I found easily accessible.
The island’s activity specialist - Israel - came out with me on another board and trained me. Helped me place my feet correctly. It was really nice to have that one-on-one time and I learned quickly. On the third day, I got it. Amazing. I was singing “I believe I can fly” in my head. Haha. When you’re up on the board it’s just you, the ocean, the elements, the saltwater, and you’re there just floating on the air. Magical experience. I’m hooked! I’m an e-foiler!
Finally, after all this activity, I wanted to relax, so I booked in to have a massage at the spa at Islas Secas. The spa is beautiful. It has a peaceful setting in the jungle and has an outdoor copper tub and shower. I had a deep-tissue massage with aromatherapy oils and sound bowls. Now I’m a tough piece of meat but boy did she get in deep. I like a strong massage and yes, the team at Islas Secas weren’t there to tickle and play games. Afterward, they gave me a refreshing drink, and pow, I was done.
Islas Secas has a maximum capacity of 24 guests. The main property - Casa Grande - has four bedroom suites. There are two separate two-bedroom villas with plunge pools and three one-bedroom tented casitas. I stayed in Casa Grande. It was perfect. Ocean views. Sunrise views. Truly magical.
All of the accommodations at Islas Secas can be rented separately, allowing couples and small families access to the private island experience. More information on the villas at Islas Secas is available from the EliteLyfe website or give me or the team a call today to talk about it.