Isla Palenque Boutique Resort Designed with a Sense of Place

The Resort at Isla Palenque is a private island resort located in Panama’s sparkling Gulf of Chiriqui. The resort has recently been recognized for its creative planning, innovative foresight and original thinking in the areas of sustainable design and development. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has presented Isla Palenque with the 2010 ASLA Professional Award, recognizing the resort’s development process outlined in its master plan as a model for sustainable and responsible development for others to follow.

The minds behind The Resort at Isla Palenque have outlined an impressive vision for what is possible through collaboration that develops a model for sustainable island planning, while challenging existing governmental regulations and redefining regional development and conservation standards. The project also sets a benchmark for how ecotourism can promote a virtuous circle whereby tourism revenues provide a local incentive to protect what tourists are coming to see, but extends the principle beyond nature and ecology to incorporate all characteristics that contribute to sense of place, such as historic structures, living and traditional culture, landscapes, cuisine, arts and artisans, as well as local flora and fauna.

The resort is slated to open in 2012.

Award-Winning Eco-Resort Master Plan

The master plan for The Resort at Isla Palenque focuses on preserving and sustaining the land, wildlife and local culture, while emphasizing style and luxury in a unique, natural setting.

Some key highlights of the award-winning master plan include:

  • The project preserves 85% of the island’s 434 acres into a nature sanctuary that consists of fragile forests, lagoons and mangroves. Panamanian law requires 15% of all zoned land to be designated for park and open space purposes. The proposed plan exceeds this requirement by more than 2300%.
  • It explores methods of agrotourism through elements such as an organic production orchard, an edible forest garden and the scattered plantings of fruit trees, all designed to decrease imports.
  • It develops water and energy management plans that reduce dependency on non-renewable resources, with the goal of having 95% of the planned development’s energy needs generated by on-site solar and wind power.
  • The architectural heritage of Panama is highlighted through the site planning of residential casitas, designed as a cluster of small buildings, imitating the form of nearby villages.
  • Upon complete build-out, a greenway will circumnavigate the island, buffering views, and more than six miles of nature trails will extend into the island’s interior, where bird-watching towers, interpretative trails and play areas created from natural materials found on the island will be found.
  • A fleet of smaller, electric cars would serve as the island’s primary mode of transportation. Typical roadway widths will be reduced by 50%, decreasing site disturbance, emissions, construction cost and infrastructure needs.
  • It fosters socially-conscious educational development to three user groups: local citizens, island guests and international academic institutions.

Environmentally-Focused Resort Design

The Resort at Isla Palenque is the result of a partnership between Amble Resorts and Design Workshop, international landscape architecture and planning firm. Amble Resorts and Design Workshop share the award with the rest of the development team, including architects 4240, environmental advisers Panama Environmental Services, and engineering firm East Bay Group (Learn more about the development team).

The resort’s design embodies a stylish, contemporary interpretation of traditional local architecture that respects local customs and celebrates the incomparable natural setting. Making intelligent use of the terrain and the beauty of the island itself, most of the resort buildings are placed in the few areas that were previously cleared for farming.

“The idea behind the master plan has always been to retain natural resources while accommodating low-density development; synthesizing aspects of sustainability, conservation, and ecotourism for a result that will really create unprecedented character” – Richard Shaw, FASLA, a Principal and Partner at Design Workshop


“We want to create sustainability that is not only good for the land, but good for the people that will live on it.” – Ben Loomis, President, Amble Resorts