NOMB Surftrip Series #3 – Panama aka. Paradise
We love our surfcoaching trips and we also love surfing here on our beautiful island Fuerteventura. But there are so many more places to visit and surf on this planet! And even though we love to have YOU on our surfcoaching trips, we can´t take you to all those great destinations out there.
So what, going by yourself? Planning your own surftrip can be super easy but also really complicated 😉 First class information of someone who has already been there is super handy when deciding when und where to go. Yep, we know, it´s best just going there and finding out by yourself, but we all need money to be able to afford these surftrips. That means working, and working unfortunately means just a certain amount of holiday time. Resulting in that most of the time we surfers don’t have months to flow around and to discover surfing in other countries.
That´s why we started the NOMB Surf #Surftrip Series. To make real experienced information available for you. Making it easier to plan your surftrip and get the most out of your surfing time!
After #Surftrip Series no 1 + 2, which took you to Easter Island and on a camping trip to the South of Fuerteventura, today we are happy to have guestwriter Paula sharing her surftrip experience. Paula spent a while surfing in Panama, South America, and will tell us a bit about surfing in her favorite country. Clap your hands for Paula!!
” A few years ago I spent a few months in Panama. I was so in love with this country, that I also went back there a year later to surf the amazing waves again =) At my first visit in Panama my goal was to learn how to surf, so I bought a surfboard and let the journey begin. My trip started in – of course – Panama City =) I just spoke the basics of spanish, but the people there were really helpful and friendly and always tried to communicate with me when I was lost in Panama again ;). To be honest, I didn’t wanted to stay that long in Panama City, the waves were calling me =) Of course there are also “areas” in Panama where you should not go because they are really dangerous (especially when you travel as a women alone) but come on guys, if you pay attention and don’t run around with your 30’000 $ watch, I doubt that there will happen bad things to you! Well, let’s go on with surfing here =)
So I just spent one night in Panama City (“Magnolia Inn” in Casco Viejo was a quite nice place to stay, I preferred not to stay in“Lunas Castle” again, waayyy too much party and youngsters ) and was heading to my first main area: Playa Venao!
Basically I head 3 main areas to surf in Panama, the area around Playa Venao, Santa Catalina and Bocas del Toro. I decided not to rent a car but discover Panama by local busses. (It is quite nice to have a car there, but the roads are really shitty and it can also cost you up to 800$ for 2 weeks, for me not worth it).
It was quite a journey to go to Playa Venao, my first bus took me to Las Tablas (a direct one, really comfortable, but suuupeeer cold because of the air condition – make sure you bring cozy and warm sweaters to Panama if you want to go around there by bus). Around 7 hours later I arrived in Las Tablas and tried to find the next bus stop. Finally I found it and a few minutes later I was sitting next to locals in a tiny little van – next destination: Pedasi! And another busdrive brought me from Pedasi to Playa Venao (be aware, there are no busses on Sundays from Pedasi to Playa Venao). When I finally arrived in Playa Venao I just wanted to go in the water and hey, there were a lot of beautiful waves!
But where to stay in Venao? There are a lot of hostels and hotels, and they are still building (I bet like 10 years ago it was simply paradise, but don’t worry, it’s still paradise there 😉 ). On the north side of the bay you can find Selina Hostel, quite a place for younger party people, but the location is just a dream – you can watch the waves while you’re making coffee in the communal kitchen! For a bed in a dorm room you pay between 10 and 25$ a night, the private rooms are up to 100$ a night. Definitely my favorite hostels there were Eco Venao (a little walk to the beach, but located in the mountains, eco friendly, totally green and more calm and relaxed) and La Choza (without beach view, but way cheaper and nicer than Selina – if you wanna party hard you can just take a five minutes walk to Selina, but if you wanna sleep and rest you won’t be disturbed by the loud music).
And the Surfing in Venao: well, no words needed guys! There are waves for all levels – so if you are a pro, you can go surfing in the middle of the bay in front of the “Playa Venao Hotel Resort”, for the “scaredy cats” amongst us: Just surf the end of the bay, it will always be smaller there. As it is a beach brak, there will be also close outs, but when you find the right position even the bigger waves won’t eat you alive (by the way, big waves for me are 1,5 meters to 2 meters, everything above is giant 😛 ) To go around in the venao area you can just hitchhike (not by night!!!). There is just one little supermarket (toooo expensive) so thumbs out to go to the big one (Pedasi, around 45 minutes) or the smaller one (Canas ,10 minutes drive). I spent quite a while in venao but also wanted to see the other surf areas in the Azuero Peninsula. By bus just a pain in the ass and I didn’t had a car… But as a communicative surfgirl it didn’t took me that long to get along with the locals and workers there. And yessss, they had cars and knew the places around =) So we went together to other places, away from all the tourism, to the “real Panama” (where you pay for rice, beans and vegetables just 1,50$ and not 7$ like in Playa Venao). Totally recommendable is the area around Cambutal. You will find a lot of reefbreaks there like 4/11, but especially in the rainy season you will need a 4 by 4 car! In general Playa Venao wasn’t that crowded but the area around Cambutal was even less crowded, sometimes we were alone in the water – the surfer dream about empty line ups came true 😉
Well guys all in all I spent 4 months in this area, it kind of caught me! You can find waves all year around, but for me the best time was from august until November. In general the pacific coast of Panama picks up the best swell from April to December, and you can alllwaayyys surf in Bikini or Boardshort there. I recommend you to visit Panama’s pacific coast at the end of the rainy season, everything is green and beautiful there. And even if you have a few days of rain, the water is still nice and warm =)
Short brake-out to Santa Catalina
After being stucked in Playa Venao I decided to go to Santa Catalina. I heard about the famous reef break there, but I also knew, that with the swell coming in, it will be a little bit too advanced for my level of surfing. But anyway, I wanted to go there. I stayed a bit outside of the town Santa Catalina (you can find a few hostels, a bakery and a supermarket there) and stayed in Surfers Paradise. This hostel has a view at the Point Break – stunning is all I can say! I could see the Point from my balcony…. For surfing I went to Playa Estero, it was just a short walk (5 to 10 minutes) and could find (depends on the swell of course) a nice beachbreak there. My friends (who are surfing for quite a while) always went to the point and were in love with this surfspot! The best time to surf here is vom April until december and by now this spot is known as one of the best waves in Latin America – but definitely an advanced surfspot! I didn’t spent too much time in Santa Catalina cause I also wanted to see the waves on the caribbean coast of Panama – the typical swell time for this coast is in the dry season, but there will always be a bit of rain on this side of Panama, so will have it nice and green all year around =)
Journey went on: Bocas del Toro – welcome to Paradise
As I already figured out, moving from one place to the other in Panama will always take a little bit of time! To go from Santa Catalina to Bocas del Toro you have a few options. Go by local busses (first one to Sona, then to David and from David there is an overnight bus to Almirante), you can go by car (well yes, around 8 to 10 hours, but you can make a stop in Boquete and visit for example the lost and found hostel in the mountains) and by now, I’m sure there are also shuttles that can take you there (just ask in the hostel you are staying). I choose (of course) the overnight bus. Around 10$ (they always charge a little bit extra for surfboards) and 7 hours later we arrived in Almirante. From there you have to take a speedboat to the main island Isla Colon (ca. 5$ and 30 minutes).
I decided to stay on one of the smaller islands – Isla Caranero. It is just a 3 minutes and 1$ (with surfboard and luggage they might charge you a little bit more) boat drive away from the main island. Absoutely paradise, no cars a little supermarket and two nice surfspots (Black Rock for beginners and intermediates and La Punta for advanced intermediates). Don’t forget your reefbooties if you go to Bocas del Toro (unless you are used to walk an reef barefoot =)). You will find really nice hostels at Caranero, back then I stayed in “Gran Kahuna” (about 15$ for a dorm and a 10 to 20 minute walk to the surfspot – you can also get a watertaxi, but the walk is worth it =))
Also on the main island you can find a lot of surfspots like for example Punch, Dumpers and Bluff. These are all heavier beachbreaks, you’ll see barrels and shorebreaks there when it’s pumping. So I just went there for watching haha but that was impressive enough 😉
Close to Isla Caranero you will find Isla Bastimentos. This one is more rural and has it’s own flair! A common surfspot on this island is Wizard Beach. It’s quite a walk but worth it! If it was raining a lot, you have to go through a bit (we won’t lie – a lot) of mud. We went there are few days for camping and the beach was absolutely amazing. When the swell came in, I decided not to go in, cause I really love my surfboard and didn’t wanted to crack it in the middle like a friend of mine did 😉 You can also take a water taxi to Wizard Beach, but come on guys, a little bit of adventure should be included in your surftrip =)
I can just say one thing: You should definitely check out Panama for a surftrip, there are so many nice surfspots to explore and the country has even more to offer, like the San Blas Islands, a lot of small beautiful islands, snorkeling and and and. Also the locals that I met there are super nice and will show you their little paradises that you won’t find in any lonely planet – don’t wait, go and book your flight to paradise =)”
Sea you in the water soon!