Santa Catalina (SC) is a sleepy fishing town that has some of the greatest surfing that I have experienced in Central America. Located six hours west of Panama City on the Pacific Coast, SC has six good breaks ranging from sandy beach to point to reef.
I have been many times, and recommend it to anyone looking for more of a surf adventure over the party scene. What I am saying, is be prepared for a chill experience without the crowds, and party scene. Heck, even the bar (yes…there really is only one) closes at 10pm due to a local ordinance. My last trip was in 2014, and a lot has changed.
There are three great breaks that will suit the needs of any surfer. Definitely head by Surf & Shake and ask what is breaking best and the best way the enter.
Estero – Rivermouth best surfed high tide
La Punta – High tide is best…mostly because of the sharp volcanic rock which can be very shallow.
Punto Bravo– Can be done at a low tide, but middle tide seems to work best
There is one surf shop now in town called Surf & Shake; called that because they also serve great smoothies which can really hit the spot after a long surf session. (Click on the Images for a bigger view)
I recommend staying at the Buena Vida hotel, owned by Mike, Zack (Mike’s son) & Michelle who were awesome hosts and excellent sources of information. The rooms are fully detached cabinas with more than enough space, a/c, desk, shower, hot water and very clean. (Something you don’t often see in Latin American beach hotels). They also have a hostel next to the hotel for those on a discerning budget at $10 per person with room for 7 people. It too is very clean and very chill.
They have an outdoor restaurant that serves simple, yet very tasty breakfast and lunch from 7am to 2pm. I recommend the chicken tacos. Also, the menu is vegetarian friendly and things like dressings for salads are served on the side. Buena Vida gets 5 stars out of 5.
If you want more Spartan hostel type accommodations near the beach, then there are lots of simpler hostels and cabinas like Blue Zone.
For food, I would recommend Las Pibas for burgers. It has a chill atmosphere, cool tunes and frosty beer. Dinner without alcohol should not cost you more than $12 including an appetizer. My favorite is Donde Vianka which is owned by a beautiful surfer named Bianca, who makes a wicked hot sauce that is a natural accompaniment for the ceviche. And also check out the Hibiscus Garden hotel & restaurant exactly 10km outside of town towards Sona, and they do an excellent dinner for a very reasonable place. They also have good accommodations on the beach (not really great surf) and run a shuttle to town. Owner Mick is a famous river (yes…river) surfer from Munich.
There is an excellent Panaderia (bakery) across from the Buena Vida owned by Mike, who bakes great treats and wholesome bread daily.
A few recommendations. Because the grocery store is empty of anything useful, make sure you bring some food for the beach, water, booze, shampoo and so forth. Reef booties are a must if you want to surf the points, and be ready for a gnarly entrance across shallow reef to get to the outside.
As for surfboards, it’s really up to you. On trips like this I always try to take a couple of boards and include a medium (7’) thruster and smaller quad in case it goes off. Don’t forget that airlines have a way of thinking that surfboards are indestructible, so make sure you add extra padding.
There isn’t any nightlife here, so if you want to party then you have to make your own if you get the drift as local ordinances prohibit the sales of alcohol past 10pm. SC is a super chill place where you can read a book, catch up on some letter writing or start crafting a novel.
There is an internet café ten minutes walk from town, and they have 3G for all you smart phone addicts (like me).
All in all, Santa Catalina is a perfect place to unwind and forget the world, while chilling on some really good waves.
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