The 10 most beautiful beaches in Panama
With a plethora of deserted islands, an icy Caribbean vibe on one side and a monster Pacific swell on the other, Panama is ready to offer the best of beach life. Whether you’re looking to snorkel the rainbow reefs, ride bad waves, or just lounge on the golden sands, there is something for every type of beach butt. Here is our selection of the best beaches in Panama.
Although it’s only a 10-minute boat ride from the town of Bocas del Toro, Isla Bastimentos, near the country’s northwest border with Costa Rica, is like a different world. Some travelers say it’s their favorite island in their favorite part of Panama. There are a few beaches to choose from here, but the best might just be the magnificent Wizard Beach, awash in powdery yellow sand and backed by thick jungle dotted with vines. It is connected to Old Bank (the main settlement on the island) by a wild path, which normally takes around 20 minutes but can be practically impassable after heavy rains.
Playa Las Lajas
One of Panama’s longest beaches, 12 km long palm-fringed Playa Las Lajas on the country’s southwest coast, seems to stretch forever. The beach gathers serious crowds on weekends, but during the week it is often empty, so you can savor the magnificent expanse on your own. While not the most popular surf beach in the country, there is a good break at the bottom of the beach, with rights and lefts when the waves are rising.
Ten years ago, Farallón was a fishing village with the ruins of the Panamanian military base that was destroyed during the American invasion to oust Panama’s military leader Manuel Noriega. However, resort fever has revived it, and today the entire expanse of Playa Blanca is one of Panama’s hottest (and most beautiful) beach destinations. Visitors are encouraged to go beyond the seaside resorts. Much of the original village charm is still there if you stray from the shore a bit.
Palm trees and white sandy beaches form the backdrop to this charming little island, just 15 km from Portobelo, on the country’s north coast. A popular getaway for people fleeing Panama City (which is less than a two hour drive), Isla Grande is an ideal setting for snorkeling, scuba diving, or just soaking up the water. relaxed island vibe. There are no roads, just a path along the south coast of the island, backed by pastel-colored cottages.
Looking for solitude? You will probably find it at the aptly named Playa Muerto (Dead Beach). This coastal colony on the country’s southeastern shore requires an uncomfortable long boat ride or a strenuous two-day trek through the jungle from Sambu. The reward? Close-up view of an authentic Emberá community (an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia) and a multitude of beaches of indescribable beauty and unspoiled. The main one is Playa Fondeadero, “Anchorage Beach”. It is located just south of the main beach of Playa Muerto and is a great place to swim.
Isla Contadora (Counting House Island), floating in the Gulf of Panama and connected to the capital by ferry, was once the accounting center for pearls before they were shipped to Spain. More recently, multimillionaires have made the island their refuge. However, a government crackdown on tax evasion has made the bargain, and you will now see many mansions on the island vacant. One thing that has never changed throughout the history of the island, however, are the beautiful beaches. Playa Larga (Long Beach) occupies the longest stretch of sand on the island; the only horrors are a stranded ferry and an abandoned hotel behind it. Above the hill to the south and accessible by a well worn path is the Playa de las Suecas (Swedish Women’s Beach), where you can sunbathe in the chamois; it is the only legal naturist beach in Panama.
Playa El Palmar
Starting from the town of Chame and continuing along the Pacific coast for about 40 km, are dozens of beautiful beaches which are popular weekend retreats for residents of Panama City. The beautiful white sand beach of Playa El Palmar is 14 km southwest of Playa Coronado, near the village of San Carlos. Although much less developed than Coronado, El Palmar is popular with weekend families in the capital, but the atmosphere remains low-key.
A long, protected beach, Playa Venao – officially Venado but pronounced and spelled as ‘Venao’ – recently transformed from a wild beach on the southern edge of the Península de Azuero into a ‘must see’ destination. Surfers claim its waters first; the waves are cohesive and break in both directions. Unfortunately, this magnificent expanse of blackish volcanic sand looks like a construction site as construction continues at a brisk pace. We hope Venao looks lovely again when construction is complete. Surf schools, eager to help beginners with their first wobbly outings, are plentiful here. Good options include Extreme Surf Shop and Surf Dojo.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Isla Iguana
This 53 hectare reserve is centered on a desert island in the Gulf of Panama surrounded by corals. The water is shallow enough for snorkeling, and like elsewhere in the Pacific the reef fish are huge. Humpback whales also inhabit the waters around Isla Iguana from June to October. You can get there by boat (US $ 70) in 40 minutes from Playa El Arenal, a beach 3 km northeast of the Pedasí gas station. Stay off the beaten path of the island as unexploded ordnance is occasionally found here (the US Navy used the island for target training during WWII).
Among the best surf spots in Central America, Santa Catalina has right and left breaks comparable to O’ahu’s Sunset Beach on a good day. Enjoy it while it’s still a bit secluded, underdeveloped, and home to some really nasty surfs. Life here is fairly quiet, in a fishing village where skateboards tear up the main street and kids go barefoot, but clothes are needed to get to and from the beach. Most non-surfers discover the area as the primary stepping stone for day and night trips to Isla de Coiba and its National Park, where scuba diving and snorkeling activities are offered.
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