Grylls has always been coy about where the islands are – probably because they’re not that remote after all.
They’re two of the 200 islands and islets that make up the archipelago of Las Perlas, which lies about 30 miles off the coast of Panama in Central America.
Las Perlas means “the pearls” because that’s what the Spanish conquistadors found in the archipelago’s waters back in 16th century. They “discovered” the islands in 1513, and promptly wiped out the Indian population who already occupied them. The conquistadors then imported Africans to harvest the large pearls, and descendants of these slaves still live on the bigger islands.
His castaways are on the Isla Gibraleon and Isla San Telmo, which are both uninhabited and carpeted in dense jungle. San Telmo would have been one of the first islands that the Spaniards would have spotted when they sailed into the Bay of Panama. It’s named after Saint Elmo – better known as Saint Erasmus – who is the patron saint of mariners. These days it’s a marine reserve to protect turtles and whales who breed in the island’s waters.
Las Perlas; San Telmo is the island marked by the red arrow, south-east of Isla del Rey
The archipelago’s largest island is Isla del Rey, which has a population of around 1700 people and is bigger than all the others put together at 90 square miles. Most tourists head to Isla Contadora, San José, Casaya and Casayeta, which all boast stunning white-sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters.
Wealthy Panamanians have built palatial holiday homes on Contadora, which is the most developed and accessible. San José boasts an exclusive resort, while neighbouring Casaya and Casayeta are popular with pearl-shoppers.
If Bear Grylls and the plight of his hungry celebrities haven’t put you off, you can easily enjoy your own Las Perlas adventure. Catch a ferry or short flight from Panama City to one of the inhabited islands and set up camp there. Then simply enlist a local guide with a boat (or brave it alone if you’ve been watching attentively and fancy your chances) and explore.
The Island with Bear Grylls is on Mondays on Channel 4, 9pm