The Bahía de Piñas (Piñas Bay) is far down the Pacific coast of Panama , southeast of the Golfo de San Miguel and just 56 kilometers from the Colombian border. It is world-famous for deep-sea fishing, but the area is so extraordinarily beautiful that even those who don’t want to go near a fish will likely enjoy a visit. It’s also a culturally interesting area.
Approximately 200 deep-sea fishing world records have been set in this area, more than anywhere else on the planet. Most of these are for black, blue, or striped marlin and Pacific sailfish.
What accounts for this? It has a lot to do with Zane Grey Reef, a dramatic seamount (underwater mountain) that rises from the 100-meter-deep sea bottom in three peaks, two of which top out within 45 meters of the surface. The current sweeps plankton around the reef, which feeds huge amounts of baitfish, which in turn attract large predators.
The area is a giant natural aquarium filled with, among other things, sharks, rays, jacks, snappers, dorado, tuna, and, of course, billfish. The reef is particularly renowned among anglers for black marlin.
The area is carefully protected: Panama enforces a 32-kilometer exclusion zone around the bay, into which commercial fishing vessels with their huge nets are not allowed. Panama’s marine authority keeps a small ship stationed in the area that investigates any suspected infractions; violators are fined and can lose their fishing licenses.
The Bahía de Piñas itself is a small, narrow bay formed by two fingers of land that jut out to sea. Between are the landscaped grounds of Tropic Star Lodge . Close to 6,000 hectares of the surrounding land is owned by Tropic Star, and nearly all of this has been left undeveloped and pristine.
It is heart-stopping gorgeous: Emerald forests filled with massive trees spill down the hilly countryside to the very edge of the coast, which ends in sheer, rocky cliffs broken by the occasional waterfall. Dolphins like to romp around inside the bay, and humpback whales are sometimes spotted outside it. Indigenous people still pan for, and sometimes find, gold nuggets on the Río Piñas.
Playa Blanca, a small but gorgeous white-sand beach just north of the bay, offers clear blue water and snorkeling near a coral reef just offshore. It’s on property owned by Tropic Star Lodge, but as with all beaches in Panama it’s open to the public. However, only guests of the lodge may hike into the forest.
Nearby are two small coastal towns, Puerto Piñas  and Jaqué , which have a mixed population of Afro-Colonial and Emberá inhabitants. Several indigenous villages are up the Río Jaqué] one of which, the Wounaan village of Biroquera, is open to day visitors.
Commercial flights from Panama City  often stop at both Jaqué  and Puerto Piñas  (sometimes known to the airlines as Bahía Piña), though the order of arrival varies. The two airstrips are about two minutes’ flight time away.
Aeroperlas makes the trip on Tuesday and Thursday at 10:38 A.M. The return flight supposedly leaves around 12:12 P.M. from Piñas and 12:40 P.M. from Jaqué.
Air Panama flies to Bahía Piñas and Jaqué at 10 A.M. Monday and Friday. The return flights leave Piñas at 11:35 A.M. and Jaqué around 11:55 A.M.
The flights take about an hour. Make sure to get off at the right airstrip. All these departure times are optimistic estimates. The fare is US$78.97 each way to Piñas; it’s about US$2 cheaper each way to Jaqué.
The new concrete airstrip at Piñas is in great shape. The Jaqué airstrip is not, and it gets quite muddy in the rainy season—an acquaintance compared landing here to an off-road adventure in a four-wheel drive.