In my honest opinion, Playa Santa Catalina may probably be the best surfing spot in Panama. I consider it so because it has, by far , the most consistent breaks in Central or South America. Whenever — and I really mean any season — I visit the place, there will always be the waves to greet me like a dependable old friend. Even if you’re not a surfer, you can just watch (in awe or otherwise) the rollers from the beach.
The only reason that keeps it from being popular (which come to think of it also makes it a good thing) is its remote and isolated location. Playa Catalina is west of the Azuero Peninsula. This makes it near the Costa Rican border than the capital. So going here from the capital city would be off-putting and a chore. It’s a grueling 5-hour drive from Panama City to Playa Santa Catalina. If you really want to get away from it all, then Santa Catalina is your hideaway. But mind you, be prepared to go on a long, rough road away from anything approaching civilization.
Experience tells me that the best time to visit is February and August. For a surfer, this is a crucial time as the waves can get as high as twenty to thirty feet. To newbs, this might be staggering, but for experienced rollers, this is like surfer heaven. In most times, the waves can go on average of six to ten feet. Still, a size not something to sneeze at. Waves break from every direction. And you must mind the rocky sea bottom. I have had my nicks and scratches to learn how to evade the sea floor.
I recommend going to Casa Blanca Surf Resort. The accommodations are decent and their food is just right. But other than that, just concentrate on the beauty of the beach.
To get to Playa Santa Catalina from Panama City by car, proceed to Santiago. This big town is on the Interamerican Highway 155 miles from the capital. It would probably be a 3-and-a-half hour ride. When you get there, turn left off the highway into Santiago, then another left towards a small (but uninteresting) town called Sona. This is 31 miles southwest from Santiago. This is where you will test your Spanish-speaking skills as you may need to ask for directions. Turn left at the gas station before you enter Sona. There is a directional sign to help you. From there, you will take a very scenic nine kilometer path towards Hicaco. Turn right at the police station to a rough road (that can be quite hard to drive during the rainy season). Five miles after, you will reach your destination.
If you’re traveling by bus, there’s a bus terminal at Gran Terminal Nacional de Transportes in Albrook, Panama City. The seven dollar fare will take you to Sona. Buses leave every after 1.5 hours 8:30am to 6pm. Once you reach Sona, take the Santa Catalina bus ($3 fare) that leaves at 5am, noon, and 4pm, returning at 7am, and 8am. You can hail a taxi from Sona to Santa Catalina for $25 to $30. Please note that all the fares are subject to change when you do get there. So be prepared to shell out a little bit more, just in case.
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