Surfing in Panama offers the opportunity for a true bi-coastal experience. Not only is there excellent surf on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, but those coasts are only a few hours away by decent road!
This set up, with world-renowned surf spots like Santa Catalina on the Pacific and Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean, puts surfing Panama on many people’s “best” lists – both best surfing in Central America and best surfing in the Caribbean.
We’ll take a closer look at both of these surf zones.
Surfing Panama – Pacific
Looking at a map, you’ll see that Panama’s Pacific coast is actually mostly south-facing, not west.
This means the surf spots on Panama’s Pacific coast soak up winter south swells during the dry season – November through March.
Panama’s Pacific coast is certainly worthy of a road trip, staying flexible to explore unknown little nooks and crannies. But for now, here are some of Panama’s better known surf spots.
Santa Catalina is Panama’s premier surf destination and is known for its expert-level surf and pumping barrels.
This, of course, puts Santa Catalina out of reach for many beginner and intermediate crews. This can keep the crowds down, or if there are people out you tend to be dealing with a line-up that knows what it is doing.
The town of Santa Catalina reflects this lack of family friendliness. It has some places to stay and a few restaurants, but don’t expect to be rolling into Tamarindo here, or even Nosara.
Getting to Santa Catalina will take a bit of doing. It is either a solid drive from Panama City, or a second flight to David and a drive to the coast.
And that’s a good thing.
Pedasi is grabbing headlines of late as a relatively new hot spot for expats in Panama. With its great location and multiple beaches there is plenty of sand to go around.
Plus, Pedasi is a real town, unlike some other surf spots.
Of course, the other thing that makes Pedasi attractive to a wider audience is that it isn’t really a surf town per se. The closest beaches to Pedasi are family friendly and more calm.
The best surf spots in the Pedasi area are a drive away, making Pedasi a great place to launch daily surf trips, but not the place to be if you want to just walk right out front and grab waves.
Just down the road from Pedasi on the Azuero Peninsula is Playa Venao.
Playa Venao is beginning to find its way onto the traveling surfer’s map, but is still relatively unknown to most.
There is some development going on in the area, but not really much of a town. This leaves you with limited options for places to stay and eat, but you’ll be rewarded for hunkering down with some great waves in this little bay.
Playa Cambutal is also on the Azuero Peninsula but is even more remote than Venao.
There is a rocky right point to surf and some little places to stay including the Hotel Playa Cambutal and the Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort.
Surfing Playa Cambutal definitely puts you out there on the Central America surf map.
As you can imagine, there are countless other places to explore for surf on this side of Panama.
If you are looking for a surf mission that still can offer some surprises, surfing Panama is for you.
Surfing Panama – Caribbean
Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro Province is a group of islands on Panama’s northwest Caribbean coast – tucked right up near the border with Costa Rica.
Being on the Caribbean side means that there are more distinct surf seasons as opposed to the Pacific where there are some waves almost all of the time.
It also means that you can be dealing with shallow reefs when there are waves.
Getting to Bocas del Toro can be done in a number of ways. You can just fly there from Panama City if you are looking to save time. You can also drive there and put your car on a ferry if you are mixing in a trip to Bocas as part of your Panama surfing expedition.
Surfing in the Caribbean, while less consistent, has its own dreamy qualities. Namely, the water.
There really is nothing like the Caribbean, and surfing in warm, crystal clear blue water is a surfer’s dream.
While Bocas del Toro is actually a group of islands, most people are referring to the main island, Isla Colon which holds Bocas town.
Playa Bluff presents a rare stretch of sand on these rocky, reefy islands. Surfing Playa Bluff can be challenging with heavy barrels dumping in shallow water.
Isla Colon also has the well-known breaks of Dumpies.
Across the bay to Isla Bastimentos is the expert-only Silverbacks.
More Articles and Guides About Surfing in Central America
Best Surfing in Central America
Surf Travel Insurance – Should I get it?
Killing time in Changuinola, Panama
Bocas del Toro – A week on the water.
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