Santa Catalina // surf &dive paradise
There are two roads, one minimarket, slow internet, two beaches, one minibus, a few houndred inhabitants and that six hours bus ride from the capital away.
There are also several accomodations for every budget, tons of surfboards, an island, perfect waves, a stunning underwater world, a few restaurants and that without being crowded or a partyhotspot.
This little paradise is Panamas best surf spot. There are several surf shops and two beaches with waves for beginners to professionals. It is also known for great diving and snorkeling at the national park Coiba close to the mainland.
Santa Catalina is the opposite of a partytown. The small fishing village is extremly laid back and everyone just enjoys the waves and the beautyful reefs in the water. You won’t find a club or pub to party all night long. Instead people drinking several beers and some rum and sitting around bonfires.
Communication can be a problem. Your phone might work, but not all the hostels have wifi and if it’s crapy. So better write important e-mails or do your phone calls before you enter the bus to the beachtown.
Also take a bunsh of money! Seriously! There is no ATM! And only few hostels accept creddit cards. And pack some extra cash if you decide to stay longer than first planned because again you won’t get any money there andere is also no neighboortown where you could go. The next ATM is in Santiago – two buses and about two hours away. ( I actually went there with only 50$ without knowing that there is no atm, was lucky that the hostel took credit cards and I spent my last two dollars on the bus from Sona to Santiago).
Even though it is a quiet small town Santa Catalina does not get boring. Surfing might be the main reason for most travellers to go there. Both black sand beaches, Playa Santa Catalina and Playa Estero do have great surf. There are some bigger waves, but also a lot of smaler ones – perfect for beginners. Rent a surf board for about 5$ a day
Scuba-diving is also pretty big. Different shops offer one or multiple day tours to dive and snorkel at the Coiba Nationalpark. Some trips presuppose scuba expiriences, some do not. Prices vary widly depending on length of the trip and if board is included or not. Snorkeling is about 55$ and diving starts around 90$ up to 600$
And, common, your in a cute beachtown. Chill at the beautiful beaches, have fun in the waves, have a cold beer with your new travel friends and enjoy the wifi free time and focus on having a great time in paradise.
I stayed at the Oaisis beach front hostel. It is located on the Playa Estero about 15 minutes down the road from the town and behind a small river ( if its high tide you almost have to swim!). It is not the cheapest or luxurious place, but the restaurant offers great italian food, you get an awesome ocean view and acces and you are just sourrounded by nature. A hut like this with 6 beds costs about 90$ – so 15$ each, a dish at the restaurant is about 6 – 15$ and beer 2$
There are multiple houses, hotels and hostels in Santa Catalina and down the road to Playa Estero. Hostels start about 10$, camping by 5$ and hotels around 70$
How to get there:
Start early in the morning beacause the last bus from Sona to Santa Catalina leaves at 4pm and you don’t wanna be stucked in Sona..
Panama city to Santa Catalina – go to Albrook busstation and take a bus to Sona or Santiago (~ 5h) then from Sona you will switch to a minibus (as you see on the right) to Santa Catalina (~ 1,5h, 4,5$)
Bocas/ Boquete/ Costa Rica to Santa Catalina – catch a bus to David and from there take a bus to Sona (3h) and then switch to the minibus to Santa Catalina (1,5h, 4,5$)