What to see and do in Santa Catalina, Panama
Maybe you’ll get to Santa Catalina and not know what to see and do.
The name Santa Catalina may not even ring a bell, at least if you’re not a surf lover.
I’ll give you a hint, because Santa Catalina in Panama is one of the paradises for surfers.
In fact, its waters are spectators and protagonists as one of the places where the world surfing championship is held.
Well, don’t worry if you don’t like surfing, Santa Catalina offers many more things.
We arrive on November 3rd, a bad day…
From November 2nd to the 5th, it is usually the national holiday, where all Panamanians take the opportunity to enjoy a few days of vacation.
And that means that they move, that, as during the rest of the year they work six days a week, these days are gold for them.
So we got to Santa Catalina on a bus from Panama City.
After a few hours of travel, and a stop in Soná, it was getting dark when we started to get to know this quiet town on the Panamanian Pacific.
We were clear about the objective of the visit, the island of Coiba, a former prison for many years.
So many, that it had become so isolated from the world, that, thanks to that, it was “colonized” only by the prisoners.
Now it’s a real paradise, a World Heritage Site, a National Park and a marine sanctuary.
Can you ask for anything more? Ahh yes! They say it’s the Galapagos of Central America.
The truth is I can’t make that value judgment because I haven’t been to the Galapagos yet.
But someday I’ll tell you in this traveler’s corner if they really are “so similar”.
Well, take note of everything you can do in this little town on the Pacific coast of Panama.
What to see in Santa Catalina
If you are going to stay on the island, you can enjoy its beaches, and take a short walk to a hill, or rather, as they call it there, a ridge.
The beaches are not close to each other.
Considering the size of the town we could say that they are from one end to the other.
But if we count in minutes we could talk about a little more than 20 minutes walking from one to the other.
It’s not that long either.
We did it several times, a walk, nothing more than a walk.
Santa Catalina Beach
Santa Catalina beach is right in town, and it’s the most local.
Well, at this point I’d like to tell you something.
Panama is not very touristy, I mean, in some places you’re going to find yourself almost part of the place.
Santa Catalina, despite being relatively touristy, doesn’t have many visitors, and the people are very welcoming, so you’re going to enjoy a great atmosphere and its beaches, almost just for you.
And it is precisely the beach of Santa Catalina, the place where its inhabitants walk.
It is a small, pleasant beach with darker sand than other beaches.
And be careful with the currents, the Pacific can be treacherous.
The Estero beach is huge, very long, and when the tide is low, its size is multiplied by three.
Its size also makes it possible for you to look for your remote corner of the world, if you want to, of course.
It is in this beach where you can find an accommodation with many cabins facing the sea.
So you will wake up with the noise of the sea, sleep with it and the views will be incredible once you go outside.
But not everything could be perfect.
To get to this beach you have to cross a river.
If the tide is low, the water will barely reach your ankles or a little more.
If the tide is high, the water is above your knees.
We saw the high tide at noon, and low tide in the afternoon and evening.
But well, we are in a tropical country, you just have to take off your flip-flops!
Sunsets in Playa Estero are simply brutal.
If you are bored of so much beach and you feel like walking in the nature, there is a small path called La Cresta.
The beauty of this trail is the view when you get to the top.
Then see in 360 degrees everything around you, the sea, the contrast of blue with green.
Take some water with you, and another thing, when going up and down be careful, the stones on the road are tricky, and you can easily slip.
But this walk is very worthwhile.
A different point of view about Santa Catalina.
You can see more information about these places in Santa Catalina, Panama’s surfing paradise.
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Coiba Island is a paradise on earth, but at the time, until 2004 it was a prison.
During Noriega’s dictatorship many who were against the regime were brought to this island.
There they were tortured in all kinds of ways, and of course they never returned, either dead or alive, since the corpses were thrown into the sea, where the sharks grazed.
But the history of this prison goes back to the beginning of the 20th century.
In this period, until the arrival of the dictator Noriega, the most dangerous and bloodthirsty criminals of Panama were confined in this prison.
Today, things have changed quite a bit, and Coiba is the third largest marine reserve in the world, and of course, it holds the title of World Heritage Site.
Best of all, the journey from Santa Catalina beach to the island of Coiba (just over an hour) shows you that absolutely nothing is inhabited, the coast is virgin.
It’s like slowly entering a paradise out of the hands of humans.
Snorkeling and diving in Coiba
You can imagine that, if we talk about the third largest marine reserve in the world, its fauna and flora will be impressive.
Well, I’ll tell you, they are.
We didn’t do any diving, as we haven’t done it for a few years…
and yes, I think we should do a refresher course and dive again.
We’ve already missed some paradises like Semporna in Borneo…
But we did snorkel, and it was a real treat.
We swam with white-tipped sharks, giant turtles, manta rays and tens of thousands of incredibly colorful fish of varying sizes.
If we had gone at a different time of year, we could have swum with whale sharks and tiger sharks.
For that reason alone, it’s worth the trip to Santa Catalina.
During our visit to Coiba, besides swimming at different spots like Coco Dos and Granito de Oro, we also had the opportunity to cross the island and see howler monkeys.
As well as visiting Rancheria Island, with beaches that look like they were taken from a postcard.
This island, Ranchería, has a permanent research center of the prestigious American Smithsonian Institute.
If you want to know more about Coiba and everything we saw and did in more detail, you can take a look at Coiba National Park, diving and snorkeling in Panama.
Accommodation in Santa Catalina
There are three places in Santa Catalina where you can find accommodation.
On the one hand there is the area of the small town and next to the beach of Santa Catalina.
That’s where the bus from Soná drops you off.
There are quite a few options, but none of them with a view of the sea.
As I said a bit above, the area of Playa Estero also has several accommodations.
Among them, one that is on the same beach with cabins overlooking the sea.
Getting up in the morning and enjoying the sound of the sea is priceless.
The Oasis Surf Camp is a very good option to stay in Estero.
You can take a look at the availability, price and pictures in the following link, Oasis Surf Camp.
We are located halfway between Santa Catalina Beach and Estero Beach, in Surfers Paradise.
We liked the place a lot, with a relaxed atmosphere, impressive views of the sea, four dogs that greeted us every morning, and every time we were there.
And Italo, the owner of the place, and his wife were great hosts.
You can take a look at this link about this accommodation, Surfers Paradise, we simply loved it.
If you want to see other options to stay in Santa Catalina, you can check out this link, Accommodation in Santa Catalina.