Surfing in Santa Catalina

by Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

The laid-back town of Santa Catalina hosts a charming mix of international surfers next to locals who are still catching lobsters with their bare hands.

While more experienced surfers test their limits in the world-class waves at a spot called the Point, the smaller but still quite powerful waves at close-by Playa Estero are perfectly suitable for beginners like me.

After making my way through the first set of breaks, the first thing I instantly did as I was surfing in Santa Catalina for the first time was holding on for a minute to admire the wild beauty of widely-stretched Playa Estero.

However, there is not a lot of time to enjoy this view, as waves are constantly rolling in, forcing every single part of your body and mind to concentrate on this very moment. At some point you see the perfect one, which is going to be your wave, and you start paddling, going faster and faster, giving all your strength until you feel the ocean taking you with it. You stand up, riding the wave, forming a part of this incredible force of nature. The pure feeling of happiness makes you forget everything else, it makes you swim out over and over again, until you reach your physical limits.

And there is nothing more pleasureful after an exhausting day of surfing than having some fresh fish for dinner while enjoying the sunset on abandoned Playa Estero.

Where to Surf in Panama, Central America

Surfers represent a diverse culture based on riding the waves. Some people practice surfing as a recreational activity while others make it the central focus of their lives.  For those who currently surf, or wish to learn to surf, Panama offers to the surfing enthusiast two oceans from which to choose, the Atlantic and Pacific. This allows locals and visitors to take advantage of currently weather and wave conditions, not to mention that some of the most popular surf spots are within an hour or two from the cosmopolitan Panama City.

We want to let you know about the most popular surf spots in Panama, we have listed below those areas that are most frequently visited. Once there, you will not only be able to enjoy the waves, but the natural beauty that surrounds them.

Chepillo: This beach is located on the island with the same name, and is near the capital. The waves break left over a
rock face. Generally speaking one can expect good waves and swells here.
You have to take a launch from the city or drive to the port of Chepo, from which point you have to take a small launch to the island. There are no facilities available for those interested in staying on the island.
Malibu: Located in Gorgona, and it has some of the best waves on the western portion of the Panama Province. The sandbar that exists here creates impressive tubes that break to the right. Very fast waves with force, thus it is not recommended for those venturing out for the first time. To arrive you have to drive on the sand, which requires a 4×4 vehicle. There are no facilities available here.

Serena: Situated in Coronado Beach, this spot is known for it’s right breaks and spectacular tubes. When there are good swells one can expect to see 4-6 ft. waves.  The waves tend to break to the right after hitting a rock wall.  Great for long boards.
Teta: This spot is preferred by many Panamanians for it’s excellent waves. The point breaks over a rocky bottom, and produces both right and left breaks; this varies depending on the wind and water current. With adequate conditions, Teta can produce great waves. It’s located in Punta Barco, after Coronado.

El Palmar: One of the favorites surf spots for families and beginners.   Situated in the western portion of the Panama Province. The waves here can reach 7-8 feet, and can have  considerable force, however, the face will accommodate both beginners and those with more experience. It is located at the beach with the same name.  There are several surfing schools in the area.

Rio Mar: This  used to be  a popular beach spot not only for surfers, and as the same as with  Malibu, there are usually constant waves. The point breaks over a rocky bottom, which produces a very large right break. It is located at the beach with the same name.  It could be hard to reach due to the over development in the area.
Playa Venao: One of the most famous surf spots in Panama, as this particular spot has held numerous international surf competitions. It’s located in the Los Santos Province, and enjoys very impressive scenery. Waves of 8-10 ft. are not uncommon. There are several establishments that provide all the services necessary to enjoy a good weekend stay.  We recommend EcoVenao.
Guanico: Situated in the town of Cambutal, Los Santos Province. Much like Playa Venao, there is a beach break with various peaks, many of which can generate waves of 6-8 feet. There are several establishments that provide all the services necessary to enjoy a good weekend stay.

Cambutal: Also located in the Province of Los Santos , but after Tonosi. A rocky bottom produces a wide variety of waves, oscillating between 4-11 ft.

Playa Mariato: Situated in the province of Veraguas, en route to the historical town of Atalaya. There are numerous surf spots here, some producing waves easily up to 5-7 height. There are several lodging options to enjoy a good weekend stay.

Santa Catalina:  This is one of the most popular surfing spots in Panama.   World class surfing and considered one of the best waves of Central and South America. About one hour from the town of Sona, located in the Province of Veraguas. Breaking on a rocky bottom, it has earned the reputation for producing tremendous, perfect tubes that may reach 20 ft. Surfers worldwide have visited this beach. There are several establishments that provide all the services necessary to enjoy a good weekend stay.
Isla Grande: Situated in the Colon Province, this tropical beach enjoys a typical Caribbean wave, which breaks over a coral bottom. Located on the right side of the island, just in front of a cabina style hotel, this island is a popular island getaway for Panamanians on weekends and holidays.  Don’t miss the amazing Caribbean food of the islands.
Dumper: Can be found on Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama’s most popular tourist destination. The wave breaks perfectly to the right, allowing surfers to enjoy incredible tubes. One must take a taxi or ride a bike from the town of Bocas. There is nothing else around this surf area.

Bluff: Also be found on Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, but much closer to Bocas town and can be accessed right off the road. With a sandy bottom, right and left breaks are the norm, some of which can be quite strong. It is a strong shore break, as there is not much depth here. It is a perfect place to practice bodyboard.

Let us organize your surfing adventure.  Let us know about your interest and if you are an avid surfer or want to learn how to ride waves.  We can organize an itinerary for your including great lodging options, surfing classes and boards rentals.
For more info, please check: or call us at (507) 315-1488