Story at a glance:

  • The team at Hart Howerton turns an island into a luxurious, eco-friendly getaway.
  • Islas Secas is 100% solar-generated, and 100% of wastewater is reused for irrigation.
  • The resort also recycles all of its food waste, which is composted and used as fertilizer.

When Craig Roberts, partner at Hart Howerton, first visited Islas Secas, 20 miles off of Panama’s Pacific coast, he sat in a yurt under a mango tree with a beautiful view, trying to conceptualize what would soon be the ultimate sustainable, luxury escape.

The result was Islas Secas, which consists of 14 private islands, seven Casita sites, two villa luxury housing sites, and the Terraza—the heart of the resort that is solar-powered and built around a library, bar, and an open-air dining pavilion with unforgettable ocean views. The resort can host up to 24 guests and offers a number of family-friendly activities, including snorkeling, surfing, yoga, kayaking, and world-class fishing.

hart howerton islas secas panama gbd magazine 03

There’s no such thing as a bad view at Islas Secas in Panama. Courtesy of Islas Secas

“First impressions are everything, and arriving at the Islas Secas jetty, jutting into the rippling bay surrounded by tropical forest and endless ocean is difficult to forget,” says Andrey Gomez, managing director at the resort.

Roberts says that the main inspiration behind the project was living in the tropics.

The resort was designed in the Gamboan style, with traditional 5-foot overhangs that not only protect from rainstorms but also help with air circulation. The individual units also play tribute to Gamboan architecture with single-wall construction to prevent bugs or mold from getting inside.

hart howerton islas secas panama gbd magazine 02

Courtesy of Islas Secas

Luxury aside, this resort checks all of the boxes on being eco-friendly.

“Islas Secas is the ideal destination for the eco-conscious traveler,” Gomez says.

The property’s energy is 100% solar-generated, and 100% of wastewater is reused for irrigation. The resort also recycles 100% of food waste, which is composted and used as fertilizer.

“The resort itself has a policy where, upon arrival, you’re given a water bottle for your time on the island that you can refill, so there’s also no plastic waste,” Gomez says.

On top of that, 75% of the archipelago has been left to nature, undeveloped. From sourcing materials to construction the team took care not to disturb the islands.

hart howerton islas secas panama gbd magazine 04

Courtesy of Islas Secas

Material-wise, bamboo played a large part in building the resort since it’s indigenous to neighboring Colombia. The team brought in Simon Velez, an expert in bamboo construction, to help them bring their vision to life for the Terraza—the focal point for the resort. All of the wood used at the was harvested sustainably. Wood and bamboo construction materials were chosen in lieu of masonry to alleviate the impact on the land.

hart howerton islas secas panama gbd magazine 05

Courtesy of Islas Secas

Roberts says one of the biggest challenges was executing the project with a light footprint. The team solved this by creating and building as many big component pieces off-land and having a limited construction crew on the island to reassemble any final pieces.

Roberts says all the villa structures were also built on floating decks, a meter above the existing terrain. This allows wildlife and water flow to move freely beneath these without disrupting the local ecology.

Gomez hopes guests are not only struck by the experience they have at the hotel but also by its design.

“Allowing others to experience, in a culturally enhancing, low-impact and highly immersive way, the incredible and unspoiled beauty of this unique place in Panama will hopefully inspire their passion for, and commitment to, the natural world.”

Project Credits 
Project: Islas Secas
Location: Gulf of Chiriqui­, Panama
Completion: 2019
Architect: Hart Howertwon
Architect of Record: Juan Carlos Bosquez
MEP Engineer: Design Build
Structural Engineers: Jim Matlock
Interior Designers: Tom Scheerer, Maira Koutsoudakis of LIFE

Courtesy of Hart Howerton