Santa Catalina is supposedly the best surf spot in all of Panama and is becoming a very popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, we were there in the dead season. Even the surf was nonexistent. There was literally nothing to do except eat, read and sleep, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
Most hotels and hostels were closed, as were most restaurants. However, we managed to find the perfect spot, Cabañas Las Palmeras. We had our own bungalow with en suite bathroom, on a slope of green grass dotted with palm trees, and at the bottom, there was a small patio with two hammocks overlooking the sea below and Isla Coiba in the distance. Would definitely recommend this place!
There are two beaches to chose from. Santa Catalina Beach is a small crescent of stony sand at the end of the main road that is mainly used by fisherman and boat tours leaving for the island. This end of town has some great restaurant choices, and a couple of dive shops if you want to organise a very expensive tour to Parque Nacional Coiba.
The much larger and much nicer Playa del Estero is 2km away at the end of the beach road, it takes around 15 minutes to walk. Here you can rent a stand-up paddleboard for a ridiculous $60 an hour, a surfboard for around $20 an hour or a boogie board for $10 an hour. Food and hotels this end can be very pricey.
Getting to and from Santa Catalina
Panama is pretty long, so getting anywhere can take a long time. We went from Bocas del Toro to Santa Catalina and it took two days. We caught the first boat to Almirante ($6, 40 minutes), a bus to David ($8.50, 4 hours), backtracked to get to Santiago ($9, 5 hours) and then a bus to Sonà ($2, 1 hour).
We missed the last bus to Santa Catalina, only by an hour or two, so we ended up staying in the Hotel Aguita and finding an adorable cafe that served amazing pastries. It’s not a bad place to spend a night, very cheap! We caught the 8:40am bus the next morning for $4.70 and two hours later we were finally there.
Leaving was a piece of cake. We caught the first bus to Sonà ($4.70, 2 hours) and immediately caught a bus all the way to Panama City ($10, 5 hours). This was a horrible journey, but only because I had finished my book the night before and had nothing to read. Oh, the horror.
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